July 13, 2021 By Michael Dorgan
A series of photographs honoring Irish nationalists who died 40 years ago while on a hunger strike in Northern Ireland have gone up at two subway stations in western Queens.
The images were put up at stops in Astoria and Sunnyside to pay tribute to 10 men who died while imprisoned at a jail near Belfast in 1981.
The men were on a hunger strike protesting conditions for political prisoners at the Maze prison and were part of the Irish nationalist movement that sought to end British rule in Northern Ireland.
The images consist of portrait photographs of each hunger striker who died while protesting at the prison. Their names are printed in text underneath each photograph.
Images of the makeshift murals have been posted to the Instagram account called When New York Was Irish. The owner of the account said that members of the Astoria-based Irish sports club O’Donovan Rossa are responsible for the commemorations, according to Irish Central.
“Queens, New York has a long-established Irish community and strong links to Ireland’s revolutionary history throughout its various junctures,” a post on the Instagram account notes.
The first set of images went up near the 30th Avenue Subway station in Astoria on May 5 to mark the 40th anniversary of the death of Bobby Sands who was the leader of the hunger strike. Sands was the first member of the group to die and had gone 66 days without food.
The images were plastered to a shuttered storefront adjacent to the 30th Avenue Subway station’s southwest entrance. The 10 photographs were put up in an “H” shape to symbolize the notorious layout of the jail where the prisoners were being incarcerated. The jail consisted of a series of H-Block buildings.
Margaret Keogh, a former Irish revolutionary, once lived close to the station at 44th Street and 34th Avenue, an attributing post from the WNYWI Instagram account stated.
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The murals are going up on the anniversary of the death of each hunger striker at various Irish enclaves across the New York region. Murals associated with the group have also appeared in Woodlawn in the Bronx as well as in East Durham in Greene County.
A mural went up at the 46th Street Bliss station in Sunnyside on July 8 to commemorate the death of hunger-striker Joe McDonnell. He was the fifth man to die during the protest.
The mural consists of five photographs on each side of the entrance. An image of the mural was also posted to the WNYWI Instagram account with a description of some of the Irish connections to Sunnyside.
“A strong Irish population has been ever-present in this community and it was also home to the renowned Celtic Park,” the post reads.
“The park, located between 48th and 50th Avenues and 43rd and 44th Streets, was an Irish cultural and sporting hub and the original home of Gaelic sports in New York.”
The post also notes that Sunnyside was an important place to raise money for the cause of Irish freedom in the 1960s while former U.S. President John F. Kennedy held a political rally at Sunnyside Gardens in 1960.
In his speech, Kennedy said that “the Irish are very big out here.”
Kennedy’s four grandparents were children of Irish immigrants.
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