Responses to the Northern Irish hunger strikes, 1980-81
: Boston and Birmingham

  • Rachael Catherine Thomas

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis examines British and US responses to the Northern Irish republican hunger strikes of 1980 and 1981. It uses a comparative case study approach to analyse reactions in the cities of Birmingham and Boston. Drawing on a wide range of original sources including archives, contemporary newspapers, memoirs, parliamentary debates, as well as a multidisciplinary secondary literature, the thesis argues that reactions to the hunger strikes in Birmingham and Boston were profoundly complex. This complexity of responses enriches our understanding of the effects of the strikes. It also expands our detailed knowledge of its impact beyond Northern Ireland, something which the existing scholarly literature has not yet done systematically. One of the key aims of this study is to internationalise the hunger strikes, taking the events out of a narrow Irish frame of reference, to offer a broader perspective of responses to the prison protest. The case study approach adopted in this dissertation facilitates a more detailed and nuanced understanding of the hunger strikes which, in turn, allows for a greater understanding of the effects of these important events. Moreover, a comparative approach provides a more complex picture of the prison campaign, comparing not only the reactions of Birmingham and Boston but assessing these within the context of the wider response in Britain and the United States. Applying transnational and global history methodologies, this study offers fresh perspectives about the hunger strikes, which until now, have more often been the subject of nation-centred analytical approaches.

Thesis is embargoed until 31 December 2028.

Date of AwardDec 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SponsorsNorthern Ireland Department for the Economy
SupervisorRichard English (Supervisor) & Fearghal McGarry (Supervisor)


  • The Troubles
  • Northern Ireland
  • hunger strikes
  • Birmingham
  • Boston
  • Republicanism

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