Thomas McElwee

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Thomas McElwee
Born (1957-11-30)30 November 1957
Bellaghy, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland
Died 8 August 1981(1981-08-08) (aged 23)
Cause of death Hunger strike
Organization Provisional IRA
Known for Hunger strike of 62 days, from 8 June 1981

Thomas McElwee (30 November 1957 - 8 August 1981) was an Irish republican hunger striker and a volunteer in the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) from Bellaghy, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland.[1]

Paramilitary activity

Thomas McElwee and his cousin Francis Hughes formed the South Derry Independent Republican unit, which for several years carried out ambushes on British Army patrols as well carrying out bomb attacks in neighbouring towns such as Magherafelt, Castledawson, and Maghera.[1][2]

In October 1976, McElwee took part in a planned bombing blitz on the town of Ballymena. Along with several colleagues, he was transporting one of the bombs, which exploded prematurely and blinded him in his right eye.[1][2] Following his arrest, he was charged and sentenced to 20 years prison for possession of explosives and the murder of 26-year-old Ulster Protestant Yvonne Dunlop, who was burnt alive when one of the firebombs destroyed her clothes shop, Alley Katz.[1][2][3] His murder charge was reduced to manslaughter on appeal, although the original jail term stood.[2]

In prison he became involved in the blanket protest.[1] He joined the 1981 Irish hunger strike and died on 8 August 1981 at the age of 23 after 62 days on the strike.[2][4]

File:Mcelwee grave.jpg
Gravestone of Thomas McElwee and Francis Hughes.


In 2009, Republican Sinn Féin named their Waterford cumann after him. McElwee is the main subject of the song Farewell to Bellaghy, which also mentions his cousin Francis Hughes, other members of the South Derry Independent Republican Unit and deceased volunteers of the South Derry Brigade of the Provisional IRA. He is also the subject of the Crucifucks' song The Story of Thomas McElwee.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Bobby Sands Trust - Thomas McElwee
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 - Face of Evil
  3. The Guardian - Mural to IRA 'peacemakers' is condemned
  4. What happened in the hunger strike? BBC News, 5 May 2006