The hunger strike had lasted six months because of a policy of force-feeding by the prison authorities.
In November 1973, the sisters Dolours and Marian Price, along with a handful of other members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, were convicted of carrying out a bombing in London that injured hundreds. The sisters immediately declared a hunger strike, arguing that they ought to be classified as political prisoners and allowed to serve their sentences back home. The authorities started force-feeding them after two and a half weeks, and the strike ultimately lasted 203 days, after which they were transferred to Armagh Gaol, outside Belfast.
Although the strike was over, the sisters didn’t start eating normally again. They had developed anorexia so severe that they were ultimately released because they were on the brink of starvation. The hunger strike had “alienated us from the process of sustenance, the whole process of putting food into your body,” Dolours Price said years later. Their detractors accused them of faking it, or of being motivated by vanity and a desire to lose weight. Dolours continued to struggle with food-related issues for years—as subsequent hunger strikers perished, as she withdrew from the armed struggle, as the Good Friday Agreement was reached.
In September 2012, Dolours Price claimed that Gerry Adams, as her “Officer Commanding” in the Belfast Brigade of the Provisional IRA, ordered her to drive alleged informers from the north Ireland into the Republic. They would later be executed. She also claimed Adams was involved in approving an IRA bombing campaign on mainland Britain, including the attack on the Old Bailey for which she served eight years in prison.
Dolours Price, who died in 2013, is a central character in Say Nothing, Patrick Radden Keefe’s best-selling history of the Troubles—the period between 1968 and 1998, during which the long-standing strife over British rule of the north of Ireland broke into a protracted guerilla war. It’s an expansive book, covering many intertwining lives, dramatic events, and intimate moments, but the detail about Dolours Price’s lingering eating disorder stands out. The more famous Irish hunger strikers are the ones who died—particularly Bobby Sands and the nine men who followed him. In a way, those men and their legacies, as fighters and emblems, are easier to make sense of than Price’s. Her story points to a more complicated experience, in which the traumas of war seep into people’s emotional and mental fabric.