Jimmy Steele published a poem called Easter Morn in the Belfast republican newspaper, Resurgent Ulster in 1953. It is subtitled Belfast Prison 1944, meaning he must have written at the end of 40 days on hunger strike that year. In a debate in Stormont in May 1946, Cahir Healy described the condition of David Fleming after the forty days on hunger strike with Jimmy: “…hunger strike left its trace upon both mind and body. He was a nervous wreck then.” The hunger strike had followed his escape (and recapture) in 1943, the 1943 blanket protest and repeated violent attacks on republicans by the prison staff (and the dreadful conditions in the prison). Also, the death of Rocky Burns during an exchange of gunfire with the RUC in February 1944 (Rocky was O/C Belfast at the time), cast a considerable shadow over those of his friends in Crumlin Road prison.
(Belfast Prison, 1944)
This morn I knelt at Holy Mass,
And heard the Word that came to pass,
The Resurrection from the Dead,
Of nailed-pierced limbs and thorn-crowned Head,
And in the prison chapel there,
This Easter morn went forth my prayer,
Of love and joy for He who died,
And came to life at Eastertide,
The days of torture He had spent.
With pain His Sacred Body rent.
‘Til death had called His Sacred Name.
Had now returned a living Flame-
A Flame of Faith and Love and Peace,
That e’er would burn till time would cease.
Then through my thoughts from somewhere near. A comrade’s voice speaks loud and clear,
Requesting prayer for those who died
In Ireland’s cause one Eastertide.
In Gaelic tongue our prayers were said,
For them: and all our Martyred Dead,
They too had trod the Calvary’s way,
To free us from the tyrant’s sway,
E’en though they died in that brave deed,
In youthful hearts they sowed their seed,
From death to life a broken land
Was raised by this heroic band,
Thus every Easter dawn since then,
Has brought its meed of patriot men.
I look around where patriots kneel,
Conscious of such patriot steel;
‘Thank God’ I pray it shall be so
Till Freedom’s sun for us doth glow.