Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, who has died, was a strong supporter of Irish freedom and especially of the hunger strikers.

He met Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams in 1981 and was one of the few leaders to speak in support of the hunger strikers at the time. While Adams was criticized for the meeting, he pointed to the support as very important for the Republican movement.

Castro made his support clear in a 1981 speech at the height of the hunger strikes:

“In speaking of international politics, we cannot ignore what is happening in Northern Ireland. I feel it is my duty to refer to this problem. In my opinion, Irish patriots are writing one of the most heroic chapters in human history.

“They have earned the respect and admiration of the world, and likewise they deserve its support. Ten of them have already died in the most moving gesture of sacrifice, selflessness and courage one could ever imagine.

“Humanity should feel ashamed that this terrible crime is being committed before its very eyes. These young fighters do not ask for independence or make impossible demands to put an end to their strike.

“They ask only for something as simple as the recognition of what they actually are: political prisoners…

“The stubbornness, intransigence, cruelty and insensitivity of the British Government before the international community concerning the problem of the Irish patriots and their hunger strike until death remind us of Torquemada and the atrocities committed by the Inquisition during the apogee of the Middle Ages…

“Let tyrants tremble before men who are capable of dying for their ideals, after 60 days on hunger strike!

“It is high time for the world community to put an end to this repulsive atrocity through denunciation and pressure.”

Gerry Adams met the Cuban leader and unveiled a tribute to the hunger strikers that December.

The BBC reported: “On Tuesday, the Sinn Fein president unveiled a monument in Havana in memory of the 10 republican prison hunger-strikers who died in Northern Ireland in 1981.

“They died in the Maze jail where republicans were attempting to gain political status which exempted them from the normal prison regime.

“Mr Adams, the West Belfast MP, said he wanted to acknowledge President Castro's support for the hunger strike.”