Over 100,000 people
CAIN has reprinted the introduction and several poems from Bobby's book called PRISON POEMS, which was originally put out by the Sinn Féin Publicity Department. The poems included in the above link are:
The introduction is reproduced here:
BOBBY SANDS was twenty seven years old when he died on the sixty sixth day of hunger-strike in the H-Block prison hospital, Long Kesh, on the 5th May 1981. The young IRA Volunteer who had spent almost the last nine years of his short life in prison as a result of his Irish republican activities was, by the time of his death, world-famous having been elected to the British parliament and having withstood pressures, political and moral (including an emissary from Pope John Paul II), for him to abandon his fast which was aimed at countering a criminalisation policy by the British government.
That policy attempted to brand Irish resistance to the British occupation of Ireland as a criminal conspiracy without political motivation. In pursuit of that policy the British government attempted to force the prisoners to conform to regulations, wear a British criminal uniform and carry out compulsory, often degrading, prison work.
The Irish republican prisoners who had been arrested under special laws, interrogated in special barracks (for example, Castlereagh) and sentenced in special non-jury courts refused to be criminalised and refused to recognise the authority of the prison regime, refused to wear the prison uniform or carry out prison work. In order to keep themselves warm the prisoners wrapped themselves in a blanket — and so the blanket protest began.
For years the prisoners were held in solitary confinement and subjected to beatings, although due to overcrowding they eventually came to share a cell with another blanket man. In Armagh prison forty republican women also resisted the criminalisation programme and they too were persecuted by warders.
From March 1978 until March 1981 the prisoners were on a no wash/no slop out protest which began when the prison authorities in a further attempt to break their will refused the prisoners access to toilets and washing facilities and forced the prisoners to live in filthy conditions.
* * *
As a young boy Bobby played in the fields around Carnmoney Hill and Glengormley in the shadow of Cave Hill where the founding father of Irish Republicanism, Wolfe Tone, almost two hundred years ago stood and swore to overthrow English rule in Ireland.
During his formative years Bobby, as he says himself in his prison diary was "a budding ornithologist". As one well-known H-Block ballad goes, "...A happy boy through green fields ran/And kept God’s and man’s laws." He also read and was influenced by the nationalist poet Ethna Carberry (Anna McManus) who coincidentally also grew up in this part of Belfast.
He always had an interest in Irish history and when the civil rights movement burst on to the streets in 1968 the reaction of the RUC to peaceful protest evoked a nationalist response in the hearts of most Catholic youths. He left school in June 1969 and worked as an apprentice coach-builder for the next three years. Bobby never expressed any sectarian attitudes, in fact, he ran for a well-known Protestant club — the Willowfield Temperance Harriers, and lived in a Protestant estate. But at work he came under increasing intimidation and by 1972 the family were forced out of their home by threats and attacks.
They moved to Twinbrook — a new housing estate in nationalist west Belfast. Eighteen-year-old Bobby was the eldest in a family of four children, the others being, Marcella, Bernadette and John. Bobby had joined the IRA and in October 1972 he was arrested and charged with possession of four shortarms which were found in a house.
In April 1973 he was sentenced to five years imprisonment which he served in the Cages of Long Kesh as a political prisoner. (Political status was wrung from the British government in June 1972 after a hunger-strike in Belfast jail.)
During his time in prison Bobby was a voracious reader not just of Irish, but of world history, and he emerged from the prison in March 1976 as a radical republican dedicated to an Irish Socialist Republic. In Twinbrook he helped form a tenants association and a youth club whilst still working as a full-time IRA Volunteer.
However, six months later he was arrested on active-service following a bomb attack on a furniture warehouse. There was a gun battle between the IRA unit and the RUC and two of Bobby’s comrades were wounded. One shortarm was caught in the car and the four occupants were all charged with ‘illegal’ possession. Bobby was taken to Castlereagh where he was interrogated for seven days. He refused to talk to the Special Branch detectives and refused to recognise the court when charged. One of those also arrested with Bobby was Belfast man Joe McDonnell who replaced Bobby on the hunger-strike after his death and who himself eventually died after sixty-one days on the 8th July 1981.
In September 1977 Bobby was sentenced to fourteen years imprisonment for having a shortarm and when he was brought to the H-Blocks he went on the blanket and resisted Britain’s criminalisation programme which was aimed at sapping the prisoners’ self-respect and maligning the integrity of the Irish People’s struggle for self-determination
This British policy had been employed against past generations of republican prisoners — against the Fenians in English prisons and against IRA Volunteers following the 1916 Rising. In resisting criminalisation IRA Volunteers had resorted to the hunger-strike protest, the most famous case being Terence MacSwiney MP, Lord Mayor of Cork who died on the seventy fifth day of hunger-strike in Brixton prison in 1920.
In the H-Blocks Bobby began writing short stories and poems under the pen-name ‘Marcella’, his sister’s name, which were published in ‘Republican News’ and then in the newly merged ‘An Phoblacht/Republican News’ after February 1979. He was P.R.O. of the protesting republican prisoners and succeeded Brendan Hughes as Commanding Officer of the blanket men when he took part in the first hunger-strike from October to December 1980.
It was the failure of the British government to live up to the settlement of the first hunger-strike and to implement a promised enlightened prison regime which directly forced Bobby and his comrades on to a second hunger-strike. He led off the hunger-strike on 1st March 1981, two weeks in front of Francis Hughes, hoping that the sacrifice of his life and the political repercussions which it would unleash would perhaps force the British government into a settlement before any more of his comrades would have to die. However, by August 1981, nine other blanket men — Francis Hughes, Raymond McCreesh, Patsy O’Hara, Joe McDonnell, Martin Hurson, Kevin Lynch, Kieran Doherty, Thomas McElwee and Micky Devine — had also died on hunger-strike, due to British intransigence, itself secure by the inactivity of Irish politicians and Church leaders who did not raise their voices (or consciences) against Britain.
On Saturday 3rd October 1981 the prisoners reluctantly abandoned their hunger-strike after a series of incidents in which families, encouraged by a campaign waged by the Catholic Church, sanctioned medical intervention when their sons or husbands lapsed into unconsciousness. The prisoners were effectively robbed of the weapon of the hunger-strike and so decided to end the historic fast which had lasted a marathon two hundred and seventeen days.
* * *
Shortly after Bobby went on hunger-strike the independent MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, Frank Maguire, who was a champion of the prisoners’ cause, died of a heart attack. In the ensuing by-election Bobby stood on a ‘political prisoner’ ticket and was elected to the British parliament in a blaze of publicity.
The result of that historic election showed the extent of support for the prisoners among the nationalist people (British propaganda had described the prisoners as having no support!) and should have been the occasion for the British Prime Minister, Mrs. Margaret Thatcher, settling the hunger-strike crisis. Instead the British not only refused to negotiate but enacted legislation to change the electoral law and prevent a republican prisoner candidate from standing for election. So much for British democracy!
On the 5th May IRA Volunteer Bobby Sands MP died on the sixty-sixth day of hunger-strike. His name became a household word in Ireland, and his sacrifice (as did that of those who followed him) overturned British propaganda on Ireland and had a real effect in advancing the cause of Irish freedom.
Some of his writings have already been published in pamphlet form and over 40,000 copies of his ‘prison diary’ have been sold.
The majority of the following poems have never appeared in print before. Bobby wrote them during the last four years of his life in H Blocks 3, 4, 5 or 6. They were written on pieces of government issue toilet roll or on the rice paper of contraband cigarette roll-ups with the refill of a biro pen which he kept hidden inside his body.
The H-Block Trilogy covers the ‘conveyor-belt system’ in the north of Ireland — interrogation, the Diplock Courts and the H-Block hell itself.
In Castlereagh one is always watched. The Watcher is a uniformed RUC man who spies through the ‘Judas’, opens and locks the cell door and hands over the prisoner to detectives.
The Watcher notes what one eats and when one goes to the toilet one is even watched on the seat. They see but don’t witness healthy youths being taken out to interrogation and brought back battered and bruised.
The only ventilation in the cells comes through a blast of air delivered from a vent above the cell door, it was from this vent that the RUC alleged that Brian Maguire hung himself in May 1978. However, the vent was of insufficient strength to support a man’s weight and one of those rounded up and interrogated by the RUC around this time, Phelim Hamill, from Belfast, states that the RUC attempted to strangle him with a towel in order to make him sign an incriminating statement. He passed out on a number of occasions as a result of this choking. Also, the Amnesty International report of June 1979 reported that there were fourteen separate allegations of attempted strangulation reported by Castlereagh victims in this period.
Most nationalist people believe that over-zealous RUC interrogators in attempting to force Maguire to sign a statement attempted to strangle him, that he did choke to death, and that they then staged the fake suicide to cover up for the murder.
In this poem one can feel the fear creap through the prisoners who are always expecting the worst. Was it their turn for interrogation? There is a relative sigh of relief as the Watcher passes by one’s cell to visit another poor victim.
Throughout the Castlereagh poem Bobby returns to attacking those in society meant to uphold in culture or poetry or religion some defence of the oppressed. So the ‘Men of Art’ will sketch the moon but will never sketch ‘the quaking wretch/Who lies in Castlereagh.’ And the poets will write of the stars and gentle love but never of ‘beauty tortured sore.'
Suddenly in the poem the young republican having successfully withstood an interrogation finds himself confronted by ghosts "with faces white and small" (dead hunger-strikers?). They carried crosses bearing the name of Brian Maguire, they were the "marching dead," and they were bearded blanket men haunting the origin of their imprisonment and where one of their comrades, who never reached the H-Blocks, was murdered.
Then they are suddenly replaced by the monstrous forces of darkness, representing British law and the rich who spun the thread for the "scaffold black" that murdered Brian Maguire. But, Bobby asserts, the beasts of Castlereagh will stand before God on Judgement Day and "must answer every sin."
‘The Torture Mill — H-Block’ opens with the violent death of a Screw, immediate joy’ in the H-Blocks at his death and then reflection on how the system has regretfully made them hate. As the news reaches the prisoners there is an excitement and then a dread of the retaliation which will follow in the morning.
To calm nerves men, denied cigarettes, roll up and smoke the threads of their very blankets. And then comes the dreaded dawn and the beatings. Bobby draws comparisons between the pleasures of life — dancing, falling in love, walking in the countryside, basking in the sun — with the terrible conditions in the H-Blocks.
The humour of the poem, mixed as it is with tragedy, shows that Bobby has not been defeated and we can all share the triumph of the spirit of the prisoners over those adverse surroundings when we are told what happens as the Screws leave after inflicting beatings on everyone.
Bobby draws from his own experience for these poems though they are by no means absolutely autobiographical. For example, Bobby was sentenced to fourteen years whereas the prisoner in ‘Dip. lock Court’ is sentenced to thirty years, and, of course, Bobby was arrested and in the H-Blocks years before Brian Maguire was killed in Castlereagh.
In the ‘Rhythm of Time’ Bobby asserts that the spirit of freedom and injustice has been innate to man from the beginning, though he only draws upon its inspiration against life’s experiences of evil. In tracing this spirit Bobby demonstrates an exceptional grasp of history and memory recall (he was denied books, newspapers, radio or TV, and mental stimulation for the last four years of his life). Wat the Tyler, for example, was an English peasant who in 1381 challenged and led an uprising against the English monarchy. The persecuted early Christians, slaves, peasants, the American Indians and Irish republican freedom fighters share the stage of history against tyranny. And the driving force against oppression, as Bobby concludes, is the moral superiority of the oppressed.
* * *
It has been said that were Bobby alive to see these poems today he would have rewritten or changed some of the simpler rhyming words. But that is to miss the point. These poems were written by a young man under the most depressing of conditions. More importantly his poetry is the raw literature of the H-Block prison protest which hundreds of naked men stood up against their cell doors (in the late of night when the Screws left the wings) to listen to and to applaud.
It was their only entertainment, it was a beautifully rendered articulation of their own plight. Out of cruelty and suffering Bobby Sands harnessed real poetry, the poetry of a feeling people struggling to be free...
— Danny Morrison, October 1981.
|From the Trinity Sinn Féin website (currently down)
by Bobby Sands
Oh! Cold March winds your cruel laments
Are hard on prisoners' hearts,
For you bring my mother's pleading cries
From whom I have to part.
I hear her weeping lonely sobs
Her sorrows sweep me by,
And in the dark of prison cell
A tear has warmed my eye.
Oh! Whistling winds why do you weep
When roaming free you are,
Oh! Lonely winds that walk the night
To haunt the sinner's soul
Pray pity me a wretched lad
Who never will grow old.
Pray pity those who lie in pain
The bondsman and the slave,
And whisper sweet the breath of God
Upon my humble grave.
Oh! Cold March winds that pierce the dark
You cry in aged tones
For souls of folk you've brought to God
But still you bear the moans.
Oh! Weeping wind this lonely night
My mother's heart is sore,
Oh! Lord of all breathe freedom's breath
That she may weep no more.
CRAZYFENIAN'S Photo of BOBBY SANDS Mural
Click on link for larger view of mural
An Phoblacht/Republican News · Thursday 6 September 2001
Skibbereen honours the hunger strikers
Republicans from all over West Cork attended a hunger strike commemoration in Skibbereen on Saturday 25 August. Close on 200 participated in the march and this grew to well over 300 for the main commemoration in the square.
Donnchadh Ó Seaghdha chaired the proceedings and welcomed all those present agus chuir sé fáilte speisialta roimh an beirt cainteoirí Owen Carron agus Coireail McCurtáin, agus an beirt comhairlóirí, Áine O'Leary agus Cionnaith Ó Súilleabháin . He continued ``we are gathered here to pay honour and homage to Bobby Sands, Francis Hughes and their comrades for their courage and integrity in laying down their lifes indefending the republican struggle .In a few weeks time Martin McGuinness will be travelling to South Africa to meet Nelson Mandela and one of his duties there will be to unveil a plaque to the memory of the ten hunger strikers, such has been the impact of the sacrifices of the hunger strikers wordwide. Struggle, resistance and solidarity know no boundaries. A victory for the oppressed people of South Africa was a victory for us and a victory for us is a victory for them. We also pay tribute to those who supported the hunger strikers of 1981 from the Skibbereen and West Cork area.''
Coireail MacCurtáin, republican former prisoner from West Limerick, who taught Bobby Sands Gaeilge in Long Kesh, then addressed the crowd: ``Tá an athas orm a bheith anseo anocht mar tá sé an tabhachtach go mbaillíonn daoine le chéile chun onóir agus omóis a thabhairt dos na laochra siúd a fuair bás ar stailc ocrais i 1981, an iobairt ba mhisniúla agus ba chróga a tharla riamh I stair na tíre seo. Deichniúir a fuair bás ag cosaint ainm agus chlú poblachtánaigh, ní raibheadar sásta geilleadh do rí Shasana agus a rá gur coirpigh iad mar bhíodar ag iarraidh an smál sin a chur ar poblachtánaigh trí chéile ar fud na hEireann. Tá tionchar an stailc ocrais sin le feiscint fós ar fud na tíre mar nuair a smaoinaíonn tú siar ba pháirtí an-bheag é Sinn Féin i 1981, anois táimid an-láidir sna sé chontae agus ag fás freisin sna 26 chontae agus an mór chuid den bhuíochas sin ag dul do Bobby Sands Francis Hughes agus a chomrádaithe a fuair bas i 1981.'
``I got to know Bobby Sands in 1974 in Long Kesh - like all the other hunger strikers he was just an ordinary person. Bobby was a great football player, athlete, musician and had tremendous love for his language and culture. The British thought they were striking at the weakest and most vulnerable, but in reality they were taking on the bravest and the best of our people . By their courage and sacrifices they preserved the honour and integrity of the struggle for freedom and justice in Ireland.
Owen Carron spoke of how he has spoken at commemorations all over Ireland this Summer and is still struck even 20 years after, by the many people who are still being moved by the hunger strikers, many of whom were not born at that time.
``I thought that when republicans flocked from all over Ireland and got Bobby Sands elected MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone that that would save his life. But the cold and ruthless British government wouldnt meet the prisoners wouldn't recognise their mandate . It didn't matter that 100,000 people marched after the coffin of Bobby Sands, that the Longshoreman's union blocked the port of New York and that the parliament of New Delhi stood in silence.
``I am heartened to come here tonight to see that many people down here in Skibbereen understand that the struggle that is going on in the Six Counties is the same struggle, whether you live in Derry, Belfast, Leitrim or Skibbereen.
Before the ceremony was concluded the cathaoirleach Donnchadh Ó Seaghdha paid tribute to Joseph O'Sullivan of Fachtnas Terrace, who left his sick bed to be present. Joe was the only remaining link with a previous generation of republicans at the time of the hunger strikes.
Bobby Sands from Belfast
So proud Brittannia hide your face,
Speech by John McDonnell MP
Why I stood up for Bobby Sands
Expulsion would be an odd reward for telling hard truths
Tuesday June 3, 2003
The search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq has deflected attention from the continuing search for peace in Northern Ireland. As each day passes without a solution to the political impasse, the danger of a drift back to violence mounts.
The next breakthrough in the peace process needs to offer the prospect of a lasting solution, but this will only come with a dramatic change in how we confront the trauma experienced over Northern Ireland. On all sides we have to start telling each other some hard truths. Painful, even dangerous it may be, but avoiding this massive leap in conflict resolution would mean that even if we can get past the current impasse we would only be back here again in another few months.
This is the type of hard talk I engaged in when I spoke at a commemoration of the hunger striker Bobby Sands last week. Talking in terms republicans would understand, I told the harsh truth that the negotiations on the future of Northern Ireland would not be taking place if it had not been for the military action of the IRA. Let me be clear, I abhor the killing of innocent human beings. My argument was that republicans had the right to honour those who had brought about this process of negotiation which had led to peace. Having achieved this central objective now it was time to move on. The future for achieving the nationalists' goals is through the political process and in particular through the Northern Ireland assembly elections.
The leadership of Tony Blair has undoubtedly produced advances. But the tragedy at present is that the peace process is being jeopardised by the government's suspension of the political process - in the form of the Northern Ireland assembly elections. This leads to a dangerous vacuum. Therefore I see my task now as doing all I can to get the political show back on the road, to create the kinds of formulations through which the IRA, the loyalist paramilitaries and the British army can all depart the scene without a sense of abiding grievance. No side will move if movement is portrayed as humiliating surrender.
Among British people there has to be an acceptance that the violence of the past 35 years had a root cause. It wasn't some pathological trait of the Irish. Britain faced such violence in virtually every colony from which it was forced to withdraw, from the Mau Mau in Kenya to the nationalists in India. We have to face up to the fact that without the armed uprising in 1916 Britain would not have withdrawn from southern Ireland. And without the armed struggle of the IRA over the past 30 years, the Good Friday agreement would not have acknowledged the legitimacy of the aspirations of many Irish people for a united Ireland. And without that acknowledgment we would have no peace process.
Irish republicans have to face the fact that the use of violence has resulted in unforgivable atrocities. No cause is worth the loss of a child's life. No amount of political theory will justify what has been perpetrated on the victims of the bombing campaigns. An acknowledgment is also needed that loyalist paramilitaries were motivated by the same dedication to their cause as IRA volunteers and that many British troops demonstrated similar bravery in what was in reality a long and brutal war. Above all else, republicans need to accept that the time for violence has gone. Only the political process offers the real prospect of a united Ireland at peace with itself.
Unionists must now appreciate that the majority of British people are indifferent to whether Northern Ireland is part of the UK or of a united Ireland. There needs to be an honest admission that their position can no longer be sustained by a combination of paramilitary violence and the force of the British army. Given that within a generation there is likely to be a nationalist majority in Northern Ireland, Unionist politicians will serve their people best by preparing for that inevitability, rather than continuing to jockey for personal position.
Despite my 25 years' involvement in Northern Ireland politics, the tabloid-led response to my recent remarks took me by surprise. After all, I've been speaking at this annual event for more than a decade, and throughout the 1980s and 1990s I expounded the same message: that with political will on all sides, the period of armed struggle could be replaced by engagement in a peaceful process capable of realising the nationalists' historic goal, a united Ireland.
Why, I wonder, has my speech become an issue now - both for the media and for nameless spokespersons within the Labour party? We should put behind us the days when the tragedy of Northern Ireland is used by British politicians and media for short-term gain. Certainly the constructive expression of an alternative policy approach has never in the past been the basis for a threat of expulsion from the Labour party.
· John McDonnell is MP for Hayes and Harlington, chair of the socialist campaign group of Labour MPs, convener of the RMT and FBU parliamentary groups, chair of the Labour party Irish society and secretary of the all-party Irish in Britain parliamentary group.
21 years on
Memorial to Bobby Sands, 21 years on
|Vandals defaced the granite memorial to hunger striker Bobby Sands with paint prior to its official unveiling in Enniskillen at the weekend. |
In the hours before Fermanagh/south Tyrone MP Ms. Michelle Gildernew unveiled the monument, the paint was successfully removed from the engraved granite structure which stands at the Paupers’ Graveyard in Cornagrade, in the shadow of a sculpture erected to remember the victims of the famine.
Before the unveiling ceremony, hundreds of people took part in a parade which left Kilmacormick at 3.30 p.m. on Sunday afternoon. It continued into town along Queen Street and Darling Street before returning to the Paupers’ Graveyard for the ceremony. The Mountain Road Pipe Band and Strabane Memorial Flute Band were part of the procession. The Sands family did not attend.
The event was organised by the Tom Flatley Sinn Fein cumann to mark the 21st anniversary of Bobby Sands’ death.
Bobby Sands was an icon for people locally, Councillor Gerry McHugh MLA told the assembled crowd. “Such was the feeling about Bobby Sands and his connection with Fermanagh/south Tyrone at the time the locals wanted to create some sort of tribute to him,” he said.
Looking back at his election as MP for the area, he said: “It was the start of the electoral process for Sinn Fein in this particular phase. Election gains at that particular time pointed there were political gains to be made from taking part in an election”.
He spoke about the Twinbrook man as a “son, husband and father”.
The Fermanagh MLA told the gathering of a letter he had received from Bobby Sands on his second week on hunger strike. “He wrote to me telling me that he had put on a fine and hopeful face to those around him on the wing, to his clan on visits. But he told me he had no intention of trying to pretend anything to me. He was determined to do what he had done and he knew that the British would show no mercy. Yet he was confident that by his actions his comrades coming behind, and a whole generation of young still unborn, would be so inspired as to ensure his goal, his dream, his Aisling would become a reality,” he said.
The event on Sunday gave people the opportunity to reminisce about the events of 1980 to 1981, said Councillor Pat Cox, who was involved in the Bobby Sands election campaign. He recalled that the entire campaign was run out of the front room of a house on Water Street in Enniskillen. “The people were afraid of intimidation . . the people translated their fears into votes,” Councillor Cox said.
Fermanagh/south Tyrone MP Ms. Michelle Gildernew spoke of Sinn Fein’s electoral successes in more recent times, in particular the General election in the Republic. “I am honoured to speak at the unveiling of this memorial to Volunteer Bobby Sands MP who sacrificed his life that we, and the future generations, could live in an Ireland of equals, free from foreign rule.
“21 years ago Bobby Sands and his comrades in Long Kesh were denounced by the British Government as criminals involved in some kind of conspiracy; however, the people of Fermanagh/south-Tyrone sent a clear message to Margaret Thatcher by electing Bobby as their MP with almost 30,000 votes. The people of this constituency played a huge role, in not only defeating the British Government policy of criminalisation of the Republican struggle, but also brought about the electoral successes we witnessed last week in the 26 county elections. Who could have imagined 21 years on, that Sinn Fein would have the support of almost 300,000 voters. I am confident that this generation of republicans will see the freedom the Bobby Sands and his comrades laid down their lives for,” she said
Christy Moore's tribute
From TAL Fanzine - Issue 25 - Article 9
BOBBY SANDS SONG- The People’s Own MP
How many more must die now? How many must we lose? Before the island people, their own destiny can choose, From the immortal Robert Emmett to Bobby Sands MP, Who was given 30,000 votes while in captivity,
No more he’ll hear the lark’s sweet notes upon the Ulster air, Nor gaze upon the snowflake pure to calm his deep despair, Before he went on Hunger Strike young Bobby did compose, ‘The Rhythm of Time’, The Reaping Wind’ and ‘The Sleeping Hordes’,
He was a poet and a soldier and he died courageously, And we gave him 30,000 votes while in captivity,
Thomas Ashe gave everything in 1917, The Lord mayor of Cork Mac Swinney died his freedom to obtain, Never a one of all our dead died more courageously, Than young Bobby Sands of Twinbrook, The People’s own MP,
He was a poet and a soldier and he died courageously,
And they gave him 30,000 votes while in captivity.
First memorial to be erected to the memory of Bobby Sands
Twinbrook, Belfast Archive
Support from afar - Australian support for the hunger strikers
Australian Aid for Ireland has produced a special issue of its magazine, Towards 32, to mark the 20th anniversary of the 1981 hunger strike. The following article from that magazine, penned by CHRIS RALEIGH, traces the story of Australia's support for the prison struggle and the hunger strikers.
As Bobby Sands embarked on hunger strike in Long Kesh, Australia had only recently replaced God Save the Queen as its national anthem.
So it is hardly surprising that the Australian branches of the National H-Block/Armagh Committee faced a daunting challenge in swaying the mood of the Australian people towards the demands of the hunger strikers. However, sway the mood they did, and through a mixture of courageous and innovative actions and unrelenting hard work, they convinced political parties, trade unions, and most importantly, the general public of the moral righteousness of the prisoner's demand for political status.
In doing this they forever changed the manner in which many ordinary Australians viewed the prison protest and the overall struggle for Irish freedom.
The attempted criminalisation of the prisoners had been a non-story. Consequently, when political status was withdrawn in March 1976 and the Blanket protest began, the average Australian was ignorant to the prisoner's motives
To counter this, the H-Block committees began to reach out to all sections of the Irish and Australian communities to articulate and expound the position of the protesting POWs. Rallies and marches, pickets, leafleting, and political education were combined to build a broad-based public spectrum to highlight the five demands.
The Labour Movement, a traditional republican support base, was tapped into first, with massive support received from dozens of trade unions throughout the country. The New South Wales South Coast Trade and Labour Council, at the time the largest provincial Labour Council in Australia, confirmed its support for the POWs' five demands.
The members of the H-Block committees built on this support from the union movement to bring pressure to bear on the Australian Labour Party (ALP), at the time the federal opposition. Local branch meetings were addressed by committee members in all of the major cities, with the majority of the ALP branches, consequently sending telegrams to Margaret Thatcher condemning her intransigence and insisting that the prisoners' demands be granted.
On the streets, a campaign of leafleting major commuter centres in the capital cities was undertaken. At ferry and bus stations and outside the offices of British Airways and the British consulates, stood republican activists, handing out leaflets and receiving wishes of support, verbal abuse, and on isolated occasions even physical attack.
On 1 May, as Bobby Sands entered the 61st day of his hunger strike, over 200 people held a silent, candlelit vigil in the centre of Sydney. Two men wearing nothing but blankets stood at the head for six hours, providing powerful imagery for the city's seething masses, weaving their way home.
Two days later, in the annual May Day parade, over 100 protestors marched in silence behind a black-clad coffin
The death of Bobby Sands
When Bobby Sands was pronounced dead, the outpouring of grief and anger was massive. In Sydney, an estimated 5,000 people marched from the Irish National Association to the British Consulate and at a requiem mass in the city's St Patrick's Cathedral, 2,000 mourners lined the massive building. Bishop David Cremin proclaimed from the pulpit that ``tonight we not only pray for Bobby Sands, but for a speedy resolution to the underlying cause of the unrest that has troubled Ulster and all of Ireland... the British government must give notice of withdrawal.''
In Melbourne, some 2,000 people attended a similar requiem mass and 30 members of the Victoria state parliament from across the political spectrum put their names to a death notice in The Age, ``In tribute to our fellow parliamentarian, Bobby Sands, who, like Kevin Barry, believed in liberty and has been prepared to die for it''.
In Adelaide, a 48-hour hunger strike was staged on the steps of Parliament House and in Brisbane, hundreds congregated to protest the death and vent their anger.
After the deaths of Francis Hughes, Raymond McCreesh and Patsy O'Hara, 1,500 marched behind four black-clad coffins bearing the faces of the four men. The rally then heard notices from Gerry Adams and Bernadette McAliskey.
From these tragic deaths sprang a revitalisation of Irish republicanism in Australia. The H-Block committees received unprecedented support and new branches were founded. Media appearances and street activism increased. No British establishment figure could escape the clutches of the protesting republicans.
At Port Kembla, north of Sydney, in June of 1981, a British ship, The Cape Horn, was forced to stay docked as the Waterside Workers Federation placed a 48-hour blanket ban on loading the ship's cargo, tons of grain bound for England, in solidarity with the POWs. The captain, a Scottish royalist, was said to be incensed.
At a function in nearby Newcastle to celebrate a royal wedding, over 50 H-Block supporters staged a picket on the steps of the offending restaurant.
Tension reached a climax in Australia after the death of Thomas McElwee at a well-attended rally, held outside the British consulate in Sydney. Addressing the crowd, 27-year-old Eamon (Ned) O'Connor from Tullamore, Offaly spoke from a prepared statement, which read in part:
``I, Eamon O'Connor, pledge this day, 9 August 1981, to go on hunger strike to the death if need be in support of our Irish political prisoners. I start this hunger strike demanding that the Australian government and the Australian politicians publicly call on Margaret Thatcher to grant the five demands of the Irish political prisoners. I call on them to remember Australian history and the contribution the Irish have made to that history. Ireland unfree shall never be at peace.''
O'Connor then marched to the Irish National Association and began his fast immediately. After 18 days of the strike, two members of the Sydney H-Block committee met with acting Australian Prime Minister Doug Anthony (yet again highlighting the influence the H-Block committees held), only to be told that the problem was an internal matter for the British government.
Media attention began to grow as the days dragged on and Eamon's health deteriorated. On his 37th day without food, a specific request to end his protest was received from the leadership of the Republican Movement, which finally persuaded him to call off his protest.
Hunger strike legacy
When the hunger strike was finally called off, in Australia, as in Ireland, a strange void was created. As gradually the five demands where phased in, a sense of victory began to set in amongst the Australian committees. Not a euphoric victory, but a victory through struggle, a victory that had cost ten lives.
This victory was shared by all who gave their support to the campaign, but during the course of the prison protests it was a core number of activists throughout Australia who kept the spirit alive. In doing so they forever changed the way in which the Irish freedom struggle would be viewed in Australia
**from the 20th anniversary of Bobby's death:
“CONTRARY to allegations made in the news media, there was not a straight line from the election of Bobby Sands in 1981 to the Stormont Agreement of 1998”, said Ruairí Ó Brádaigh, President of Republican Sinn Féin at a seminar in Lisnaskea, Co Fermanagh (2pm, Donn Carragh Hotel) on Saturday, May 5, the 20th anniversary of Bobby Sands’ death on hunger strike.
Other speakers included former hunger strikers Tommy McKearney, Tyrone and John Nixon, Armagh. The commemorative lectures were organised by Fermanagh Comhairle Ceantair, Republican Sinn Féin.
“Rather was the line from March, April and May 1981 to the same months in 1998 disfigured and distorted by an internal power-struggle for the leadership of Sinn Féin accompanied and followed by deceit and artifice as the ideals of Bobby Sands were steadily perverted and a section of the then powerful revolutionary Republican Movement turned into a constitutional party.
Those who had opposed any electoral intervention during the 1970s and were initially against Bobby Sands being a candidate in the Fermanagh-South Tyrone by-election, when ultimately convinced of nominating the hunger striking prisoner did a complete volte face on his election and sought to contest every and any election regardless of the circumstances.
They organised a section of the political prisoners and Sands’s elected successor as H-Block representative for Fermanagh -South Tyrone to throw weight against the ÉIRE NUA policy of a new Federal Ireland of the four provinces, including a nine-county Ulster, and succeeded in having it jettisoned at the Ard Fheis of Sinn Féin in the autumn of 1981. This forward-looking policy of the movement for more than 10 years was thrown out to the slogan that it was “a sop to the unionists”.
Bobby Sands commenced his hunger strike on March 1 and Frank Maguire MP for Fermanagh-South Tyrone died on March 5. Following the British government’s reneging on the settlement of the 53-day hunger strike of late 1950 and the start of another fast, it was felt that a new factor was needed to galvanise support in Ireland and abroad.
The idea of putting forward Sands as a candidate was the brain-child of a man of vision, Dáithí Ó Conaill, a long time friend of the Maguire family. It was he who proposed it to a meeting of the Ard-Chomhairle of Sinn Féin and the opposition was finally persuaded to support the move.
Incidentally, the “armalite and the ballot-box” strategy was nothing new. It dated from 1917 and as a younger man I was active in Fermanagh-South Tyrone in the campaign which elected Philip Clarke, a prisoner candidate, in 1955. Later, in 1966 I was the Republican candidate in the same constituency. Its place in history is now well marked out due to the events being commemorated today. Twenty years subsequent to the sacrifice of Bobby Sands and his nine comrades, the political status they sought and achieved has again been withdrawn from Republican prisoners.
Tommy Crossan of Belfast leads the struggle in Maghaberry Prison, Co. Antrim and was on May 2 selected as candidate for West Belfast in the coming Westminster election in order to highlight and build support for the restoration of political status to political prisoners.
Those who are loud in their support for the hunger strikers of 20 years ago are silent today in the face of the plight of Republican prisoners in Maghaberry whose physical safety even is in danger from loyalists and ordinary prisoners. The former Republicans who rebuilt the Stormont assembly are now part of the British system in Ireland and have turned their backs on the successors of Bobby Sands and his comrades.
Their progress since 1981 was not a line of advance but a gradual retreat from the ideals that motivated the hunger strikers of 20 years ago. Their policy of acceptance of Leinster House and Stormont and of the Unionist Veto on Irish national independence has now become a classic counter-revolutionary stance.
Yet the unsullied ideals of the hunger strikers who suffered such painful and agonising deaths continue to motivate and inspire young people to strive for Irish freedom. Sands, like Pearse, Connolly and MacSwiney before him has left us copious writings which makes it very difficult to misrepresent him.
He did not die for mere civil rights under English rule nor for a spurious equality, but for human dignity and prisoner-of-war treatment as part of the on-going struggle for Irish national liberation and the liberation of all humankind.
He has amply documented his case for those who wish to be aware of it.
May his noble spirit and those of all our hunger strikers enjoy the peace denied to them on this earth.
In the civilized year of seventy-nine
But when I look around, all I see
Is modern torture, pain and hypocrisy.
In modern times little children die
And while fat dictators sit upon their thrones
In the gutter lies black man, dead
As the bureaucrats, speculators and presidents alike
Some times when you look at the photos of the murals, you forget that they are attached to other structures. This photo shows a different view.
ON THIS DAY - May 5, 1981
The BBC has this feature where you can read the news of any day in history. These were the stories and videos on the day Bobby died, May 5, 1981, including an interview with his mother Rosaleen. Please keep in mind that it IS the BBC.
IF YOU type “This Day in History, May 5th” into the search engines of the History Channel or most newspapers it will show up something along the lines of, “In 1981, Irish Republican Army hunger-striker Bobby Sands died at the Maze Prison in Northern Ireland in his 66th day without food” (‘Boston Globe’). In other words, Bobby Sands’ name has been immortalised by his and his comrades’ hunger strikes twenty-two years ago..
A news reporter on Fox News in the USA last week soon found out how much a legend is Bobby Sands when he attempted a crude joke on television. At the end of the news, Steve Shepherd, said: “On this date Bobby Sands died after sixty-six days on a hunger strike in prison in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The moral of the story: eat more often.”
Irish-Americans were outraged and an online petition was soon organised which forced Fox News and Shepherd to apologise. Fox TV Network is, of course, owned by media mogul, Rupert Murdoch, an old friend of Mrs Thatcher and it was Murdoch’s HarperCollins which advanced Mrs Thatcher $5.4million for her almost unreadable memoirs.
Shortly after Bobby died in 1981 some idiot, in an attempt at irony, wrote on a gable wall in loyalist East Belfast, “We’ll never forget you, Jimmy Sands.”
Travel almost anywhere in the world, mention that you are from Ireland, and the response you are likely to get is, “Ireland – Bobby Sands!” No one answers, “England – Mrs Thatcher!” though nowadays they might answer, “England – George Bush!” Bobby Sands’ name lives on and the legacy of the hunger strikers continues to inspire not just Irish republicans but many nationalities who associate it with nobility, sacrifice and courage in the face of a bullying power.
LAST YEAR two small events showed how ordinary people if motivated and mobilised can make a political point and their voices heard. In November the BBC World Service, as part of its 70th anniversary celebrations, announced that it was holding a poll for the world’s top tune.
The poll attracted submissions from all around the world. Nearly 150,000 votes were received from 153 countries, nominating over 6,500 songs. Even The Beatles failed to make the top ten.. One of the strongest contenders was a patriotic Hindu song, ‘Vande Mataram’, which is considered by many as India’s national song.
Someone, somewhere, came up with the bright idea of nominating ‘A Nation Once Again’ by The Wolfe Tones, and encouraging like-minded people to concentrate on that one song. Using the internet and the Irish Diaspora, e-mails poured into the BBC. As a result, ‘A Nation Once Again’, written in the 1840s by Thomas Davis and first recorded in 1964, was voted the world’s top song!
Of course, the reaction of the BBC World Service to this shock result was to announce that it was going to hold yet another poll to see if its listeners agreed with the result! Whether it went ahead I am not sure – but the psyche at play was quite revealing and not too far removed, for example, from that colonial practice of postponing native elections until one gets the results one likes.
Around the same time, BBC Radio Ulster carried out a poll for Ulsterman of the Century. I hadn’t even heard it was taking place and saw no reference to it in any internet bulletin boards, which suggests that there was little or no canvassing, yet, once again, Bobby Sands was up there in the Top Five (along with Ian Paisley, and the late Joey Dunlop who topped the poll).
THE INTRANSIGENCE of the British government at the time of the hunger strikes was made possible because its behaviour was never checked by concerned, domestic pressure. The British public was left ignorant by the great British media who moulded the public’s opinions of Ireland and of people like Bobby Sands. The conflict was presented as inexplicable or tribal or atavistic but never in an intelligent or, for that matter, in an honest or impartial way. We saw again in the recent Iraqi war how journalists identify and bond with their own troops.
Last year the veteran BBC correspondent, Kate Adie, published her autobiography, ‘The Kindness of Strangers’. Adie would be most familiar as that figure riding atop a British army tank, in her flak jacket and helmet, reporting from the Balkans or Afghanistan. But before that her job was often to explain the North to British viewers. And to her the hunger strike was “Bog-trotting stuff.”
I have written here before, how on the morning that Bobby Sands died she interviewed me on the Falls Road. It remains the most hostile interview I ever did in twenty-five years. Still, I thought I acquitted myself well and got the better of her, but it was never broadcast. The BBC claimed that the film “didn’t come out.”
In her book she makes no mention of this interview but writes about sneaking into Bobby’s wake “in a headscarf and scruffy anorak”. She says: “In his coffin, Mr Sands did not present a pale face of suffered humanity. He looked like a banana. Luminous yellow. I sniffled and coughed and looked hard. This was not the time and place to comment on the effects of hepatitis A and liver failure – nor the fact that the local embalmer had apparently used furniture varnish by the look of it. Thank God no one put a friendly arm round my shoulder at my supposed overcome state. I’d just learned what actors meant by corpsing.”
Earlier she compares the British army to the locals. “The army was full of pink-cheeked lads, squat and muscly…”
Anti-H-Block marchers, on the other hand, were, “pasty-faced, lank-haired young women, with pushchairs of mewling children. Skinny lads, with hunched bony shoulders and pipe-cleaner legs; middle-aged – or perhaps not, but older – women, in groups, all smoking during the six miles up the Falls, skin shiny with anti-depressants, and voices raucous…”
These weren’t the people, the community I saw and was with during those dark, sad days: dignified people who were shot and pulverised on their own streets for daring to oppose British policy. Kate Adie claims that what came out of Belfast was, “Efficient and carefully judged journalism”, but in her own words she reveals something of the deep-seated prejudices which informed a style of reporting which kept the British public in ignorance and which did a disservice to the living and the dead.
The Woman Cried
The humble home in dead of night,
A flitting shadow fled,
The yellow moon caught sharpened pike,
Where the night shades danced and played.
A bramble clawed at trembling hand,
And a night owl watched unseen,
Through bog and glen a United man,
Marched out to win a dream.
Cold black water lashed and splashed,
And played round a tattered reed,
By dying fire a woman prayed,
That the Gael might but succeed.
The silver nails of a rugged boot,
Scarred a lonely lifeless stone,
Cross rambling hill he marched afoot
To fight along with Tone.
Six days he fought,
Midst dying piles of gory mutilated heroes,
And the English cannon roared.
Upon the ghosts of Celtic bones,
A nation's blood was poured.
Thousands fell in screaming bloody terror,
Whilst the informer hid cowering close by,
But there were none left amongst that bloody fray,
To hear the woman cry.
note:Bobby Sands was the parliamentary representative for
Fermanagh and South Tyrone when he died in the H-Blocks
of Long Kesh prison, on 5th May, 1981 after 66 days of
Copyright Bobby Sands
An Cumann Cabhrach biography of 1981
The profiles of the hunger strikers as they first appeared in An Cumann Cabhrach brochure of 1981. We have not re-written or updated the contents.
Bobby Sands was born in 1954 in Rathcoole, a predominantly loyalist district of north Belfast. His twenty-seventh birthday fell on the ninth day of his sixty-six day hunger-strike.
The sectarian realities of ghetto life materialised early in Bobby's life when at the age of seven his family were forced to move home owing to loyalist intimidation even as early as 1962.
Of this time Bobby himself later wrote: "1 was only a working-class boext three years in the cages of Long Kesh where he had political prisoner status. During this time Bobby read widely and taught himself Irish which he was later to teach the other blanket men in the H-Blocks. Released in 1976 Bobby returned to his family in Twinbrook. He reported back to his local unit and went straight back into the continuing struggle. Bobby set himself to work tackling the social issues which affected the Twinbrook area. Here he became a community activist.
Within six months Bobby was arrested again. There had been a bomb attack on the Balmoral Furniture Company at Dunmurray, followed by a gun-battle in which two men were wounded. Bobby was in a car near the scene with three other young men. The R.U.C. captured them and found a revolver in the car.
The six men were taken to Castlereagh and were subjected to brutal interrogations for six days. Bobby refused to answer any questions during his interrogation except his name, age and address.
On October 27th 1980, following the breakdown of talks between the British direct-ruler in the North, Humphrey Atkins and Cardinal 0 Fiaich, the Irish Catholic primate, seven prisoners in the H-Blocks began a hunger-strike. Bobby volunteered for the fast but instead he succeeded, as 0/C, Brendan Hughes, who went on hunger strike.
That hunger-strike ended after 53 days when the British agreed to implement a liberal and enlightened prison regime. But as soon as the hunger-strike was over the Brits reneged and Bobby's attempts to negotiate with the prison governor were rebuffed. Thus British intransigence forced a second hunger-strike which Bobby led on March 1st 1981.
He insisted on starting two weeks in front on the others so that perhaps his death could secure the five demands and save their lives.
On March 30th, he was nominated as candidate for the Fermanagh and South Tyrone by-election caused by the sudden death of Frank Maguire, an independent M.P. who supported the prisoners' cause.
In an historic by-election, which was the subject of international interest, Bobby was victorious over his unionist rival. But the British still refused to treat with the prisoners and at 1.17am on Tuesday May 5th, having completed 65 days on hunger strike, Bobby Sands, M.P., died in the H-Block prison hospital at Long Kesh.
Bobby's grave (photo)
**Click on the above link to see the full size photo of Bobby Sands' grave
20th Anniversary / LALKARONLINE
LALKAR is a bi-monthly anti-imperialist newspaper written in the UK. It contains news and analysis of current events and labour history from the perspective of the proletariat and its struggle for social emancipation, as well as from the perspective of the oppressed people and their struggle against imperialism and for national liberation.
**from 2001 issue
Anniversary of the Irish hunger strike
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the hunger strike undertaken by the Republican prisoners in the notorious Maze prison, with even more notorious H-Blocks, in which 10 young men were to die a martyr’s death, one after the other, over 172 traumatic days. The strike was begun to press the demand for recognition of their status as political prisoners (a status once recognised but taken away by an earlier Labour government in Britain) rather than being treated as common criminals.
Bobby Sands was the first one to go on the hunger strike, and the first to die a hero’s death. He went on hunger strike on 1st March 1981. May 5 this year marks the 20th anniversary of his martyrdom. The decision to go on the hunger strike was the prisoners’ and the prisoners’ alone. They were young men fired by a hatred of British colonialism and with a burning desire to free their country from nearly eight centuries of British occupation – the noblest kind that any country is capable of producing. Bobby Sands and his comrades showed an astonishing resolve that earned then the grudging admiration of even their enemies. "Albert", a prison officer in the Maze, who was on guard duty at the time of the death of Bobby Sands, says "the best grub went in. We were out to break them, but you’ve got to hand it to them. There was not any of them ever tried to break off and eat, not once".
"Albert" says that the other prison officers hated the Republican prisoners and treated them as "the lowest form of life" in the period of the "blanket protest" (prisoners refusing to wear prison clothes – only blankets), which developed in "dirty protest", with the prisoners smearing themselves with their own excrement. "Albert" adds "… during the hunger strike we began to look at them in a different light. We began thinking there must be more to these guys. Anyone who can stand 30,40,50 days without food must have something. They never wavered once".
"Albert" has the same admiration for the hunger strikers’ relatives whom, he says, he never saw waver. The relatives would come in, "… pat them on the back, tell them they were doing a great job…, giving them encouragement, telling them they looked great. This was to a boy whose stomach had shrunk down till you could see the spinal cord. It was like looking at Belsen photos". Only on being escorted out of the prison would the relatives break down and show any emotion. "You could see the mothers’ tears alright, but not in front of the prisoners" says "Albert", adding that he "… used to go home after spending nights in the [prison] hospital and walk around the garden trying to come to terms with what was going on. It left a deep impression on everyone in there at the time".
One of the prison doctors was later to commit suicide.
Even such a despicable arch-reactionary person as Mrs Thatcher, whose government oversaw the deaths (deliberate murders would be a better term) of these ten finest of human beings felt constrained in her autobiography to admit that "it was possible to admire the courage of Sands and the other hunger strikers who died…"
When the hunger strike began, it was typically ignored by our ‘free’ media, the government, the Labour Party and, with a few honourable exceptions, by the trade union leadership and what passed for ‘left’ at the time, until, with the sudden death from heart attack of the independent nationalist MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone on March 5 1981, events took a dramatic turn. The Republicans decided to put Bobby Sands up as a candidate in the by-election. It was a huge risk, for the authorities and the entire British ruling class was bound to portray Bobby Sands and comrades as "murderous thugs" devoid of popular mass support in the event of his defeat in the election.
The decision taken, the Republican movement got on with the election campaign with characteristic energy and seriousness of purpose for the candidate who in his nomination papers described his profession as "political prisoner". On a massive turnout of 86.8%, Bobby Sands won with 30,492 votes to 29,046 for his opponent. When the news of his victory was heard by prisoners in the Maze on their illicit radios, the whole place erupted. "For 15 minutes", says Lawrence McKeown, who had himself fasted for 70 days and was saved by his mother’s intervention, who exercised her legal right to save the life of an unconscious next of kin after he had gone into a coma, "we were shouting and roaring".
Bobby Sands’ stunning electoral victory electrified the political landscape, with the strike becoming newsworthy on a global scale, and requests for interviews coming in at a rate even the Republican movement, with all its organisational abilities and skills, found at times difficult to cope with. Bobby Sands’ writing became a best seller. No longer could the British government clam that the hunger strikers were lacking in support in the community. Thatcher’s government was in serious difficulty and under pressure to give in. High-powered delegates, including a papal emissary, swooped into the Maze to broker an agreement. In vain did the likes of Daily Express try to dub Sands as "the Honourable Member for Violence". In the end, nothing came of these attempts, as the Thatcher government was determined with the full support of the Labour Party opposition to see these young men die. Its response to Sands’ victory was to change the law so as to prevent prisoners from standing for Parliament.
Bobby Sands was 40 days into his hunger strike at the time of his election. 26 days later, after 66 days without food, he died at 1.17 a.m. on May 5. According to "Albert", the body of Bobby Sands was smuggled out through the gate at the rear of the Maze just in case the Republicans should try to seize it. Sands’ death sent shockwaves throughout the world. Even the speaker of the British House of Commons, at the time, George Thomas, was compelled to respectfully announce: "I regret to inform the House of the death of Robert Sands, Esquire, the member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone". Europe and the US witnessed large protests, some violent, at the death. The Queen was heckled on a visit to Norway; the US Longshoremen’s Union boycotted British ships; the Soviet Union, and Cuba condemned British oppression in Ireland. Over 100,000 people marched behind Sands’ coffin, with the IRA giving him a fallen soldier hero’s farewell with a volley of shots.
Three months later, on 20 August, Owen Carron, Bobby Sand’s election agent, regained his parliamentary seat with an increased majority. Kieran Doherty, another hunger striker was elected to the Irish Dail a few weeks before he died on August 2.
Other hunger strikers went to their deaths. Hughes died a week after Sands, McLeesh and O’Hara both fell 10 days after Hughes. To the accompaniment of this macabre tragedy in the Maze, the British establishment was gaily participating in the festivities in connection with the wedding of Prince Charles to the late Diana. Northern Ireland was in turmoil, as more volunteers stepped in to replace those on the "conveyor belt of death".
The hunger strikers’ resolve was undiminished to the last. Bobby Sands, as he was literally breathing his last, told a visiting friend "tell the lads I’m hanging in there and I’m alright". One cannot but have the greatest of reverence for such heroic courage, whether or not one agrees with the tactic of hunger strike as a method of struggle. Such resolve can only be the product of the discrimination and oppression that Bobby Sands, like a multitude of other youths, underwent at the hands of the British occupation forces and their bigoted stooges in the north of Ireland. During his boyhood his family had been driven out of Rathcoole estate, a predominately loyalist place in Belfast; in his teens he was forced to give up his apprenticeship with a Coachbuilder by loyalist thugs. Not surprisingly, by 18 he had joined the IRA, becoming a leader of the IRA’s West Belfast Unit. He had spent a major portion of his life in prison, where for 5 years, he and his comrades had been fighting for the restoration of their "special category status". The right to be treated as prisoners of war, not as common criminals, as the authorities portrayed them. It was this struggle which, via the "blanket" and "dirty" protests developed inexorably into the hunger strike.
The hunger strike was eventually ended by 3 October through the intervention of a reactionary Catholic priest, Father Denis Paul, who has deservedly been dubbed ‘Mrs Thatcher’s priest’ and has since become "a pariah and a leper" to use his own words. Soon after the termination of the hunger strike, James Prior, who had replaced Humphrey Atkins as Northern Ireland Secretary, granted all the demands of the prisoners, including the politically symbolic right to wear their own clothes instead of prison uniform. With this the pretence to portray the prisoners as ordinary criminals was all but dropped.
The hunger strike brought the liberation forces money, recruits and international recognition. Sands’ election victory opened new channels for the furtherance of the cause of Irish national liberation – supplementing the armed struggle with struggle in the parliamentary arena. In 1984 the IRA bombed the Brighton hotel at which Mrs Thatcher and her close colleagues were staying in an action characterised by Danny Morrison as "the hunger strike coming home to roost for Mrs Thatcher". Following the hunger strike, the Republican movement continued its fight for liberation with an Armalite in one hand and a ballot paper in the other, forcing the British government, through the Good Friday Agreement, to recognise the rights of the nationalist community. Sinn Fein has achieved remarkable victories and it is on the verge of overtaking the SDLP in the electoral arena (in the 1998 assembly elections it secured 17.6% of the vote against SDLP’s 22%) while the IRA refuses to hand in its arms. Bobby Sands used to say that "Every Republican has his own particular part to play". Certainly he and his fellow hunger strikers have played a great historical part in strengthening the cause for Irish liberation. He was also fond of saying: "Our revenge will be the laughter of our children". This revenge is well on the way to being fulfilled. The Maze is no more; Thatcher is all but dead in every sense of the expression; the Northern Ireland statelet, with its characteristic bigotry, is smashed, never to be restored; the Unionist camp is fast disintegrating into warring factions bent on mutual destruction; Sinn Fein is on course to become a force in the 26 Counties; no force on earth can stop complete Irish unity, even if the process is complicated. Bobby Sands and his comrades are well on the way to being avenged through the laughter of their children.
On this, the 20th anniversary of their martyrdom, their supreme sacrifice in the cause of Irish liberation, Lalkar joins the liberation forces on the entire island of Ireland in saluting these great heroes. They are heroes not just of the Irish people, but of the entire progressive humanity.
(Quotations throughout this article have been reproduced from a special report by Martin Fletcher in The Times of 16 March 2001).
- (Gordon Lightfoot / Bobby Sands)
In eighteen-o-three we sailed out to sea
Out from the sweet town of Derry
For Australia bound, if we didn't all drown
The marks of our fetters we carried
In our rusty iron chains we cried for our weans
Our good women we left in sorrow
As the main sails unfurled, our curses we hurled
On the English and thoughts of tomorrow
At the mouth of the Foyle, bade farewell to the soil
As down below decks we were lying
O'Doherty screamed, woken out of a dream
By a vision of bold Robert dying
The sun burnt cruel as we dished out the gruel
Dan O'Conner was down with a fever
Sixty rebels today, bound for Botany Bay
How many will reach their receiver
Oh oh oh oh oh I wish I was back home in Derry
Oh oh oh oh oh I wish I was back home in Derry
I cursed them to hell as our bow fought the swell
Our ship danced like a moth in the firelight
White horses rode high as the devil passed by
Taking souls to Hades by twilight
Five weeks out to sea, we were now forty-three
We buried our comrades each morning
In our own slime we were lost in the time
Endless night without dawning
Oh oh oh oh oh I wish I was back home in Derry
Oh oh oh oh oh I wish I was back home in Derry
Van Diemen's Land is a hell for a man
To end out his whole life in slavery
Where the climate is raw and a gun makes the law
Neither wind nor rain care for bravery
Twenty years have gone by, I have ended my bond
My comrades' ghosts walk beside me
A rebel I came, I'm still the same
On the cold winds of night you will find me
Oh oh oh oh oh I wish I was back home in Derry
Oh oh oh oh oh I wish I was back home in Derry
As sung by Christy Moore
Tune: The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald
Everyone has a part to play
|From the Trinity Sinn Féin website
THE LARK AND THE FREEDOM FIGHTER
By Bobby Sands, IRA volunteer & MP
My grandfather once said that the imprisonment of the lark is a crime of the greatest cruelty because the lark is one of the greatest symbols of freedom and happiness. He often spoke of the spirit of the lark relating to a story of a man who incarcerated one of his loved friends in a small cage.
The lark, having suffered the loss of her liberty, no longer sung her little heart out, she no longer had anything to be happy about. The man who had committed the atrocity, as my grandfather called it, demanded that the lark should do as he wished: that was to sing her heart out, to comply to his wishes and change herself to suit his pleasure or benefit.
The lark refused, and the man became angry and violent. He began to pressurise the lark to sing, but inevitably he received no result. so, he took more drastic steps. He covered the cage with a black cloth, depriving the bird of sunlight. He starved it and left it to rot in a dirty cage, but the bird still refused to yield. The man murdered it.
As my grandfather rightly stated, the lark had spirit--the spirit of freedom and resistance. It longed to be free, and died before it would conform to the tyrant who tried to change it with torture and imprisonment.I feel I have something in common with that bird and her torture,imprisonment and final murder. She had a spirit which is not commonly found, even among us so-called superior beings, humans.
Take an ordinary prisoner. His main aim is to make his period of imprisonment as easy and as comfortable as possible. The ordinary prisoner will in no way jeopardise a single day of his remission. Some will even grovel, crawl and inform on other prisoners to safeguard themselves or to speed up their release. They will comply to the wishes of their captors,and unlike the lark, they will sing when told to and jump high when told to move.
Although the ordinary prisoner has lost his liberty he is not prepared to go to extremes to regain it, nor to protect his humanity. He settles for a short date of release. Eventually, if incarcerated long enough, he becomes institutionalised, becoming a type of machine, not thinking for himself,his captors dominating and controlling him. That was the intended fate of the lark in my grandfather's story; but the lark needed no changing, nor did it wish to change, and died making that point.
This brings me directly back to my own situation: I feel something in common with that poor bird. My position is in total contrast to that of an ordinary conforming prisoner: I too am a political prisoner, a freedom fighter. Like the lark, I too have fought for my freedom, not only in captivity, where I now languish, but also while on the outside, where my country is held captive. I have been captured and imprisoned, but, like the lark, I too have seen the outside of the wire cage.
I am now in H-Block, where I refuse to change to suit the people who oppress, torture and imprison me, and who wish to dehumanize me. Like the lark I need no changing. It is my political ideology and principles that my captors wish to change. They have suppressed my body and attacked my dignity. If I were an ordinary prisoner they would pay little, if any,attention to me, knowing that I would conform to their insitutional whims.
I have lost over two years' remission. I care not. I have been stripped of my clothes and locked in a dirty, empty cell, where I have been starved, beaten, and tortured, and like the lark I fear I may eventually be murdered. But, dare I say it, similar to my little firend, I have the spirit of freedom that cannot be quenched by even the most horrendous treatment. Of course I can be murdered, but while I remain alive, I remain what I am, a political prisoner of war, and no one can change that.
Haven't we plenty of larks to prove that? Our history is heart-breakingly littered with them: the MacSwineys, the Gaughans, and the Staggs. Will there be more in H-Block?
I dare not conclude without finishing my grandfather's story. I once asked him whatever happened to the wicked man who imprisoned, tortured and murdered the lark?
"Son," he said, "one day he caught himself on one of his own traps, and no one would assist him to get free. His own people scorned him, and turned their backs on him. He grew weaker and weaker, and finally toppled over to die upon the land which he had marred with such blood. The birds came and extracted their revenge by picking his eyes out, and the larks sang like they never sang before."
"Grandfather," I said, "could that man's name have been John Bull?"
Bobby and comrades in Long Kesh
A Burning Thread
The seagulls are crying
Swirling up the spray
Upon the ocean of my mind
Blown, by a breeze of yesterday.
Oh! the simple gentle thoughts
The loneliness of the prisoner
To see the golden mermaid of the rock
Yet, to be cut adrift from her.
The mind knows no doors
A burning candle in the night
To seek the green or grey of yesterday
Or the "if" the "wish" or "might."
In the tomb the darkest depths
The candle flickers dying
Death is slaying life unseen
While the seagulls are crying.
from Bobby Sands Writings from Prison Mercier Press 1998
Bobby and coms, Long Kesh
As you can see, the flowers are arranged to portray the Irish Tricolour.
For the first seventeen days of his hunger-strike Bobby Sands kept a secret diary in which he wrote his thoughts and views.
I am standing on the threshold of another trembling world. May God have mercy on my soul.
My heart is very sore because I know that I have broken my poor mother's heart, and my home is struck with unbearable anxiety. But I have considered all the arguments and tried every means to avoid what has become the unavoidable: it has been forced upon me and my comrades by four-and-a-half years of stark inhumanity.
I am a political prisoner. I am a political prisoner because I am a casualty of a perennial war that is being fought between the oppressed Irish people and an alien, oppressive, unwanted regime that refuses to withdraw from our land.
I believe and stand by the God-given right of the Irish nation to sovereign independence, and the right of any Irishman or woman to assert this right in armed revolution. That is why I am incarcerated, naked and tortured.
Foremost in my tortured mind is the thought that there can never be peace in Ireland until the foreign, oppressive British presence is removed, leaving all the Irish people as a unit to control their own affairs and determine their own destinies as a sovereign people, free in mind and body, separate and distinct physically, culturally and economically.
I believe I am but another of those wretched Irishmen born of a risen generation with a deeply rooted and unquenchable desire for freedom. I am dying not just to attempt to end the barbarity of H-Block, or to gain the rightful recognition of a political prisoner, but primarily because what is lost in here is lost for the Republic and those wretched oppressed whom I am deeply proud to know as the 'risen people'.
There is no sensation today, no novelty that October 27th brought. (The starting date of the original seven man hunger-strike) The usual Screws were not working. The slobbers and would-be despots no doubt will be back again tomorrow, bright and early.
I wrote some more notes to the girls in Armagh today. There is so much I would like to say about them, about their courage, determination and unquenchable spirit of resistance. They are to be what Countess Markievicz, Anne Devlin, Mary Ann McCracken, Marie MacSwiney, Betsy Gray, and those other Irish heroines are to us all. And, of course, I think of Ann Parker, Laura Crawford, Rosemary Bleakeley, and I'm ashamed to say I cannot remember all their sacred names.
Mass was solemn, the lads as ever brilliant. I ate the statutory weekly bit of fruit last night. As fate had it, it was an orange, and the final irony, it was bitter. The food is being left at the door. My portions, as expected, are quite larger than usual, or those which my cell-mate Malachy is getting.
Much to the distaste of the Screws we ended the no-wash protest this morning. We moved to 'B' wing, which was allegedly clean.
We have shown considerable tolerance today. Men are being searched coming back from the toilet. At one point men were waiting three hours to get out to the toilet, and only four or five got washed, which typifies the eagerness (sic) of the Screws to have us off the no-wash. There is a lot of petty vindictiveness from them.
I saw the doctor and I'm 64 kgs. I've no problems.
The priest, Fr John Murphy, was in tonight. We had a short talk. I heard that my mother spoke at a parade in Belfast yesterday and that Marcella cried. It gave me heart. I'm not worried about the numbers of the crowds. I was very annoyed last night when I heard Bishop Daly's statement (issued on Sunday, condemning the hunger-strike). Again he is applying his double set of moral standards. He seems to forget that the people who murdered those innocent Irishmen on Derry's Bloody Sunday are still as ever among us; and he knows perhaps better than anyone what has and is taking place in H-Block.
He understands why men are being tortured here -- the reason for criminalisation. What makes it so disgusting, I believe, is that he agrees with that underlying reason. Only once has he spoken out, of the beatings and inhumanity that are commonplace in H-Block.
I once read an editorial, in late '78, following the then Archbishop O Fiaich's 'sewer pipes of Calcutta' statement. It said it was to the everlasting shame of the Irish people that the archbishop had to, and I paraphrase, stir the moral conscience of the people on the H-Block issue. A lot of time has passed since then, a lot of torture, in fact the following year was the worst we experienced.
Now I wonder who will stir the Cardinal's moral conscience...
Bear witness to both right and wrong, stand up and speak out. But don't we know that what has to be said is 'political', and it's not that these people don't want to become involved in politics, it's simply that their politics are different, that is, British.
My dear friend Tomboy's father died today. I was terribly annoyed, and it has upset me.
I received several notes from my family and friends. I have only read the one from my mother -- it was what I needed. She has regained her fighting spirit -- I am happy now.
My old friend Seanna (Walsh, a fellow blanket man) has also written.
I have an idea for a poem, perhaps tomorrow I will try to put it together.
Every time I feel down I think of Armagh, and James Connolly. They can never take those thoughts away from me.
I'm feeling exceptionally well today. (It's only the third day, I know, but all the same I'm feeling great.) I had a visit this morning with two reporters, David Beresford of The Guardian and Brendan O Cathaoir of The Irish Times. Couldn't quite get my flow of thoughts together. I could have said more in a better fashion.
63 kgs today, so what?
A priest was in. Feel he's weighing me up psychologically for a later date. If I'm wrong I'm sorry -- but I think he is. So I tried to defuse any notion of that tonight. I think he may have taken the point. But whether he accepts it, will be seen. He could not defend my onslaught on Bishop Daly -- or at least he did not try.
I wrote some notes to my mother and to Mary Doyle in Armagh; and will write more tomorrow. The boys are now all washed. But I didn't get washed today. They were still trying to get men their first wash.
I smoked some 'bog-rolled blows' today, the luxury of the Block!
They put a table in my cell and are now placing my food on it in front of my eyes. I honestly couldn't give a damn if they placed it on my knee. They still keep asking me silly questions like, 'Are you still not eating?'
I never got started on my poem today, but I'll maybe do it tomorrow. The trouble is I now have more ideas.
Got papers and a book today. The book was Kipling's Short Stories with an introduction of some length by W. Somerset Maugham. I took an instant dislike to the latter on reading his comment on the Irish people during Kipling's prime as a writer: 'It is true that the Irish were making a nuisance of themselves.' Damned too bad, I thought, and bigger the pity it wasn't a bigger nuisance! Kipling I know of, and his Ulster connection. I'll read his stories tomorrow.
Ag rá an phaidrín faoi dhó achan lá atá na buachaillí anois. Níl aon rud eile agam anocht. Sin sin. (Translated this reads as follows: The boys are now saying the rosary twice every day. I have nothing else tonight. That's all.)
Fr Murphy was in tonight. I have not felt too bad today, although I notice the energy beginning to drain. But it is quite early yet. I got showered today and had my hair cut, which made me feel quite good. Ten years younger, the boys joke, but I feel twenty years older, the inevitable consequence of eight years of torture and imprisonment.
I am abreast with the news and view with utter disgust and anger the Reagan/Thatcher plot. It seems quite clear that they intend to counteract Russian expansionism with imperialist expansionism, to protect their vital interests they say.
What they mean is they covet other nations' resources. They want to steal what they haven't got and to do so (as the future may unfortunately prove) they will murder oppressed people and deny them their sovereignty as nations. No doubt Mr Haughey will toe the line in Ireland when Thatcher so demands.
Noticed a rarity today: jam with the tea, and by the way the Screws are glaring at the food. They seem more in need of it than my good self.
The Welfare sent for me today to inform me of my father being taken ill to hospital. Tried to get me to crawl for a special visit with my family. I was distressed about my father's illness but relieved that he has been released from hospital. No matter what, I must continue.
I had a threatening toothache today which worried me, but it is gone now.
I've read Atkins' statement in the Commons, Mar dheá! (Atkins pledged that the British government would not budge an inch on its intransigent position.) It does not annoy me because my mind was prepared for such things and I know I can expect more of such, right to the bitter end.
I came across some verse in Kipling's short stories; the extracts of verses before the stories are quite good. The one that I thought very good went like this:
The earth gave up her dead that tide,
Into our camp he came,
And said his say, and went his way,
And left our hearts aflame.
Keep tally on the gun butt score,
The vengeance we must take,
When God shall bring full reckoning,
For our dead comrade's sake.
'I hope not,' said I to myself. But that hope was not even a hope, but a mere figure of speech. I have hope, indeed. All men must have hope and never lose heart. But my hope lies in the ultimate victory for my poor people. Is there any hope greater than that?
I'm saying prayers -- crawler! (and a last minute one, some would say). But I believe in God, and I'll be presumptuous and say he and I are getting on well this weather.
I can ignore the presence of food staring me straight in the face all the time. But I have this desire for brown wholemeal bread, butter, Dutch cheese and honey. Ha!! It is not damaging me, because, I think, 'Well, human food can never keep a man alive forever,' and I console myself with the fact that I'll get a great feed up above (if I'm worthy).
But then I'm struck by this awful thought that they don't eat food up there. But if there's something better than brown wholemeal bread, cheese and honey, etcetera, then it can't be bad.
The March winds are getting angry tonight, which reminds me that I'm twenty-seven on Monday. I must go, the road is just beginning, and tomorrow is another day. I am now 62 kgs and, in general, mentally and physically, I feel very good.
There was no priest in last night or tonight. They stopped me from seeing my solicitor tonight, as another part of the isolation process, which, as time goes by, they will ruthlessly implement. I expect they may move me sooner than expected to an empty wing. I will be sorry to leave the boys, but I know the road is a hard one and everything must be conquered.
I have felt the loss of energy twice today, and I am feeling slightly weak.
They (the Screws) are unembarrassed by the enormous amount of food they are putting into the cell and I know they have every bean and chip counted or weighed. The damned fools don't realise that the doctor does tests for traces of any food eaten. Regardless, I have no intention of sampling their tempting morsels.
I am sleeping well at night so far, as I avoid sleeping during the day. I am even having pleasant dreams and so far no headaches. Is that a tribute to my psychological frame of mind or will I pay for that tomorrow or later! I wonder how long I will be able to keep these scribbles going?
My friend Jennifer got twenty years. I am greatly distressed. (Twenty-one-year-old Jennifer McCann, from Belfast's Twinbrook estate, was sentenced to twenty years' imprisonment for shooting at an RUC man).
I have no doubts or regrets about what I am doing for I know what I have faced for eight years, and in particular for the last four and-a-half years, others will face, young lads and girls still at school, or young Gerard or Kevin (Bobby's son and nephew, respectively) and thousands of others.
They will not criminalise us, rob us of our true identity, steal our individualism, depoliticise us, churn us out as systemised, institutionalised, decent law-abiding robots. Never will they label our liberation struggle as criminal.
I am (even after all the torture) amazed at British logic. Never in eight centuries have they succeeded in breaking the spirit of one man who refused to be broken. They have not dispirited, conquered, nor demoralised my people, nor will they ever.
I may be a sinner, but I stand -- and if it so be, will die -- happy knowing that I do not have to answer for what these people have done to our ancient nation.
Thomas Clarke is in my thoughts, and MacSwiney, Stagg, Gaughan, Thomas Ashe, McCaughey. Dear God, we have so many that another one to those knaves means nothing, or so they say, for some day they'll pay.
When I am thinking of Clarke, I thought of the time I spent in 'B' wing in Crumlin Road jail in September and October '77. I realised just what was facing me then. I've no need to record it all, some of my comrades experienced it too, so they know I have been thinking that some people (maybe many people) blame me for this hunger-strike, but I have tried everything possible to avert it short of surrender.
I pity those who say that, because they do not know the British and I feel more the pity for them because they don't even know their poor selves. But didn't we have people like that who sought to accuse Tone, Emmet, Pearse, Connolly, Mellowes: that unfortunate attitude is perennial also...
I can hear the curlew passing overhead. Such a lonely cell, such a lonely struggle. But, my friend, this road is well trod and he, whoever he was, who first passed this way, deserves the salute of the nation. I am but a mere follower and I must say Oíche Mhaith.
I received a most welcome note tonight from Bernie, my sister. old Bernie. I love her and think she's the greatest.
I am now convinced that the authorities intend to implement strict isolation soon, as I am having trouble in seeing my solicitor. I hope I'm wrong about the isolation, but we'll see.
It's only that I'd like to remain with the boys for as long as possible for many reasons. If I'm isolated, I will simply conquer it.
A priest was in today, somewhat pleasant, and told me about Brendan O Cathaoir's article in The Irish Times during the week, which I saw. We had a bit of discussion on certain points, which, of course, were to him contentious. He was cordial in his own practised way, purely tactical, of course, and at the same time he was most likely boiling over inside, thinking of the reference to this week's AP/RN (February 28th issue) calling him a collaborating middle-class nationalist, or appropriate words to that effect.
He is too, says I, and I sympathise with those unfortunate sons of God who find themselves battling against the poverty, disease, corruption, death and inhumanities of the missions...
I am 61 kgs today, going down. I'm not troubled by hunger pangs, nor paranoiac about anything pertaining to food, but, by God, the food has improved here. I thought I noticed that during the last hunger-strike. Well, there is a lot at stake here.
I got the Irish News today, but there's nothing in it, that's why I got it.
I'm looking forward to seeing the comrades at Mass tomorrow, all the younger looking faces, minus the beards, moustaches, long rambling untamed hair matted in thick clumps.
One thing is sure, that awful stage, of the piercing or glazed eyes, the tell-tale sign of the rigours of torture, won't be gone - if it is ever removed. I wonder is it even conceivable that it could be erased from the mind?
We got a new comrade during the week. Isn't it inspiring the comrades who keep joining us? I read what Jennifer said in court. (On being sentenced, Jennifer McCann said: 'I am a Republican prisoner of war and at the moment my comrade Bobby Sands is on hunger-strike to defend my rights as a political prisoner.') I was touched and proud, she is my comrade.
I've been thinking of Mary Doyle and Ellen McGuigan and all the rest of the girls in Armagh. How can I forget them?
The Screws are staring at me perplexed. Many of them hope (if their eyes tell the truth) that I will die. If need be, I'll oblige them, but my God they are fools. Oscar Wilde did not do justice to them for I believe they are lower than even he thought. And I may add there is only one thing lower than a Screw and that is a Governor. And in my experience the higher one goes up that disgusting ladder they call rank, or position, the lower one gets...
It's raining. I'm not cold, my spirits are well, and I'm still getting some smokes -- decadence, well sort of, but who's perfect. Bad for your health. Mar dheas anois, Oíche Mhaith.
In a few hours time I shall be twenty-seven grand years of age. Paradoxically it will be a happy enough birthday; perhaps that's because I am free in spirit. I can offer no other reason.
I was at Mass today, and saw all the lads minus their beards, etc. An American priest said Mass and I went to Communion. One of the lads collapsed before Mass, but he's all right now. Another was taken out to Musgrave military hospital. These are regular occurrences.
I am 60.8 kgs today, and have no medical complaints.
I received another note from my sister Bernie and her boyfriend. It does my heart good to hear from her. I got the Irish News today, which carried some adverts in support of the hunger-strike.
There is a stand-by doctor who examined me at the weekend, a young man whose name I did not know up until now. Little friendly Dr Ross has been the doctor. He was also the doctor during the last hunger-strike.
Dr Emerson is, they say, down with the 'flu... Dr Ross, although friendly, is in my opinion also an examiner of people's minds. Which reminds me, they haven't asked me to see a psychiatrist yet. No doubt they will yet, but I won't see him for I am mentally stable, probably more so than he.
I read some wild-life articles in various papers, which indeed brought back memories of the once-upon-a-time budding ornithologist! It was a bright pleasant afternoon today and it is a calm evening. It is surprising what even the confined eyes and ears can discover.
I am awaiting the lark, for spring is all but upon us. How I listened to that lark when I was in H-5, and watched a pair of chaffinches which arrived in February. Now lying on what indeed is my death bed, I still listen even to the black crows.
I have left this rather late tonight and it is cold. The priest Fr Murphy was in. I had a discussion with him on the situation. He said he enjoyed our talk and was somewhat enlightened, when he was leaving.
On the subject of priests, I received a small note from a Fr S. C. from Tralee, Kerry, and some holy pictures of Our Lady. The thought touched me. If it is the same man, I recall him giving a lecture to us in Cage 11 some years ago on the right to lift arms in defence of the freedom of one's occupied and oppressed nation. Preaching to the converted he was, but it all helps.
It is my birthday and the boys are having a sing-song for me, bless their hearts. I braved it to the door, at their request, to make a bit of a speech, for what it was worth. I wrote to several friends today including Bernie and my mother. I feel all right and my weight is 60 kgs.
I always keep thinking of James Connolly, and the great calm and dignity that he showed right to his very end, his courage and resolve. Perhaps I am biased, because there have been thousands like him but Connolly has always been the man that I looked up to.
I always have tremendous feeling for Liam Mellowes as well; and for the present leadership of the Republican Movement, and a confidence in them that they will always remain undaunted and unchanged. And again, dare I forget the Irish people of today, and the risen people of the past, they too hold a special place in my heart.
Well, I have gotten by twenty-seven years, so that is something. I may die, but the Republic of 1916 will never die. Onward to the Republic and liberation of our people.
It has been a fairly normal day in my present circumstances. My weight is 59. 3 kgs. and I have no medical problems. I have seen some birthday greetings from relatives and friends in yesterday's paper which I got today. Also I received a bag of toiletries today.
There is no priest in tonight, but the chief medical officer dropped in, took my pulse, and left. I suppose that makes him feel pretty important.
From what I have read in the newspapers I am becoming increasingly worried and wary of the fact that there could quite well be an attempt at a later date to pull the carpet from under our feet and undermine us -- if not defeat this hunger-strike -- with the concession bid in the form of 'our own clothes as a right'.
This, of course, would solve nothing. But if allowed birth could, with the voice of the Catholic hierarchy, seriously damage our position. It is my opinion that under no circumstances do they wish to see the prisoners gain political status, or facilities that resemble, or afford us with the contents of, political status.
The reasons for this are many and varied, primarily motivated by the wish to see the revolutionary struggle of the people brought to an end. The criminalisation of Republican prisoners would help to furnish this end.
It is the declared wish of these people to see humane and better conditions in these Blocks. But the issue at stake is not 'humanitarian', nor about better or improved living conditions. It is purely political and only a political solution will solve it. This in no way makes us prisoners elite nor do we (nor have we at any time) purport to be elite.
We wish to be treated 'not as ordinary prisoners' for we are not criminals. We admit no crime unless, that is, the love of one's people and country is a crime.
Would Englishmen allow Germans to occupy their nation or Frenchmen allow Dutchmen to do likewise? We Republican prisoners understand better than anyone the plight of all prisoners who are deprived of their liberty. We do not deny ordinary prisoners the benefit of anything that we gain that may improve and make easier their plight. Indeed, in the past, all prisoners have gained from the resistance of Republican jail struggles.
I recall the Fenians and Tom Clarke, who indeed were most instrumental in highlighting by their unflinching resistance the 'terrible silent system' in the Victorian period in English prisons. In every decade there has been ample evidence of such gains to all prisoners due to Republican prisoners' resistance.
Unfortunately, the years, the decades, and centuries, have not seen an end to Republican resistance in English hell-holes, because the struggle in the prisons goes hand-in-hand with the continuous freedom struggle in Ireland. Many Irishmen have given their lives in pursuit of this freedom and I know that more will, myself included, until such times as that freedom is achieved.
I am still awaiting some sort of move from my cell to an empty wing and total isolation. The last strikers were ten days in the wings with the boys, before they were moved. But then they were on the no-wash protest and in filthy cells. My cell is far from clean but tolerable. The water is always cold. I can't risk the chance of cold or 'flu. It is six days since I've had a bath, perhaps longer. No matter.
Tomorrow is the eleventh day and there is a long way to go. Someone should write a poem of the tribulations of a hunger-striker. I would like to, but how could I finish it.
Caithfidh mé a dul mar tá tuirseach ag eirí ormsa.
(Translated, this reads as follows):
Must go as I'm getting tired.
I received a large amount of birthday cards today. Some from people I do not know. In particular a Mass bouquet with fifty Masses on it from Mrs Burns from Sevastopol Street. We all know of her, she never forgets us and we shan't forget her, bless her dear heart.
I also received a card from reporter Brendan O Cathaoir, which indeed was thoughtful. I received a letter from a friend, and from a student in America whom I don't know, but again it's good to know that people are thinking of you. There were some smuggled letters as well from my friends and comrades.
I am the same weight today and have no complaints medically. Now and again I am struck by the natural desire to eat but the desire to see an end to my comrades' plight and the liberation of my people is overwhelmingly greater.
The doctor will be taking a blood test tomorrow. It seems that Dr Ross has disappeared and Dr Emerson is back...
Again, there has been nothing outstanding today except that I took a bath this morning. I have also been thinking of my family and hoping that they are not suffering too much.
I was trying to piece together a quote from James Connolly today which I'm ashamed that I did not succeed in doing but I'll paraphrase the meagre few lines I can remember.
They go something like this: a man who is bubbling over with enthusiasm (or patriotism) for his country, who walks through the streets among his people, their degradation, poverty, and suffering, and who (for want of the right words) does nothing, is, in my mind, a fraud; for Ireland distinct from its people is but a mass of chemical elements.
Perhaps the stark poverty of Dublin in 1913 does not exist today, but then again, in modern day comparison to living standards in other places through the world, it could indeed be said to be the same if not worse both North and South. Indeed, one thing has not changed, that is the economic, cultural and physical oppression of the same Irish people...
Even should there not be 100,000 unemployed in the North, their pittance of a wage would look shame in the company of those whose wage and profit is enormous, the privileged and capitalist class who sleep upon the people's wounds, and sweat, and toils.
Total equality and fraternity cannot and never will be gained whilst these parasites dominate and rule the lives of a nation. There is no equality in a society that stands upon the economic and political bog if only the strongest make it good or survive. Compare the lives, comforts, habits, wealth of all those political conmen (who allegedly are concerned for us, the people) with that of the wretchedly deprived and oppressed.
Compare it in any decade in history, compare it tomorrow, in the future, and it will mock you. Yet our perennial blindness continues. There are no luxuries in the H-Blocks. But there is true concern for the Irish people.
Fr Toner was in tonight, and brought me in some religious magazines.
My weight is 58.75 kgs. They did not take a blood sample because they want to incorporate other tests with it. So the doctor says they'll do it next week.
Physically I have felt very tired today, between dinner time and later afternoon. I know I'm getting physically weaker. It is only to be expected. But I'm okay. I'm still getting the papers all right, but there's nothing heartening in them. But again I expect that also and therefore I must depend entirely upon my own heart and resolve, which I will do.
I received three notes from the comrades in Armagh, God bless them again.
I heard of today's announcement that Frank Hughes will be joining me on hunger-strike on Sunday. I have the greatest respect, admiration and confidence in Frank and I know that I am not alone. How could I ever be with comrades like those around me, in Armagh and outside.
I've been thinking of the comrades in Portlaoise, the visiting facilities there are inhuman. No doubt that hell-hole will also eventually explode in due time. I hope not, but Haughey's compassion for the prisoners down there is no different from that of the Brits towards prisoners in the North and in English gaols.
I have come to understand, and with each passing day I understand increasingly more and in the most sad way, that awful fate and torture endured to the very bitter end by Frank Stagg and Michael Gaughan. Perhaps, -- indeed yes! -- I am more fortunate because those poor comrades were without comrades or a friendly face. They had not even the final consolation of dying in their own land. Irishmen alone and at the unmerciful ugly hands of a vindictive heartless enemy. Dear God, but I am so lucky in comparison.
I have poems in my mind, mediocre no doubt, poems of hunger strike and MacSwiney, and everything that this hunger-strike has stirred up in my heart and in my mind, but the weariness is slowly creeping in, and my heart is willing but my body wants to be lazy, so I have decided to mass all my energy and thoughts into consolidating my resistance.
That is most important. Nothing else seems to matter except that lingering constant reminding thought, 'Never give up'. No matter how bad, how black, how painful, how heart-breaking, 'Never give up', 'Never despair', 'Never lose hope'. Let them bastards laugh at you all they want, let them grin and jibe, allow them to persist in their humiliation, brutality, deprivations, vindictiveness, petty harassments, let them laugh now, because all of that is no longer important or worth a response.
I am making my last response to the whole vicious inhuman atrocity they call H-Block. But, unlike their laughs and jibes, our laughter will be the joy of victory and the joy of the people, our revenge will be the liberation of all and the final defeat of the oppressors of our aged nation.
I'm not superstitious, and it was an uneventful day today. I feel all right, and my weight is 58.5 kgs.
I was not so tired today, but my back gets sore now and again sitting in the bed. I didn't get the Irish News, which makes me think there is probably something in it that they don't wish me to see, but who cares. Fr Murphy was in tonight for a few minutes.
The Screws had a quick look around my cell today when I was out getting water. They are always snooping. I heard reports of men beaten up during a wing shift ...
Nothing changes here.
Sean McKenna (the former hunger-striker) is back in H-4, apparently still a bit shaky but alive and still recovering, and hopefully he will do so to the full.
Mhúscail mé leis an gealbháin ar maidin agus an t-aon smaointe amháin i mo cheann - seo chugat lá eile a Roibeard. Cuireann é sin amhran a scríobh mé; bhfad ó shin i ndúil domsa.
Seo é cib é ar bith.
D' éirigh mé ar maidin mar a tháinig an coimheádóir,
Bhuail sé mo dhoras go trom's gan labhairt.
Dhearc mé ar na ballai, 'S shíl mé nach raibh mé beo,
Tchítear nach n-imeoidh an t-iffrean seo go deo.
D'oscail an doras 's níor druideadh é go ciúin,
Ach ba chuma ar bith mar nach raibheamar inár suan.
Chuala mé éan 's ni fhaca mé geal an lae,
Is mian mór liom go raibh me go doimhin foai,
Ca bhfuil mo smaointi ar laethe a chuaigh romhainn,
S cá bhfuil an tsaol a smaoin mé abhí sa domhain,
Ni chluintear mo bhéic, 's ní fheictear mar a rith mo dheor,
Nuair a thigeann ar lá aithíocfaidh mé iad go mor.
Canaim é sin leis an phort Siun Ní Dhuibir.
Translated this reads as follows:
I awoke with the sparrows this morning and the only thought in my head was: here comes another day, Bobby -- reminding me of a song I once wrote a long time ago.
This is it anyway:
I arose this morning as the Screw came,
He thumped my door heavily without speaking,
I stared at the walls, and thought I was dead,
It seems that this hell will never depart.
The door opened and it wasn't closed gently,
But it didn't really matter, we weren't asleep.
I heard a bird and yet didn't see the dawn of day,
Would that I were deep in the earth.
Where are my thoughts of days gone by,
And where is the life I once thought was in the world.
My cry is unheard and my tears flowing unseen,
When our day comes I shall repay them dearly.
I sing this to the tune Siun Ní Dhuibir.
Bhí na heiníní ag ceiliúracht inniú. Chaith ceann de na buachaillí arán amach as an fhuinneog, ar a leghad bhí duine éigin ag ithe. Uaigneach abhí mé ar feadh tamaill ar tráthnóna beag inniú ag éisteacht leis na préacháin ag screadáil agus ag teacht abhaile daobhtha. Dá gcluinfinn an fhuiseog álainn, brisfeadh sí mo chroí.
Anois mar a scríobhaim tá an corrcrothar ag caoineadh mar a théann siad tharam. Is maith liom na heiníní.
Bhuel caithfidh mé a dul mar má scríobhain níos mó ar na heiníní seo beidh mo dheora ag rith 's rachaidh mo smaointi ar ais chuig, an t-am nuair abhí mé ógánach, b'iad na laennta agus iad imithe go deo anois, ach thaitin siad liom agus ar a laghad níl dearmad deánta agam orthu, ta siad i mo chroí -- oíche mhaith anois.
(Translated, this reads as follows:)
The birds were singing today. One of the boys threw bread out of the window. At least somebody was eating!
I was lonely for a while this evening, listening to the crows caw as they returned home. Should I hear the beautiful lark, she would rent my heart. Now, as I write, the odd curlew mournfully calls as they fly over. I like the birds.
Well, I must leave off, for if I write more about the birds my tears will fall and my thoughts return to the days of my youth.
They were the days, and gone forever now. But I enjoyed them. They are in my heart -- good night, now.
Again, another uneventful somewhat boring day. My weight is 58.25 kgs, and no medical complaints. I read the papers, which are full of trash.
Tonight's tea was pie and beans, and although hunger may fuel my imagination (it looked a powerful-sized meal), I don't exaggerate: the beans were nearly falling off the plate. If I said this all the time to the lads, they would worry about me, but I'm all right.
It was inviting (I'm human too) and I was glad to see it leave the cell. Never would I have touched it, but it was a starving nuisance. Ha! My God, if it had have attacked, I'd have fled.
I was going to write about a few things I had in my head but they'll wait. I am looking forward to the brief company of all the lads at Mass tomorrow. You never know when it could be the last time that you may ever see them again.
I smoked some cigarettes today. We still defeat them in this sphere. If the Screws only knew the half of it; the ingenuity of the POW is something amazing. The worse the situation the greater the ingenuity. Someday it may all be revealed.
On a personal note, Liam Og (the pseudonym for Bobby Sands' Republican Movement contact on the outside), I just thought I'd take this opportunity tonight of saying to your good hard-working self that I admire you all out there and the unselfish work that you all do and have done in the past, not just for the H-Blocks and Armagh, but for the struggle in general.
I have always taken a lesson from something that was told me by a sound man, that is, that everyone, Republican or otherwise, has his own particular part to play. No part is too great or too small, no one is too old or too young to do something.
There is that much to be done that no select or small portion of people can do, only the greater mass of the Irish nation will ensure the achievement of the Socialist Republic, and that can only be done by hard work and sacrifice.
So, mo chara, for what it's worth, I would like to thank you all for what you have done and I hope many others follow your example, and I'm deeply proud to have known you all and prouder still to call you comrades and friends.
On a closing note, I've noticed the Screws have been really slamming the cell doors today, in particular my own. Perhaps a good indication of the mentality of these people, always vindictive, always full of hate. I'm glad to say that I am not like that.
Well, I must go to rest up as I found it tiring trying to comb my hair today after a bath.
So venceremos, beidh bua againn eigin la eigin. Sealadaigh abu.
(Translated, this reads as follows:)
So venceremos, we will be victorious someday. Up the Provos.
Frank has now joined me on the hunger-strike. I saw the boys at Mass today which I enjoyed. Fr Toner said Mass.
Again it was a pretty boring day. I had a bit of trouble to get slopped out tonight and to get water.
I have a visit tomorrow and it will be good to see my family. I am also looking forward to the walk in the fresh air, it will tire me out, but I hope the weather is good. I must go.
I had a wonderful visit today with my mother, father and Marcella. Wonderful, considering the circumstances and the strain which indeed they are surely under.
As I expected, I received a lot of verbal flak from Screws going and coming from the actual visit. Their warped sense of humour was evident in their childish taunts, etcetera.
I wrapped myself up well to keep me from the cold. My weight is 58.25 kgs today, but I burnt up more energy today with the visit. I've no complaints of any nature.
I've noticed the orderlies are substituting slices of bread for bits of cake, etcetera -- stealing the sweet things (which are rare anyway) for themselves. I don't know whether it's a case of 'How low can you get?' or 'Well, could you blame them?' But they take their choice and fill of the food always, so it's the former.
They left my supper in tonight when the priest (Fr Murphy) was in. There were two bites out of the small doughy bun. I ask you!
I got the Sunday World newspaper; papers have been scarce for the past few days.
There is a certain Screw here who has taken it upon himself to harass me to the very end and in a very vindictive childish manner. It does not worry me, the harassment, but his attitude aggravates me occasionally. It is one thing to torture, but quite a different thing to exact enjoyment from it, that's his type.
There was no mirror search going out to visits today -- a pleasant change. Apparently, with the ending of the no-wash protest, the mercenary Screws have lost all their mercenary bonuses, etcetera, notwithstanding that they are also losing overtime and so on. So, not to be outdone, they aren't going to carry out the mirror search any more, and its accompanying brutality, degradation, humiliation, etcetera.
Why! Because they aren't being paid for it!
I'm continually wrapped up in blankets, but find it hard to keep my feet warm. It doesn't help my body temperature, drinking pints of cold water. I'm still able to take the salt and five or six pints of water per day without too much discomfort.
The books that are available to me are trash. I'm going to ask for a dictionary tomorrow. I'd just sit and flick through that and learn, much more preferable to reading rubbish.
The English rag newspapers I barely read, perhaps flick through them and hope that no one opens the door. A copy of last week's AP/RN was smuggled in and was read out last night (ingenuity of POWs again). I enjoyed listening to its contents (faultless - get off them ! - good lad Danny (Morrison)). I truly hope that the people read, take in and understand at least some of the truths that are to be regularly found in it. I see Paddy Devlin is at his usual tricks, and won't come out and support the prisoners...
Well, that's it for tonight. I must go. Oíche Mhaith.
Lá Pádraig inniú 's mar is gnách níor thárla aon rud suntasach, bhí mé ar aifreann agus mo chuid gruaige gearrtha agam níos gaire, agus é i bhfad níos fearr freisin. Sagart nach raibh ar mo aithne abhí ag rá ran aifreann.
Bhí na giollaí ag tabhairt an bhia amach do chách abhí ag teacht ar ais ón aifreann. Rinneadh iarracht chun tabhairt pláta bidh domhsa. Cuireadh ós cómhair m'aghaidh ach shiúl mé ar mo shlí mar is nach raibh aon duine ann.
Fuair mé cúpla nuachtán inniú agus mar shaghas malairt bhí an Nuacht na hEireann ann. Táim ag fáil pé an scéal atá le fáil óna buachaillí cibé ar bith.
Choniac mé ceann dona dochtúirí ar maidun agus é gan béasaí. Cuireann sé tuirse ormsa. Bhí mo chuid meachain 57.50 kgs. Ní raibh aon ghearán agam.
Bhí oifigcach isteach liom agus thug sé beagán íde béil domhsa. Arsa sé 'tchim go bhfuil tú ag léigheadh leabhar gairid. Rudmaith nach leabhar fada é mar ní chrlochnóidh tú é'.
Sin an saghas daoine atá iontu. Ploid orthu. Is cuma liom. Lá fadálach ab ea é. Bhí mé ag smaoineamh inniú ar an chéalacán seo. Deireann daoine a lán faoin chorp ach ní chuireann muinín sa chorp ar bith. Measaim ceart go leor go bhfuil saghas troda.
An dtús ní ghlacann leis an chorp an easpaidh bidh, is fulaingíonn sé ón chathú bith, is greithe airithe eile a bhíonn ag síorchlipeadh an choirp. Troideann an corp ar ais ceart go leor, ach deireadh an lae; téann achan rud ar ais chuig an phríomhrud, is é sin an mheabhair.
Is é an mheabhair an rud is tábhachtaí. Mura bhfuil meabhair láidir agat chun cur in aghaidh le achan rud, ní mhairfidh. Ní bheadh aon sprid troda agat. Is ansin cen áit as a dtigeann an mheabhair cheart seo. B'fhéidir as an fhonn saoirse.
Ní hé cinnte gurb é an áit as a dtigeann sé. Mura bhfuil siad in inmhe an fonn saoirse a scriosadh, ní bheadh siad in inmhe tú féin a bhriseadh. Ní bhrisfidh siad mé mar tá an fonn saoirse, agus saoirse mhuintir na hEireann i mo chroí.
Tiocfaidh lá éigin nuair a bheidh an fonn saoirse seo le taispeáint ag daoine go léir na hEireann ansin tchífidh muid éirí na gealaí.
(Translated, this reads as follows:)
St Patrick's Day today and, as usual, nothing noticeable. I was at Mass, my hair cut shorter and much better also. I didn't know the priest who said Mass.
The orderlies were giving out food to all who were returning from Mass. They tried to give me a plate of food. It was put in front of my face but I continued on my way as though nobody was there.
I got a couple of papers today, and as a kind of change the Irish News was there. I'm getting any news from the boys anyway.
I saw one of the doctors this morning, an ill-mannered sort. It tries me. My weight was 57.70 kgs. I had no complaints.
An official was in with me and gave me some lip. He said, 'I see you're reading a short book. It's a good thing it isn't a long one for you won't finish it.'
That's the sort of people they are. Curse them! I don't care. It's been a long day.
I was thinking today about the hunger-strike. People say a lot about the body, but don't trust it. I consider that there is a kind of fight indeed. Firstly the body doesn't accept the lack of food, and it suffers from the temptation of food, and from other aspects which gnaw at it perpetually.
The body fights back sure enough, but at the end of the day everything returns to the primary consideration, that is, the mind. The mind is the most important.
But then where does this proper mentality stem from? Perhaps from one's desire for freedom. It isn't certain that that's where it comes from.
If they aren't able to destroy the desire for freedom, they won't break you. They won't break me because the desire for freedom, and the freedom of the Irish people, is in my heart. The day will dawn when all the people of Ireland will have the desire for freedom to show.
It is then we'll see the rising of the moon.
Published in Skylark Sing your Lonely Song: An Anthology of the Writings of Bobby Sands. Cork: The Mercier Press Limited, 1991. (c) The Bobby Sands Trust, 1982