Bobby Sands for MP

CAIN: Chronology of the Conflict 1981

Thursday 26 March 1981
Bobby Sands was nominated as a candidate in the by-election in Fermanagh / South Tyrone on 9 April 1981.


Richard O'Rawe - Blanketmen

Daily Ireland

Hunger strike revisited

Think you know the story of the 1981 hunger strikes? Think again. We’ve all seen Bobby Sands’ emaciated body, the footage of people honking car horns in glee at his election, that priest comparing conditions to an open sewer in Calcutta. You might even say that Richard O’Rawe’s Blanketmen (New Island), is – whisper it – old news.
All this is playing in the shallow end of a powerful tale. O’Rawe pulls the reader into the deep water till they’re gulping for air.
Rather than the ‘skin and bones’ Bobby Sands, the 2-D icon for a thousand murals, you meet a “man for all seasons”; softly spoken with a flair for sing-songs.
We are told that some prisoners weren’t so happy about the downside of the “dirty protests”, and were more than happy to face the wrath of the prison leadership rather than share their cells with maggots.
Such earthy images bring O’Rawe’s time in Crumlin Road to life. The mounting brutality of the ‘screws’ is ever-present. One tale tells of a prisoner who begged for salt to gargle away the mouth ulcers that tormented him. The guards pinned him down and force fed him two massive handfuls of salt.
The touch isn’t always so heavy. O’Rawe describes with great affection the prisoners smuggling in tobacco (brought in by a priest – hidden where no tobacco should go), and blowing the forbidden smoke under the doors to infuriate the guards. In one hilarious anecdote, O’Rawe describes the false sacrament of confession that experienced prisoners would trick rookies into, with the old hand posing as a priest.
Once the venial sins had been dealt with, they would probe into intimate details about the young prisoner’s love life. The joke was on the veteran: O’Rawe’s partner in sin was none other than the his companion’s daughter.
However it is the hunger strikes that dominate the book. O’Rawe steers clear of the traditional Irish, us versus them perspective.
Instead, he paints the story as a three way struggle between the “bosses” of the British, the “shop stewards” of the IRA army council, and the “workers” of the prisoners. To quote O’Rawe’s socialist father, “the workers always get shafted”.
He portrays the army council as intransigent as the British – insisting the prisoners stick to their demands, even when it was clear that the British wouldn’t move an inch.
As O’Rawe puts it, this policy of “no compromise” meant “no strategy”. He describes a decline in prison morale, the frustration of the situation and the overwhelming guilt in harrowingly matter-of-fact prose.
Even if I had wanted to put the book down, there wasn’t a chance.
O’Rawe was, and is, a committed republican. Yet he pulls no punches, saying the strategies of both hunger strikes was “fatally flawed”, and he is unrelenting in his criticism of the Army Council and the outdated elements of IRA ideology.
Even Gerry Adams, a “messianic figure” and a tireless negotiator, is seen to be covering his own back at times.
Any who think of the IRA as an inherently criminal organisation should read this book. So should people who think they can do no wrong.


Richard O'Rawe

The Blanket

**via IRA2

A Must Read

To fully appreciate the controversary surrounding the book, it must be read

An Untold Story of the H-Block Hunger Strike
RICHARD O'RAWE, New Island Press

Book Review

Mick Hall • 18 March 2005

I once asked a former member of the British Army Intelligence Corp if there was any substance in the British Government's fears if they announced their withdrawal from the Six Counties the Loyalist Paramilitary's would conduct an OAS* type campaign in England. He replied he could not see this happening, as the Loyalist terror groups, the UDA, LVF and the UVF, unlike the Provisional Irish Republican Army, simply did not have the stamina necessary to conduct a bombing campaign on the British mainland. The book Blanketmen, An Untold Story of the H-block Hunger Strike written by former Blanketman Richard O'Rawe, more than adequately answers the question what gave the Provos such tenacious stamina to fight a thirty odd year war against not only one of the world's major military powers, but also the most experienced army in combating insurgencies...

>>>Read on


Hunger Strike poster

Source: CAIN

Hunger Strike

Random Ramblings from a Republican

"Today, 24 years ago, Patsy O'Hara and Raymond McCreesh joined Bobby Sands and Francis Hughes on hungerstrike."

**Biographical links on site

Raymond McCreesh

Patsy O'Hara



'Raw truth' of Hunger Strike

Times Online

Comment: Liam Clarke: Raw truth of hunger strike fights its way past myths

March 20, 2005

Anybody who wants to understand the history of the Provisional IRA and Sinn Fein should read Blanketmen, Richard O’Rawe’s searingly honest account of the events surrounding the 1981 hunger strike.

O’Rawe gives us something new in modern republican history: a participant’s account that attempts to face the facts without romanticising them.

Up to now we have had mostly anodyne accounts, in which every dead IRA man was good at Gaelic games, fearless on active service and loved his mother. Every decision taken by Gerry Adams, the infallible helmsman of the movement and founder of the peace process, was not only correct but also designed to save lives and bring about a ceasefire.

We have also been treated to cod biographies in which Adams never joined the IRA, and a book of lives of IRA volunteers in which well-known informers are revered for their dedication. In this alternative universe, the IRA never committed a crime and even when it made mistakes it was forced into them by the Brits. As Goethe noted, “patriotism ruins history”.

O’Rawe was a public relations officer for IRA prisoners and later for Sinn Fein, so it should not surprise him that the full weight of the republican propaganda machine was deployed to drown the simple truth that many of the later hunger strikers wanted to end the protest around the time when Joe McDonnell, the fifth of the 10 prisoners to die, reached the critical stage.

I know the feeling. I still remember the call from Danny Morrison to my home in North Belfast nearly 10 years ago. He was appealing to me not to write a book about the hunger strikes. He implored me not to slander the memory of the dead or bring distress to their families.

I had just conducted an interview with Geraldine Scheiss, the girlfriend of Kieran Doherty, the eighth hunger striker to die. She told me that he wanted to call off the strike and that, in his final two hours of life, asked her to get tablets to save him from death. Tom Toner, the prison chaplain, confirmed that shortly before Doherty died Scheiss had come out of his room to say he was asking for tablets “for his body”. Doherty’s mother wouldn’t agree until her husband Alfie got back to the jail. Scheiss tried unsuccessfully to get the tablets herself. By the time Doherty’s father returned to the prison, his son had died.

It was clear to me that Kieran Doherty was unhappy about the hunger strike and had expressed his doubts about continuing. He had told Mary McDermott, the mother of Sean McDermott, a close IRA comrade, that “there was a lot more to it than the five demands”. It was clear from her and from other prisoners that Paddy Quinn, another hunger striker who was taken off by his mother when he became unconscious, had spoken in favour of ending the strike.

I sent a copy of my taped interview with Scheiss to her for comment, mentioning in a covering letter that one or two passages were not clear. I got a solicitor’s letter back denying she had said any of it and saying the tape must all have been faulty. As a result I put in only what was independently confirmed.

Sinn Fein had stymied me at every turn in writing the book. I was invited for interviews and kept sitting for hours in a room with prisoners’ wives and relatives waiting for the Long Kesh minibus, only to be told that nobody was available to speak to me. Eventually two liaison people were appointed — Morrison later told me that the only purpose was to see what I was up to — but they proved quite helpful.

One was the former hunger striker Pat “Beag” McGeown, a republican of tremendous dedication, haunted by survivor’s guilt because his wife had taken him off the hunger strike when so many others had died. “You can’t really be sorry to be alive, but yes it does trouble me,” he said.

He hinted at things that would be confirmed and fleshed out in O’Rawe’s account. McGeown told me he had wanted the strike to end and that “a certain number of hunger strikers had arrived at the same conclusion and were saying, ‘Look, possibly the whole thing should be reviewed’.”

It was also clear to me that, although the IRA leadership had not wanted the hunger strike to start in the first place, once Bobby Sands was elected to Westminster things had changed. They wanted it to continue until Owen Carron, a Sinn Fein member who stood as “proxy prisoner” could be elected to the seat left vacant by Sands’s death. At the time there was a republican policy of not contesting Westminster or Dail elections and this was the leadership’s way round it. As Adams said in a 1985 Bobby Sands memorial lecture: “The hunger strikes, at great cost to our H-Block martyrs and their families, smashed criminalisation and led to the electoral strategy, plus the revamping of the IRA.”

O’Rawe puts it more bluntly. The hunger strikers, he said, may have been “cannon fodder” and six of them may have died just to get Sinn Fein’s political project under way.

The hunger strike was prolonged despite an offer to the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace (ICJP), which would have been guaranteed by the Catholic church’s hierarchy, that met many of the prisoners’ demands. Substantially the same offer was repeated through an MI6 officer with whom Adams was liaising, and was accepted by the prison leadership as the best deal available. When the hunger strike did eventually end, the same offer was at length implemented and greeted as a victory by republicans.

O’Rawe reveals that McGeown had been warned to keep quiet about his doubts when Adams visited the hunger strikers after many of their families asked him to end the strike. Adams made it clear the visit was a formality, saying that he had come because he “felt duty-bound to satisfy the clergymen and all those who were pressurising their families”.

Most tellingly of all he was accompanied by Carron, who was dressed in what the prisoners referred to as his “election suit”. The implied message was that they would be letting the movement down if they did not hold out until polling was over. Doherty did not attend because he was judged too ill. Instead Adams visited him in a private room and came out saying that “Big Doc” was determined to continue.

The price was deaths in the prison and on the streets, as hunger strike rioting continued. An honest debate on Sinn Fein’s entry to politics was avoided, and Adams’ strategy was advanced.

Some may say it was worth it. Ending the hunger strike after three or four deaths on the basis of the offer to the ICJP, and the parallel offer through MI6, would have set the Sinn Fein political project back. The Catholic church and the SDLP, who were to the fore in the ICJP, would have shared the credit, with little going the way of Sinn Fein.

Adams would then have had to argue openly for a political strategy. He might have faced a split.

Of course it is the duty of military leaders to take such decisions. Generals send men to their deaths after weighing the lives of soldiers against their overall strategic objectives.

It can be argued that Adams and the republican leadership made the right choice but it is an argument that they never had the courage to make. Certainly not to the families of the hunger strikers.


Brendan McFarlane denies Hunger Strike deal



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**from Bobby Sands Trust - Brendan McFarlane, OC H-Blocks

Brendan McFarlane, the leader of the H-Block prisoners during the hunger strikes of 1981, has rejected any suggestion that a deal was rejected before the death of Joe McDonnell.

The North Belfast man said the claims in Richard O’Rawe’s book entitled Blanketmen: The Untold Story of the H-Block Hunger Strike had caused distress among the families of the hunger strikers.
In his book O’Rawe claims the final six men to die were sacrificed for political reasons and to help the election of Owen Carron to Bobby Sands’ Westminster seat.
"All of us, particularly the families of the men who died, carry the tragedy and trauma of the hunger strikes with us every day of our lives.
“It was an emotional and deeply distressing time for those of us who were in the H-Blocks and close to the hunger strikers,” said Brendan McFarlane.
“However, as the Officer Commanding in the prison at the time, I can say categorically that there was no outside intervention to prevent a deal.
“The only outside intervention was to try to prevent the hunger strike.
“Once the strike was underway, the only people in a position to agree a deal or call off the hunger strike were the prisoners – particularly the hunger strikers themselves.
"The political responsibility for the hunger strike, and the deaths that resulted from it, both inside and outside the prison, lies with Margaret Thatcher, who reneged on the deal which ended the first hunger strike.
“This bad faith and duplicity lead directly to the deaths of our friends and comrades in 1981".
Raymond McCartney, a former hunger striker and now Sinn Féin MLA for Foyle, also said O’Rawe’s claims lacked credibility.
“Richard's recollection of events is not accurate or credible.
“The hunger strike was a response to Thatcher's criminalisation campaign.
“The move to hunger strike resulted from the prisoners' decision to escalate the protest after five years of beatings, starvation and deprivation.
“The leadership of the IRA and of Sinn Féin tried to persuade us not to embark on this course of action.
“At all times we, the prisoners, took the decisions."

Journalist:: Staff Reporter


The Diary of Bobby Sands


**Bobby's diary - final entry

Tuesday 17th

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.


The Diary of Bobby Sands


**Bobby's diary - 16th day

Monday 16th

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.


The Diary of Bobby Sands


**Bobby's diary - 15th day

Sunday 15th

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.

Francis Hughes joins Bobby on hunger strike


Francis Hughes

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Joined the Hunger Strike 15 March 1981
Died May 12th, 1981

A determined and totally fearless soldier

THE SECOND republican to join the H-Block hunger-strike for political status - a fortnight after Bobby Sands - was twenty-five-year-old Francis Hughes, from Bellaghy in South Derry: a determined, committed and totally fearless IRA Volunteer who organised a spectacularly successful series of military operations before his capture, and was once described by the RUC as their 'most wanted man' in the North.

Eluding for several years the relentless efforts of the British army, UDR and RUC to track him down, Francis operated boldly throughout parts of Tyrone and north and south Antrim, but particularly in his native South Derry, with a combination of brilliant organisation and extreme daring - until his capture after a shoot-out with the SAS - which earned him widespread popular renown, and won general support for the republican cause, as well as giving him an undisputed reputation as a natural-born soldier and leader.


Francis Hughes was born on February 28th, 1956, the youngest son amongst ten children, into a staunchly republican family which has been solidly rooted, for most of this century, in the townland of Tamlaghtduff, or Scribe Road, as it is otherwise called.

His parents who married in 1939, are Patrick Joseph Hughes, aged 72, a retired small cattle farmer born in the neighbouring town land of Ballymacpeake, and Margaret, aged 68, whose maiden name is McElwee, and who was born in Tamlaghtduff.

A quarter-of-a-mile away from the Hughes' bungalow, on the other side of the Scribe Road is the home of Thomas and Benedict McElwee - first cousins of Francis. Benedict is currently serving a sentence in the H-Blocks. Thomas - the eldest - embarked on hunger strike on June 8th, and died sixty-two days later on August 8th.

In Tamlaghtduff, as throughout the rest of Bellaghy, sympathy as well as active support for the republican cause runs at a very high level, a fact testified to by the approximately twenty prisoners-of-war from around Bellaghy alone.

Francis was an extremely popular person, both to his family and to his republican colleagues and supporters.

His father recalls that as a boy he was always whistling, joking and singing: a trait which he carried over into his arduous and perilous days as a republican, when he was able to transmit his enthusiasm and optimism both to Volunteers under his command and to Sympathisers who offered them - at great personal risk, food and shelter

It was qualities like these, of uncomplaining tirelessness, of consideration for the morale of those around him, and his ruling wish to lead by example, that have made Francis Hughes one of the most outstanding Irish revolutionary soldiers this war has produced and a man who was enormously respected in his native countryside.


As a boy, Francis went first to St. Mary's primary school in Bellaghy, and from there to Clady intermediate school three miles away.

He enjoyed school and was a fairly good student whose favourite subjects were history and woodwork. He was not particularly interested in sport, but was very much a lively, outdoor person, who enjoyed messing around on bikes, and later on, in cars.

He enjoyed dancing and regularly went to ceilidh as a young man, even while 'on the run', although after 'wanted' posters of him appeared his opportunities became less frequent.

His parents recall that Francis was always extremely helpful around the house, and that he was a "good tractor man".


Leaving school at sixteen, Francis got a job with his sister Vera's husband, as an apprentice painter and decorator, completing his apprenticeship shortly before 'going on the run'.

In later days, Francis would often do a spot of decorating for the people whose house he was staying in

On one occasion, shortly after the 'wanted' posters of him had been posted up all over South Derry, Francis was painting window frames at the front of the house he was staying in when two jeep-loads of British soldiers drove past. While the other occupants of the house froze in apprehension, Francis waved and smiled at the curious Brits as they passed by, and continued painting.

It was such utter fearlessness, and the ability to brazen his way through, that saved him time and time again during his relatively long career as an active service Volunteer.

On one such occasion, when stopped along with two other Volunteers as they crossed a field, Francis told a Brit patrol that they didn't feel safe walking the roads, as the IRA were so active in the area. The Brits allowed the trio to walk on, but after a few yards Francis ran back to the enemy patrol to scrounge a cigarette and a match from one of the British soldiers.

A turning point for Francis, in terms of his personal involvement in the struggle, occurred at the age of seventeen, when he and a friend were stopped by British soldiers at Ardboe, in County Tyrone, as they returned from a dance one night.

The pair were taken out of their car and so badly kicked that Francis was bed-ridden for several days. Rejecting advice to make a complaint to the RUC, Francis said it would be a waste of time, but pledged instead to get even with those who had done it, "or with their friends."

Notwithstanding such a bitter personal experience of British thuggery, and the mental and physical scars it left, Francis' subsequent involvement in the Irish Republican Army was not based on a motive of revenge but on a clear and abiding belief in his country's right to national freedom.


During the early part of 'the troubles', the 'Officials' were relatively strong in the South Derry area and Francis' first involvement was with them.

However, disillusioned, as were many others, with the 'Sticks' unilateral ceasefire in 1972, he left to set up and command an 'independent' military unit in the Bellaghy area. About the end of 1973 the entire unit - including Francis - was formally recruited into the IRA.

Francis' involvement brought him increasingly to the attention of the British army and RUC and he was regularly held for a few hours in Magherafelt barracks and stopped on the road by British patrols; and on one occasion he was held for two days at Ballykelly camp.

As the 1975 IRA/British army truce came to an end Francis, fearing his imminent arrest, went 'on the run'. From that time on, he led a life perpetually on the move, often moving on foot up to twenty miles during one night then sleeping during the day - either in fields and ditches or in safe houses; a soldierly sight in his black beret and combat uniform, and openly carrying his rifle, a handgun and several grenades as well as food rations.

The enemy reacted with up to fifty early morning raids on Francis' home, and raids on the homes of those suspected of harbouring him. Often, houses would be staked out for days on end in the hope of capturing Francis. Often, it was only his sheer nerve and courage which saved him. One night, Francis was followed to a 'safe house' and looked out to see the Brits surrounding the place and closing in. Without hesitating, the uniformed Francis stepped outside the door, clutching his rifle, and in the darkness crept gradually through their lines, occasionally mumbling a few short words to British soldiers he passed, who, on seeing the shadowy uniformed figure, mistook him for one of themselves.

On numerous occasions, Francis and his comrades were stopped at checkpoints along the country roads while moving weapons from one locality to another but always calmly talked their way through. Once, a UDR soldier actually recognised Francis and his fellow Volunteers in a car but, fully aware that Francis would not be taken without a shoot-out, he waved their car on.


The years before Francis' capture were extremely active ones in the South Derry and surrounding areas with the commercial centres of towns and villages like Bellaghy, Maghera, Toome, Magherafelt and Castledawson being blitzed by car bombs on several occasions, and numerous shooting attacks being carried out as well.

Among the Volunteers under his command Francis had a reputation of being a strict disciplinarian and perfectionist who could not tolerate people taking their republican duties less seriously, and selflessly, than was necessary. He also, however, inspired fellow Volunteers by his example and by always being in the thick of things, and he thrived on pressure.

During one night-time operation, a weapon was missing and Francis gave away his own weapon to another Volunteer, taking only a torch himself which he used to its maximum effect by shining it at an oncoming enemy vehicle, which had its headlights off, to enable the other Volunteers to direct their fire.

Francis' good-humoured audacity also showed itself in his republican activity. At the height of his 'notoriety' he would set up road-blocks, hoping to lure the Brits into an ambush (which by hard experience they learned to avoid), or he would ring up the Brits and give them his whereabouts!

Such joking, however, did not extend only to the enemy. One day, lying out in the fields, he spied one of his uncles cycling down a country road. Taking careful aim with his rifle he shot away the bike's rear wheel. His uncle ran alarmed, into a nearby house shouting that loyalists had just tried to assassinate him!


The determination of the British army and RUC to capture Francis Hughes came to a head in April 1977. In that month, on Good Friday, a car containing three IRA Volunteers was overtaken and flagged down on the Moneymore Road at Dunronan, in County Derry, by a carload of RUC men.

The Volunteers attempted to make a U-turn but their car got stuck in a ditch as the armed RUC men approached. Jumping from the car, the Volunteers opened fire, killing two RUC men and injuring another before driving off. A hundred yards further up the road a second gun battle ensued but the Volunteers escaped safely.

Subsequently, the RUC issued a 'wanted' poster of Francis Hughes and two fellow republicans, Dominic McGlinchey and Ian Milne, in which Francis was named as the 'most wanted man' in the North.

When his eventual capture came, it was just as he had always said it would be: "I'll get a few of them before they get me."


At 8.00 p.m. on March 16th, 1978, two SAS soldiers took up a stake-out position opposite a farm, on the south side of the Ronaghan road, about two miles west of Maghera, in the townland of Ballyknock.

At 9.15 p.m. they saw two men in military uniform and carrying rifles, walking in single file along the hedgeline of the field towards them. Using their 'night sights' in the darkness, the SAS men observed the military behaviour of the two on-comers and having challenged them, heard the men mumble a few words to each other in Irish accents and assumed that the pair were UDR soldiers.

One of the pair, in fact, was Francis Hughes, the other a fellow Volunteer, and with only a second's hesitation both Volunteers cocked their rifles and opened fire. One SAS man fell fatally wounded but the other - though shot in the stomach - managed to fire a long burst from his sterling sub-machine gun at the retreating figures, and to make radio contact with his base.

Within three minutes, nearby Brit patrols were on the scene and the area was entirely sealed off. The following morning hundreds of Brits took part in a massive search operation.

Fifteen hours after the shooting, at around 12.15 p.m. the next day, they found Francis Hughes sitting in the middle of a gorse bush in a field three hundred yards away, bleeding profusely from a bullet wound which had shattered his left thigh. As he was taken away on a stretcher he yelled defiantly, through his considerable pain: "Up the Provies".

His comrade, though also wounded, slightly, managed to evade the dragnet and to escape.


How he survived the night of the shooting, possibly the coldest night of that year, bears eloquent testimony to Francis' grim determination to evade capture. After being shot, he dragged himself - unable to walk - across the Ronaghan road and across two fields without a sound, before burying himself in a thick clump of gorse bushes.

At one point, en-route, Francis fell down a sharp drop between fields, and his left leg - the muscle and bone completely disintegrated - came up over his shoulder; but Francis worked it carefully down before continuing to crawl on his way. In his hiding place, he lay through the night, motionless and soundless, till his capture.

When he was found, unable to move through the cold, pain and stiffness, Francis, knowing that both Brits and RUC were on instructions to shoot him on sight, gave his name as Eamonn Laverty and his address as Letterkenny, County Donegal.

Francis was taken to Magherafelt hospital and from there to Musgrave Park military hospital in Belfast, and it was only then that his true identity was revealed. He spent ten months in Musgrave Park where his leg was operated on, reducing his thigh bone by an inch-and-a-half and leaving him dependent on a crutch to walk.


On Wednesday, January 24th, 1979, Francis was taken from Musgrave Park hospital to Castlereagh interrogation centre where he spent six days before being charged on January 29th. For more than four days Francis refused food and drink, fearing that it might have been drugged to make him talk.

His behaviour in Castlereagh was typical of the fiercely determined and courageous republican Volunteer that he was. His frustrated interrogators later described him as "totally uncooperative".

Nevertheless, at his trial in Belfast in February 1980, after a year on remand in Crumlin Road jail, Francis was found 'guilty' on all charges.

He received a life sentence for killing the SAS soldier, and fourteen years for attempting to kill the other SAS man. He also received fifty-five years on three other charges.


In the H-Blocks, Francis immediately went on the protest for political status and, despite the severe disability of his wounded leg, displayed the same courage and determination that had been his hallmark before his capture.

And, just as always wanting to be in the thick of things and wanting to shoulder responsibility for other political prisoners as he had earlier looked after the morale of fellow Volunteers, Francis was one of those to volunteer for the hunger strike which began on October 27th, 1980. He was not one of the first seven hunger strikers selected but was among the thirty men who joined the hunger strike in its closing stages as Sean McKenna's condition became critical.

That utter selflessness and courage came to its tragic conclusion on Tuesday, May 12th, when Francis died at 5.43 p.m. after fifty-nine days on hunger strike.

Published in IRIS, Vol. 1, No. 2, November 1981. IRIS was a publication of the Sinn Fein Foreign Affairs Bureau.


Richard O'Rawe

Daily Ireland


Hunger strike offer controversy rumbles on

Once again, I find myself having to respond to another attack from Danny Morrison (Daily Ireland, March 9).
I was wrong when I said that Danny was at the meeting in the Sinn Féin centre in Belfast on July 28.
I wasn’t there and I assumed when I should have demonstrated. Tá brón orm, Danny.
We now know that it was other republicans who omitted to tell the relatives about the Mountain Climber initiative.
As I say, the basic fact remains — the 1981 IRA external leadership had been in contact with the Mountain Climber on July 4 and again on July 19, and the families were not told about these contacts on July 28 or of the offer that he had made on both occasions.
In fact, had David Beresford not accidentally found out about the Mountain Climber when he was researching his book Ten Men DOn Monday, February 28, Bik was asked by a UTV reporter, “Who took the decision to reject that [Mountain Climber’s] offer?”
“There was no offer of that description.”
“At all?”
“Whatsoever. No offer existed.”
Bik repeated this in a full-page spread in a newspaper.
In Padraig O’Malley’s book, Biting at the Grave, the author gives an account of the exchanges between Gerry Adams and the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace that took place at a house in Andersonstown on July 6, 1981.
O’Malley says that ICJP members Father Oliver Crilly and Hugh Logue were sent for by Adams.
According to O’Malley’s sources, Adams told them that “the prisoners actually had on offer a better deal than the one the ICJP thought they were putting together”.
Again, according to O’Malley, Father Crilly remembers Adams telling him that there was “contact from someone in England working on behalf of the British government and that he [Adams] spelled out ‘what this gentleman was offering them [the prisoners]’”.
Hugh Logue is on record as saying that Adams, “had in minute detail all the concessions we [in the ICJP] were being offered”.
So, Gerry Adams seems to be confirming that there was an offer.
Danny, writing in his Daily Ireland column this week, said, “The [Mountain Climber] offer was, of course, less than the prisoners were demanding”.
So Danny contradicts Bik and concedes there was an offer.
David Beresford in his book Ten Men Dead gives an account of the exchanges between the external leadership and the Mountain Climber.
Beresford heard of the Mountain Climber from senior republicans, so his account cannot be disputed. Beresford then goes on to outline a series of concessions that the republican leadership told him was on offer.
Despite all this, Bik is still insisting that there was no offer “whatsoever”.
His entire position has been undermined, not only by me but by his allies and the evidence.
No amount of clever footwork or spin by Danny or anyone else will detract from the fact that Bik’s version of events has been holed below the waterline.
Bik says that, when he returned to our wing after meeting Danny in the camp hospital on July 5, 1981, he sent me down a comm which said that contact had been made with the Mountain Climber but, according to Bik, “There was no concrete proposals whatsoever in relation to a deal”.
After almost two weeks of having to endure a vicious and unprecedented campaign to vilify me, we finally arrive at the point where I’m sitting in my cell reading Bik’s comm about the Mountain Climber.
I have said all along that Bik sent me down the offer from the Mountain Climber and that, after considering it for a couple of hours, I called him up to the window and told him in Irish that I believed there was enough there.
He agreed with me.
But Bik says there was no offer “whatsoever”.
Adams, Danny Morrison, Beresford, O’Malley, Father Crilly, Hugh Logue and I say differently.
No doubt Danny will be racking his brain in order to counter what I’m saying to rescue Bik.
I don’t relish his task.

Richard O’Rawe

The Diary of Bobby Sands


**Bobby's diary - 14th day

Saturday 14th

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.

The Diary of Bobby Sands


**Bobby's diary - 14th day

Saturday 14th

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.


The Diary of Bobby Sands


**Bobby's diary - 13th day

Friday 13th

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.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us

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.


Hunger Strike controversy


Former comrades' war of words over hunger strike

(Steven McCaffrey, Irish News)

The man who led IRA prisoners inside the Maze jail
during the 1981 hunger strike has dismissed a
controversial new book on the period as fictitious.

Brendan McFarlane speaks to Steven McCaffrey about a
period that still stirs deeply held emotions among

In his book, Blanketmen: An Untold Story of the
H-Block Hunger Strike, Richard O'Rawe fondly re-calls
his former republican comrade Brendan 'Bik' McFarlane.

Describing him as "six feet tall and full of
bonhomie", a "striking character" and a "great
singer", the author writes that both men were avid
fans of Gaelic football and that they "whiled away the
time dreaming of the day when the Antrim football team
would grace Croke Park in an all-Ireland final".

But it seems such close ties inside the Maze prison's
H-blocks have not survived the book's publication.

"He [Richard O'Rawe] uses me to give credence to his
argument. It's 'Bik and Richard this', and 'Richard
and Bik that'. And it's totally erroneous, totally and
absolutely erroneous," Mr McFarlane told the Irish

"I was absolutely horrified to read the account that
Richard had laid out and I just could not for one
second understand where he was coming from. I haven't
a clue as to the motivation behind it."

Mr McFarlane was the officer commanding (OC) of IRA
prisoners in the Maze during the 1981 hunger strike
when 10 republicans died. Mr O'Rawe was the prisoners'
press officer.

Both were close to the action but they now give very
different accounts of what went on.

Mr O'Rawe said that on July 5, after the first four
prisoners including the now iconic Bobby Sands had
died, Danny Morrison, director of publicity for the
republican movement at the time, visited Mr McFarlane
to brief him on a British offer of a deal.

Mr O'Rawe said his OC returned to the block after his
meeting and passed a 'comm' (communication) down to
O'Rawe's cell detailing the offer.

In Blanketmen, the author writes that the deal seemed
to largely meet the prisoners' demands for political
status. He claims that he then spoke to Mr McFarlane
from their respective cell windows.

"We spoke in Irish so the screws could not
understand," Mr O'Rawe told the Irish News.

"I said, 'Ta go leor ann' – There's enough there.

"He said, 'Aontaim leat, scriobhfaidh me chun taoibh
amiugh agus cuirfidh me fhois orthu' – I agree with
you, I will write to the outside and let them know."

But in his book Mr O'Rawe alleges that the IRA
leadership outside the jail did not believe the deal
was enough.

Three days later a fifth hunger striker, Joe
McDonnell, died. Five more men were to starve to death
before the strike ended.

Mr O'Rawe controversially asks if the IRA leadership
sacrificed the last six hunger strikers to fuel the
new groundswell of support buoying their movement.

Prior to the hunger strikes Sinn Féin, in the author's
words, "barely existed".

Years of prison protests had failed to generate
popular support but the funerals of the hunger
strikers drew tens of thousands.

At the time of the alleged deal republican candidate
Owen Carron was fighting a by-election in
Fermanagh/South Tyrone to hold on to the Westminster
seat that Bobby Sands had won from his bed in the
prison hospital.

By any measure of history 1981 was a watershed.

The election victories meant that Sinn Féin became a
political force, kickstarting the wider movement's
gradual shift away from violence.

The worry for the republican leadership is that if the
book's claims were true, it would necessitate a hugely
embarrassing rewrite of their own political history.

Mr McFarlane rejects the book's central tenet.

"That any republican should ever conceive in his
wildest imagination that we would put hunger strikers
to death to get somebody elected to a Westminster seat
or anywhere else, I think it is absolutely
disgraceful," he said.

The 53-year-old described the book as deplorable.

Married with three children, he was brought up in the
Ardoyne area of north Belfast. Unlike Mr O'Rawe, he
did not come from a republican family and at the age
of 16 left Belfast to train as a Catholic priest in a
north Wales seminary.

He returned to Belfast in the summer of 1969 and after
witnessing the violence that ignited the Troubles, he
found it difficult to settle back into his studies.

Within a year he was home to stay.

He was already involved "in a small way" with Belfast
republicans when he left the Divine Word Missionaries
behind and joined the IRA.

Five years later Brendan McFarlane was sentenced to
life imprisonment in connection with a gun and bomb
attack on the Bayardo Bar on Belfast's Protestant
Shankill Road that killed five people.

His time in prison was marked by protest and escape
attempts. He returned to his religious calling in
1978, when he tried to escape the Maze dressed as a
priest, but was quickly caught.

However, in 1983 he led the mass break-out of
republican prisoners from the top security jail when
38 escaped.

In January 1986 he was recaptured in The Netherlands
along with fellow escapee Gerry Kelly.

Nearly 20 years later Mr McFarlane is sitting in Sinn
Féin's modern press centre on the Falls Road. Its
gable wall carries the famous mural of Bobby Sands.

During the interview Gerry Kelly, now a prominent Sinn
Féin representative, calls in to the room. Jim Gibney,
the party strategist reputed to have proposed putting
Sands forward for the Fermanagh/South Tyrone seat,
also briefly walks in.

The hunger strike past and the Sinn Féin present are

Mr McFarlane said he has "countless memories" of 1981.

"For [younger people] this is an element of history.
For the families of the hunger strikers and for us who
were at the coalface of it, this was last week. And it
is as sharp and as raw as that," he said.

He described the bonds forged during the prison
protests as being those of "brother as opposed to

Recalling an encounter with Bobby Sands prior to the
strike, Mr McFarlane said Sands demanded to know if he
"had the list ready".

Mr McFarlane said he was shocked to find that Sands
wanted to know who was scheduled to follow him to

The first hunger strike at the Maze in 1980 ended
without death amid speculation of a deal. During it
the men starved as a group.

The second hunger strike began with Sands, while
another man was to join each week, cranking up the
pressure. It took 66 days for Sands to perish.

"We had these smuggled crystal [radio] sets and at
night we would fix it up with a wire to the window for
an aerial and we would listen in to the Radio Ulster
news," Mr McFarlane said.

"On the early morning that he died I had the radio
wired up. I actually heard it on the 2am news.

"I remember distinctly... 'Bobby Sands, hunger
striker, MP for Fermanagh/South Tyrone, died at 1:17am

"And even though we were waiting for it, it still
shocked. I woke up Paul Butler, who is a councillor in
Lisburn now, and told him.

"We rapped down at the heating pipes beside each cell
and passed the word quietly."

Mr McFarlane said he also had fresh memories of July 5
– the day at the centre of Mr O'Rawe's claims.

"Danny Morrison and myself had a visit together. He
informed me that that morning the British had opened a
line of communication to the republican movement in
relation to the jail hunger strikes. My eyes widened.

"And he said to me 'I am instructed to inform you, do
not under any circumstances build up your hopes'.

"Danny then went and briefed the hunger strikers. I
was able to go in and talk to them [and] went back to
the block later that afternoon.

"I went back to the block, wrote out a quick note,
passed it up to Richard, informed him that the British
had opened up a line of communication.

"We were not to spread the word. I told him and I
think I told one other member of camp staff. I told
him again that we need to see what's going to happen

Asked whether was any information was passed to Mr
O'Rawe on what might have been on offer?

Mr McFarlane replied: "There was no concrete proposals
whatsoever in relation to a deal.

"According to Richard he has a deal done. Richard then
says that he shouted down to me that 'that looks
good'. 'I agreed' and that I would write out to the
army council and say that we would accept the deal.

"That is totally fictitious. That conversation did not

"I did not write to the army council and tell them
that we were accepting [a deal]. I couldn't have. I
couldn't have accepted something that didn't exist.

"He then says that the conversation continued at the
window in Irish to confuse the prison guards so they
wouldn't hear. But there's 44 guys on that wing who
have Gaelic."

"Not only did I not tell him. That conversation didn't
take place.

"No way did I agree with Richard O'Rawe that a deal
was offered and that we should accept it and that I
would write to the army council and say that 'that is
a good deal we're accepting it'.

"And one thousand per cent, the army council did not
write in and say 'do not accept the deal'."

Mr McFarlane insisted that "prisoners took the

"I have spoken to Richard on numerous occasions in the
years that I have been released and never on any
occasion did he ever raise any difficulties, problems,
doubts, in relation to the hunger strike period. Never
once broached the subject."

Mr McFarlane said Sinn Féin had contacted the hunger
striker's families to "allay any fears" over the book.

Blanketmen asks questions of the republican leaders of
1981 and records Gerry Adams's central role.

Mr McFarlane raised this point and said: "I think the
vilification of Gerry Adams in this is scandalous,
absolutely scandalous."

Last night (Thursday) Mr O'Rawe stood over his account
of events and said the communication from Mr McFarlane
did contain details of a deal that they agreed to
accept. He reiterated the question: why would he make
it up?

"The only person who can answer that is Richard
O'Rawe," Mr McFarlane said.

"But I categorically state that never did I write to
the army council telling them that we were accepting a
deal, because a deal did not exist."

March 12, 2005

The Diary of Bobby Sands


**Bobby's diary - 12th day

Thursday 12th

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.


The Diary of Bobby Sands


**Bobby's diary - 11th day

Wednesday 11th

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.


The Diary of Bobby Sands


**Bobby's diary - 10th day

Tuesday 10th

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 hing 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.


Richard O'Rawe

Daily Ireland

O’Rawe’s attacks ‘untrue’

by Danny Morrison

Having quickly run out of argument, having found his account rebuffed by former hunger strikers and blanket men, Richard O’Rawe has resorted to personal, untrue and hurtful attacks. His claim that in 1981 the army council of the IRA turned down a deal from ‘Mountain Climber’ (a British representative) which could have saved six hunger strikers lives in order to gain a sympathy vote for Owen Carron in the Fermanagh and South Tyrone by-election has been demolished.

Few believe his plea that he wrote the book for the families of the hunger strikers (but forgot to tell them). Instead of conceding that his memory might be false, or that being only partly privy to the talks in 1981 led him to misinterpret events, he persists with his myths because his book and its sales are his primary concern.

The fact that during all the propaganda wars successive British governments have never in the intervening 24 years claimed the IRA squandered a deal in 1981 speaks for itself. It would certainly have been in British interests to level such a charge – after all, the allegation is of such a magnitude that were it true it had the potential for stopping the struggle in its tracks.

In this paper last Saturday, Richard wrote: “Danny [Morrison] has accused me of being oblivious to the feelings of the families. Let me say that’s rich.

“This man went into a meeting with the families on July 28 with the Mountain Climber offer in his back pocket and yet he didn’t think the families should be made aware of the offer. Why did he do that?”

On July 10 at Joe McDonnell’s funeral, I collapsed in Milltown Cemetery. I was taken into hospital in Dublin with hepatitis, which is an infectious disease, and kept in an isolation ward at Cherry Orchard hospital in Ballyfermott. That’s where I was on July 28. In hospital I was humbled to receive a message from the hunger strikers asking about my condition. A month after Joe McDonnell’s death, I returned to the North to speak at the funeral of IRA hunger striker Tom McElwee in Bellaghy. My point is that Richard’s memory isn’t as sharp as he claims.

Interestingly, in his Daily Ireland right of reply, Richard also had the opportunity to rebut criticism of him the day before from Laurence McKeown but chose not to. Laurence was one of those on hunger strike at the time in 1981 when Richard alleges that the IRA refused ‘a deal’ to end the fast.

Richard seems incapable of grasping the distinction between an offer and a confirmed deal.

Yes, offers were made and discussed and clarified but when we tried to tie the British government down on a mechanism for ensuring they could not renege (as they had at the end of the first hunger strike) they procrastinated. The hunger strikers – as Laurence McKeown made clear the other day – “wanted definite confirmation, not vague promises of ‘regime change’ ”.

Richard was a blanket man and a PRO for the prisoners in 1981. He was not a negotiator and was never in the prison hospital with the hunger strikers, though he elevates his importance in his book.

He was a good PRO and upon his release from prison he worked for a year in the Republican Press Centre in Belfast at the time when I was Sinn Féin’s director of publicity. So, we saw each other at briefings every day for a year until he decided to go into business for himself.

Since then, there have been a dozen occasions when we’ve discussed politics late into the night. During and after the hunger strike, and in all the time I have known and spoken to him, Richard never made this allegation.
He says that in 1991 he privately criticised the role of the IRA Army Council in the hunger strike but was told that he could be shot and so he kept quiet. He explains that because of the new atmosphere following the ceasefire and that because he believes there will be no return to armed struggle he now feels free to say these things. Even if for the sake of argument we accept that Richard felt threatened in 1991 that doesn’t explain why in the interests of accuracy he would not now have consulted Brendan ‘Bik’ McFarlane, his former OC, whom throughout the book he has recruited to his position, other hunger strikers who survived, Gerry Adams or myself. Bik, like Laurence McKeown, repudiates Richard’s allegation.

Richard deceived many people into believing that he was writing a book about growing up in West Belfast. When the book was published last week any merit it had for former comrades, as one blanket man’s grim experience of jail, was destroyed by his implicit insult to the intelligence of the hunger strikers and his scurrilous attack on the IRA leadership and Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams.

As a result of his attacks Richard has been feted by the Sunday Times and lauded by revisionists, anti-republican journalists and the usual suspects. Had his book been called Blanketmen – Thatcher kills hunger strikers, I think we can guess at how little media coverage he could have expected.

Richard’s book has helped no one but the enemies of the struggle. Not the hunger strikers’ families, not the blanket men, not the republican cause, not his friends and comrades, and, certainly, not himself.

What Richard O’Rawe has written is repugnant but it has exposed him as a minor figure against the inviolable memory of the hunger strikers, their sacrifices and their greatness.

Danny Morrison is a regular media commentator on Irish politics. He is the author of three novels and three works of non-fiction. His play about the IRA, The Wrong Man, begins a three-week run in the Pleasance Theatre, London, from March 12. www.dannymorrison.com

Happy Birthday Bobby


**Bobby's diary - 9th day and his 27th birthday

Monday 9th

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.


**Bobby would have been 51 today. Last year I found a few articles which I will re-post today for those of you who haven't seen them. In some cases, the old post links don't work anymore.

Irish Prisoners of War - NORAID Online

Irish Hunger Strikes 1980 & '81

Chapter 19

The First Weeks:
Bobby’s Final Birthday Party
Francis Hughes Joins the Hunger Strike

On February 28, 1981, Bobby Sands ate a small, bitter orange in a cold H-Block cell. It was the last morsel of food he would ever taste. That night he began writing a diary of his experience on hunger strike. "I am standing on the threshold of another trembling world. May God have mercy on my soul," he wrote on a piece of toilet paper.

He also wrote on a cigarette paper the lyrics of a song he had written years ago while on remand and sent it on to a friend, Ricky O’Rawe, who had taken over as public relations officer for the republican prisoners. He called it "A Sad Song for Susan."

It ended like this: "And I wish I had you back again to when you were here/ Remember the Winter nights when you warmed me from the cold/ And the Spring when we walked through green fields and skies of gold/ You’re gone, you’re gone, but you live on in my memory."

It might very well have been written about himself and now he is only a memory. Perhaps he was saddened by his own loss of loved ones, a son and wife he hardly had the time to have anything like a normal life with, his sisters and brother, and his parents, as he faced an unknown eternity.

Support on the Falls

It was a cold Sunday on the Falls Road as well. Sinn Fein organized a march down the Falls to demonstrate support for the hunger strike. Four months earlier there had been 10,000 people showing their support for the first day of the first hunger strike. On this Sunday, there were perhaps thirty-five hundred demonstrators. The Movement would have to start all over again to publicize the plight of the men and gather support for the new hunger strike. But now it was ground minus zero. The people were distressed by the failure of the first hunger strike to move the Brits an inch towards the five demands and off of their criminalization policy. They were wearying from months of rallying around the H-Block/Armagh Committees and being harassed, beaten, arrested, shot, and even murdered for their activism. And they knew they had to get geared up to do it all again. On a cold, late winter Sunday in the north of Ireland, this wasn’t an easy thing.

That’s why Bobby knew for a fact he was going to die. He knew the mechanisms of popular support couldn’t be turned on without a blood sacrifice, much like the sacrifice of the men of 1916 was needed to open the eyes of the people of Ireland. He also knew the Brits needed a message that even they could not misunderstand.

In a little over two months, there would be 100,000 mourners following his coffin down the same Falls Road in West Belfast to Milltown cemetery.

The First Weeks

On Bobby’s 5th day on hunger strike a comm was sent out to the Movement: "Bobby’s weight today is 62 kg. His heart beat is 88 and blood pressure 112/70. He requested blankets. Said he felt the draft coming in the windows."

He was experiencing no side effects from the fast, except an unnatural craving for brown bread, butter, honey, and cheese. And naturally the screws came with heaps of steaming food three times a day to torture him. His cell mate, Malachy Carey, had a regular feast.

But by Friday of the first week he was feeling occasional bouts of energy loss. By Saturday, he had lost three kilograms.

On Monday, the 9th of March, he turned 27 years of age. He weighed 60 kgs.

"Comrade, how are ya? I’m still in the wing with the lads and how long that will last is uncertain. I’m feeling physically all right, I’ve no headaches or even minor medical complaints. There are I believe several tactics being deployed at present, foremost is I believe a deliberate policy of false disinterest that is ‘we couldn’t care less’ type of thing to make me feel small or insignificant and to try to create the impression in my mind that the hunger strike is merely confined to my cell," he put in a comm on his birthday.

"Let me or anyone else die..."

He sent out another comm on March 9th that showed how worried he was that an unacceptable deal would be struck to save his life, which had happened through deception and bad faith four months previously:

"As you know, I don’t care much to entering into any discussion on the topic of ‘negotiations’ of for that matter ‘settlements’ but what is worrying me is this: I’m afraid there is a possibility that at a crucial stage [which could be death] that Brits would move with a settlement and demand Index [prison chaplain Fr. Toner] as guarantor. Now this is feasible, if a man is dying, that they would try to force Bik to accept a settlement to save life which of course would be subject to [Fr. Toner’s] interpretation. And we know how far that would get us. It wouldn’t make any difference if it were he and Silvertop [ass’t chaplain Fr. Murphy], the same would occur. I’ve told Bik to let me or anyone else die before submitting to a play like that..."

Bik Faces An Unenviable Job

Bik McFarlane, the new OC, in essence commanding all the logistics and strategy for the hunger strike inside the prison, knew exactly what he had to do, although he wasn’t happy about it. In a panel discussion in Derry City in January, 2001, almost 20 years after the events of the hunger strike, he told a stilled audience how he went to Bobby asking him to select someone else to be prison OC. He told him how there were others more capable and closer to him on a personal level. Why not pick one of your friends? Bik wanted to know.

Bobby told him, "Because they won’t let me die." And Bik would have to.

A Final Birthday Party

That night, after the news from the various prison blocks was shouted across the wings and courtyard, including Bobby’s present weight and general health, D wing roared in unison and in Irish, "Happy birthday, Bobby!"

The celebration consisted mostly of a concert or "singsong" in Bobby’s honor, which featured several of Bobby’s own songs, "Back Home in Derry", sung my himself, and "McIlhatton" sung by Bik accompanied on the bodhran drum [rather, the steel cell door]. There was a whole evening of songs, requests, poems and whistled music.

On the 14th of March, Bobby weighed 58.25 kgs and his vital signs were normal. "The screws turned his cell lights on 3 times last night waking him on every occasion: 10 pm, 2 am, 6 am...," a smuggled out comm said.

He tried to write poetry, had plenty of ideas and thought it would help him face each day and ward off negative thoughts of the crisis days ahead, but he couldn’t. He was just too tired and he needed to conserve energy. He stopped his hunger strike diary after the 15th day.

The Man From Tamlaghtduff

On Sunday, the 15th of March, 1981, Bobby was joined on hunger strike by one of the greatest heroes of the conflict, Francis Hughes, of South Derry. He was captured after a intense fire fight with the SAS almost two years previously to the day. Francis lead the British army on a wild and bloody ride for years in his home land of South Derry that usually ended with Brit casualties and with Francis slipping through, around or behind hostile lines of soldiers. He was one with the hills. Taking in the odds never seemed to be part of his calculations when engaging the Brits. Sometimes he simply attacked whole squads arrayed to capture or kill him, turning an aggressive British operation into a full retreat. Francis Hughes was a legend. He was 23 years of age when he was captured; he was 25 when he died. Chisty Moore wrote a popular song about Francis, "The Boy From Tamlaghtduff":

Moving round the countryside he often made the news

But they could never lay their hands on my brave Francis Hughes.

Finally they wounded him and captured him at last.

From the countryside he loved, they took him to Belfast.

On from Musgrave Park to Crumlin Road and then to an H-Block cell,

He went straight on the blanket then, on hunger strike as well.

His will to win they could never break, no matter what they tried.

He fought them every day he lived and he fought them as he died...



Happy birthday, Bobby

Bobby Sands could have stepped aside. Nobody made him do it. He could have stopped at any time. He could have succumbed to fear of the unknown, the fear of death. He could have placed the possibilities of a future life before the realities of his present existence.
But he didn't.

From his writings it is apparent that he believed every other alternative had been exhausted. He simply had to do it.

If he had simply stopped or walked away or turned his back, then he could well have been celebrating his fiftieth birthday tomorrow, Tuesday, March 9. Instead, after spending most of his adult life either interned in the Cages or on the blanket in the H-Blocks, the twenty-seven year old died following a hunger strike that lasted sixty-six days, on May 5, 1981.

Nine comrades followed him to death. Many more also embarked on the hunger strike and some--like Pat McGeown--died prematurely from the after-effects of the protest.

In basic terms, Bobby Sands had been protesting that he and his comrades should receive the same political status while imprisoned in the H-Blocks that they had been accorded while imprisoned in the Cages.

At the stroke of a pen, after March 1, 1976, the British government attempted to label anyone convicted of a conflict-related offence from that date onwards as an "ordinary criminal." In real terms, however, the British government turned the issue into a battle of life and death.

And while Bobby Sands and nine others lost their lives, historians now agree that Margaret Thatcher and her government lost the battle. For weeks afterwards, the death of Bobby Sands had an immense international impact.

All British ships were boycotted at US ports for twenty fours hours by the Longshoremen's Union. Members of the Portuguese parliament held a minute's silence in his memory. A street was named after him in Tehran.

Protest demonstrations were held across the world-- from Milan to Chicago, from Oslo to Brisbane. His face appeared on the cover of newspapers across every continent of the globe and he became a symbol of power for oppressed people everywhere.

However, despite all the iconography associated with Bobby Sands, it is sometimes forgotten that he was also a son, a brother, a father and a friend. One of those who knew him best as a comrade in the Cages and the H-Blocks is Seanna Walsh.

"I first met Bobby in January 1973 when we were in the same Cage and he had that cocky Belfast dander and a Rod Stewart haircut.

"Back then in jail, birthdays weren't really a big thing--they were more a family thing and the only way you might have known it was someone's birthday was when they got a clatter of cards from their family.

"I know Bobby's family will be feeling it very much tomorrow and it will be hard for them.

"Having said that, it is an opportunity for Bobby's wider family of republican comrades to give thought to it as well," said Seanna.

Describing Bobby Sands as a "mate who enjoyed a bit of craic and slagging," Seanna joked that he was "the only person inside to support Aston Villa--God help him."

Pointing out that many families go through the same experience of remembering the birthdays of deceased loved ones, Seanna said: "It would have been Joe McDonnell's fiftieth birthday four years ago, but Bobby, probably because he was the first to die, has become this larger than life figure and tends to stick out more.

"There is one thing I can't get into and it is this: in terms of where Bobby would stand in relation to the current political situation, I simply don't know. Nobody does.

"Sometimes comrades who disagree with things ask me what Bobby would think. The answer is, we just don't know and I would never try to misrepresent him.

"All I know is that the role I am playing in the struggle is part and parcel of the same struggle that Bobby died for, and those of us engaged in that freedom struggle are determined to continue," said Seanna.

Journalist:: Jarlath Kearney


Bobby at 50 - BY JIM GIBNEY

It was 18 December 1980. It was late afternoon. The phone rang in the Mountjoy Square office of the H-Block/Armagh Committee. It was Gerry Adams. In a hushed but firm voice he told me to ring him from a pay phone in the street. I did. "The hunger strike is over. Can you come back to Belfast?" he
said. The news shocked me. I had been in Dublin for several months building support for the Hunger Strike and now it was suddenly over. Over without prior warning.

I was at a loss as to what t do, what to say. But I knew it would soon be on the radio and TV news and the people in the H-Block/Armagh office had to hear it from me before they heard it over the airwaves.

We gathered around the office in a sombre mood. These were the people who had campaigned tirelessly, who had helped to build a national movement to support the prisoners' cause over the previous two or three years.

I told them what Gerry told me. There was a mixture of disbelief that the Hunger Strike was over and relief that no one had died; people had tears in their eyes.

Five years of campaigning, six weeks of a Hunger Strike... now ended, confusion reigned.

The following day back in Belfast, I met Gerry in a house in Clonard owned by lifelong republican Alfie Hannaway.

I was shown a comm written by Bobby Sands that had come out of the prison the previous day. The following sentence stuck out: "I will begin another hunger strike on the 1st January." "What? We can't go through that again," I blurted out

And that was the sentiment, obviously more considered, that I was to tell Bobby the following day. A visit had been arranged for me with him.

Danny Morrison who had been the outside contact for the prisoners during the Hunger Strike had been banned from the jail a few days previously by the British Government and I had been selected to replace him.

I waited in the visiting area for Bobby not knowing what to expect. I hadn't seen him since we were both in the Crumlin Road Jail three years previously.

He literally bounced towards me with a smile on his face and his hand stretched out. I hadn't seen him coming into the visiting area.

He looked tired, his eyes were red rimmed and the years of brutality were obvious in his gaunt features and bedraggled long hair and beard.

With two prison warders hanging over his shoulders, we engaged in an intense conversation.

He was adamant that another hunger strike should begin on the 1 January and that he would lead it. He had others lined up to join him.

I put the leadership's views and he listened carefully, shaking his head in disagreement occasionally. Time up, we embraced and parted company. He was to consider what I said, consult with others inside and communicate the views to the leadership outside as soon as possible.

The next time I saw Bobby he was on hunger strike. I would see him several times before he died.

I reflected on all of this last Friday when I heard that Bobby's 50th birthday would have been on Tuesday past.

I didn't know Bobby any way well. Our paths crossed fleetingly on the outside and the inside. I visited him with his family several times when he was dying on hunger strike.

My memory of him from the days in the Crum, more than a quarter of a century later, is of a man who was a bundle of energy, always thinking, always conspiring, constantly trying to outwit the prison authorities.

We met in cells or prison vans, he was always on his hunkers. I was never sure of his height until I met him a few days before Christmas 1980. He was average height.

Bobby's death on hunger strike, the written works he left behind him, his status as an MP for Fermanagh/South Tyrone, the fact that he led the hunger strike, was the first to die, his youthful, revolutionary image captured in his portrait - all of these facts have contributed rightly to making him a national and international symbol of freedom and justice.

For those who don't know, it is understandable that they see only Bobby and what he stood for. It is enough for them and for us that they are motivated to do good works as a result of admiring the stance that Bobby took.

But those of us who were there or close to events surrounding the second Hunger Strike and who know, should always tell the whole story or as much of it as involves us on occasions like now.

Because 23 years later, on Bobby's 50th, we are not just recalling his heroism, we are also remembering his comrades who also died on hunger strike: Francis, Raymond, Patsy, Joe, Martin, Tom, Kieran, Kevin and Mick and their families.

Bobby is the public face of this group of martyrs and their families. His image embodies each and every one of them because they all faced what he and his family faced - the daunting decision to cross over the line between life and death. His family stood with him as theirs did with them in their time.

In acknowledging, we are not forgetting about Frank Stagg or Michael Gaughan, who also died on hunger strike, or indeed any of the other IRA volunteers who lost their lives in the conflict.

We are recognising that the H-Block martyrs and the struggle for political status there and in Armagh women's prison turned this struggle around, put it on a higher moral plane and pushed us in a new political direction.

On your 50th Bobby, thanks.

© 2003 Irish Republican Media

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