Remembering 1981: From a nationalist ghetto to the battlefield of H-Block

An Phoblacht

The Birth of a Republican

The folllowing is a slightly edited version of a semi-autobiographical article by Bobby Sands, first published anonomously in Republican News on 16 December 1978. It was reprinted in An Phoblacht/Republican News on 4 April 1981 when Bobby was 35 days on hunger strike.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usFrom my earliest years I recall my mother speaking of the troubled times that occurred during her childhood. Often she spoke of internment on prison ships, of gun attacks and death, and of early morning raids when one lay listening with pounding heart to the heavy clattering of boots on the cobblestone streets, and as a new day broke peaked carefully out the window to see a neighbour being taken away by the Specials.

Although I never really understood what internment was, or who the Specials were, I grew to regard them as symbols of evil. Nor could I understand when my mother spoke of Connolloy and the 1916 Rising, and of how he and his comrades fought and were subsequently executed - a fate suffered by so many Irish rebels in my mother's stories.

When the television arrived, my mother's stories were replaced by what it had to offer. I became more confused as "the baddies" in my mother's tales were also the heroes on the TV. The British army always fought for 'the right side' and the police were always the 'good guys'. Both were to be heroised and imitated in childhood play.

At school I learned history, but it was always English History and English historical triumphs in Ireland and elsewhere . I often wondered why I was never taught the history of my own country and when my sister, a year younger than myself, began to learn the Gaelic language at school I envied her. Occasionally nearing the end of my school days I received a few scant lessons in Irish history. For this, from a republican-minded teacher who taught me, I was indeed grateful.

I recall my mother also speaking of the 'good old days'. But of all her marvellous stories I could never remember any good times and I often thought to myself 'thank God' I was not a boy in those times because by then - having left school - life to me seemed enormous and wonderful.

Starting work, although frightening at first, became alright, especially with the reward at the end of the week. Dances and clothes, girls and a few shillings to spend, opened up a whole new world for me. I suppose at that time I would have worked all week, as money seemed to matter more than anything else.


Then came 1968 and my life began to change. Gradually the news changed. Regularly I noticed the Specials, whom I now knew as the B Specials, attacking and baton-charging the crowds of people who all of a sudden began marching on the streets.

From the talk in the house and my mother shaking her fist at the TV screen, I knew that they were our people who were on the receiving end. My sympathies and feelings really became aroused after watching the scenes at Burntollet. That imprinted on my mind like a scar, and for the first time I took a real interest in what was going on. I became angry.

It was now 1969 and events moved faster as August hit our area like a hurricane. The whole world exploded and my own little world just crumbled around me. The TV did not have to tell the story now, for it was on my own doorstep. Belfast was in flames, as our districts, our humble homes were burnt. The Specials came at the head of the RUC and the Orange hordes, right into the heart of our streets, burning, looting, shooting and murdering.

There was no one to save us, except 'the boys' as my father called the men who defended our district with a handful of old guns.

As the unfamiliar sound of gunfire was still echoing there soon appeared alien figures, voices and faces, in the form of British Soldiers on our streets. But no longer did I think of them as my childhood 'good guys', for their presence alone was food for thought.

Before I could work out the solution it was answered for me, in the form of early morning raids, and I remembered my mother's stories of previous troubled times. For now my heart pounded at the heavy clatter of the soldiers' boots in the early morning stillness and I carefully peaked from behind the drawn curtains to watch the neighbours door being kicked in, and the fathers and sons being dragged out by the hair and being flung in the backs of sinister looking armoured cars. This was followed by blatant murder, the shooting dead of our people on the streets and in cold blood. The curfew came and went taking more of our peoples lives.


Every time I turned a corner I was met by the now all too familiar sight of homes being wrecked and people being lifted. The city was in uproar, bombings became more regular, as did gun battles, as 'the boys'- the IRA, hit back at the Brits.

The TV now showed endless gun battles and bombings. The people had risen and were fighting back, and my mother, in her newly found spirit of resistance, hurled encouragement at the TV shouting, give it to them boys!

Easter 1971 came, and the name on everyone's lips was 'the Provos', the peoples army, the backbone of nationalist resistance.

I was now past my 18th year, and fed up with rioting. No matter how much I tried, or how many stones I threw I could never beat them - the Brits always came back.

I had seen too many homes wrecked, fathers and sons arrested, friends murdered, gas, shootings, blood, most of it my own people's.

At 18-and-a-half I joined the Provos. My mother wept with pride and joy as I went out to confront the imperial might of an empire with an M1 carbine and enough hate to topple the world. To my surprise, my schoolday friends and neighbours became my comrades in the war. I soon became much more aware about the whole national liberation struggle, as I came to regard what I used to term the 'troubles'.

Things were not easy for a Volunteer in the Irish Republican Army. Already I was being harassed and twice was lifted, questioned, and brutalised but I survived both of these trials.

Then came another hurricane, internment. Many of my comrades disappeared - interned. Many of my innocent neighbours met the same fate. Others weren't so lucky, they were just murdered.

My life now centred around sleepless nights and standby, dodging the Brits, and calming nerves to go out on operations.

But the people stood by us. The people not only opened their doors to us to lend us a helping hand, but they opened their hearts to us, and I soon learned that without the people we could not survive and I knew I owed them everything.

1972 came and went and I spent what was to be my last Christmas at home for quite some time. The Brits never let up. No mercy was shown, as testified by the atrocity of Bloody Sunday in Derry. But we continued to fight back, as did my jailed comrades who embarked on a long hunger strike to gain recognition as political prisoners.

Political status was won just before the first, but short-lived, truce of 1972. During this truce the IRA braced itself for the forthcoming massive Operation Motorman, which came and went, taking with it the barricades.


The liberation struggle forged ahead, but then came personal disaster - I was captured. It was the Autumn of '72. I was charged and for the first time I faced jail. I was 19-and-a-half, but I had no alternative but to face up to the hardship that lay before me.

Given the stark corruptness of the judicial system, I refused to recognise the court. I ended up sentenced in a barbed wire cage where I spent three-and-a-half years as a Prisoner of War with 'special category status'.

I did not waste my time. I did not allow the rigours of prison life to change my revolutionary determination an inch. I educated and trained myself both in political and military matters, as did my comrades.

In 1976 when I was released, I was not broken. In fact I was more determined in the fight for national liberation. I reported back to my local IRA unit and threw myself back into the struggle.

Quite a lot of things had changed. Belfast had changed. Some parts of the ghettoes had completely disappeared and others were in the process of being removed. The war was still forging ahead, although tactics and strategy had changed.

At first I found it a little bit hard to adjust, but I settled in to the run of things, and at the grand old age of 23, I got married.

Life wasn't bad, but there were still a lot of things that had not changed, such as the presence of armed British troops on our street and the oppression of our people. The liberation struggle was now seven years old, and had braved a second and mistakenly prolonged cease-fire. The British government was now seeking to Ulsterise the war, which included criminalisation of the IRA and attempted normalisation of the situation. The struggle had to be kept going. Thus, six months after I was released, disaster fell a second time as I bombed my way back into jail!

With my wife four months pregnant, the shock of capture, seven days of hell in Castlereagh, a quick court appearance and remand, and the return to a cold damp cell, nearly destroyed me. It took every ounce of the revolutionary spirit left in me to stand up to it.

Jail, although not new to me, was really bad, worse than the first time. Things had changed enormously since the withdrawal of special status. Both republican and loyalist prisoners were housed in the same wing.

The greater part of each day was spent locked up in a cell. The screws, many of whom I knew to be cowering cowards, now went in gangs into the cells of republicans to dish out unmerciful beatings. This was to be the pattern all the way along the road to criminalisation- torture, and more torture, to break our spirit of resistance.

I was meant to change from being a revolutionary freedom fighter to a criminal at the stroke of a political pen, reinforced by inhumanities of the most brutal nature.

Already Kieran Nugent and several more republican POW's had begun the blanket protest for the restoration of political status. They refused to wear prison garb or do prison work.

After many weekly remand court appearances the time finally arrived, 11 months after my arrest, and I was in Diplock court. In two hours I was swiftly found guilty, and my comrades and I sentenced to 15 years. Once again I had refused to recognise the farcical judicial system.

As they led us from the courthouse, my mother, defiant as ever, stood up in the gallery and shook the air with a cry of 'they'll never break you boys', and my wife, from somewhere behind her, with tear-filled eyes, braved a smile of encouragement at me. At least, I thought, she has our child. Now that I was in jail, our daughter would provide her with company and maybe help ease the loneliness which she knew only to well.

The next day I became a blanket man, and there I was, sitting on the cold floor, naked, with only a blanket around me in an empty cell.


The days were long and lonely. Sudden and total deprivation of such basic human necessities as exercise and fresh air, association with other people, my own clothes, and things like radio, cigarettes and a host of other things made life very hard. At first, as always, I adapted. But, as time wore on, I came face to face with an old friend, depression, which on many occasions consumed me and swallowed me into its darkest depths. From home, only the occasional letter got past the prison censor.

Gradually my appearance and psychical health began to change drastically. My eyes, shrunken, glassy, piercing and surrounded by pale, yellowish skin, were frightening. I had grown a beard, and like my comrades, resembled a living corpse. The blinding migraine headaches, which started slowly, became a daily occurrence, and owing to no exercise I became seized with muscular pains.

In the H-Blocks, beatings, long periods in punishment cells, starvation diets, torture, were commonplace.

20 March 1978 and we completed the full circle of deprivation and suffering. As an attempt to highlight our intolerable plight, we embarked upon a dirt strike, refusing to wash, shower, clean out our cells, or empty the filthy chamber pots.

The H-Blocks became battlefields in which the republican spirit of resistance met head-on all the inhumanities that Britain could perpetrate. Inevitably the lid of silence on the H-Blocks blew sky high, revealing the atrocities inside.

The battlefield became worse, our cells turning into disease-infested tombs with piles of decaying rubbish, and maggots, fleas and flies rampant. The nauseating smell of urine and the stink of our bodies and cells made our surroundings resemble a pigsty.

The screws, keeping up the incessant torture, hosed us down, sprayed us with strong disinfectant, ransacked our cells, forcibly bathed us, and tortured us to the brink of insanity. Blood and tears fell upon the battlefield - all of it ours. But we refused to yield.

The republican spirit prevailed and as I sit here in the same conditions and the continuing torture in H-Block 5, I am proud, although psychically wrecked, mentally exhausted, and scarred deep with hatred and anger.

I am proud because my comrades and I have met, fought and repelled a monster, and we will continue to do so. We will never allow ourselves to be crimialised, nor our people either. Grief stricken and oppressed, the men and women of no property have risen. A risen people, marching in thousands on the streets in defiance and rage at the imperial oppressor, the mass murderer, and torturer. The spirit of Irish freedom is in every one of them and I am really proud.

I was only a working class boy from a Nationalist ghetto, but it is repression which creates the revolutionary spirit of freedom. I shall not settle until I achieve the liberation of my country, until Ireland becomes a sovereign, independent socialist republic.

We the risen people, shall turn tragedy into triumph. We shall bear forth a nation!

Hunger Strike History


Photo from www.irishhungerstrike.com

Thursday 26 March 1981

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

Sunday 29 March 1981

The Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) decided to withdraw the nomination of Austin Currie from the forthcoming by-election in Fermanagh / South Tyrone.

Monday 30 March 1981

Noel Maguire decided to withdraw his nomination in the forthcoming by-election in Fermanagh / South Tyrone. [This decision meant that voters were faced with a straight choice between Bobby Sands and Harry West, the Unionist candidate.]


Candle to remember 1981 hunger strikes

Daily Ireland

Initiative shows solidarity with sacrifice of men


Image Hosted by ImageShack.usRepublicans across the country yesterday lit candles to mark the 25th anniversary of the 1981 hunger strike.
Irish Republican Army and Irish National Liberation Army prisoners in the Co Antrim jail began the hunger strike in March 1981. Ten men had died by the time it was called off in October.
Candles were lit and placed in the front windows of republican homes across Ireland.
Bik McFarlane, the IRA officer commanding in Long Kesh at the time of the 1981 hunger strike, said the commemorative candle was an initiative aimed at remembering in a small way the sacrifices of the ten men.
He said it was also a way of showing continuing solidarity with their families, especially the mothers on Mother’s Sunday, 25 years after the events.
“We chose Mother’s Day as the day when we are asking people to place the candle in the window of their homes as a particular tribute to the immediate families of those who died and as a tribute to the courage they displayed throughout those long and difficult months from March to October 1981,” he said.
The first to die was Bobby Sands, who began the fast and who was elected MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone in an April by-election. His death on May 5, 1981 after 66 days on hunger strike was followed by the biggest funeral ever seen in the North. Around 100,000 people lined the route to Milltown Cemetery in west Belfast.
The hunger strike smashed British attempts to criminalise Republican prisoners and kick started Sinn Féin’s entry into electoral politics.


Remembering 1981

An Phoblacht

Four on Hunger Strike

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usBelfast republican Bobby Sands completed his third week on hunger strike for political status in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh on Sunday 22 March 1981. His comrade Francis Hughes, from South Derry completed his first week on the strike on the same day. Also on that day Sands and Hughes were joined on their fast to the death by two other blanket men, Raymond McCreesh from South Armagh and Patsy O'Hara from Derry City.

Bobby Sands

Bobby Sands was born in Belfast on 9 March 1954. He became involved in active republicanism in his mid teens and when he was 18, was arrested in Lisburn and charged with weapons possession. He was sentenced in early 1973 to five years imprisonment which he served as a political prisoner in the cages of Long Kesh

After his release, in April 1976, Sands continued as an active republican, and was re-arrested six months later during an IRA operation.

After 11 months on remand, Bobby Sands was sentenced to 14 years imprisonment. When he was moved to the H-Blocks in late September 1977, Bobby Sands refused to wear a prison uniform, and went on the blanket protest.

Later, under the pen name Marcella, he wrote articles for Republican News. In the H-Blocks Sands suffered the routine abuse from the prison administration and was forcibly bathed and scrubbed down with deck brushes on numerous occassions.

He was PRO of the Blanket men until he succeeded Brendan Hughes as OC when Hughes went on the first hunger strike in 1980.

Sands played a major part in leading republican resistance to crimialisation in the H-Blocks and conducted negotiations with the prison governor in attempting to resolve the prison crisis, which foundered when the British adopted an intransigent attitude

Francis Hughes

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usOne of the most fearless and active young Volunteers in the armed struggle against British occupation, 25-year-old Francis Hughes from Bellaghy in South Derry joined the Hunger Strike on 16 March 1981.

Described Francis Hughes as "the most wanted man in the North", Hughes was on the run for three years and despite thousands of wanted posters all over South Derry he remained in the area, often living out in the fields and hills while British forces scoured the countryside for him.

In March 1978 two IRA Volunteers dressed in military uniform were crossing a field when confronted by five undercover SAS soldiers. In the shoot-out that ensued two British soldiers were shot and the IRA Volunteers escaped the immediate vicinity. A full-scale manhunt was mounted by hundreds of British soldiers and RUC. Thirteen hours later Francis Hughes was found lying under gorse bushes. He was badly wounded and had lost much blood. On his military uniform the word 'Ireland' was emblazoned across the jacket. He was trailed out of the gorse but refused to answer any questions.

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usHe spent ten months in the military wing of Musgrave Park hospital, and, as a result of his wounds, his thigh bone was operated on and reduced by one-and-a-half inches, leaving him with a steel pin in his leg and needing a crutch. (Click photo to view - Francis at capture)

In August 1978 he was taken from Musgrave Park to Castlereagh interrogation centre and for the next six days refused to answer any questions and refused to eat or drink in case the food or water was drugged. He was charged with organising and taking part in a number of IRA operations.

At his trial, which ended after 13 days on 18 February 1980, he was given several lengthy sentences including life imprisonment.

When brought to the H-Blocks, Hughes immediately went on the blanket.

Ray McCreesh

Raymond McCreesh was born in the village of Camlough in South Armagh, the second youngest in a family of four brothers and three sisters. After leaving school he attended Newry Technical College and served an apprenticeship as a sheet-metal worker.

At the age of 19, McCreesh was arrested after a shoot-out between the IRA and the British army near Beleek in South Armagh in June 1976. After nine months on remand he was sentenced in a non-jury court in March 1977.

By the time he embarked on the historic 1981 Hunger Strike, Raymond McCreesh had spent four years on the blanket protest, and during that time forfeited his visits rather than wear the prison uniform for the short half-hour visit per month. He only took his first visit with his parents in 1981 to inform them that he was going on the Hunger Strike.

Patsy O'Hara

Patrick O'Hara was born in Derry city on 11 February 1957. He was just 11 years old when, along with his parents, he took part in the big civil rights march in Derry, on 5 October 1968, which was viciously attacked by the RUC. A year later he again witnessed one of the milestones in the conflict when the RUC invaded, and were defeated, during the Battle of the Bogside in August 1969.

Patrick, known to everyone as Patsy, joined na Fianna Éireann in 1970 and, although under-age, he joined Sinn Féin in early 1971. A few months after the introduction of internment his eldest brother Seán was interned.

In 1974 his home was continually raided by the British army and he was frequently harrassed and beaten up by them, before being interned in October.

After his release in April 1975, O'Hara joined the Irish Republican Socialist Party, but within two months he was re-arrested and framed by the British army. He spent ten months on remand before being acquitted.

The British army and RUC continued to harass the O'Hara family in 1976, and Patsy's brother, Tony, was arrested and charged with a political offence for which he was subsequently convicted on the basis of an alleged verbal statement.

Patsy was arrested again in September 1976 and charged with possessing arms and ammunition- this was really internment-by-remand and he was released after four months when the charges were dropped.

In June 1977 he was arrested in Dublin, interrogated for seven days, and charged with holding a Garda at gunpoint. He was released on bail six weeks later and in January 1978 he was acquitted.

Patsy was arrested once more in May 1979. He was charged with possession of a hand grenade and was convicted on the basis of accusations made by two British soldiers. He was sentenced to eight years' imprisonment in January 1980 and immediately went on the blanket protest.

This week 25 years ago saw four young men, from various parts of the Six Counties, on a hunger strike to the death in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh and republican leadership urging the need for mobilisations and action in support of their demands for recognition as political prisoners.


Republicans urged to light candle to remember the Hunger Strikers

Sinn Féin

Published: 23 March, 2006

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams was today joined by former Long Kesh O/Cs Brendan McFarlane and Seando Moore for the launch of a commemorative candle to remember the 25th Anniversary of the 1981 Hunger Strike.

Speaking at the launch at the Roddy McCorley Club in Belfast, Bik McFarlane urged people to place the candle in their window this Sunday, March 26th, Mothers Day.

Mr McFarlane said:

"The commemorative candle is an initiative aimed at remembering in a small way the sacrifices of the 10 men who died and also showing continuing solidarity with their families, 25 years on from the events of 1981.

"We choose Mothers Day as the day when we are asking people to place the candle in the window of their homes as a particular tribute to the immediate families of those who died and as a tribute to the courage they displayed throughout those long and difficult months from March to October 1981." ENDS


Hunger Strike - Raymond McCreesh and Patsy O'Hara

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Today, 25 years ago, Patsy O'Hara and Raymond McCreesh joined Bobby Sands and Francis Hughes on hungerstrike

Please visit >>IRISH HUNGER STRIKE 1981


>>Raymond McCreesh

>>Patsy O'Hara


Bobby Sands' diary - final entry


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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.


Bobby Sands' diary - day 16


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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.

Mural detail from >>CAIN


Bobby Sands' diary - day 15


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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. (Click photo to view)

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.


Bobby Sands' diary - day 14


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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.

Bobby Sands: how ordinary people become ‘terrorists’

Socialist Worker Online

**Click on the above link to read the extracts. As they have previously been re-posted from Daily Ireland, I will not repeat them today.

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Bobby Sands’s funeral in Belfast became a focus for resistance (Pic: John Sturrock)

A new book by Denis O’Hearn about Irish hunger striker Bobby Sands shows the violence of the British state in 1981. We reproduce three extracts, and an introduction to the events


by Simon Basketter

Twenty five years ago, Irish Republican prisoners went on hunger strike in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh prison in Northern Ireland. After 66 days Bobby Sands, aged 27, was the first of ten hunger strikers the British government allowed to die.

Tory prime minister Margaret Thatcher denounced Sands as a “criminal” and “terrorist” on the day of his death.

Sands and the other hunger strikers were ordinary working class Catholics who found themselves up against the extraordinary violence and repression of the British state. Republican prisoners were prepared to starve themselves to death for the right to be treated as political prisoners.

Sands was typical of the men and women who joined the IRA. His family were twice forced to flee their home by Loyalist gangs. Loyalists threatened Sands at gunpoint when he worked as an apprentice coach builder.

He later wrote in an article smuggled out of prison, “I had seen too many homes wrecked, fathers and sons arrested, friends murdered. Too much gas, shootings and blood, most of it our own people’s. At 18 and a half I joined the IRA.”

Sands was arrested in the early 1970s. Like other Republican prisoners he was given “special category status”, which allowed them to wear their own clothes and associate freely.

He read widely in prison. His favourites were the political writings of Franz Fanon and Che Guevara. He was arrested again in 1976, tortured in the Castlereagh interrogation centre and sentenced to 14 years.

It was a Labour government in 1975 which introduced a policy of trying to “criminalise” the Republican movement.

The government had been embarrassed by international criticism of the number of political prisoners – then 3,000 – in Northern Ireland’s jails. Labour’s Northern Ireland secretary Merlyn Rees withdrew political status from prisoners.

The fight to regain political status began in 1976. Prisoner, Ciaran Nugent refused to wear a prison uniform.

He was forced to sleep on a concrete floor with only a blanket. Hundreds of other prisoners joined him “on the blanket”, and two years later nearly 400 Republican prisoners began a “dirty protest” after prison officers deliberately spilt shit and piss from chamber pots on cell floors.

A hunger strike began with seven prisoners in October 1980. It ended two months later when the now Tory government seemed to offer concessions. The government reneged, and a second hunger strike began in March 1981, led by Bobby Sands.

The hunger strikes won huge support in Ireland, North and South, and around the world. Sands was elected as MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone a month before he died.

Over 100,000 people attended his funeral.

>>Read extracts

Bobby Sands Biography To Be Launched In Derry

Derry Journal

Tuesday 14th March 2006

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THE AUTHOR of a new biography on Bobby Sands will be in Derry today for the official launch of the book. Denis O'Hearn's biography of the hunger striker, "Nothing But an Unfinished Song," has just been released and has already attracted critical acclaim. The book deals with Sands' early life, his involvement in the IRA and subsequent imprisonment and participation in the prison protests, culminating in his death on 5th May 1981 after 66 days on hunger strike. (Click to view book cover)

Speaking to the 'Journal' ahead of the Derry launch of the book in the Tower Hotel tonight, Mr. O'Hearn, who is a professor of sociology at Queens University, Belfast, said that he had been working on the book for almost six years. "Most people are aware of Bobby Sands the hunger striker but not much is known about him as a person and a leader. That was why I wrote this book. We have all seen the grainy pictures of Bobby Sands and the images of him on murals but few people know who he was beyond what he did. I thought it was important that people know more about what kind of a man he was and how he found this amazing inner strength to do what he did," he said.

Mr.O'Hearn admits that he did not know much about Bobby Sands before he began the project. "I did not know more than anyone else before I started writing this book. Obviously I was aware of Bobby Sands but I learned an awful lot about Bobby as a leader, not just a hunger striker. He had a tremendous ability to reinvent himself." He spent most of his adult life in prison and he used his time for personal development. He learned Irish and taught himself to play the guitar and, most importantly, he became politically sophisticated. He was political before he went onto jail but he sophisticated his politics in prison.

"When I was doing my research for this book I heard a story about Bobby in the H Blocks. Apparently he was in his cell with Tony O'Hara and Tony was lying sleeping and Bobby asked him why he spent so much of his time sleeping and said he was wasting his opportunities. That sums him up well," he said.

Before writing the book, Mr. O'Hearn interviewed many republicans who were imprisoned with Bobby Sands and has said that their assistance was "invaluable." "I would not have been able to write this book without the help of men like Bik McFarlane and Seanna Walsh. They opened a lot of doors for me. No former prisoners refused to help me, even ones that I doorstepped. It has taken me almost six years to write this book and it was a very in depth process." he said.

Mr. O'Hearn also said that the book was intended for activists all over the world. "I have been getting some very good feedback since the book was released in the United States. I think that the memory of Bobby Sands has faded outside of the Irish in America. I wrote this book for activists all over the world but hopefully it will reawaken interest in Bobby Sands in America," he said.

Nothing But an Unfinished Song will be launched in the Tower Hotel tonight at 7.30pm.


Bobby Sands' diary - day 13


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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.

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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.


Bobby Sands' diary - day 12


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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.

Mural detail from >>CAIN

Bio oversimplifies IRA martyr's complex legacy

Philadelphia Inquirer

By Ed Moloney
12 March 2006

There is a great irony to the life and death of Irish Republican Army hunger striker Bobby Sands; unfortunately, Denis O'Hearn only lightly touches upon it in Nothing but an Unfinished Song. Sands died in a bid to validate the IRA and its violence but in the long term, his death served only to bring both to an end.

He lived as an IRA bomber, but he died as the unwitting architect of the Irish peace process.

To understand that irony, we need to turn back to 1981, when Sands and nine other members of the IRA and the Irish National Liberation Army were jailed near Belfast for murders, shootings and bombings intended to end British rule of Northern Ireland. The 10 deployed an old Irish protest technique to put forward the claim that their violence was motivated by the age-old cause of Irish independence, not by criminality or personal gain. They died in the process, some of them agonizingly.

The hunger strikers had demanded they be treated as political prisoners and not felons -- principally by being allowed to wear their own clothes and being exempt from prison work. They saw themselves as soldiers in a war against the British government, its troops and police, but things were never that straightforward.

The war in Northern Ireland was a dirty one that all too often degenerated into bloody and indiscriminate sectarian strife between the loyalists, who supported continued British rule of Northern Ireland and were mostly Protestant, and the mostly Catholic nationalists, many of whom sought to unite with the Irish republic to the south and regarded the IRA as their defenders. More often than not civilians, not soldiers, were the victims, and political motives for the carnage sometimes grew hard to discern.

Faced with the hunger strikers' demands, the British government of Margaret Thatcher refused to budge. ``Crime is crime is crime; it is not political,'' the Iron Lady declared. The prisoners, led by the 27-year-old Sands, dug in their heels. The resulting deaths, including that of Sands, and political traumas shook Ireland to its roots.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of those awful months. Sands may have started his protest to vindicate republican violence, but the hunger strike's paradoxical effect was to bring the armed struggle to an end -- and, ultimately, to persuade the IRA to accept the legitimacy of Northern Ireland, the state that Sands and his dead comrades had dedicated their lives to destroying.

Sands' protest enabled the IRA's leaders to fast-forward plans to go political that they had nurtured for some time. Not long after he began his hunger strike, Sands was put forward as a candidate for a local seat in the British Parliament that had become vacant. Against all expectations, he won, and almost out of the blue, the IRA leadership -- then, as now, dominated by Gerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Fein, the IRA's political wing -- was offered a political alternative to violence.

After Sands died, his ``election agent'' -- the local Sinn Fein leader Owen Carron, a 26-year-old teacher who had served as Sands' surrogate -- won the seat; that winter, with a live and unimprisoned member of Parliament at his side, Adams was able to persuade the IRA and Sinn Fein to embrace electoral politics, alongside violence.

One can draw a straight line between the summer of 1981 and the current Irish peace process. The IRA's new ``ArmaLite and ballot box'' strategy, as it was called, was superficially successful, but it suffered from an inherent long-term contradiction. Seeking votes and planting car bombs were deeply conflicting modes of behavior, and eventually one would have to prevail. Thanks in no small part to Adams' wily ways, politics and negotiations ultimately won out.

The best part of O'Hearn's biography is his often-moving account of Sands' time in jail, his interactions with fellow prisoners, the songs and poetry he wrote behind bars, and finally the agonies of the hunger strike. But this story has been told many times before, not least by Sands' prison comrades. What is lacking here is the sort of serious assessment of Sands' sacrifice that decades of hindsight should bring.

Nor does O'Hearn acknowledge that the hunger strike is now the subject of a furious historical revision.

In his recent book ``Blanketmen: An Untold Story of the H-Block Hunger Strike,'' Richard O'Rawe, the IRA prisoners' public relations officer during the protest, claims that Sinn Fein's leadership sabotaged a promising effort to resolve the protest -- on secret terms offered by the British and accepted by the prisoners -- because ending the fast before Owen Carron's election would have threatened Adams' political project.

(O'Rawe cites the IRA leadership's insistence that Adams be present in the jail with Sands to endorse any deal -- something no British government could accept, least of all one led by Thatcher, since it meant negotiating with the IRA's best-known leader. This demand ensured that the hunger strike could have only one end.)

Thus six of the 10 hunger strikers may have died needlessly. If O'Rawe is right, one has to wonder: Was Sands' death even more to further Adams' agenda? After all, with his martyrdom, Ireland exploded in anger, thousands were radicalized, and the stage was set for the IRA's transition to politics. Had his life been saved by a last-minute deal, none of this might have happened.

Today the hunger strike has become another battleground -- this time for ownership of Sands' political legacy. On one side are the current Sinn Fein and IRA leadership and their supporters, upon whom O'Hearn leans heavily for his account. They will welcome his book, not least because it does not challenge their claim that Sands, had he lived, would have supported his mentor, Adams, as he discarded armed struggle.

Among those against them are Sands' family, many of whom profoundly disagree with the Adams strategy and broke with him years ago. They refused to cooperate in the writing of this book, but O'Hearn neglects to tell his readers this.

Bobby Sands' song, like the fight for Irish independence, may well be unfinished; the struggle for possession of his political inheritance looks like it could be never-ending.

NOTHING BUT AN UNFINISHED SONG: Bobby Sands, the Irish Hunger Striker Who Ignited a Generation
By Denis O'Hearn
Nation, 434 pp., $28

Ed Moloney is the author of ``A Secret History of the IRA.'' He reviewed this for the Washington Post.


National Hunger Strike Commemoration

An Phoblacht

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Photo: • Jim McVeigh at the launch of the Hunger Strike events (click photo to view)

Interview: Jim McVeigh, National Hunger Strike Commemoration Committee

The Hunger Strikes - this generation's 1916

An Phoblacht: What do you think the Hunger Strikes represented in terms of the Republican struggle?

Jim McVeigh: Well I think it is true to say that they represented the 1916 of our generation. They radicalised both the older and younger generations. Tens of thousands of young people got involved at the time.

What really puts this in perspective is a very famous picture of a group of young people gathered at Martin Hurson's graveside. Years later many of these people had been imprisoned or were dead. It was a monumental event and had a huge effect on public opinion. It brought a whole new generation into the struggle.

In terms of the present, do you see a role for these commemorations in reaching out to today's youth?

The committees are pretty broad based and have people who are not involved in party politics and this gives them a reach greater than Sinn Féin. Young people are increasingly disillusioned with establishment politics. They are looking for role models, someone they can look up to and hold out as an example. They certainly can't look up to anyone in the current Irish political establishment.

I think the Hunger Strikers were such models of bravery and integrity that they certainly can become an icon for a new generation. We intend to be outside or inside any event that attracts young people. We will be leafleting and inviting these young people to attend events in their local area. We should be active on this in every college in the country and the local committees should target colleges and schools in their areas. Some of the youth have very little memory of Bobby Sands and the rest of the Hunger Strikers. Even if we can get them to ask who these people were, it will be a significant achievement.

One of the events organised is a travelling exhibition of H-Block artefacts. Can you tell us about that?

Yes, it's a very interesting exhibition. It is definitely one for the schools and colleges and is a compelling demonstration of bringing history alive. Some of the really interesting things on this exhibit include communications between the prisoners and the outside, comms as they were called.

There are also miniature An Phoblachts that had been smuggled into the prison for the prisoners. My own personal favourite is the Maggie Taggart. This is the nickname given to small homemade radios that the prisoners used to keep themselves informed. It was named after a prominent journalist of the time. It has been out now for about three weeks and has already been to about a dozen places including Ballina, Navan, Carrickmore, Belfast and Dundalk. I would urge all local areas to investigate the possibility of having it exhibited in local colleges. It takes you right into the Blocks with the prisoners and is absolutely fascinating.

Events and exhibitions are planned for all over the country. These will include films, dramatisations, vigils and lectures. On 9 March in St Mary's College Belfast we will see the launch of Denis O'Hearn's book, Bobby Sands: Nothing but an Unfinished Song.

On 11 April the third James Connolloy memorial lecture will take place in Dublin, in Wynn's Hotel and it will focus on the 1981 Hunger Strikes.

On 30 April a commemoration has been organised at Fords Cross Hunger Strike Memorial by the Newry and South Armagh Committee.

I don't want to offend areas by leaving them out, but obviously I cannot list all the events. For a full catalogue of events you can log on to >>www.hungerstrike81.com or phone 028 9074 0817.

Could you describe the overall tone of the commemorations?

These are very sombre and tragic events that are being remembered. Nevertheless, I think it is extremely important that these commemorations should be a positive celebration of the lives of these people and a celebration of their vast contribution to the struggle. This is about bringing in a new generation and advancing the struggle. Events should be occasions that unite republicans, socialists, radicals and liberals, in celebration of the Hunger Strikers.

How significant is it that these commemorations will be happening in tandem with the 90th anniversary of the 1916 Rising?

I think that is very significant. Like the Volunteers of 1916, the Hunger Strikers were fighting for the Republic, not just political status. As I have already said, the Hunger Strikers were this generation's 1916. Like those who participated in the Rising, they inspired a whole generation to strike out for the Republic. We will be making this point all the time and we will be drawing clear parallels between the two events. I think it is a very positive thing that these two landmark anniversaries fall together. It certainly adds a context and a historical continuity to the events.

Another very obvious connection between the two is the Irish language. Many of those who were out in 1916 had played a significant role in revitalising the Irish language through the Gaelic revival movement. Similarly the prisoners in the Blocks and former prisoners, played a major role in revitalising the Irish language in the Six Counties.


Bobby Sands' name uttered with fondness by oppressed the world over


All of us have a story to tell. There's few though whose life, cut short at 27 years of age, can be said to have impacted so dramatically on the course of Irish politics and to have become such an internationally recognised icon as Bobby Sands. Guerrilla fighter in the Irish Republican Army, he was elected a member of the British parliament shortly before his death on hunger strike in the H Blocks of Long Kesh on 5 May 1981.

I shared a prison wing with Bobby for several months in 1979. Later I joined the Hunger Strike that he had just died on. I approached Denis O'Hearn's biography of Bobby therefore with a little trepidation. I should not have been concerned. It is an excellent book. It tells, not just the story of Bobby, the prison protest and Hunger Strikes, but accurately captures the atmosphere of the prison - the good times and bad, the hopes and despair, the pain, the joy and the totally selfless love that is rarely witnessed between a group of males. The strength of the book is that O'Hearn does not attempt to tell what he thinks happened behind prison walls (as other academics have) or to interpret events within his own ideological paradigm. Instead he facilitates others - friends, associates and comrades of Bobby - to tell of the person they knew and allows that person to become alive and vibrant on every page.

Most importantly, the book traces the development of a very ordinary, young, politically naive, high-spirited boy from a working class background on the outskirts of Belfast, to the highly politicised, articulate, prolific, competent revolutionary that he became in later years. In this way O'Hearn informs a new generation of political activists in Ireland and elsewhere that they too can become a 'Bobby Sands' but hopefully never have to make the life and death decisions that he was faced with.

This year, the 25th anniversary of the Hunger Strike, it is timely for this biography to appear. It demonstrates the global interest that is retained in events that happened over a period of 217 days in 1981, when ten men died, one after the other, in prison cells in a struggle to be treated as the political prisoners they were. No wonder that states tremble before the power of such an idea that cannot be conquered, quenched, bought off or tortured into submission. No wonder that from the lips of oppressed peoples around the world the name, Bobby Sands, is uttered with such fondness and admiration.


Vigils mark Hunger Strike anniversary

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usTwenty five years ago on 1 March 1981, Bobby Sands began his historic Hunger Strike. The anniversary was marked by pickets, demontrations, exhibitions and candlelight vigils at various venues around Ireland and abroad last week. (click photo to view)

Sinn Féin leaders,including Party President Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness joined a candlelight vigil outside the GPO in Dublin on Wednesday evening. The GPO was a focal point for H-Block campaigners in 1981, where signatures in support of the prisoners' demands were gathered and where information and literature was distributed to thousands of people throughout the course of the hunger strike, while the 26-County media and RTE in particular, played a shameful role in failing to adquately inform the population of the horror of the H-Blocks and the plight of the protesting prisoners.

The Patrician Hall, Carrickmore, County Tyrone was the venue for a National Hunger Strike Exhibition on Saturday, 4 March. Over 700 people passed through the exhibition during the course of the day, viewing posters from the time, contemporary newspaper articles, and a short film and photo exhibition.

A commemorative lecture was attended by upwards of 200 people. Danny Morrison provided a fascinating insight into the negotiations which took place outside the prison at the time. Barry McElduff MLA provided an overview and analysis, while former blanketmen Sean Coleman, Sean McGuigan and Bernard Fox held the audience in thrall with an account of their experiences in the Blocks. The most moving contribution came from Brendan Hurson, brother of hunger striker Martin. He spoke of the awesome responsibility himself and his brother faced as Martin's condition deteriorated and of the election campaign when Martin stood in Longford.

Chairing the proceedings was Sinn Féin chair of Omagh council Mickey McAnapsie, to whom organisers were particularly grateful, as he has only recently suffered a family bereavement.

Addressing a Hunger Strike commemorative vigil in Dunloy, County Antrim on 3 March, Sinn Féin Councillor Daithí McKay said: "Wednesday 1 March 1981 marked the beginning of an emotional phase of the Irish revolutionary struggle on this island. 1 March, 1981 was the day that Bobby Sands embarked on his first day of hunger strike which aimed to highlight and break the British Government's policy of criminalising republicans in the prisons. At the time ,Bobby Sands was sharing a cell with Malachy Carey, a republican from Loughgiel who was later shot by loyalists in Ballymoney."

In cold and snowy conditions, a large crowd gathered to commemorate the 10 young men who died in 1981. The event is the first of a series of events to mark the 25th Anniversary of the Hunger Strikes across North Antrim that will be held over the next few months.

"The prison protests of the late 1970s and early 1980s, and in particular the Hunger Strike of 1981, were watershed moments in Irish history. To many, it does not seem like 25 years ago when 10 republican prisoners lost their lives when faced with an intransigent British Government in London, and an Irish Government in Dublin more concerned with self interest than in seeking a resolution to the situation in the H-Blocks and Armagh prison", McKay said.

"This forthcoming year will provide an opportunity to reflect upon the ten volunteers who died, the contribution they made and the sacrifices made by their families during the summer of 1981. These events will be about more than just looking back. They must also be about looking to the future, exploring how best we move our struggle forward in the coming years and how best we complete the job of delivering Irish unity and independence.

"The commemorative calendar will also allow a new generation of Irish people, who weren't even born in 1981, to learn about the time and participate in mapping out the future. Irish republicans will never forget those terrible months from March to October when ten men died in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh and over 50 others died on our streets, but in marking the 25th anniversary of the Hunger Strike we have an opportunity to celebrate their lives, remember their sacrifice and rededicate ourselves to advancing the struggle for a United Ireland of Peace, Justice and Equality."


Image Hosted by ImageShack.usLondon republicans gathered in the snow and ice at Downing Street last Wednesday to take part in a candlelit vigil to commemorate the Hunger Strike, the first in a programme of events in England throughout the forthcoming year, which have been organised by the Wolfe Tone Society.

A delegation from the Society had earlier delivered a letter to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, calling on the British Government to respect Sinn Féin's electoral mandate and implement the Good Friday Agreement.

Also at the vigil was Sinn Féin Councillor Matt Carthy, who told An Phoblacht that he was there, not only to support the event, but also as part of the party's renewed efforts to build closer relationships with supporters in Britain. He acknowledged the work of British-based Irish republican organisations such at the Wolfe Tone Society, Troops Out and the Connolly Association, particularly during the most difficult times of the conflict, when anti-Irish racism was endemic in British society and political activists experienced harassment by the authorities.

Addressing the London gathering, Carthy said: "Twenty five years ago Bobby Sands was elected as an MP and people honestly believed at the time that the British government and Margaret Thatcher could not ignore his electoral mandate. So it is ironic that we are here outside Downing Street on the anniversary of the start of the 1981 Hunger Strike and that a British Government is refusing to respect the mandate of Sinn Fein".


Ógra Shinn Féin at Dundalk Institute of Technology held a day long exhibition. There was a great interest in the exhibition from the students, most of whom were far too young to remember the events of 1981 and in many cases were not even born.

A book of condolence was signed by a number of students in honour of the Hunger Strikers.

Those involved in the Hunger Strikes of 1980 and 1981 were ordinary men and women who, in extraordinary circumstances and with the support of people throughout Ireland, defeated this policy.


A group of over 20 people from south Kilkenny held a silent protest on Waterford Bridge last week to commemorate the start of the Hunger Stike. Many local people remember the marches held in Waterford, including one of the largest protests held in all of Ireland at that time and the large tournout on the canvass trail for Hunger Strike candidate Kevin Lynch. The South Kilkenny crowd last week were joined in their vigil by many people from Waterford.


Castlebar to commemorate Hunger Strikers

Castlebar Town Council is to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the 1981 hunger strikes later this year. Sinn Féin councillor Noel Campbell successfully put a motion to the council calling on the authority to join with Mayo County Council in marking the anniversary.

Earlier this year, Sinn Féin Mayo county councillor Gerry Murray was succesful in getting cross party support in the chamber for his motion calling on that council to mark the extraordinary lives of the Hunger Strikers.

Bobby Sands' diary - day 11


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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.


World’s oppressed ‘look to hero Sands’

Daily Ireland

by Mick Hall

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usA new biography of hunger striker Bobby Sands was launched last night.
Denis O’Hearn’s biography – Nothing But an Unfinished Song: Bobby Sands, the Irish Hunger Striker who Ignited a Generation – was launched during a ceremony in Belfast.
Mr O’Hearn lectures in sociology between departments at Queen’s University Belfast and Binghampton University New York. The book was launched in the US several weeks ago.
“The book will obviously be of interest to Irish American activists but also to a wider audience,” said Mr O’Hearn.
“Bobby Sands was an internationalist. He drew strength and political conviction from people like Che Guevara in Cuba, Camilo Torres in Columbia and George Jackson in Soledad, USA. Bobby was particularly interested in Afro-American history and today, contemporary black activists show great interest in his life.
“I have met ordinary people in central America, Jamaica, Palestine and South African and they all have spoken of Bobby Sands.
“When Turkish political prisoners went on hunger strike five years ago, their secret codeword for their plans was ‘Bobby Sands’.
“When Bobby died, Fidel Castro compared him with Jesus Christ, Nelson Mandela led a protest at Robben Island and Mayan militants went on the first hunger strike at Cero Hueco prison in Chiapas. He is an international figure,” Denis says.
Mr O’Hearn is certain that, since 1981, political activists have given the hunger strike more prominence as a political weapon: “Hunger-strikes hadn’t been unique to Ireland. But the political impact of the 1981 hunger strike elevated the tactic internationally. It had a ripple-effect. It is no coincidence that the US government has gone to extreme measures to keep hunger-strikers at Guantánamo Bay alive, by brutally force-feeding them. They don’t want another Bobby Sands,” he said.
Mr O’Hearn’s said his aim in the book was to “get under the skin” of Bobby Sands and find out what made him tick. The book outlines his life before his IRA involvement. It looks at his childhood, growing up with the societal vicissitudes of racist, sectarian hatred and his teenage experiences of living under a repressive police state.
But it also attempts to penetrate his psyche, to identify a revolutionary characterology which could account for his endurance of a slow and painful death.
“Nine other men died, while dozens of men and women were involved in the prison struggle. Was there something special about Bobby Sands? Yes,” Mr O’Hearn said.
After being arrested at just 17 years old, Sands spent most of the rest of his life in jail. He died at 27, on May 5, 1981, after 66 days of hunger-strike, during which he wrote poems, kept a prison journal and was elected as Member of Parliament for Fermanagh-South Tyrone.
“He was a leader in jail. Bobby’s strength was his ability to reinvent himself. This was particularly the case in prison. In 1975, when Britain took away political status for republican prisoners, he convinced fellow prisoners to reclaim their prison spaces, to fight criminalisation and he led by example.”

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