#OTD in 1981 – Bobby Sands dies at Long Kesh prison on the 66th day of his hunger strike.

Fuair siad bás ar son Saoirse na hÉireann.

Bobby Sands dies in prison following a 66 day hunger strike. Sands would be the first of ten men to die in an effort to gain political status in a very public battle with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. In the House of Commons Thatcher commented on Sands death “Mr. Sands was a convicted criminal. He chose to take his own life. It was a choice that his organisation did not allow to many of its victims”.

Born in 1954, Bobby Sands grew up in Belfast under the cloud of nationalist and loyalist divisions. He joined the Republican Movement when he was 18 and was soon arrested and imprisoned for possessing a firearm. A second arrest in 1976 led to a 14-year-sentence. In prison, Sands embarked on a 66 day hunger strike that led to his death. During the strike he was elected a Member of Parliament.

A hero among Irish nationalists, Robert Gerard “Bobby” Sands was born in Belfast, 9 March 1954. Bobby was the oldest of four children born to John and Rosaleen Sands, and the couple’s first son. At an early age, Sands’s life was affected by the sharp divisions that shaped Northern Ireland. At the age of 10, he was forced to move with his family out of their neighborhood due to repeated intimidation by loyalists.

“I was only a working-class boy from a Nationalist ghetto,” Sands later wrote about his childhood. “But it is repression that creates the revolutionary spirit of freedom.”

Loyalist intimidation proved to be a theme in Sands’s life. At the age of 18, he was forced out of his job as an apprentice car builder (he had joined the National Union of Vehicle Builders just two years before) by a group of British supporters. Not long after, he and his family had to move again.

Thatcher’s view of the prisoners and the IRA was that they were murderous thugs. Nationalist Ireland’s view the complete opposite.

The IRA played a very astute international campaign during the hunger strikes gaining widespread support and attention for their cause. The deaths of Sands and his colleagues once again boosted IRA recruitment. The support for the strike was evidenced by Sands winning the vacant House of Commons seat for MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone in a by-election necessitated by the death of sitting MP Frank Maguire. In a hugely emotional campaign, Sands defeated Unionist candidate Harry West.

The demands of the prisoners included:

1. The right not to wear a prison uniform;

2. The right not to do prison work;

3. The right of free association with other prisoners, and to organise educational and recreational pursuits;

4. The right to one visit, one letter and one parcel per week;

5. Full restoration of remission lost through the protest.

Britain never formally acceded to the strikers’ demands but three days after the hunger strikes finally came to an end on 3 October, Ulster Secretary James Prior announced a number of concessions including the right to wear civilian clothes and the restoration of partial remission for those who obeyed prison rules for three months.

#BobbySands

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One thought on “#OTD in 1981 – Bobby Sands dies at Long Kesh prison on the 66th day of his hunger strike.

  1. The Bravest of the Brave 66 Days on Hunger Strike Sleep in the of Jesus…R.I.P.

    On 5 May 2017 at 15:31, Stair na hÉireann/History of Ireland wrote:

    > Stair na hÉireann posted: “Fuair siad bás ar son Saoirse na hÉireann. > Bobby Sands dies in prison following a 66 day hunger strike. Sands would be > the first of ten men to die in an effort to gain political status in a very > public battle with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatch” >

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