Shortly after the beginning of the strike, Frank Maguire, the Independent Republican MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, died suddenly of a heart attack, precipitating the April 1981 by-election.
The sudden vacancy in a seat with a nationalist majority of about five thousand was a valuable opportunity for Bobby Sands’ supporters to unite the nationalist community behind their campaign. Pressure not to split the vote led other nationalist parties, notably the Social Democratic and Labour Party, to withdraw, and Bobby Sands was nominated on the label “Anti H-Block / Armagh Political Prisoner”. On 30 March, Bobby Sands was nominated as candidate for Fermanagh and South Tyrone.
The next morning, day thirty-one, of his hunger-strike, he was visited by Owen Carron who acted as his election agent. Owen told of that first visit ‘Instead of meeting that young man of the poster with long hair and a fresh face, even at that time when Bobby wasn’t too bad he was radically changed. He was very thin and bony and his hair was cut short.’
After a highly polarised campaign, Sands narrowly won the seat on 9 April 1981, with 30,493 votes to 29,046 for the Ulster Unionist Party candidate Harry West—and also becoming the youngest MP at the time.
Bobby had no illusions with regard to his election victory. His reaction was not one of over-optimism. After the result was announced Owen visited Bobby. “He had already heard the result on the radio. He was in good form alright but he always used to keep saying, ‘In my position you can’t afford to be optimistic.’ In other words, he didn’t take it that because he’d won an election that his life would be saved. He thought that the Brits would need their pound of flesh. I think he was always working on the premise that he would have to die.”
Image | Bobby Sands by André Mooney Art and Design
Source | Bobby Sands Tribute