Tag Archives: Bobby Sands

5th May – Deaths & Events in Northern Ireland Troubles

Key Events & Deaths on this day in Northern Ireland Troubles

5th May

Friday 5 May 1972

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Sunday 5 May 1974

Pro-Assembly Unionists meeting in Portstewart, County Derry, announced the reformation of their group which was to use the name the Unionist Party

Monday 5 May 1975

The Fair Employment (NI) Bill was introduced to the House of Lords.

Wednesday 5 May 1976

Nine members of the Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP) escaped from the Maze Prison through a tunnel.

Thursday 5 May 1977 Day 3 of the UUAC Strike

After three days of the strike the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) released figures showing that it had dismantled some 300 roadblocks, arrested 23 people, and dealt with over 1,000 cases of alleged intimidation.

In addition it also claimed that the United Unionist Action Council (UUAC) was deliberately choosing to employ women and children during confrontations with the police in order to draw support to its cause and to alienate people against the RUC.

A bomb exploded outside the Lismore factory in Portadown.

[It was believed that Loyalist paramilitaries were responsible for the bombing which was thought to be a response to the factory remaining open during the stoppage.]

Saturday 5 May 1979

Humphrey Atkins succeeded Roy Mason as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

[The appointment prompted the Belfast Telegraph to ask ‘Humphrey Who?’]

Wednesday 5 March 1980

Tomás Ó Fiaich, then Catholic Primate of Ireland, and Edward Daly, then Bishop of Derry , held a meeting with Humphrey Atkins, then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, to express their concerns about conditions within the Maze Prison. A former chairman of the Peace People, Peter McLachlan, resigned from the organisation.

Tuesday 5 May 1981 Bobby Sands Died

After 66 days on hunger strike Bobby Sands (26), then a member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and a Member of Parliament (MP), died in the Maze Prison.

[The announcement of his death sparked riots in many areas of Northern Ireland but also in the Republic of Ireland. The Irish Republican Army (IRA) also stepped up its attacks on members of the security services. Following the death of Sands the British government faced extensive international condemnation for the way in which it had handled the hunger strike. The relationship between the British and Irish government was also very strained.]

Eric Guiney (45) and his son Desmond Guiney (14), both Protestant civilians, were seriously injured after their milk lorry crashed following an incident in which it was stoned by a crowd of people at the junction of New Lodge Road and Antrim Road in Belfast. Desmond Guiney died on 8 May 1981 and Eric Guiney died on 13 May 1981.

See Bobby Sands

See Hungry Strike

Wednesday 5 May 1982

Maureen McCann (64), a Protestant civilian, was stabbed and shot by the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF), a covername used by the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), during an armed robbery at her post office in Killinchy, County Down.

Thursday 5 May 1983

James Prior, then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, travelled to Dublin for talks with the Irish government.

Tuesday 5 May 1987

In response to speculation about the content of the Unionist Task Force report, Ian Paisley, then leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), stated that the DUP would have no involvement in any power-sharing arrangement.

Tuesday 5 May 1992

An inquest began into the deaths on 11 November 1982 of three Irish Republican Army (IRA) members shot dead by an undercover Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) unit near Craigavon, County Armagh.

The Court of Appeal in London began hearing the appeal of Judith Ward against her conviction for involvement in a bomb attack on 4 February 1974.

Wednesday 5 May 1993

Gerry Adams, then President of Sinn Féin (SF), was refused a visitor’s visa to enter the United States of America (USA

Sunday 5 May 1996

A coded warning in the name of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) was issued stating that two bombs had been planted in Dublin. A suspect car at Dublin Airport was blown-up in the following security operation.

Monday 5 May 1997

The new Ministers of State at the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) were announced. Adam Ingram – Minister for Security, and Economic Development; Paul Murphy – Political and Constitutional Affairs, and Finance and Information; Tony Worthington – Education, Training, Welfare, Health, and Employment Equality; Lord Dubs – Agriculture, Environment, and NIO representative in the House of Lords.

Tuesday 5 May 1998

Crime - Balcombe Street Seige...Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Robert Mark (second r) talks to policemen on the corner of Balcombe Street, Marylebone, near the flat where a group of gunmen are holding a middle-aged couple hostage ... Crime - Balcombe Street Seige ... 08-12-1975 ... London ... Great Britain ... Photo credit should read: PA Photos/PA Archive. Unique Reference No. 4268185 ...

A group of Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoners, known as the Balcombe Street gang, were transferred from England to Porflsoise Prison in the Republic of Ireland. To date the men had served 22 years and five months in English jails.

See Balcombe Street gang.

The United Unionist Campaign (UUC) was launched in Belfast to oppose the Good Friday Agreement in the referendum. The group was made up of representatives of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the United Kingdom Unionist Party (UKUP), and also dissident Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) Members of Parliament (MPs). The UUC used the slogan: “It’s Right to say No”

See Balcombe Street gang.

Wednesday 5 May 1999

There was an attempted Loyalist gun attack in north Belfast. A gunman attempted to fire shots at two boys standing outside a shop but they escaped when the gun jammed.

[The attack was later claimed by a group calling itself the ‘Protestant Liberation Force’. Some commentators believed that this was a cover name for members of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA).]

A pipe-bomb, that had been packed with nails, blew a hole in the wall of the home of a Catholic couple living in a Loyalist area of south Belfast.

Although the woman escaped unharmed, her husband received minor leg injuries. The attack was carried out by Loyalist paramilitaries.

Relatives of Pat Finucane, a Belfast solicitor killed on 12 February 1989, held a meeting at Stormont with Marjorie (Mo) Mowlam, then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. They pressed their case for a public inquiry into his death rather than the police investigation favoured by the British government.

See Pat Finucane,

Gerry Adams, then President of Sinn Féin (SF), stated in an article in The Irish Post (a London based newspaper) that if the Executive proved to be successful it could make the Irish Republican Army (IRA) “irrelevant”.

Friday 5 May 2000

A Catholic couple were forced to leave their home in a Loyalist area of south Belfast following a sectarian pipe-bomb attack. The husband sustained minor leg injuries after the device, which was packed with nails, blew a hole in the back door of the house at Broadway Parade and exploded into the kitchen. His wife who also was in the kitchen escaped unhurt.

The attack was carried out by Loyalist paramilitaries.

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Remembering all innocent victims of the Troubles

Today is the anniversary of the death of the following people killed as a results of the conflict in Northern Ireland

“To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die

– Thomas Campbell

To the innocent on the list – Your memory will live forever

– To the Paramilitaries –

There are many things worth living for, a few things worth dying for, but nothing worth killing for.

 8 People lost their lives on the 5th  May  between 1973 – 1992

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05 May 1973


Vines, William (37) nfNI
Status: British Army (BA), Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)
Killed in land mine attack on British Army (BA) foot patrol, Moybane, near Crossmaglen, County Armagh.

Sergeant-Major (William) Ronnie Vines of 2 PARA was killed by an IRA mine remotely detonated by wire on 5 May 1973 at Moybane, near Crossmaglen. Married shortly before he was killed, Sgt Major Vines died aged 36 years and is now buried at Aldershot Military Cemetery.

The following obituary notice appeared in the Pegasus Journal in July 1973: “CSM Ron Vines, on his third tour in Northern Ireland was killed in a terrorist mine explosion near Crossmaglen on the 5th May 1973. He was commanding a road clearance patrol from C (Patrol) Company, and it was typical of his enthusiasm and leadership that it was he who noticed and was checking the suspect area where the mine was located. Ron re-enlisted into The Parachute Regiment in 1962 (previously he had served for three years in the Coldstream Guards) and rapidly achieved promotion to Sgt by 1964, in which rank he served in Bahrain, Malaysia, Borneo and Radfan in C (Patrol) Company of the 2nd Bn. He was detached in 1969 to the Royal Marines Training Centre as an instructor and returned to the 2nd Bn in 1972, to be CQMS of B Coy. He was promoted in September 1972 to WO2 and returned as CSM to his first love-Patrol Coy. He was a most competent and professional soldier and was fair and popular with all ranks. He will be sadly missed in the Bn and elsewhere.”

Ronnie had two daughters Jayne and Annette with his first wife Phyllis. They were married for 17 years.

See Paradata.org for original obituary notice

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05 May 1973
John Gibbons  (21)

nfNI
Status: British Army (BA),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)
Killed by booby trap bomb while on British Army (BA) foot patrol, Moybane, near Crossmaglen, County Armagh.

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05 May 1973
Terence Williams   (35)

nfNI
Status: British Army (BA),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)
Killed by booby trap bomb while on British Army (BA) foot patrol, Moybane, near Crossmaglen, County Armagh.

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05 May 1977
James Green  (22)

Catholic
Status: ex-British Army (xBA),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)
From Northern Ireland. Shot while driving his taxi, when he stopped to pick up a passenger, Glen Road, Andersonstown, Belfast.

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05 May 1981
Bobby Sands   (26)

Catholic
Status: Irish Republican Army (IRA),

Killed by: not known (nk)
Also Member of Parliament. Died on the 66th day of hunger strike, Long Kesh / Maze Prison, County Down.

See Bobby Sands

See Hungry Strike

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05 May 1982
Maureen McCann  (64)

Protestant
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)
Stabbed and shot during armed robbery at her post office, Killinchy, County Down.

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05 May 1990
Graham Stewart   (25)

nfNI
Status: British Army (BA),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)
Undercover British Army (BA) member. Shot during gun attack on BA concealed hilltop observation post, overlooking Cullyhanna, County Armagh.

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05 May 1992


William Sergeant   (66)

Protestant
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Irish People’s Liberation Organisation (IPLO)
Shot during gun attack on Mount Inn, North Queen Street, Tiger’s Bay, Belfast.

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Bobby Sands 9 March 1954 – 5 May 1981

 

Robert Gerard Sands

Robert Gerard Sands (Irish: Roibeárd Gearóid Ó Seachnasaigh; 9 March 1954 – 5 May 1981) was a member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army who died on hunger strike while imprisoned at HM Prison Maze.

He was the leader of the 1981 hunger strike in which Irish republican prisoners protested against the removal of Special Category Status. During his strike he was elected to the British Parliament as an Anti H-Block candidate. His death and those of nine other hunger strikers were followed by a new surge of Provisional IRA recruitment and activity. International media coverage brought attention to the hunger strikers, and the republican movement in general, attracting both praise and criticism.

 – Disclaimer –

The views and opinions expressed in these pages/documentaries are soley intended to educate and provide background information to those interested in the Troubles of Northern Ireland. They in no way reflect my own opinions and I take no responsibility for any inaccuracies or factual errors.

 

Early years

Sands was born in 1954 to Roman Catholic parents, John and Rosaleen, who were both raised in Belfast. After marrying, they relocated to the new development of Abbots Cross, Newtownabbey, County Antrim outside North Belfast.Sands was the eldest of four children. His sisters, Marcella and Bernadette, were born in 1955 and 1958, respectively. After experiencing harassment and intimidation from their neighbours, the family abandoned the development and moved in with friends for six months before being granted housing in the nearby Rathcoole development. Rathcoole was 30% Catholic and featured Catholic schools as well as a nominally Catholic but religiously-integrated youth football club known as Star of the Sea (of which Sands was a member and for whom he played left-back), an unusual circumstance in Northern Ireland. His parents had a second son, John (born 1962), their last child.

By 1966, sectarian violence in Rathcoole (along with the rest of Belfast) had considerably worsened, and the minority Catholic population there found itself under siege; Sands and his sisters were forced to run a gauntlet of bottle- and rock-throwing Protestant youths on the way to school every morning, and the formerly integrated Rathcoole youth football club banned Catholic members and renamed itself “The Kai”, which stood for “Kill All Irish”. Despite always having had Protestant friends, Sands suddenly found that none of them would even speak to him, and he quickly learned to associate only with Catholics.

He left school in 1969 at age 15, and enrolled in Newtownabbey Technical College, beginning an apprenticeship as a coach builder at Alexander’s Coach Works in 1970. He worked there for less than a year, enduring constant harassment from his Protestant co-workers, which according to several co-workers he ignored completely, as he wished to learn a meaningful trade. He was eventually confronted after leaving his shift in January 1971 by a number of his colleagues wearing the armbands of the local Ulster loyalist tartan gang. He was held at gunpoint and told that Alexander’s was off-limits to “Fenian scum” and to never come back if he valued his life. This event, by Sands’s admission, proved to be the point at which he decided that militancy was the only solution.

In June 1972, Sands’ parents’ home was attacked and damaged by a loyalist mob and they were again forced to move, this time to the West Belfast Catholic area of Twinbrook, where Sands, now thoroughly embittered, rejoined them. He attended his first Provisional IRA meeting in Twinbrook that month and joined the IRA the same day. He was 18 years old. By 1973, almost every Catholic family had been driven out of Rathcoole by violence and intimidation.

Provisional IRA activity

In 1972, Sands joined the Provisional IRA He was arrested and charged in October 1972 with possession of four handguns found in the house where he was staying. Sands was convicted in April 1973, sentenced to five years imprisonment and released in April 1976.

Upon his release, he returned to his family home in West Belfast, and resumed his active role in the Provisional IRA. Sands and Joe McDonnell planned the October 1976 bombing of the Balmoral Furniture Company in Dunmurry. The showroom was destroyed but as the IRA men left the scene there was a gun battle with the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Leaving behind two wounded, Seamus Martin and Gabriel Corbett, the remaining four (Sands, McDonnell, Seamus Finucane, and Sean Lavery) tried to escape by car, but were arrested. One of the revolvers used in the attack was found in the car. In 1977 the four were sentenced to 14 years for possession of the revolver. They were not charged with explosive offences.

Immediately after his sentence, Sands was implicated in a ruckus and spent the first 22 days “on boards” (all furniture was removed from his cell) in Crumlin Road Prison, 15 days naked, and a No. 1 starvation diet (bread and water) every three days.

Long Kesh years

In late 1980 Sands was chosen as Officer Commanding of the Provisional IRA prisoners in Long Kesh, succeeding Brendan Hughes who was participating in the first hunger strike. Republican prisoners organised a series of protests seeking to regain their previous Special Category Status which would free them from some ordinary prison regulations. This began with the “blanket protest” in 1976, in which the prisoners refused to wear prison uniform and wore blankets instead. In 1978, after a number of attacks on prisoners leaving their cells to “slop out” (i.e., empty their chamber pots), this escalated into the “dirty protest“, wherein prisoners refused to wash and smeared the walls of their cells with excrement.

Published work

While in prison Sands had several letters and articles published in the republican paper An Phoblacht under the pseudonym “Marcella” (his sister’s name). Other writings attributed to him are: Skylark Sing Your Lonely Song  and One Day in My Life.  Sands also wrote the lyrics of Back Home in Derry and McIlhatton, which were both later recorded by Christy Moore, and Sad Song For Susan which was also later recorded. The melody of Back Home in Derry was borrowed from Gordon Lightfoot‘s famous 1976 song The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. The song itself is about the penal transportation of Irish republicans to Van Diemen’s Land in the 19th century (modern day Tasmania, Australia).

Member of Parliament

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 5,000 was a valuable opportunity for Sands’s supporters “to raise public consciousness”. Pressure not to split the vote led other nationalist parties, notably the Social Democratic and Labour Party, to withdraw, and Sands was nominated on the label “Anti H-Block/Armagh Political Prisoner”. 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. Sands also became the youngest MP at the time.However Sands died in prison less than a month afterwards, without ever having taken his seat in the Commons.

Following Sands’s success, the British Government introduced the Representation of the People Act 1981 which prevents prisoners serving jail terms of more than one year in either the UK or the Republic of Ireland from being nominated as candidates in British elections. This law was introduced to prevent the other hunger strikers from being elected to the British parliament.

Hunger strike

The 1981 Irish hunger strike started with Sands refusing food on 1 March 1981. Sands decided that other prisoners should join the strike at staggered intervals to maximise publicity, with prisoners steadily deteriorating successively over several months.

The hunger strike centred on five demands:

  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.

The significance of the hunger strike was the prisoners’ aim of being considered political prisoners as opposed to criminals. The Washington Post reported that the primary aim of the hunger strike was to generate international publicity.

 

Death

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Bobby Sands Funeral Original Footage
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Bobby Sands’s grave in Milltown Cemetery

Sands died on 5 May 1981 in the Maze’s prison hospital after 66 days on hunger strike, aged 27. The original pathologist‘s report recorded the hunger strikers’ causes of death as “self-imposed starvation”, later amended to simply “starvation” after protests from the dead strikers’ families. The coroner recorded verdicts of “starvation, self-imposed”.

The announcement of Sands’s death prompted several days of rioting in nationalist areas of Northern Ireland. A milkman, Eric Guiney, and his son, Desmond, died as a result of injuries sustained when their milk float crashed after being stoned by rioters in a predominantly nationalist area of north Belfast. Over 100,000 people lined the route of Sands’s funeral, and he was buried in the ‘New Republican Plot’ alongside 76 others. Their graves are maintained by the National Graves Association, Belfast.

Reactions

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The International Reaction to the Death of Bobby Sands

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In the Republic of Ireland, Sands’s death led to riots and bus burnings.

Britain

In response to a question in the House of Commons on 5 May 1981, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said, “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”.

Cardinal Basil Hume, head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, condemned Sands, describing the hunger strike as a form of violence. However, he noted that this was his personal view. The Roman Catholic Church’s official stance was that ministrations should be provided to the hunger strikers who, believing their sacrifice to be for a higher good, were acting in good conscience.

At Old Firm football matches in Glasgow, Scotland, some Rangers fans have been known to sing songs mocking Sands to taunt fans of Celtic. Rangers fans are mainly Protestant, and predominantly sympathetic to unionists; Celtic fans are traditionally more likely to support nationalists.

Celtic fans regularly sing the republican song The Roll of Honour, which commemorates the ten men who died in the 1981 hunger strike, amongst other songs in support of the IRA. Sands is honoured in the line “They stood beside their leader – the gallant Bobby Sands.” Rangers’s taunts have since been adopted by the travelling support of other UK clubs, particularly those with strong British nationalist ties, as a form of anti-Irish sentiment. The 1981 British Home Championship football tournament was cancelled following the refusal of teams from England and Wales to travel to Northern Ireland in the aftermath of his death, due to security concerns.

Europe

 

Memorial mural along Falls Road, Belfast

In Europe, there were widespread protests after Sands’s death. 5,000 Milanese students burned the Union Flag and chanted ‘Freedom for Ulster’ during a march. The British Consulate at Ghent was raided Thousands marched in Paris behind huge portraits of Sands, to chants of “the IRA will conquer”.

In the Portuguese Parliament, the opposition stood for Sands. In Oslo, demonstrators threw a tomato at Elizabeth II, the Queen of the United Kingdom, but missed. (One 28-year-old assailant said he had actually aimed for what he claimed was a smirking British soldier.) In the Soviet Union, Pravda described it as “another tragic page in the grim chronicle of oppression, discrimination, terror, and violence” in Ireland. Russian fans of Bobby Sands published a translation of the “Back Home in Derry” song (“На Родину в Дерри” in Russian)  Many French towns and cities have streets named after Sands, including Nantes, Saint-Étienne, Le Mans, Vierzon, and Saint-Denis  The conservative West German newspaper Die Welt took a negative view of Sands.[5]

Africa

News of the death of Bobby Sands influenced political prisoners and the African National Congress in South Africa, and reportedly inspired a new form of resistance.

 

Nelson Mandela was said to have been “directly influenced by Bobby Sands”, and instigated a successful hunger strike on Robben Island.

Americas

A number of political, religious, union and fund-raising institutions chose to honour Sands in the United States. The International Longshoremen’s Association in New York announced a 24-hour boycott of British ships. Over 1,000 people gathered in New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral to hear Cardinal Terence Cooke offer a reconciliation Mass for Northern Ireland. Irish bars in the city were closed for two hours in mourning.

The New Jersey General Assembly, the lower house of the New Jersey Legislature, voted 34–29 for a resolution honouring his “courage and commitment.”

The US media expressed a range of opinions on Sands’s death. The Boston Globe commented, a few days before Sands’ death, that “[t]he slow suicide attempt of Bobby Sands has cast his land and his cause into another downward spiral of death and despair. There are no heroes in the saga of Bobby Sands.”. The Chicago Tribune wrote that “Mahatma Gandhi used the hunger strike to move his countrymen to abstain from fratricide. Bobby Sands’ deliberate slow suicide is intended to precipitate civil war. The former deserved veneration and influence. The latter would be viewed, in a reasonable world, not as a charismatic martyr but as a fanatical suicide, whose regrettable death provides no sufficient occasion for killing others.”

The New York Times wrote that “Britain’s prime minister Thatcher is right in refusing to yield political status to Bobby Sands, the Irish Republican Army hunger striker”, but added that by appearing “unfeeling and unresponsive” the British Government was giving Sands “the crown of martyrdom”.The San Francisco Chronicle argued that political belief should not exempt activists from criminal law:

“Terrorism goes far beyond the expression of political belief. And dealing with it does not allow for compromise as many countries of Western Europe and United States have learned. The bombing of bars, hotels, restaurants, robbing of banks, abductions, and killings of prominent figures are all criminal acts and must be dealt with by criminal law.”

Some American critics and journalists suggested that American press coverage was a “melodrama”.[49] Edward Langley of The Pittsburgh Press criticised the large pro-IRA Irish-American contingent which “swallow IRA propaganda as if it were taffy“, and concluded that IRA “terrorist propaganda triumphs.”

Archbishop John R. Roach, president of the US Catholic bishops, called Sands’s death “a useless sacrifice”. The Ledger of 5 May 1981 under the headline “To some he was a hero, to others a terrorist” claims that the hunger strike made Sands “a hero among Irish Republicans or Nationalists seeking the reunion of Protestant-dominated and British-ruled Northern Ireland with the predominantly Catholic Irish Republic to the south.”

The Ledger cited Sands as telling his friends: “If I die, God will understand” and one of his last messages was “Tell everyone I’ll see them somewhere, sometime.”

In Hartford, Connecticut a memorial was dedicated to Bobby Sands and the other hunger strikers in 1997, the only one of its kind in the United States. Set up by the Irish Northern Aid Committee and local Irish-Americans, it stands in a traffic island known as Bobby Sands Circle at the bottom of Maple Avenue near Goodwin Park.

In 2001, a memorial to Sands and the other hunger strikers was unveiled in Havana, Cuba.

Asia

The Iranian government renamed Winston Churchill Boulevard, the location of the Embassy of the United Kingdom in Tehran, to Bobby Sands Street, prompting the embassy to move its entrance door to Ferdowsi Avenue to avoid using Bobby Sands Street on its letterhead. A street in the Elahieh district is also named after Sands. An official blue and white street sign was affixed to the rear wall of the British embassy compound saying (in Persian) “Bobby Sands Street” with three words of explanation “militant Irish guerrilla”. The official Pars News Agency called Bobby Sands’s death “heroic”.  There have been claims that the British pressured Iranian authorities to change the name of Bobby Sands Street but this was denied. A burger bar in Tehran is named in honour of Sands.

  • Palestinian prisoners incarcerated in the Israeli desert prison of Nafha sent a letter, which was smuggled out and reached Belfast in July 1981, which read; “To the families of Bobby Sands and his martyred comrades. We, revolutionaries of the Palestinian people…extend our salutes and solidarity with you in the confrontation against the oppressive terrorist rule enforced upon the Irish people by the British ruling elite. We salute the heroic struggle of Bobby Sands and his comrades, for they have sacrificed the most valuable possession of any human being. They gave their lives for freedom.
  • The Hindustan Times said Margaret Thatcher had allowed a fellow Member of Parliament to die of starvation, an incident which had never before occurred “in a civilised country”.
  • In the Indian Parliament, opposition members in the upper house Rajya Sabha stood for a minute’s silence in tribute. The ruling Congress Party did not join in. Protest marches were organised against the British government and in tribute to Sands and his fellow hunger strikers.
  • The Hong Kong Standard said it was ‘sad that successive British governments have failed to end the last of Europe’s religious wars.’

Australia

Political impact

Nine other IRA and Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) members who were involved in the 1981 Irish Hunger Strike died after Sands. On the day of Sands’s funeral, Unionist leader Ian Paisley held a memorial service outside of Belfast city hall to commemorate the victims of the IRA. In the Irish general elections held the same year, two anti H-block candidates won seats on an abstentionist basis.

The media coverage that surrounded the death of Sands resulted in a new surge of IRA activity and an immediate escalation in the Troubles, with the group obtaining many more members and increasing its fund-raising capability. Both nationalists and unionists began to harden their attitudes and move towards political extremes. Sands’s Westminster seat was taken by his election agent, Owen Carron standing as ‘Anti H-Block Proxy Political Prisoner’ with an increased majority.

In popular culture

Éire Nua flute band inspired by Bobby Sands, commemorate the Easter Rising on the 91st anniversary

The Grateful Dead played the Nassau Coliseum the following night after Sands died and guitarist Bob Weir dedicated the song “He’s Gone” to Sands. The concert was later released as Dick’s Picks Volume 13, part of the Grateful Dead’s programme of live concert releases. French musician Léo Ferré dedicated performances of his song “Thank You Satan” to Sands in 1981 and 1984.

Songs written in response to the hunger strikes and Sands’s death include songs by Black 47, Nicky Wire, Meic Stevens, The Undertones, Eric Bogle, and Christy Moore. Moore’s song, “The People’s Own MP“, has been described as an example of a rebel song of the “hero-martyr” genre in which Sands’s “intellectual, artistic and moral qualities” are eulogised. The U.S. rock band Rage Against the Machine have listed Sands as an inspiration in the sleeve notes of their self-titled début album. and as a “political hero” in media interviews.

Celtic F.C., a Scottish football club, received a €50,000 fine from the UEFA over banners depicting Sands with a political message, which was displayed during a game on 26 November 2013,by Green Brigade fans.

Bobby Sands has also been portrayed in the following films:

Family

Sands married Geraldine Noade while in prison on robbery charges on 3 March 1973. His son, Gerard, was born 8 May 1973. Noade soon left to live in England with their son.

Sands’s sister, Bernadette Sands McKevitt, is also a prominent Irish Republican. Along with her husband, Michael McKevitt, she helped to form the 32 County Sovereignty Movement and is accused of involvement with the Real Irish Republican Army (RIRA).

Bernadette Sands McKevitt is opposed to the Belfast Agreement, stating that “Bobby did not die for cross-border bodies with executive powers. He did not die for nationalists to be equal British citizens within the Northern Ireland state. The RIRA was responsible for the Omagh bombing on 15 August 1998, in which 29 people, including a mother pregnant with twins, were killed and more than 200 injured. This is the highest death toll from a single incident during the Troubles. Michael McKevitt was one of those named in a civil suit filed by victims and survivors.

See Hungry Strikes

 


1981

The grave of hunger striker Bobby Sands, just one of the graves smashed at the Republican plot in Milltown cemetery, Belfast.

 – Disclaimer –

The views and opinions expressed in these pages/documentaries are soley intended to educate and provide background information to those interested in the Troubles of Northern Ireland. They in no way reflect my own opinions and I take no responsibility for any inaccuracies or factual errors.

1st March – Deaths & Events in Northern Ireland Troubles

Key Events & Deaths on this day in Northern Ireland Troubles

1st March

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Wednesday 1 March 1972

Two Catholic teenagers were shot dead by the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) while ‘joy riding’ in a stolen car in Belfast.

Thursday 1 March 1973

There was a general election in the Republic of Ireland. As a result of the election there was a change of government. Fine Gael / Labour coalition government took over from Fianna Fáil which had been in power for 16 years.

Liam Cosgrave succeeded Jack Lynch as Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister).

Monday 1 March 1976

End of Special Category Status Prisoners

Merlyn Rees, then Secretary of Sate for Northern Ireland, announced that those people convicted of causing terrorist offences would no longer be entitled to special category status. In other words they were to be treated as ordinary criminals.

[This was part of a process, which some commentators called ‘criminalisation’, which saw the British government move from trying to reach a settlement with the Irish Republican Army (IRA) to treating the conflict. On 14 September 1976 Kieran Nugent was the first prisoner to be sentenced under the new regime and he refused to wear prison clothes choosing instead to wrap a blanket around himself. So started the ‘Blanket Protest’.]

Sunday 1 March 1981 1981

Hunger Strike Began

hungry strikes

Bobby Sands, then leader of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in the Maze Prison, refused food and so began a new hunger strike . The choice of the start date was significant because it marked the fifth anniversary of the ending of special category status (1 March 1976). The main aim of the new strike was to achieve the reintroduction of political status for Republican prisoners. Edward Daly, then Catholic Bishop of Derry, criticised the decision to begin another hunger strike.

[Sands was to lead the hunger strike but it was decided that Brendan McFarlane would take over Sands’ role as leader of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in the Maze Prison. It later became clear that the IRA leadership outside the prison was not in favour of a new hunger strike following the outcome of the 1980 strike. The main impetus came from the prisoners themselves. The strike was to last until 3 October 1981 and was to see 10 Republican prisoners starve themselves to death in support of their protest. The strike led to a heightening of political tensions in the region. It was also to pave the way for the emergence of Sinn Féin (SF) as a major political force in Northern Ireland.]

See Hungry Strike

Monday 1 March 1982

The British Enkalon company announced that it would close its factory in Antrim with the loss of 850 jobs.

Tuesday 2 March 1982

Lord Lowry, then Northern Ireland Lord Chief Justice, was attacked by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) as he paid a visit to the Queen’s University of Belfast. The IRA fired several shots at Lowry who was not injured but a lecturer at the university was wounded by the gunfire.

Thursday 1 March 1984

Frank Millar, Ulster Unionist Party, won a Northern Ireland Assembly by-election. He was returned unopposed.

 

Thursday 1 March 1990

McGimpsey Appeal on Irish Constitution

An appeal to the Irish Supreme Court by Chris McGimpsey and Michael McGimpsey on the issue of Articles 2 and 3 of the Irish Constitution was rejected. The Court ruled that Articles 2 and 3 are a ‘claim of legal right’ over the ‘national territory’. The Court stated that the articles represented a ‘constitutional imperative’ rather than merely an aspiration.

Friday 1 March 1991

The Irish Republican Army (IRA) carried out a (horizontal) mortar attack on a Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) mobile patrol on the Killylea Road, Armagh. One UDR soldier was killed and another, who was mortally wounded, died on 4 March 1991.

The European Court of Human Rights agreed to hear another complaint against the British government. The case involved the United Kingdom’s (UK) derogation from the European Convention of Human Rights on the matter of the seven-day detention of suspects under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

Tuesday 1 March 1994

John Major, then British Prime Minister, completed a two-day visit to Washington, USA. [The visit was reported as an attempt to repair damage to Anglo-American relations following the decision to grant a visa to Gerry Adams, then President of Sinn Féin (SF).

Wednesday 1 March 1995

The British Army (BA) ended patrols in east Belfast and Belfast city centre.

Monday 1 March 1999

A chocolate box containing a bomb was left on the windowsill of a Catholic house in Coalisland, County Tyrone. The owner of the house said the bomb was in a large Roses tin and was first spotted as she returned home by taxi after 10.00pm. The attack was carried out by Loyalist paramilitaries.

A pipe-bomb was found in Derriaghy, south of Belfast.

The new Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) was established and replaced the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights (SACHR). The first Chief Commissioner of the NIHRC was Professor Brice Dickson of the University of Ulster. Unionists criticised the balance of the new Commission.

Friday 1 March 2002

It was reported that almost 2,000 Catholics had applied to join the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) as part of the latest recruitment drive.

Advertisements were placed in a range of outlets during October 2001 as part of the second phase of recruitment to the police service.

[Almost 5,000 people applied, of whom 38 per cent were Catholic. Those who meet the basic requirements are then selected under the 50-50 Catholic-Protestant recruitment arrangements. The first pool of recruits who joined in 2001 complete their training on 5 April 2002. The new police badge and uniform will be introduced on the same date.]

The section of the Police (NI) Act 2000 which guarantees Catholics 50 per cent of new recruit places for the PSNI was challenged in the High Court in Belfast by a Protestant man (18) whose application was rejected. The section of legislation states: “In making appointments the Chief Constable shall appoint from a pool of qualified applicants an even number of whom one half shall be persons who are treated as Roman Catholic and one half shall be persons who are not so treated.”

Lawyers will argue that this section is incompatible with Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights and Article 14. Martin McGuinness (SF), then Education Minister, asked Unionist politicians to reconsider their views on academic selection at aged 11 years (the ’11-plus’ exam). McGuinness was addressing the northern conference of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) in Newcastle, County Down.

[Most Unionist politicians had expressed opposition to any changes to the current system of selection.]

James Sheehan, then Sinn Féin (SF) director of elections in Kerry North, was released without charge by Garda Síochána (the Irish police) in Killarney. He had been questioned as part of an investigation into an alleged vigilante-style abduction in the area that had taken place before Christmas.

  —————————————————————

Remembering all innocent victims of the Troubles

Today is the anniversary of the death of the following people killed as a results of the conflict in Northern Ireland

“To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die

– Thomas Campbell

To the innocent on the list – Your memory will live  forever

– To  the Paramilitaries  –

There are many things worth living for, a few things worth dying for, but nothing worth killing for.

8 People   lost their lives on the 1st March between 1972– 1991

 

  —————————————————————————

01 March 1972
John Fletcher,   (43)

Protestant
Status: Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)
Off duty. Shot outside his home, Frevagh, near Garrison, County Fermanagh.

  —————————————————————————

01 March 1972
John Mahon,   (16)

Catholic
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC)
Shot while travelling in stolen car in Belfast city centre. Car abandoned outside Royal Victoria Hospital, Falls Road, Belfast.

  —————————————————————————

01 March 1972
Michael Connors,   (14)

Catholic
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC)
Shot while travelling in stolen car in Belfast city centre. Car abandoned outside Royal Victoria Hospital, Falls Road, Belfast.

  —————————————————————————

01 March 1973
Stephen Kernan,   (54)

Catholic
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)
Taxi driver. Found shot in his car, Mansfield Street, Shankill, Belfast.

  —————————————————————————

01 March 1973
Daniel Bowen,  (38)

Catholic
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: not known (nk)
Shot while walking along Linenhall Street West, Belfast

  —————————————————————————

01 March 1978
Paul Sheppard,   (20)

nfNI
Status: British Army (BA),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)
Killed in machine gun attack on British Army (BA) mobile patrol, Cliftonpark Avenue, Belfast

  —————————————————————————

01 March 1991


Paul Sutcliffe,  (32)

nfNI
Status: Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)
Originally from England. Killed in horizontal mortar attack on Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) mobile patrol, Killylea Road, Armagh.

  —————————————————————————

01 March 1991


Roger Love,   (20)

Protestant
Status: Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)
Injured in horizontal mortar attack on Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) mobile patrol, Killylea Road, Armagh. He died 4 March 1991.

  —————————————————————————

Republican Hunger Strike 1981

Sunday 1 March 1981 1981

Hunger Strike Began

Bobby Sands, then leader of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in the Maze Prison, refused food and so began a new hungry strike . The choice of the start date was significant because it marked the fifth anniversary of the ending of special category status (1 March 1976).

—————————

Bobby Sands and the 1981 Hunger Strike Documentary

—————————

The main aim of the new strike was to achieve the reintroduction of political status for Republican prisoners. Edward Daly, then Catholic Bishop of Derry, criticised the decision to begin another hunger strike.

Brendan McFarlane

 

 

Sands was to lead the hunger strike but it was decided that Brendan McFarlane would take over Sands’ role as leader of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in the Maze Prison. It later became clear that the IRA leadership outside the prison was not in favour of a new hunger strike following the outcome of the 1980 strike. The main impetus came from the prisoners themselves.

The strike was to last until 3 October 1981 and was to see 10 Republican prisoners starve themselves to death in support of their protest. The strike led to a heightening of political tensions in the region. It was also to pave the way for the emergence of Sinn Féin (SF) as a major political force in Northern Ireland.

————————————————————–

Margaret Thatcher’s letters to families of hunger strikers released

Margaret Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher, later Baroness Thatcher, was implacably opposed to the hunger strikers

Secret Government documents also reveal Thatcher’s fears after 1984 Brighton bombing

Margaret Thatcher privately expressed regret over the 1981 Irish hunger strike, newly released letters to the families of prisoners show.

In the notes the prime minister said she cared “deeply” about those affected by the protest. But she turned down a request for a meeting from two mothers, stating: “I really do not see how such a meeting could help”.

The letters are contained within files released today by the National Archives in Kew, south-west London.

The files also reveal Thatcher’s fear that she would be targeted again by the IRA after narrowly avoiding assassination in the Brighton bombing of October 12, 1984, and how the attack nearly derailed secret Northern Ireland peace negotiations.

 

Mrs Thatcher and her cabinet were staying at the Grand Hotel in the city for the Conservative Party conference when they were targeted. The long-delay time bomb, which had been planted four weeks earlier, killed five and injured 31.

Afterwards, in a handwritten note to Charles Powell, one of her closest advisors, Mrs Thatcher said: “The bomb has slowed things down and may in the end kill any new initiative because I suspect it will be the first in a series”.

Four months earlier, Mrs Thatcher had sought Cabinet approval for a series of secret liaisons with the Republic of Ireland.

The negotiations helped lay the ground for the subsequent 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement but the documents show Mrs Thatcher was reluctant to allow them to continue after the bomb, commenting that she was “very pessimistic” about their outcome in November 1984.

She added Britain must avoid the impression of “being bombed into making concession to the Republic”.

On the hunger strikes, the files show that Mrs Thatcher urged the sister of one of the prisoners to convince her brother his protest was pointless.

Outwardly, Mrs Thatcher was typically unyielding during the crisis, stating there would be no concessions or reform of the prison system until the hunger strike had ended.

But in the letter to Sharon McCloskey, Mrs Thatcher said: “I want you to know that despite what is said and written by some people about my attitude to the hunger strike, I very much regret that young men have been prepared to throw away their lives for an objective which – as I have said on many occasions – no responsible Government anywhere could grant, since it could only aid and abet those who advocate and use violence to political ends.”

She added: “I can only urge you all to impress on him that the five demands of the prisoners amount to a prison regime which no Government could concede, for the reason I have given. It may be that if this is put to him by people he knows and trusts, he will decide to stop his fast and so save his life.”

Liam McCloskey’s mother Philomena also wrote to the prime minister requesting a meeting.

“I hope that you will receive this letter personally as I want you to know of my despair and desperation,” she wrote to Thatcher.

“I am the widowed mother of Liam McCloskey who, today completes thirty days on hunger strike in the prison hospital of Long Kesh [later known as HMP Maze]. I would like to meet you and believe that such a meeting would perhaps give you a better understanding of my position.”

In her response, Mrs Thatcher said: “I do care very deeply about those to whom the hunger strike has brought pain and bereavement, as I do for all those in Northern Ireland who have suffered from violence in whatever form that has taken.

“I hope you will understand that I really do not see how such a meeting could help. I believe myself that the Government’s position has already been set out very clearly.”

Liam McCloskey ended his strike after 55 days when his family intervened.

He was one of a number of republican prisoners at HMP Maze in Belfast who stopped eating in protest at the removal of so-called “special category status” for inmates who considered themselves political prisoners.

They were demanding that members of paramilitary groups should be treated differently from other prisoners including the right wear civilian clothes and to refrain from prison work.

In total 10 men died, including Bobby Sands, who became the best known of the protestors after he was elected as an MP during his time on strike. He died after 66 days.

The hunger strike ended on October 3, 1981, when James Prior, the Northern Ireland secretary, announced prisoners could wear their own clothes and remission lost would be restored.

 

—————————————————-

Background & History

of

1981 Hungry Strike

The 1981 Irish hunger strike was the culmination of a five-year protest during “the Troubles” by Irish republican prisoners in Northern Ireland. The protest began as the blanket protest in 1976, when the British government withdrew Special Category Status for convicted paramilitary prisoners. In 1978, after a number of attacks on prisoners leaving their cells to “slop out“, the dispute escalated into the dirty protest, where prisoners refused to leave their cells to wash and covered the walls of their cells with excrement. In 1980, seven prisoners participated in the first hunger strike, which ended after 53 days.[1]

The second hunger strike took place in 1981 and was a showdown between the prisoners and the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. One hunger striker, Bobby Sands, was elected as a Member of Parliament during the strike, prompting media interest from around the world.[2] The strike was called off after ten prisoners had starved themselves to death—including Sands, whose funeral was attended by 100,000 people.[1] The strike radicalised Irish nationalist politics, and was the driving force that enabled Sinn Féin to become a mainstream political party.

Background

There had been hunger strikes by Irish republican prisoners since 1917, and twelve had previously died on hunger strike, including Thomas Ashe, Terence MacSwiney, Seán McCaughey, Michael Gaughan and Frank Stagg.[4] After the introduction of internment in 1971, Long Kesh—later known as HM Prison Maze—was run like a prisoner of war camp. Internees lived in dormitories and disciplined themselves with military-style command structures, drilled with dummy guns made from wood, and held lectures on guerrilla warfare and politics.[5] Convicted prisoners were refused the same rights as internees until July 1972, when Special Category Status was introduced following a hunger strike by 40 Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoners led by the veteran republican Billy McKee. Special Category, or political, status meant prisoners were treated similarly to prisoners of war; for example, not having to wear prison uniforms or do prison work.[5] In 1976, as part of its policy of “criminalisation”, the British government brought an end to Special Category Status for newly convicted paramilitary prisoners in Northern Ireland. The policy was not introduced for existing prisoners, but for those convicted of offences after 1 March 1976.[6] The end to Special Category Status was a serious threat to the authority which the paramilitary leaderships inside prison had been able to exercise over their own men, as well as being a propaganda blow.[5]

Blanket and dirty protests

Main articles: Blanket protest and dirty protest

On 14 September 1976, newly convicted prisoner Kieran Nugent began the blanket protest, in which IRA and Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) prisoners refused to wear prison uniform and either went naked or fashioned garments from prison blankets.[6] In 1978, after a number of attacks on prisoners leaving their cells to “slop out” (i.e., empty their chamber pots), this escalated into the dirty protest, where prisoners refused to leave their cells to wash or slop out. To mitigate the build-up of flies, they smeared their excrement on the walls of their cells.[7] These protests aimed to re-establish their political status by securing what were known as the “Five Demands”:

  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.[8]

Initially, this protest did not attract a great deal of attention, and even the IRA regarded it as a side-issue compared to their armed campaign.[9][10] It began to attract attention when Tomás Ó Fiaich, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh, visited the prison and condemned the conditions there.[11] In 1979, former MP Bernadette McAliskey stood in the election for the European Parliament on a platform of support for the protesting prisoners, and won 5.9% of the vote across Northern Ireland, even though Sinn Féin had called for a boycott of the election.[12][13] Shortly after this, the broad-based National H-Block/Armagh Committee was formed, on a platform of support for the “Five Demands”, with McAliskey as its main spokesperson.[14][15] The period leading up to the hunger strike saw assassinations by both republicans and loyalists. The IRA shot and killed a number of prison officers;[9][16] while loyalist paramilitaries shot and killed a number of activists in the National H-Block/Armagh Committee and badly injured McAliskey and her husband in an attempt on their lives.[17][18]

First hunger strike

On 27 October 1980, republican prisoners in HM Prison Maze began a hunger strike. Many prisoners volunteered to be part of the strike, but a total of seven were selected to match the number of men who signed the Easter 1916 Proclamation of the Republic. The group consisted of IRA members Brendan Hughes, Tommy McKearney, Raymond McCartney, Tom McFeeley, Sean McKenna, Leo Green, and Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) member John Nixon.[19] On 1 December three prisoners in Armagh Women’s Prison joined the strike, including Mairéad Farrell, followed by a short-lived hunger strike by several dozen more prisoners in HM Prison Maze. In a war of nerves between the IRA leadership and the British government, with McKenna lapsing in and out of a coma and on the brink of death, the government appeared to concede the essence of the prisoners’ five demands with a thirty-page document detailing a proposed settlement. With the document in transit to Belfast, Hughes took the decision to save McKenna’s life and end the strike after 53 days on 18 December.[8]

Second hunger strike

A hunger strike memorial in Milltown Cemetery, Belfast

In January 1981 it became clear that the prisoners’ demands had not been conceded. Prison authorities began to supply the prisoners with officially issued civilian clothing, whereas the prisoners demanded the right to wear their own clothing. On 4 February the prisoners issued a statement saying that the British government had failed to resolve the crisis and declared their intention of “hunger striking once more”.[20] The second hunger strike began on 1 March, when Bobby Sands, the IRA’s former commanding officer (CO) in the prison, refused food. Unlike the first strike, the prisoners joined one at a time and at staggered intervals, which they believed would arouse maximum public support and exert maximum pressure on Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.[21]

The republican movement initially struggled to generate public support for the second hunger strike. The Sunday before Sands began his strike, 3,500 people marched through west Belfast; during the first hunger strike four months earlier the marchers had numbered 10,000.[22] Five days into the strike, however, Independent Republican MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone Frank Maguire died, resulting in a by-election. There was debate among nationalists and republicans regarding who should contest the election: Austin Currie of the Social Democratic and Labour Party expressed an interest, as did Bernadette McAliskey and Maguire’s brother Noel.[1] After negotiations, and implied threats to Noel Maguire, they agreed not to split the nationalist vote by contesting the election and Sands stood as an Anti H-Block candidate against Ulster Unionist Party candidate Harry West.[22][23] Following a high-profile campaign the election took place on 9 April, and Sands was elected to the British House of Commons with 30,492 votes to West’s 29,046.[24]

Sands’ election victory raised hopes that a settlement could be negotiated, but Thatcher stood firm in refusing to give concessions to the hunger strikers. She stated “We are not prepared to consider special category status for certain groups of people serving sentences for crime. Crime is crime is crime, it is not political”.[25] The world’s media descended on Belfast, and several intermediaries visited Sands in an attempt to negotiate an end to the hunger strike, including Síle de Valera, granddaughter of Éamon de Valera, Pope John Paul II‘s personal envoy John Magee, and European Commission of Human Rights officials.[2][26] With Sands close to death, the government’s position remained unchanged, with Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Humphrey Atkins stating “If Mr. Sands persisted in his wish to commit suicide, that was his choice. The Government would not force medical treatment upon him”.[26]

Deaths and end of strike

Bobby Sands Wandmalerei in Belfast
————————————-
Reaction to the death of Bobby Sands M.P (1981)
————————————-

On 5 May, Sands died in the prison hospital on the sixty-sixth day of his hunger strike, prompting rioting in nationalist areas of Northern Ireland.[1] Humphrey Atkins issued a statement saying that Sands had committed suicide “under the instructions of those who felt it useful to their cause that he should die”.[27] Over 100,000 people lined the route of his funeral, which was conducted with full IRA military honours. Margaret Thatcher showed no sympathy for his death, telling the House of Commons that “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”.[26]

In the two weeks following Sands’ death, three more hunger strikers died. Francis Hughes died on 12 May, resulting in further rioting in nationalist areas of Northern Ireland, in particular Derry and Belfast. Following the deaths of Raymond McCreesh and Patsy O’Hara on 21 May, Tomás Ó Fiaich, by then Primate of All Ireland, criticised the British government’s handling of the hunger strike.[1] Despite this, Thatcher still refused to negotiate a settlement, stating “Faced with the failure of their discredited cause, the men of violence have chosen in recent months to play what may well be their last card”, during a visit to Belfast in late May.[27]

Nine protesting prisoners contested the general election in the Republic of Ireland in June. Kieran Doherty and Paddy Agnew (who was not on hunger strike) were elected in Cavan–Monaghan and Louth respectively, and Joe McDonnell narrowly missed election in Sligo–Leitrim.[28][29] There were also local elections in Northern Ireland around that time and although Sinn Féin did not contest them, some smaller groups and independents who supported the hunger strikers won seats, e.g. the Irish Independence Party won 21 seats, while the Irish Republican Socialist Party (the INLA’s political wing) and People’s Democracy (a Trotskyist group) won two seats each, and a number of pro-hunger strike independent candidates also won seats.[30][31] The British government rushed through the Representation of the People Act 1981 to prevent another prisoner contesting the second by-election in Fermanagh and South Tyrone, which was due to take place following the death of Sands.[1]

A memorial to hunger striker Kieran Doherty

Following the deaths of Joe McDonnell and Martin Hurson the families of some of the hunger strikers attended a meeting on 28 July with Catholic priest Father Denis Faul. The families expressed concern at the lack of a settlement to the priest, and a decision was made to meet with Gerry Adams later that day. At the meeting Father Faul put pressure on Adams to find a way of ending the strike, and Adams agreed to ask the IRA leadership to order the men to end the hunger strike.[32] The following day Adams held a meeting with six of the hunger strikers to outline a proposed settlement on offer from the British government should the strike be brought to an end.[33] The strikers rejected the settlement, believing that accepting anything less than the “Five Demands” would be a betrayal of the sacrifice made by Bobby Sands and the other men who had died.[34]

On 31 July the hunger strike began to break, when the mother of Paddy Quinn insisted on medical intervention to save his life. The following day Kevin Lynch died, followed by Kieran Doherty on 2 August, Thomas McElwee on 8 August and Michael Devine on 20 August.[35] On the day Devine died, Sands’ election agent Owen Carron won the Fermanagh and South Tyrone by-election with an increased number of votes.[36] On 6 September the family of Laurence McKeown became the fourth family to intervene and asked for medical treatment to save his life, and Cahal Daly issued a statement calling on republican prisoners to end the hunger strike. A week later James Prior replaced Humphrey Atkins as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and met with prisoners in an attempt to end the strike.[1] Liam McCloskey ended his strike on 26 September after his family said they would ask for medical intervention if he became unconscious, and it became clear that the families of the remaining hunger strikers would also intervene to save their lives. The strike was called off at 3:15 pm on 3 October,[37] and three days later Prior announced partial concessions to the prisoners including the right to wear their own clothes at all times.[3] The only one of the “Five Demands” still outstanding was the right not to do prison work. Following sabotage by the prisoners and the Maze Prison escape in 1983 the prison workshops were closed, effectively granting all of the “Five Demands” but without any formal recognition of political status from the government.[38]

Participants who died on hunger strike

 

Over the summer of 1981, ten hunger strikers had died. Their names, paramilitary affiliation, dates of death, and length of hunger strike are as follows:

Name Paramilitary affiliation Strike started Date of death Length of strike
Bobby Sands IRA 1 March 5 May 66 days
Francis Hughes IRA 15 March 12 May 59 days
Raymond McCreesh IRA 22 March 21 May 61 days
Patsy O’Hara INLA 22 March 21 May 61 days
Joe McDonnell IRA 8 May 8 July 61 days
Martin Hurson IRA 28 May 13 July 46 days
Kevin Lynch INLA 23 May 1 August 71 days
Kieran Doherty IRA 22 May 2 August 73 days
Thomas McElwee IRA 8 June 8 August 62 days
Michael Devine INLA 22 June 20 August 60 days

The original pathologist‘s report recorded the hunger strikers’ cause of death as “self-imposed starvation“. This was later amended to simply “starvation”, after protests from the dead strikers’ families. The coroner recorded verdicts of “starvation, self-imposed”.[39]

Other participants in the hunger strike

Although ten men died during the course of the hunger strike, thirteen others began refusing food but were taken off hunger strike, either due to medical reasons or after intervention by their families. Many of them still suffer from the effects of the strike, with problems including digestive, visual, physical and neurological disabilities.[40][41]

Name Paramilitary affiliation Strike started Strike ended Length of strike Reason for ending strike
Brendan McLaughlin IRA 14 May 26 May 13 days Suffering from a perforated ulcer and internal bleeding
Paddy Quinn IRA 15 June 31 July 47 days Taken off by his family
Laurence McKeown IRA 29 June 6 September 70 days Taken off by his family
Pat McGeown IRA 9 July 20 August 42 days Taken off by his family
Matt Devlin IRA 14 July 4 September 52 days Taken off by his family
Liam McCloskey INLA 3 August 26 September 55 days His family said they would intervene if he became unconscious
Patrick Sheehan IRA 10 August 3 October 55 days End of hunger strike
Jackie McMullan IRA 17 August 3 October 48 days End of hunger strike
Bernard Fox IRA 24 August 24 September 32 days Suffering from an obstructed kidney
Hugh Carville IRA 31 August 3 October 34 days End of hunger strike
John Pickering IRA 7 September 3 October 27 days End of hunger strike
Gerard Hodgins IRA 14 September 3 October 20 days End of hunger strike
James Devine IRA 21 September 3 October 13 days End of hunger strike

Consequences

A hunger strike memorial in Derry’s Bogside on Free Derry Corner

The British press hailed the hunger strike as a triumph for Thatcher, with The Guardian newspaper stating “The Government had overcome the hunger strikes by a show of resolute determination not to be bullied”.[42] However, the hunger strike was a Pyrrhic victory for Thatcher and the British government.[43] Thatcher became a republican hate figure of Cromwellian proportions, with Danny Morrison describing her as “the biggest bastard we have ever known”.[43] At the time most thought the hunger strike a crushing defeat for the republicans, a view shared by many within the IRA and Sinn Féin, but Sands’ by-election win was a propaganda victory.[2] As with internment in 1971 and Bloody Sunday in 1972, IRA recruitment was boosted, resulting in a new surge of paramilitary activity.[43] There was an upsurge of violence after the comparatively quiet years of the late 1970s, with widespread civil disorder in Northern Ireland and rioting outside the British Embassy in Dublin.[1] Security forces fired 29,695 plastic bullets in 1981, causing seven deaths, compared to a total of around 16,000 bullets and four deaths in the eight years following the hunger strikes.[44] The IRA continued its armed campaign during the seven months of the strike, killing 13 policemen, 13 soldiers, including five members of the Ulster Defence Regiment and five civilians. The seven months were one of the bloodiest periods of the Troubles with a total of 61 people killed, 34 of them civilians.[45] Three years later the IRA perpetrated the Brighton hotel bombing, an attack on the Conservative party conference that killed five people and in which Thatcher herself only narrowly escaped death.[2]

The hunger strike prompted Sinn Féin to move towards electoral politics. Sands’ election victory, combined with that of pro-hunger strike candidates in the Northern Ireland local elections and Dáil elections in the Republic of Ireland, gave birth to the armalite and ballot box strategy. Gerry Adams remarked that Sands’ victory “exposed the lie that the hunger strikers—and by extension the IRA and the whole republican movement—had no popular support”.[46] The election victories of Doherty and Agnew also had political impact in the Republic of Ireland, as they denied power to Charles Haughey’s outgoing Fianna Fáil government.[28] In 1982 Sinn Féin won five seats in the elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly, and in 1983 Gerry Adams won a seat in the UK general election.[47] As a result of the political base built during the hunger strike, Sinn Féin continued to grow in the following two decades. After the United Kingdom general election, 2001, it became the largest nationalist party in Northern Ireland[3] and after the 2014 local and European elections held on both sides of the border, asserted it was now the largest party in Ireland.[48]

In 2005, the role of Gerry Adams was questioned by former prisoner Richard O’Rawe, who was the public relations officer inside the prison during the strike. O’Rawe states in his book Blanketmen that Adams prolonged the strike as it was of great political benefit to Sinn Féin and allowed Owen Carron to win Sands’ seat.[49][50] This claim is denied by several hunger strikers and Brendan McFarlane, who was O/C inside the prison during the hunger strike.[51] McFarlane claims O’Rawe’s version of events is confused and fragmentary, and states “We were desperate for a solution. Any deal that went some way to meeting the five demands would have been taken. If it was confirmed in writing, we’d have grabbed it . . . There was never a deal, there was never a “take it or leave it” option at all”.[52]

Commemorations

A hunger strike memorial near Crossmaglen, County Armagh

There are memorials and murals in memory of the hunger strikers in towns and cities across Ireland, including Belfast, Dublin, Derry, Crossmaglen and Camlough.[53] Annual commemorations take place across Ireland for each man who died on the hunger strike, and an annual hunger strike commemoration march is held in Belfast each year, which includes a Bobby Sands memorial lecture.[54][55] Several towns and cities in France have named streets after Bobby Sands, including Paris and Le Mans.[2][56] The Iranian government also named a street running alongside the British embassy in Tehran after Bobby Sands, which was formerly called Winston Churchill Street.[57]

A memorial to the men who died in the Irish Rebellion of 1798, the Easter Rising and the hunger strike stands in Waverley Cemetery, Sydney, Australia, which is also the burial place of Michael Dwyer of the Society of United Irishmen.[58][59] In 1997 NORAID‘s Hartford Unit in the United States dedicated a monument to Bobby Sands and the other hunger strikers.[60] The monument stands in a traffic circle known as “Bobby Sands Circle”, at the bottom of Maple Avenue near Goodwin Park.[61] On 20 March 2001 Sinn Féin’s national chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin opened the National Hunger Strike Commemoration Committee’s exhibition at the Europa Hotel in Belfast, which included three original works of art from Belfast-based artists.[62] A separate exhibition was also launched in Derry the following month.[63] Three films have been made based on the events of the hunger strike, Some Mother’s Son starring Helen Mirren, H3 (which was co-written by former hunger striker Laurence McKeown), and Steve McQueen‘s Hunger.