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Little Queenies xoxoxo

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Our Revenge Will Be the Laughter of Our Children

Robert Gerard "Bobby" Sands (Irish: Roibeárd Gearóid Ó Seachnasaigh; 9 March 1954 – 5 May 1981) was an Irish volunteer of the Provisional Irish Republican Army and member of the British Parliament who died on hunger strike while imprisoned in HM Prison Maze.
His death changed the history of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, making both sides make an agreement and starting to end the violence, that is still going on.
Sands was born in Abbots Cross, Newtownabbey, County Antrim, Northern Ireland into a Catholic family in a predominantly loyalist district of north Belfast, the older of 4 siblings. In 1960, when he was 10, the family were forced to move to Rathcoole, Newtownabbey owing to loyalist intimidation.
  Bobby Sands (first from left, seated) at Stella Maris secondary school. From http://johnfcaba.wordpress.com

Bobby Sands at Stella Maris secondary school. From http://johnfcaba.wordpress.com

 Bobby Sands (seated fourth from left). The Star of the Sea football team. From belfasttelegraph.co.uk

Bobby’s background, experiences and ambitions did not differ greatly from that of the average ghetto youth. Then came 1968 and the events which were to change his life. Bobby had served two years of his apprenticeship when he was intimidated out of his job.  In June 1972, at the age of 18, Bobby moved with his family to the Twinbrook housing estate in west Belfast, being obliged to leave Rathcoole due to loyalist intimidation. His sister Bernadette recalled: "We had always been used to having Protestant friends. Bobby had gone around with Catholics and Protestants, but it ended up when everything erupted, that the friends he went about with for years were the same ones who helped to put his family out of their home". As well as being intimidated out of his job and his home being under threat Bobby also suffered personal attacks from the loyalists. So he joined the Republican movement.
A young Bobby Sands, from bobbysandstrust.com

Bobby married Geraldine Noade shortly thereafter at the age of 18, and the couple had a son, Gerard Sands, on May 8, 1973. The marriage, however, was short-lived due to the intensive strain caused by Bobby's active participation in the Republican movement. After suffering a miscarriage during her second pregnancy, Geraldine left to live in England with their son.
He was arrested and charged in October 1972 with possession of four handguns which were found in the house where he was staying. Sands was convicted in April 1973 sentenced to five years' imprisonment. He spent the next three years in the cages of Long Kesh where he had political prisoner status. During this time Bobby read widely and taught himself Irish which he was later to teach the other blanket men in the H-Blocks.

Bobby prison pic. From bobbysandstrust.com



 Various pictures of Bobby Sands (dark blue blouse) and fellow friends (including Gerry Adams) at Long Kesh, Cage 22 [c. 1975]. From bobbysandstrust.com


 Bobby Sands with other IRA activists pictured in the Long Kesh prison ca. 1975, Northern Ireland. From bobysandstrust.com

Released in April 1976 Bobby returned to his family in Twinbrook. He set himself to work tackling the social issues which affected the Twinbrook area. Here he became a community activist. According to Bernadette, ‘When he got out of jail that first time our estate had no Green Cross, no Sinn Fein, nor anything like that. He was involved in the Tenants’ Association… He got the black taxis to run to Twinbrook because the bus service at that time was inadequate. It got to the stage where people were coming to the door looking for Bobby to put up ramps on the roads in case cars were going too fast and would knock the children down.’

Within six months Bobby was arrested again. There had been a bomb attack on the Balmoral Furniture Company at Dunmurry on October 1976, followed by a gun-battle in which two men were wounded. Bobby was in a car near the scene with three other young men. The RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) captured them and found a revolver in the car. His trial in September 1977 saw him being convicted of possession of firearms and was sentenced to 14 years' imprisonment.

In prison, Sands became a writer both of journalism and poetry—being published in the Irish republican newspaper An Phoblacht under the pen-name 'Marcella', his sister's name. His articles and letters, in minute handwriting, like all communications from the H-Blocks, were smuggled out on tiny pieces of toilet paper.  

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. The hunger strike centred around 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.
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. In January 1981 it became clear that the prisoners' demands had not been conceded. 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".
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. This second hunger strike took place in 1981 and was a showdown between the prisoners and the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher.
He insisted on starting two weeks in front of the others so that perhaps his death could secure the five demands and save their lives. The 1981 Irish hunger strike started with Sands refusing food on 1 March 1981. 
Bobby Sands pictured on the first day of his hunger strike. Sands had just come off the blanket protest before going straight on to hunger strike. From belfasttelegraph.co.uk

For the first seventeen days of the hunger strike Bobby kept a secret diary in which he wrote his thoughts and views, mostly in English but occasionally breaking into Gaelic. 

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 Sands' supporters to unite the nationalist community behind their campaign. On March 30th, Sands was nominated as candidate for the Fermanagh and South Tyrone.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.
Sands' election victory raised hopes that a settlement could be negotiated, but Thatcher stood firm in refusing to give concessions to the hunger strikers. 

At 1.17 a.m. on Tuesday, May 5th, Bobby Sands MP died in the prison hospital on the after 66 days of hunger-striking, aged 27, prompting rioting in nationalist areas of Northern Ireland.

In the two weeks following Sands' death, three more hunger strikers died.  At the end of the hunger strike, on October 1980, 10 young men did die.

The hunger strike prompted Sinn Féin to move towards electoral politics. As a result of the political base built during the hunger strike, Sinn Féin continued to grow in the following two decades.


"Our Revenge Will Be The Laughter of Our Children"

"Everyone, Republican or Otherwise has their own particular role to play. No part is too great or too small; no one is too old or too young to do something"

"They may hold our bodies in the most inhuman conditions, but, while our mids are free, our victory is assured!"

"They have nothing in their whole imperial arsenal that can break the spirit of one Irishman who doesn't want to be broken"

"Many suffer so that some day future generations may live in justice and peace".