An Cumann Cabhrach biography of 1981

Give Ireland Back to the Irish

The profiles of the hunger strikers as they first appeared in An Cumann Cabhrach brochure of 1981. We have not re-written or updated the contents.

Bobby Sands

Bobby Sands was born in 1954 in Rathcoole, a predominantly loyalist district of north Belfast. His twenty-seventh birthday fell on the ninth day of his sixty-six day hunger-strike.

The sectarian realities of ghetto life materialised early in Bobby’s life when at the age of seven his family were forced to move home owing to loyalist intimidation even as early as 1962.

Of this time Bobby himself later wrote: “1 was only a working-class boy from a nationalist ghetto, but it is repression that 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.”

In June 1972, the family were intimidated out of their home in Doonbeg Drive, Rathcoole, and moved into the newly-built Twinbrook estate on the fringe of nationalist West Belfast.

At eighteen years of age Bobby joined the Republican Movement. In an article he wrote for Republican News he said: “My life now centred around sleepless nights and stand-bys, dodging the Brits and calming nerves to go out on operations. But the people stood by us. The people not only opened the doors of their homes to lend us a hand but they opened their hearts to us. I learned that without the people we could not win and I knew that I owed them everything.”

October 1972, he was arrested. Four hand-guns were found in a house he had stayed in and he was charged with possession. 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. Released in 1976 Bobby returned to his family in Twinbrook. He reported back to his local unit and went straight back into the continuing struggle. Bobby set himself to work tackling the social issues which affected the Twinbrook area. Here he became a community activist.

Within six months Bobby was arrested again. There had been a bomb attack on the Balmoral Furniture Company at Dunmurray, 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 R.U.C. captured them and found a revolver in the car.

The six men were taken to Castlereagh and were subjected to brutal interrogations for six days. Bobby refused to answer any questions during his interrogation except his name, age and address.

Bobby, along with the others, was charged with possession of a hand-gun. He was held on remand for eleven nths until his trial in September 1977. As at his previous trial he refused to recognise the court.

The judge admitted that there was no evidence to link Bobby, or the other three young men with him, to the bombing. So the four of them were sentenced to fourteen years each for possession of the revolver.

He was moved to the H-Blocks from Crumlin Road Jail and joined the blanket protest. He began to write for Republican News and then after February 1979 for the newly merged An Phoblacht,/Republican News, under the pen-name ‘Marcella’, his sister’s name.

Bobby became P.R.0. for the blanket men and was in constant confrontation with the prison authorities which resulted in several spells of solitary confinement.

The H-Blocks became the battlefield in which the republican spirit of resistance met head-on all the inhumanities that the British could perpetrate.

On October 27th 1980, following the breakdown of talks between the British direct-ruler in the North, Humphrey Atkins and Cardinal 0 Fiaich, the Irish Catholic primate, seven prisoners in the H-Blocks began a hunger-strike. Bobby volunteered for the fast but instead he succeeded, as 0/C, Brendan Hughes, who went on hunger strike.

That hunger-strike ended after 53 days when the British agreed to implement a liberal and enlightened prison regime. But as soon as the hunger-strike was over the Brits reneged and Bobby’s attempts to negotiate with the prison governor were rebuffed. Thus British intransigence forced a second hunger-strike which Bobby led on March 1st 1981.

He insisted on starting two weeks in front on the others so that perhaps his death could secure the five demands and save their lives.

On March 30th, he was nominated as candidate for the Fermanagh and South Tyrone by-election caused by the sudden death of Frank Maguire, an independent M.P. who supported the prisoners’ cause.

In an historic by-election, which was the subject of international interest, Bobby was victorious over his unionist rival. But the British still refused to treat with the prisoners and at 1.17am on Tuesday May 5th, having completed 65 days on hunger strike, Bobby Sands, M.P., died in the H-Block prison hospital at Long Kesh.

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