Bobby Sands (1954-1981) is a well-known figure for his struggle in Northern Ireland in the 1980s, where he led a hunger strike until his own death. An Irish Republican and member of the IRA, his struggle against the London government and his loss made him a true martyr, with a strong media impact . A look back at the life of Bobby Sands…
Bobby Sand was born in Newtownabbey, Northern Ireland, in 1954. His childhood was spent in a climate of conflict between Catholics and Protestants through acts of violence.
Very influenced by this situation, he joined the IRA at the age of 18 (in 1972) and was arrested for the first time between 1972 and 1976, during which time he was imprisoned.
On his release from prison, Bobby Sands decided to become more involved in the IRA’s actions, becoming one of the movement’s main activist leaders.
However, he was arrested very quickly, in 1977, for possession of a firearm and bombing.
Although the charge of attack was quickly dismissed by the court in charge of his case, he was nevertheless sentenced to 14 years in prison for carrying a prohibited weapon in Maze prison (also known as Longh Kesh).
In the prison, Sands began to write politically committed texts and some poems. Many of his writings were even published throughout his imprisonment in An Phoblacht, the official IRA newspaper.
Prison life in Maze is particularly difficult, and tensions between prisoners and guards are palpable. From the outset, the prisoners tried to protest with the “Blanket Protest (1976-1981)” and the “Dirty Protest (1978-1981)”. This is a protest technique in which the prisoners refuse to dress in prison uniforms and live naked, wrapped in only a blanket. To this refusal to wear the uniform is then added a veritable war on hygiene, where prisoners refuse to wash, urinate and defecate everywhere in order to place the prison in a deplorable sanitary state.
Bobby Sands also took part in this struggle, but seemed to want to go further to make his voice heard.
Aware of the powerful media leverage that the hunger strike could be, Bobby Sands decided to organise a hunger strike on 1 March 1980, in order to raise public awareness of the IRA’s actions and the London government’s attitude towards Northern Ireland. Bobby Sands was accompanied by other IRA members who were determined to go to the end to make their voices heard, accepting the possibility of death.
During this strike, however, the death of a Republican MP from Fermanagh and South Tyrone aroused a lot of covetousness, and Bobby Sands could not help but run for the post. The Catholics then proposed Sands as a candidate, and he was finally nominated on April 9, 1981 when he won over Harry West.
Faced with this unexpected victory, the London government decided to counter Bobby Sands by passing an electoral law aimed at prohibiting prisoners from playing any political role and standing for election while in prison (this law is known as the Representation of the Peole Act).
Losing his seat in Parliament, Bobby Sands decided to continue his hunger strike and continue to protest. His condition deteriorates over sixty days, during which time he loses a lot of weight and becomes very weak. He died on May 5, 1981, after 65 days on strike.
The announcement of his death made the front page of the newspapers and caused a huge outcry in Northern Ireland and the rest of the world, making Bobby Sands and his companions true martyrs.