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The conflicts in Northern Ireland seemed to be just going on and on
in a relentless cycle of violence, and then suddenly, in 1981,
it took the strangest, darkest, most dramatic twist
when Bobby Sands and nine of his young comrades,
insisting they be recognised as political prisoners,
went on hunger strike.
This was drama at the absolute rawest edge
that it could possibly be.
Because for everybody, it was like there was this clock ticking
in people's heads. There was a sense this wasn't a game.
I think it was a very, very difficult process for most people,
and if Bobby Sands did nothing else,
he broke through the mental partition.
I mean, it meant that everybody had to pay attention to it
and I don't think there's anybody on the islands,
from whatever perspective, who lived through that time,
who is not in some way marked by it personally.
We interrupt our regular programme schedule to bring you
the following special report from ABC News Washington.
Here is Ted Koppel.
Bobby Sands is dead.
The 27-year-old member of the Irish Republican Army,
who went on a protest hunger strike 66 days ago, has died.
Sands, who was serving a 14-year prison term on a weapons possession
charge, had been demanding special status as a political prisoner.
A number of other Irish Republican Army members
also imprisoned by the British
had joined Sands in his protest, and several of them
are also well into a hunger strike.
What he did and what he is known for
is the most individual thing anybody could possibly do.
What more personal thing could you do than use your own body
in the way that he did?
This is about the most intimate kind of pain,
and yet, very quickly, that intimacy, that personality,
that sense of one's self is taken away and is turned into a slogan -
A perfect icon needs to be
poised somewhere between knowledge and vast ignorance.
And what we get with Sands, is we get enough knowledge that we can
identify with him as a person, but also, you know, he's so young,
there's so little, really, of his life,
that you could fill in all those blanks in any way that you want.
But that's just the way mythology works.
I'm standing on the threshold of another trembling world.
May God have mercy on my soul.
The march through West Belfast was the first major test of
public support for this second Republican hunger strike, which has
started against a background far more bitter than the first.
So far, only one prisoner, Bobby Sands, has refused food.
Chosen, apparently, because Sands is felt to be a particularly hard man,
ready to face death alone.
My heart is very sore because I know I've broken my poor mother's heart,
and my home is struck with unbearable anxiety.
But I've considered all the arguments and tried every means
to avoid what has become the unavoidable.
It has been forced upon me and my comrades
by four and a half years of stark inhumanity.
I am a political prisoner.
I am a political prisoner because I am a casualty of a perennial war
that is being fought between the oppressed Irish people and an alien,
oppressive, unwanted regime that refuses to withdraw from our land.
The Star of the Sea football club
was several miles from where I was living in Rathcoole.
We had no proper football team in Rathcoole
for the size of the estate,
which at that time was supposed to be the biggest in Europe.
But there was no organised football team for the kids.
To us, it wasn't a Catholic football club, it wasn't a Protestant -
it was a football club, and they looked after one another.
We played at Celtic Park in a cup final and we beat them five.
But when the whistle went, it was like a free-for-all on the pitch.
And I remember Sandsy with his boot off,
hitting somebody over the head with his boot, you know?
The Star of the Sea was something which was genuinely cross community.
You didn't know it was cross community, you didn't even think it.
Obviously, it had to come apart. It couldn't have survived in the '70s.
Just wasn't going to happen.
Gradually, the Protestant guys sort of drifted away.
People were being drawn back into their two communities at that stage,
over those years.
We had great days, so we had.
The Troubles then really started happening in Rathcoole.
Catholic families were being driven out of their homes.
At times, I tried to stick up for families,
because some of those families were good friends of mine, their sons.
And then we seen Bobby Sands forced to leave Rathcoole.
I've received several notes from my family and friends.
I have only read the one from my mother.
It was what I needed. She has regained her fighting spirit.
I am happy now.
From my earliest years, I recall my mother speaking of
the troubled times that occurred during her childhood.
Often she spoke of internment on ships, of gun attacks and death.
And of early morning raids when one lay listening with pounding heart
to the heavy clattering of boots on the cobblestoned streets.
When the television arrived,
Mother's stories were replaced by what it had to offer.
I became more confused as the baddies in my mother's tales
were also the heroes on TV.
The British Army always fought for the right side
and the police were always the good guys.
Then came 1968, and my life began to change.
Regularly, I noticed the specials attacking and baton-charging
the crowds of people who all of a sudden began marching on streets.
I knew that they were our people who were on the receiving end.
My sympathies and feelings really became aroused
after watching the scenes at Burntollet.
That imprinted on my mind like a scar.
I became angry.
The whole world exploded,
and my own little world just crumbled around me.
There was no-one to save us except the boys,
as my father called the men who defended our district
with a handful of old guns.
People had risen and were fighting back,
and my mother and her newly found spirit of resistance
hurled encouragement at the TV, shouting, "Give it to them, boys!"
At 18 and a half I joined the Provos
with an M1 carbine and enough hate to topple the world.
# Go home Yeah, soldiers, go home
# Go home Soldiers, go home. #
In many ways, Bobby Sands is not what you expect when you anticipate
an IRA background. He's not someone whose family is steeped in it.
And I think in some ways,
that's quite telling and appropriate,
because many of the people who swelled the ranks of the Provos
during the 1970s were people who were, really,
not so much products of family tradition
as they were products of the escalating violence
and inter-communal tensions in Northern Ireland.
When he saw that and saw the combination between the kind of
violence that was happening on the streets by these kinds of gangs,
and also the way in which they were more or less
being sponsored by the state,
then that kind of combination made it political.
There were many people who knew him at that time who told me,
"We all became political, but we didn't really know
"why we were political."
Fasting in Ireland was rediscovered in the late 19th century
by anthropologists who were investigating
kind of Gaelic history.
And for those scholars, who were trying to revive Irish nationalism,
there's an emphasis on the ancient Gaelic laws,
and it became discovered
that there was a kind of almost institutionalised fasting
to rectify an injustice.
And this became popularised by the play by WB Yeats
called The King's Threshold.
Hunger striking has very ancient roots in Irish history.
It was tradition that if the poet wasn't paid by the rich man,
he would starve himself outside his gate.
It struck a chord in Irish history -
particularly from the Fenians onwards,
hunger striking or forms of protest in jail began to evolve.
I'm feeling exceptionally well today.
It's only the third day, I know, but all the same, I'm feeling great.
I had a visit this morning with two reporters.
Couldn't quite get my flow of thoughts together.
I could have said more in a better fashion.
Firstly, I did not support the armed struggle,
I do not agree with the files.
I felt an imperative to try and get the prisoners,
their side of the story.
I saw my role as a journalist
to afflict the comfortable,
and comfort the afflicted.
He spoke fluently about how they felt compelled
to start this hunger strike
and he made it pretty clear to me that he was likely to die.
The situation in our province would not be tolerated for one second
in any other part of the United Kingdom.
But our political leaders, they don't know anything about the fear
that makes Ulster Protestants tick!
They don't know anything about the real deep convictions
of the Protestant people.
There are men in Ulster who will stand to the last man
in defence of their heritage.
There are men in Ulster who will die rather than pull down the flag.
The Protestant reaction
was bewilderment at the scale of the IRA violence.
That something that had begun as civil rights disturbances and so on,
quite quickly, though, became something else.
It spawned, of course, a reaction on the Loyalist side,
who wished to terrorise Catholics.
The IRA would rationalise its actions
in terms of oppression by the British and so on.
And yet ordinary Protestants and Unionists were on the front line.
And one had all kinds of responses to it,
ranging from a kind of cynical understanding...
..and yet at the same time a sense of outrage.
We as a government
are concerned with the wellbeing of all prisoners.
We have taken a number of steps to improve the conditions of those held
in custody. But we are not prepared to give in to blackmail
in the form of a hunger strike or of any other form of pressure.
They put a table in my cell
and are now placing my food on it in front of my eyes.
I honestly couldn't give a damn if they placed it on my knee.
It is not damaging me, because I think
human food can never keep a man alive forever.
And I console myself with the fact that I'll get a great feed up above.
If I'm worthy.
The first time I met him was near the end of 1971.
There was a family next door that was called the Noade family.
And the girl called Geraldine was the daughter.
And Bobby was seeing her.
Quickly grasped that he was in the 'RA,
you know, in Fermanagh. And they also had a lot in common.
Impression I got of Bobby was that he's a bubbly fella.
We used to slag him he looked like Rod Stewart.
Used to have big hair.
So we called him Rod Stewart, you know, he loved it.
With his big hair, like.
Then he got caught.
Geraldine came into my mother's house.
And said, "Bobby's caught with parts of a gun."
It was the autumn of '72.
I was charged, and for the first time I faced jail.
I had no alternative but to face up to the hardship that lay before me.
I ended up sentenced in a barbed wire cage
where I spent three and a half years as a prisoner of war
with special category status.
Throughout the history of the state of the North of Ireland,
the British government have been well aware
that Irish Republicans believe themselves
to be political prisoners.
And in 1972,
the British government basically conceded political status,
although they preferred to call it Special Category Status.
And there was peace in the prisons.
It gave the prisoners certain privileges.
They didn't have to work, they wore their own clothes,
and received regular parcels, visits and letters.
But there was nothing to say that they should live in POW compounds
with their military structures intact.
That came about because there was no alternative.
At the time, the jails were full.
So, inside the compounds, you're dealing with an army?
The huts were locked up at nine o'clock at night.
They were unlocked at half seven, eight o'clock in the morning.
But, basically, you had control over your own day.
So we got our time in by developing our own real sense
of the type of Ireland that we wished to see.
It was the first time I met people like Bobby Sands, people like that.
And during the debates we would start looking at other struggles
and similarities, and trying to find out
what it was that would take our own struggle that stage further.
It was a very revolutionary period.
We had a vast library,
all political theories from Stalin to Churchill
to Mao Tse-tung to Ho Chi Minh.
"You want a better understanding of what's happening here?
"There you go, read that."
A key thing that happened at that point in time was when Gerry Adams
came into the area known as Cage 11.
In Cage 11, I mean, there was this new recombination of politics,
where Adams was saying, "Well, OK, guys, we learned about Marx,
"we learned about Mao, we've learned about Che.
"But, you know, what about our own people?"
And he begins to get them to think about the kinds of things
that Connolly wrote about, that Liam Mellows wrote about.
Well, I met Bobby...
It must have been around 1976 or '77.
I'd say he was quite modest, but very intense.
He was deeply troubled and challenged by the sectarian nature
of our society.
He went back to reading Jimmy Hope,
he went back to reading Mary Ann McCracken,
he went back to reading Wolfe Tone.
You know, the sense of citizenship,
of communities needing to be empowered.
And how could you develop
in your own neighbourhood or your own community...
..a Republican ethos?
I was lonely for a while this evening,
listening to the crows caw as they returned home.
Now, as I write,
the odd curlew mournfully calls as they fly over.
I like the birds.
Well, I must leave off,
for if I write more about the birds,
my tears will fall and my thoughts return to the days of my youth.
Those were the days,
and gone forever now.
Between 1917 and 1923,
there were at least 10,000 hunger strikes by Irish Republicans.
The Irish Republicans were borrowing a tactic that had been pioneered
by an Englishwoman in 1909.
She was a suffragette who was fighting for the votes for women.
And her hunger strike showed just how effective this tactic could be
when fighting against the Westminster government.
MacSwiney, of course, being a Lord Mayor,
and this extraordinary form of protest...
Even after a world war, it caught the imagination,
and particularly revolutionary-minded people
in the world saw this.
One of their students at the time in London was Ho Chi Minh.
And he was very impressed by MacSwiney
and by the Irish struggle generally.
MacSwiney said, "It is not those who can inflict the most,
"but those who can suffer the most who will win..."
..which is a very striking and radical thought.
The whole tradition of military conflict is,
you've gotta inflict more suffering on the other guy
in order to win the war.
And what MacSwiney had said was, actually, you know, by suffering,
and by suffering publicly and over a long period of time,
you are making a statement.
You're making a statement which was, you will outlast the others.
No matter what they do to you,
you'll still be there, or your spirit will still be there
or the people who will follow you will still be there.
And in the end, you will win.
I have poems in my mind, mediocre no doubt...
Poems of hunger-striking MacSwiney...
..and everything that this hunger strike has stirred up in my heart
and in my mind.
Frank has now joined me on the hunger strike.
I have the greatest respect, admiration and confidence in Frank,
and I know that I'm not alone.
Now and again I'm struck by the natural desire to eat,
but the desire to see an end to my comrades' plight
and the liberation of my people is overwhelmingly greater.
Well, when he came out of jail in 1976, I think it was,
he came down to the Republican press centre on the Falls Road
where I was the editor of Republican News.
He was setting up a tenants association in Twinbrook
and also wanted to produce a community newspaper.
I realised that here was somebody who was quite progressive,
articulate, left wing, and really interested in his community.
Bobby had been released a number of weeks before me...
..and he talked about broadening the struggle to involve our community
much more in the resistance to the British.
One of the sort of lessons that we brought out of Long Kesh was that
if you have an Active Service Unit in an area...
-Come here, mate.
-..if the British manage to take them out,
that kills the Republican presence.
Whereas if you can build different levels of Republican resistance,
from a youth movement to a woman's movement to a community...
If you build all these structures, well, then,
if the Active Service Unit does fall,
it means they're not leaving a vacuum.
So we understood the theory of revolutionary warfare,
and that's the way we came at it.
Many prisoners, they come out of prison and they've been reading Che,
they've been reading Ho Chi Minh.
And basically they're saying, "This is what we need to be doing,
"is being like Ho or Che."
But Bobby wasn't like that.
What Bobby began to think was,
"We have British imperialism all around us.
"We don't wait until we send the British Army out of Ireland.
"What we do now is we begin to build the kind of society we want."
He was married while he was in prison.
So, the fact of having a wife and having a child
and having to support all that was very new to Bobby...
..which meant that he always had the tension of an activist and a father.
Then Geraldine got pregnant.
She wanted Bobby to spend more time in the house.
She wanted Bobby to pay more attention to her.
You were committed to the armed struggle,
and committed to your comrades,
and your personal relationships took second place.
As happened in hundreds of cases, it just didn't work out for them.
-Bombers had attacked a warehouse in Belfast.
As the police moved in, there was a gun battle.
Mr Sands was charged with possession of a gun nearby.
At his trial, although he couldn't be connected with the bombing,
he was given 14 years.
-The government ruled on March the first
that terrorists convicted of crimes after that date
would no longer get Special Category Status
but must wear prison uniform just like ordinary criminals.
Anybody who was arrested after midnight
on the first of March 1976 would be a criminal.
But if you were arrested with a nuclear bomb
at five to 12, you were political. It was absurd.
They had special interrogation centres, special courts,
and they built a special jail, the H-Blocks of Long Kesh.
-This is a normal prison, not a prisoner of war camp.
Here, the prison officers are in control.
The facilities are excellent.
Trades and skills are taught to persuade the inmates
that there is more to life than shooting and bombing.
So, they didn't conform.
They went to their compounds, they went to Freedom Association,
and above all they weren't allowed to wear their own clothes.
That was the spark that lit the fuse.
What they didn't calculate,
and none of us could have, because there was no Republican plan...
..was Kieran Nugent.
They said, "Right, take your clothes off and put this uniform on."
He said that the only way that they would get him to wear the uniform
was if they nailed it to his back.
At that, he lifted a blanket,
wrapped it round himself, and the blanket protest was born.
The administration took away their clothes, took away their beds,
took away lockers, took away books, radios,
blocked up their windows,
wouldn't give them exercise,
wouldn't let them have weekly visits.
You have to remember that the situation in the jails
was like a pressure cooker. It was boiling up.
So, the prisoners would tell you,
the warders began kicking over their commodes.
Then they, in retaliation,
began throwing their faeces out the window,
and the warders apparently began throwing it back in again.
So there was no place else to put it except on the walls.
Literally, the most fundamental method of warfare ever
was carried on in the jails.
At the start it was indescribably horrible.
There was the excreta on the walls,
there was urine being thrown out every night
and getting washed back in again.
You were lying on a mattress on the floor which was getting smaller
because you were pulling bits of the mattress off
to smear your excretion on the walls.
But after a month or so, it became just a normal way of living.
When one spends each day naked and crouching in the corner of a cell
resembling a pigsty...
..staring at such eyesores as piles of putrefying rubbish,
infested with maggots and flies,
a disease-ridden chamber pot or a blank,
disgusting scarred wall...
..it is to the rescue of one's sanity to be able to rise
and gaze out of the window at the world.
Today, the screws began blocking up
all the windows with sheets of steel.
To me, this represents the further torture of the tortured -
blocking out the very essence of life, nature.
Here, my torturers have long ago started,
and still endeavour, to block up the window on my mind.
It was very hostile.
You couldn't ask for a more hostile environment.
We were working in an open sewer
with 40 people who wanted to kill us.
Basically, that's what it is.
You have 40 people down there who wanted you dead.
You were reasonably safe in work, but then you were driving home.
You didn't know what was meeting you there, which happened quite a lot.
A knock on the door, nine mil in the head.
-The Provisional IRA gunned down on his own doorstep
Albert Miles, the deputy governor of the Maze prison.
This killing was followed by the murder...
Between 1979 and 1982, there were 14 prison officers murdered,
ten of them in one year.
They were sending letter bombs to our houses.
They were addressing them to their wives.
There were putting plastic boxes under the cars.
They didn't care who was driving the car.
They didn't care whether you were taking your kids to school.
They didn't give a toss, so why should I give a toss about them?
But everybody wanted these people locked up.
"That's OK," I said. "Lock them up and throw away the key,
"but somebody has to unlock that door."
And I am the poor sucker that had to open the door.
The British government have said they won't concede political status,
and the prisoners, in their statement today,
have repeated their intention of fasting to the death
in order to obtain it.
If Bobby Sands continues his fast,
then the crisis in this hunger strike will come around Easter.
Foremost in my tortured mind is the thought there can never be peace
in Ireland until the foreign,
oppressive British presence is removed,
leaving all the Irish people as a unit
to control their own affairs
and determine their own destinies as a sovereign people.
There is a tradition in republicanism
of a rising in every generation,
no matter how hopeless.
That was very much to the fore in 1916.
They hadn't a hope of winning, and they knew it. But they did it.
1916, to Republicans, is a bit like High Mass.
It was the executions and the creation of martyrs
that changed, in 1916,
into a right-angled turning point in Ireland.
It changed into the willingness to endure.
Bobby Sands was deeply aware of the fact
that he wasn't just this isolated individual
at a particular point in time.
He very consciously saw himself in a tradition,
which was the 1916 tradition.
The only way we can win is emotional and metaphorical,
and we can win by sacrifice.
So he knows enough about the culture that he comes from
to know that this is going to hit certain nerve endings
within the collective psyche.
It's going to connect with Irish republicanism
and its martyr traditions,
but it's also going to connect with Catholicism.
It's going to connect with the idea of Christ.
Protestants would have found incomprehensible...
..that notion that young men could contemplate
starving themselves to death
for what were quite modest political aims.
But in fact those modest, quantifiable demands...
..were actually enveloped by...
..the much bigger demand that Irish republicanism
requires of its participants.
It is the declared wish of these people to see humane
and better conditions in these blocks.
But the issue at stake is not humanitarian.
It is purely political, and only a political solution will solve it.
We wish to be treated not as ordinary prisoners,
for we are not criminals - we admit no crime unless
the love of one's people and country is a crime.
Where there is discord, may we bring harmony.
Where there is error, may we bring truth.
Where there is doubt, may we bring faith.
And where there is despair, may we bring hope.
Well, quite clearly the election of Margaret Thatcher
by an extraordinary majority was an enormous achievement.
And we all knew that British politics
was not going to be the same again,
that many things were going to change in the field of industry,
of industrial relations, and, of course,
we had the problems of Northern Ireland.
Her views on Northern Ireland were mainstream Unionist views -
a sort of general feeling that people who want to be British
should be, and they should be defended.
And above all, the thing which excited her deepest emotion
was support for the Armed Forces and the police,
and the idea that they were being targeted and killed by enemies
of Britain was abhorrent to her.
She understood there were injustices to the nationalist population,
but she didn't equate Irish republicanism
with the nationalist population.
It wasn't, "They're Irish, who cares?"
It was, "These are terrorists trying to undermine the rule of law."
And with that, there should be no compromise.
We knew that particularly, of course,
because on the eve of the election, Airey Neave,
who would have been her Secretary of State for Northern Ireland,
had been murdered by Irish republicans.
So we knew times were not going to be easy.
Once we came out of '78, towards the end of '79,
we realised that the no-wash protest,
it wasn't enough to break the will of the Brits
to negotiate for some sort of settlement.
So in the middle of 1979, the idea of hunger strike was broached.
We targeted late September as the date.
We asked for volunteers around the blocks, for people.
And the names came flooding in.
Seven convicted IRA terrorists at the Maze Prison in Northern Ireland
began their threatened hunger strike this morning.
Later, another 142 men joined
the existing so-called dirty no-wash protest.
This means that nearly half the prisoners here live in conditions
of self-imposed filth.
The decision of seven men to go on hunger strike is seen as
a last-ditch attempt to gain political status for these men.
Bobby Sands was livid that he wasn't on it.
The argument was that you can't put everybody on this.
And they said, "Bobby Sands, you're taking over as OC.
-A year ago, only the relatives
and few hundred republican diehards
could be expected to turn up at an H-Block rally.
Now, under a constant barrage of propaganda,
there are several thousands.
The British knew that they were in a struggle,
they were in a battle here,
because in terms of hearts and minds they were losing this campaign.
At the beginning of the hunger strike, they underestimated
the determination of Mrs Thatcher.
Here was a Prime Minister under massive pressure.
The economy was tanking at the time, there was mass unemployment.
So the impression was, here was somebody who could be broken.
But what boxed her in was that she inherited this policy,
she inherited this policy from the Labour government.
It was the Labour government who ended Special Category Status.
And once you inherit that policy, you couldn't back down.
Morally, the hunger strike was very simple in her mind.
These people had committed these crimes and they should be punished
for them, and they should have no special rights.
And the hunger strike was a way of blackmailing her.
It was a sort of completely unacceptable form of leverage.
After 54 days, with one of the strikers close to death,
the IRA's Commanding Officer in the H blocks, Brendan Hughes,
took the decision to call off the hunger strike.
The prisoners believed through intermediaries
that the British government was about to make concessions.
But they misread the signals.
It quickly became apparent that they had no deal.
The arrangement was that Britain wasn't to call off the hunger strike
without consulting Bobby Sands,
because Bobby was the OC of the prisoners.
He had succeeded Brendan.
Bobby was one of the boys, you know.
Which is why, when he was made OC, we were thinking,
"Bobby's a nice guy and he's talented and all the rest of it..."
But to me the most fascinating thing is how the person in a moment
becomes a leader in all intents and purposes
and says to Brendan, "You fucked up."
I think in the end they realised that the government was simply
not going to give them what they had been demanding,
and that therefore they had the choice
either of dying or of living.
As soon as the strike ended,
one of the problems that Bobby Sands had as Officer Commanding
was the morale of the prisoners.
So it was an absolute period of crisis
in trying to keep the protest going after so many years.
Then he realised that what happened in the jail was important
for what was happening on the outside.
Bobby immediately said, "There's only one thing for it.
"We're going back on hunger strike."
The leadership sent in word -
"Under no circumstances will we sanction a second hunger strike."
And Bobby fought with them.
And in the end he said, "Look, you either sack me or back me."
Some people, I think, referred to it as a kind of a tunnel vision,
that Bobby at this point became so concentrated on this one thing.
This is something that we can't even understand unless we see it
in the context of the whole group.
They weren't just facing the world alone.
They were facing the future as a collectivity...
..and the sole criterion for getting on the second hunger strike was,
"Would you be willing to die?
"Because if you don't die, this is going to hurt the rest of us."
And Bobby said, "That's the reason I'm going on first,
"is because I will die."
He has, first of all, a certain sense of guilt.
People like MacSwiney had a sense of guilt that they hadn't taken part
in the 1916 rising, for example.
And therefore, when the opportunity came to do something,
they felt this extra burden, that they had to take it on themselves.
And I think Bobby Sands maybe felt
after the first failed hunger strike,
and him having been the OC, felt this sense of duty.
And he comes across...
What's moving is he comes across as a very young man,
and with all of the intact idealism that the young can have.
He sees his own actions as being moral actions,
as being good and righteous.
That's why he is challenging, I think,
particularly for people who don't agree with him,
don't agree with where he is coming from -
you still can't deny, from the writings, the sincerity.
This guy, you get a sense when you read him,
is absolutely conscious of his place in history.
But he is not indulging it.
It's not as if he is driven by a megalomaniacal idea that,
"I'm going to be this godlike figure."
You don't get that from his writings.
What you get from his writings is a very old-fashioned,
almost Victorian sense of duty.
I have always taken a lesson from something that was told to me
by a sound man.
That is that everyone,
republican or otherwise,
has his own particular part to play.
No part is too great or too small.
No-one is too old or too young to do something.
Just a normal day, I open the cell, the prisoner said to me,
"I'm refusing food."
"OK, no problem."
The food was left in the cell.
It was two scoops of potato, fish, one ladleful of peas,
two slices of bread with butter, and tea.
It's like I said to them, "I'm putting the food into you.
"If you don't want to eat it, that's up to you.
"We'll put the food in, we'll take the food out.
"And we'll do that three times a day."
And that was their choice.
If they wanted to commit suicide, that was their choice.
Tonight's tea was pie and beans,
and although hunger may fuel my imagination,
I don't exaggerate - the beans were nearly falling off the plate.
If I say this all the time to the lads, they would worry about me.
But I'm all right.
One of the big difficulties
that the support movement for the prisoners
on the inside faced was a lack of publicity.
There was practically no publicity in advance of it starting,
and practically no publicity while the hunger strike was unfolding
and Bobby Sands was leading it.
There had been so much attention given to the first one
that the view from the leadership outside was it would be difficult
to attain the same level of mobilisation
due to the fact that didn't work.
The first few weeks was pretty flat in terms of protest on the streets.
The Frank Maguire thing was the catalyst.
Frank Maguire, who had been the MP for Fermanagh South Tyrone...
About two weeks into Bobby's hunger strike,
Frank Maguire collapsed and died of a heart attack.
I immediately thought to myself, if it was possible,
and if there was a by-election,
we should put Bobby Sands's name forward
to stand in Fermanagh South Tyrone.
We had major worries about it, of course.
We would have to get the agreement of Bobby Sands,
and even if Bobby lost by one vote, Thatcher would have crowed,
"Even your own people rejected you."
Within the provisional republican movement
there had been a deep scepticism about electoral politics,
because there was a notion that the North was a place in which
the electoral maths was against you by design,
so when you put someone up for election to the House of Commons,
this in itself is a change of approach of a dramatic kind.
But it was a risk, because it was breaking with the instincts
of provisional republicanism,
which had been hostile towards the compromises
which they saw as being involved in electoral politics.
At the time I think people saw it
as a politicisation of the hunger strike itself.
And some people saw that as a great thing,
as a way of kind of democratising that struggle.
And some people saw it as a cynical move.
This was Sinn Fein trying to take advantage
of this extraordinary situation that was going on within the prison.
My body is broken and cold.
I'm lonely and I need comfort.
From somewhere afar I hear those familiar voices which keep me going.
"We're with you, son.
"We are with you."
I went in to get him to sign papers.
At the time I was only 26, 27,
and obviously didn't realise
what maybe I was getting into.
I said to him, I remember, and he was a bit offended, I said to him,
"If you ever think of changing your mind about this, tell me."
He says, "That doesn't arise at all."
I noticed that his dinner was sitting on the tray.
I did obviously realise that this was a very serious place,
and that this man meant business, you know.
And he did say to me, he said he would die.
He said, "I know that I will die."
Hunger strikes are a peculiarly modern tactic.
They fit in two ways with developments
in the contemporary world,
one of which is the power of the media,
which means that somebody suffering in one place in the world
can be accessible to everybody in the world.
So states become more and more reluctant to create victims
or create martyrs, at least publicly.
And therefore, if the state is not going to create martyrs,
people will have to make martyrs of themselves.
So in 1963,
we saw the incredibly potent image
of the Buddhist monk from South Vietnam
who set himself on fire.
And that became an image that was beamed around the world,
and became crucial in undermining the American regime
in South Vietnam.
And that's an example of the kind of power of self-inflicted suffering
to move people, even people who have no connection with the struggle.
So we were very conscious, if we were to achieve anything
within our own publicity,
that the imagery of our prisoners... We had to humanise them.
Bobby had went into prison very early,
so there weren't really any great photographs of him.
I remember the ones we had taken,
that's the ones when we were in the prison.
That particular one was Tomboy, myself, Bobby and Denis.
I don't know where the camera came from.
I still don't know where it came from or who owned it
and the photo was taken.
The image doesn't give you any deep reading of the expression
or of that person.
So the sort of ambiguity of the image itself is crucial
to the projection of martyrdom onto the figure...
..and it's really this kind of dialogue
between the image and the viewer,
the viewer thinking of the suffering,
or the kind of otherworldliness of what they've done.
And images have a certain impact,
or a certain potency, you could say.
But it takes events outside of the image to create
the full kind of fusion, if you like, of that iconography.
-After the First World War,
Churchill wrote that entire countries had been swept away,
but the dreary spires of Fermanagh and Tyrone still stood intact.
There are 5,000 more nationalist voters than unionist voters here,
and only the unwillingness to elect an IRA man will cut into that.
Well, it's a terrible choice between a provisional IRA man on one hand,
and a reactionary discredited unionist.
So it is an acute dilemma for a large number of Catholics
in the constituency.
People are not being asked to come out
and make any decision in opposition to
or in favour of violence or armed struggle or anything else.
Bobby Sands is the single anti-unionist candidate
in this election, standing on a single issue.
A lot of what Bobby Sands was doing in a way was taking one truth
and making a different truth.
The truth he was taking
was the truth that actually the IRA was not suffering.
The IRA was not a victim in the Troubles.
The vast majority of IRA killings were pretty safe for the killer.
Their classic weapon was the car bomb.
You set the bomb, you walked away from the carnage, you were safe.
You walked up to somebody's door, you knocked on the door,
you shot somebody in the head, you walked away.
You placed a mine on a road when a British Army convoy
was coming along, and you did it by remote control.
And remote control is not the warrior's honour.
What the hunger strikes did partly for the IRA, I think,
was reversed that truth.
They couldn't do their courage in the usual way that soldiers do,
so how could you do it?
You could do it by dying.
Here was someone on their behalf, almost, who was saying,
"I will show exemplary courage,"
and therefore somehow change in people's heads
the idea of what this movement is about.
He was only a child in '68 when the civil rights movement started.
But the IRA really didn't understand what Bobby Sands was doing.
What does the IRA go and do?
Right in the heart of the election campaign, they murder,
in the most grotesque way, Joanne Mathers, mother of two,
for the awful crime of collecting census forms.
So they're saying, "You know what?
"It still is about killing and we're going to keep doing it."
And for the voters in Fermanagh South Tyrone,
you have this awful dilemma.
What are they actually voting for?
Joanne Mathers is buried on the day of the election results.
So are they voting compassionately to save a life
or are they voting for an organisation
which is in the business of taking life?
The count took place in the technical college in Enniskillen.
I've never seen so many cameramen, press, from Radio Moscow,
Radio Prague, Australia, Japan, all there because they saw this,
I think, in terms of David versus Goliath.
There was Bobby Sands, there was Thatcher.
Sands, Bobby, Anti H-Block, Armagh,
-political prisoner - 30,492.
West, Henry W, Ulster Unionist -
And I declare that Bobby Sands has been duly elected
to serve as a member for this constituency.
I always remember the smile on his mother and his sister's face.
I presume they would have believed and hoped
that it would have saved his life.
I went in to see him the next day and he was pleased,
but he said to me, he says, "It makes no difference."
He said, "It will make no difference to me."
He knew. He seemed to have it worked out, you know?
It is a tremendous boost for the H-Block campaign,
but it's bound to be regarded throughout the world
as much more than that -
as a victory for the IRA.
-Sands's election to parliament embarrassed the British
and it has made Sands more than the folk hero he had already become.
This 11-year-old boy sitting on the debris of a recent riot
says Sands is dying for him.
-You are causing an obstruction.
You are required to disperse.
I have no doubts or regrets about what I am doing
for I know what I have faced for eight years,
and in particular for the last four and a half years, others will face.
All men must have hope and never lose heart...
..but my hope lies in the ultimate victory for my poor people.
Is there any hope greater than that?
England was the big fish in the small pool,
and then suddenly the big whale of America swims in.
If America gets involved, everything changes.
They are political prisoners,
whether the British say they are or not.
And let's pray for a united Ireland.
-Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.
We are screaming that the British Government
has to end the war.
I believed that the solution was getting America involved.
The more people who put pressure on the American government
to do something, the better.
It was a difficult one
to explain to an Irish-American audience.
This is being used to whip up support for a violent movement.
But when you are conveying a complex message
against the Provos' simple message - "Brits out" - our job was not easy.
Here we were in America at the time,
and the narrative that we had come to accept about the Troubles
in Northern Ireland was a romantic group of victims,
that when they went to the streets,
they were doing it out of a sense of pride and desperation.
It was a romanticised version of the problem.
And in comes this character named Bobby Sands,
and what he did was a brilliant political move.
There was a sense here of people ready to transcend the past.
There were voices, including, most prominently, Senator Kennedy's,
that found a way of saying,
"We must help the British appreciate that they should meet the conditions
"Bobby and the other hunger strikers had set forth."
And I think something we didn't quite appreciate
was just how stubborn the British could be,
even against their own interests.
Oh, no. I mean, nobody would suggest for a moment, would they,
that an MP who commits an offence and is sentenced to prison
should be treated differently from anybody else?
I'm not suggesting it, and I don't think anybody else is either.
That's where the diplomatic effort comes in.
They have to up their counter-propaganda efforts,
and it is counter-propaganda.
It is about an image of what you're trying to project to the world.
Sinn Fein rejected the British Parliament anyway,
so it was a sort of publicity stunt,
but it was a publicity stunt with the power of votes.
And that was alarming.
Mrs Thatcher was a very conscious of the propaganda battle in Washington
and she fought it back.
Irish-Americans, including Teddy Kennedy, God bless him,
were scared off, because criticise the British,
and you'll be seen as supporting the IRA.
And that was the simple tactic of both the British and Irish embassy,
-and it worked.
-While we might ask the American administration
to ask Thatcher to soften her stance,
we were not going to ask them to intervene in an active sense
in the affairs of another country.
They had larger concerns involving the IRA as a troublesome element,
and a criminal element, in many eyes,
and I think that just trumped the issue.
But of course, not that long after the start of the hunger strike,
President Reagan is shot.
He's out of action for about ten days in the hospital,
and we were about to break diplomatic relationships
with Libya on the issue of terrorism.
At the end of the day,
the view of the White House was that while, in a sense,
you could say that a man like Bobby Sands was a prisoner
of conscience, that cause and that organisation
is also a terrorist organisation.
I was thinking today about the hunger strike.
People say a lot about the body. I don't trust it.
I consider there is a kind of fate indeed.
Firstly, the body doesn't accept the lack of food...
..and it suffers from the temptation of food.
The body fights back, sure enough...
..but at the end of the day, everything returns
to the primary consideration - that is, the mind.
So loss of weight the first month is gradual,
and it's not as catastrophic as one would imagine.
And during that month the body is not yet digesting itself.
It's not the weight change which radically changes.
It's the effects of the whole fasting which kicks in.
Between 35 and 45 days is what the Chief Medical Officer told me...
What he called the ocular motor phase.
The muscles in your eyes don't work as well as they should
and you get nystagmus.
You get these rapid eye movements which are uncontrollable,
and it's extremely unpleasant.
It causes vomiting, and it was the phase that hunger strikers
who were beginning to strike feared the most.
After day 45, all of a sudden the vertigo stops.
After the vertigo ends,
the person comprehends everything and he can make a rational decision.
But this is not going to last very long, and you have this entity
called anosognosia which means the person
does no longer realise exactly how serious the situation is.
-Maggie, Maggie, Maggie!
-Out, out, out!
You could very quickly see on the streets of Dublin,
on the streets of Cork,
that the emotional power was beginning to draw in people
who had not previously been involved in Republican politics
and had probably not even been involved in politics at all.
And that's what terrified the southern government.
I mean, they were really very, very scared by this.
You've got to remember, in the Republic,
most people didn't want to know about the North.
You know, they had been psychologically prepared
to wake up in the morning and hear the latest atrocity
and then try to get on with the rest of the day
without paying any attention to it.
There was this terror that the Troubles
were going to spill across the border.
But Fianna Fail, which was the dominant political party
in the south,
was particularly sensitive to this
because it had put itself forward as being the real Republican party
on the islands of Ireland.
In my view, a declaration by the British Government of their interest
in encouraging the unity of Ireland...
CHEERING DROWNS SPEECH
And then, with the hunger strikes,
you had Sinn Fein and the IRA making a really vivid claim to saying,
"You are not the Republicans, we are the Republicans."
You can pull up your rhetoric,
we can pull up the bodies of starving men.
I'm continually... I'm still very deeply concerned and anxious
about the H-Block situation.
And the British Government fully understand that concern.
An election is pending.
Now, that is what worries Mr Haughey,
that he is going to lose power.
The electoral arithmetic is very tight
and any growth in support for H-Block supporters
could be translated into elections to the Dail,
and you see an increasing number of desperate attempts
to try and produce some sort of initiative - anything.
Mr Bobby Sands, the IRA hunger striker,
has been given the last rites by a Roman Catholic priest
in the hospital of the Maze prison near Belfast.
The Northern Ireland Office has granted his request
for a special visit from the Dublin MPs Sile de Valera, Neil Blaney
and John O'Connell,
in the hope that they can persuade him to give up his seven-week fast.
It was a very, obviously, emotional meeting.
Dr John O'Connell, who was Health Minister,
he says to Neil Blaney, "I'm going to ask him to come off."
And Blaney says, "Don't. You can't do that."
He says, "I am. I have to."
He was very ill. He was blind in one eye,
because I always remember him rubbing his eye.
And Sile de Valera was crying.
O'Connell pressed Bobby to come off but he said he wasn't
and he told him about all the suffering
that they had done in the H-Blocks.
And that only exacerbated the situation with Sile de Valera,
because she was actually crying into an awful state then
when she heard all that was going on, you know?
I found that I could not persuade him.
I emphasised how important his own life was.
I didn't think a life was worth that.
But he was very determined
and I got the impression he was fully resigned to die.
I've saw in this man more determination
than I've ever seen in any person before.
He now weighs 47kg.
He cannot read and he cannot focus his eyesight
and believes he is going blind.
Himself thinks he has possibly three or four days left to live.
There can be no possible concessions on political status.
To do that, in fact, would put many, many people into jeopardy.
If everyone said that a crime which you and I regard as a crime,
described as a crime, and which is a crime,
if ever there was an attempt to say it is not a crime, it's political,
then everyone, I'm afraid, would go in fear.
The prisoners are clearly recognised as political prisoners.
It is stupid of Mrs Thatcher, and it's idiotic of her,
to turn around and say, "A crime is a crime is a crime."
When you have both protagonists taking public stances,
what is lacking is trust.
The Government's position is there will be no negotiations before
the end of the strike. Of course, the prisoners didn't believe them,
and neither side wants to lose face,
and that's the tragedy of it.
-The IRA's Bobby Sands,
nearly blind and close to death,
today refused to meet with two human rights mediators who went
to Maze Prison to try to persuade Sands to end his hunger strike.
The authorities would not agree to Mr Sands's conditions,
that his friends would be with him when he met the delegation,
and the commissioners will not now be taking up his case.
Outside the prison, a group of loyalist protesters
angrily put the point
that the people in real need of human rights justice
are those who'd suffered as a result of IRA killings.
Bobby Sands is putting on a performance for the world.
He is trying to get the maximum publicity possible for his cause.
That is a cause that has murdered people,
that has murdered children in my constituency.
That's the cause that Bobby Sands represents.
The Protestants are delighted that Sands chose not to let
the Human Rights Commission intervene to stop the hunger strike,
and ironically, many Irish Republican sympathisers
are also happy that apparently Sands still chooses death.
One said, "The IRA needs a martyr, and Sands is a good one."
It has been some time since Republican sympathisers
marched through Belfast with quite this degree of support
and this degree of emotional intensity,
and it took place in a mood of bitterness and confusion
generated by the breakdown of the mediation effort
by the human rights commissioners.
The Irish Prime Minister, Mr Haughey,
came in for as much hostility from the marchers as Mrs Thatcher.
We were helpless in terms of getting the administration to intervene.
Ed Meese at that stage was his chief of staff.
So I went to see Meese
and he started the conversation by telling me
that, "We've had to deal with difficult prison situations
"in California. In dealing with prisoners,
"they only understand one thing, and that's toughness.
"So I'm not going to advise the President to phone
"the British Prime Minister to dilute her toughness."
But it was a gift to the Provos.
Bobby Sands was reported closer to death today...
Tension increased throughout Belfast and there was more violence...
At the Vatican, Pope John Paul begged the world...
NEWSREADER SPEAKS FRENCH
I believe I am but another of those wretched Irishmen
born of a risen generation
with a deeply rooted and unquenchable desire for freedom.
I may be a sinner, but I stand,
and if it so be will die...
..happy knowing that I do not have to answer
for what these people have done to our ancient nation.
I was in the prison hospital.
The scene that greeted my eyes, I couldn't believe.
He was lying on his back. There was a cage.
The blankets were covering the cage
because they couldn't touch his body.
And he said, "Who's that?"
And I said, "It's Jim, Bobby."
He said, "I can't see. I'm blind."
HE EXHALES SHAKILY
He reached out his hand.
..we said goodbye...
..and he said, "Tell the lads I'm hanging in."
This is the last visit you'll have with him.
-Did you say goodbye to Bobby?
Yeah, we said goodbye.
And he just asked me, "Was there any change?"
I told him there wasn't.
And he just said, "That's it, then."
He says, "Look after me ma.
"Go and see me ma."
I would like to appeal to the people...
..to remain calm and have no fighting
or cause no death or destruction.
My son's offered his life for better conditions in prison,
but not to cause further death outside.
-That's all I can say.
-How is he today?
I can hear the curlew passing overhead.
Such a lonely cell.
Such a lonely struggle.
But, my friend...
..this road is well trod, and he, whoever he was
who first passed this way...
deserves the salute of the nation.
I am but a mere follower...
..and I must say oiche mhaith.
-Bobby Sands's death by hunger strike guarantees him
a place in the Republican pantheon,
an assured estimation as an IRA martyr,
and one of the small but select group whose self-inflicted deaths
have punctuated Irish history during the 20th century.
Now, it's too soon to say, and no-one knows...
SPEECH FADES OUT
I was actually home when the word came through.
It was weird, because no-one spoke.
They just walked down the street.
And someone started singing Faith Of Our Fathers.
And as they walked round the neighbourhood,
it was one of the most spiritual experiences ever.
Bearing in mind Bobby had gone, it was almost as if...
..he has given us something new, the strength of these people.
-In Moscow, the Soviet news agency Tass
described Bobby Sands as a fighter for civil liberties
and the Maze Prison as a concentration camp.
Tass said Sands had been condemned to death by the government's refusal
to meet his demand for political status.
The British Government's failure to even attempt
to work for humanitarian resolution reflects the moral bankruptcy
of their policies in Northern Ireland.
It is my hope that the call of Bobby Sands's mother for nonviolence
will be followed, so that the British Government
can suffer the glare
of a much-deserved negative world reaction.
One of the grim features of Irish political history is it often seems
impaled by terrible events, by catastrophe, down the centuries.
The death of Sands cast a foreshadow of uncertainty and apprehension
on the island.
Was it one of those events that changed things utterly,
to adapt William Butler Yeats, speaking as he was of Easter 1916?
Certainly power beyond the facts of some sort was going on.
Some seductive mystique was once again being generated -
that curious mystique of Irish republicanism,
physical-force Irish republicanism.
One of the great strengths of Irish nationalism as a force
is its brilliant ability to take the dead
and reshape them as mythological characters.
And so Bobby Sands, of course, through the funeral,
which was an extraordinary event...
He is sucked immediately into this kind of mythological tradition,
and making it into something that's no longer individual but in fact
has become timeless and historic and some kind of essence
of what it means to be Irish.
Until Bobby died,
there was always the hope that the British would introduce
some sort of reforms to end the hunger strike.
But they didn't.
And then it was simply a waiting game as we counted down
through the rest of our comrades.
Bobby Sands died a week ago, and the British Government did not relent.
Do you believe that your brother's death will make any difference
-to their attitudes?
But I would just like to say that Margaret Thatcher
and the British Government has murdered my brother.
They cannot break these men.
They cannot force these men to accept criminal status.
They will carry it through, because there was
another Republican hunger striker, Terence MacSwiney,
and he left the Republicans as saying,
"It is not those who can inflict the most,
"but those who can suffer the most who will win in the end."
Mrs Thatcher realised that, terrible thought it would be,
the more people died, the worse it would get for the IRA.
It didn't mean that she wanted more people to die,
but she understood that the oddness of the hunger strike as a weapon
was that it weakened with each death.
The pressure comes on the people who are organising the striking,
doesn't it? Why are we dying if we're not getting anything?
She would think, what's the IRA doing that they want mothers' sons
to die? What about the families?
And, indeed, that became an issue in the hunger strike.
Throughout the hunger strike,
the prisoners in the Maze rejected appeals to end their fast.
Papal envoys, priests, politicians,
Red Cross delegations all came and went
without changing the men's attitudes.
The cracks began to show in the campaign
not inside the prison, but from outside.
One by one, the prisoners reached a crucial stage of their fast.
One by one, their families stepped in to stop them dying.
Now, let me make it absolutely clear
as I say a word about the hunger strike.
No concessions have been made to the IRA
and there will be no perpetration
of anything which looks like concessions
to those who commit violence.
The real irony is that Bobby Sands...
He saw himself as a soldier in the armed struggle of the IRA,
yet winning that election had a really profound effect in terms
of reshaping the whole idea of what Sinn Fein and the IRA could achieve.
Just through using the rhetoric and using the imagery
that Bobby Sands had unleashed,
but using it in a way that was persuasive to enough people
that they would vote for you.
The acts of Bobby Sands came at a time
when the American political class
was sort of waking up to their responsibility.
He forced us to recognise that there were plenty of people
with whom we could work if we were willing to expend
the political capital to solve this problem.
You know, Bobby Sands,
maybe he didn't even understand that something profound and good
was just about to happen.
It is what eventually led to the Good Friday Accords.
There are turning points in modern Irish history.
1916 is a turning point.
1981, those 66 days of Bobby Sands's hunger strike,
are undoubtedly a turning point.
How are you keeping?
In a way, Bobby Sands did win.
He is always going to be there in the consciousness of revolutionaries
around the world. But in fact,
he posed a really significant challenge to revolutionaries
because by reaching back into Irish history, into the notion that,
actually, you win by enduring and not by inflicting suffering,
he changed the nature of how people should think about
how they might force political change.
You win when you capture the public imagination.
I am standing on the threshold of another trembling world.
May God have mercy on my soul.
# When inner scars
# Show in your face
# And darkness hides
# Your sense of place
# Well, I won't speak
# I will refrain
# And be the song
# Just be the song... #
Film-maker Brendan J Byrne explores the story of Bobby Sands's 66-day hunger strike in the spring of 1981. Using extracts from Bobby Sands's diary, testimony and footage from the archives, the film hears from journalists, historians, sociologists and medical experts as well as those who knew Sands.