Bobby Sands: 40 years on

“Do you think if he fell into a coma you would give authorisation for him to be intravenously fed?

“No…..he told me not to….. I love my son like any other mother but I couldn’t, he asked me not to and I promised him

An exchange between Bobby Sands’s mother Rosaleen and a news reporter is a haunting illustration of how deep set the convictions of Sands, their families and the wider Republican movement at the time of the Hunger Strikes. 

40 years on it is difficult to comprehend the level of sacrifice and pain that the 10 men (of similar age to me) and their families went through. Beyond that the chain of events they helped set in motion forever changed the political and historical landscape of Ireland.  

Sands belonged to a particular generation of republicans. Not only was he an astute solider – he and his comrades read the works of Connolly, Ho Chi Minh and Liam Mellows. They debated these texts in the revered ‘University of Freedom’ in the Long Kesh. 

Many of these men had grew up in abject poverty. This coupled with the ever-present threat of distribution to their communities by Loyalist paramilitaries or Crown Forces made it also impossible to attain a decent level of education. They relied on each other and form their own education system. The Brits thought they were punishing young Irish volunteers but jailing them in all actuality fostered a leftist spirit of resistance and re-affirmed a generations-old Irish Republican ability to withstand the greatest personal pain. 

In the Scottish and British psyche you’ll find Sands and the blanketmen described as  animals. The very mention of the Hunger Striker era will conjure up images of painfully thin men on a no wash protest. The desperate attempt to force this into the minds of people is no accident. 

There’s a stark contradiction between how he was portrayed and how he lived his life. In addition to his undoubted leadership qualities as a solider, he was a brilliant poet and writer. In the ‘Rhythm of Time’ he shows a knowledge of the world and history that few of those who decry him could possibly image. ‘The Crimes of Castlereagh’ lays bare the British machine’s torture of communities via their imperialist occupation that is then compounded by their corrupt ‘justice system’ that still interns by remand to this day.

How he could be so creative and articulate in the living hell he was in is mind blowing.

As the years go by we should be renewed in our appreciation for Sands and for our history. It is up to us to keep his legacy alive. Today, they’ll be no column inches dedicated to Sands from the usual left media. It will down to us to remember him and to tell the next generation of him and his comrades sacrifices.

On these shores it is still against the grain to hold Sands in high regard or to be openly Republican and Socialist. Ignorant people will tell you that he died for nothing or that we should leave memories of Sands and Connolly behind in our ‘post conflict society’. Whilst, for some, the conflict has ended, that shouldn’t mean that we have to surrender our history.

I’m proud to be a Republican & Socialist. I’m proud to tell the story of Sands and the men of ‘81. 

‘Is beannaithe iad siúd a bhfuil ocras ar son an chirt iontu. Tiocfaidh ar la’

Dougie Main, is a trade unionist from West Lothian

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