Bobby Sands was born in 1954 in Rathcoole, a loyalist community in North Belfast as the first child of John and Rosa leen Sands. He was followed by two sisters, Marcella and Burnadette, and a brother, Sean. The first years of Bobbys life were spent qui ly at Abbots Cross in the Newtownabbey area of North Belfast. However, the anti-Catholic attitudes raised their heads and the Sands family was forced to move in 1962 to another predominately Protestant ghetto in Belfast. Growing up in these areas led to e nature of hate that most Catholics have being in the segregated areas of Belfast.
Bobby shared the same experiences, and had the same feelings. At the age of fifteen, Bobby quit school and began work as an apprentice coach builder and joined the national union of vehicle builders. In 1968, Bobby was forced out of his job due to anti-Catholic resentment. His sister Burnadette says, Bobby went work one day and these fellows were standing there cleaning guns. One fellow said to him, Do you see these here, well, if you dont youll get this. Then Bobby found a note in his lunchbox telling him to get out.
1 These events would change his life or ever. In 1972, the Sands family was forced to move again when their house was sold to a Protestant couple without their concent. The family moved to a Catholic housing settlement in West Belfast. It was here that Bobby first heard about the IRA and joined up ith it within months. Bobbys life changed dramatically. My life now centered 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 to their homes to lend us a h d but opened their hearts to us. I learned that without people we could not survive and I learned that I owe them everything. 1 In October of 1972, Bobby was arrested. Four handguns were found in a house tha he was staying at. He was brought to a RUC interrogation center, A disguised torture chamber aimed at producing confessions from nationalists 2.
Falling back on his IRA aiming, Bobby did not crack and did not give the RUC what they wanted to hear. He was brought to trial and convicted and sentenced to five years at Long Kesh prison outside of Belfast. It was in this stay at Long Kesh that Bobby became familiar with the politics, culture and history of the Irish. Bobby first joined the IRA for defense against the British, but he came to realize the republican values that the IRA stood for.
Sands beg to realize the just cause of Irish self-determination and to see more clearly the repeated steps of successive British governments to deny the Irish of their heritage 2. He was released in 1976 and returned home. He married his childhood sweetheart, Geraldine. Gerard, a son, was born not too soon after.
He rejoined the IRA and set himself to work tackling the social issues that effected his area. He organized a tenants association, a social club dedicated to Irish culture and started a newsletter for the Catholic community. In late 1976, Bobby was arrested again. There was a bomb attack on the Balmoral Furniture at Dun murry, followed by a gun attack where two men were wounded. Bobby was in a car near the scene with three other men. The RUC captured them and found a revolt in the car.
They could not link the men to the bombing, but they were charged with possession of the revolver. All were convicted and sentenced to 14 years at Long Kesh prison. Bobby spent the first 22 days of his sentence in solitary confinement. Then they brought him to the H-Block cells where he and his fellow IRA prisoners were held. He immediately joined in their blanket protest. The protest was formed so that the prison s could achieve Prisoner of War status.
With POW status, the prisoners would get five privileges: the right to wear their own clothes, abstain from prison work, to associate freely within their own prison confines, to use educational and recreation area and remission of their sentences for good behavior. When Bobby was at Long Kesh the first time, the IRA prisoners enjoyed these rights, but they were later revoked. The blanket protesters refused to wear any prison clothes, but only the blanket from their beds. As the protest went on, more addementies were denied them.
They were not able to wash, shave, exercise or leave their cells. Soon, the toilets were removed nd the men were forced to pour their excrement out the window. Finally, the prison blocked the windows, so they were forced to wipe it on the walls. The conditions that these men lived were unbearable, and this is how Bobby spent the rest of his life. On October 21, 1980, talks between Humphrey Atkins, the direct British ruler in the North, and Cardinal OFiaich, the Catholic leader of Ireland, broke down about the IRA prisoners receiving POW status. Seven prisoners that day began a hunger strike, l by Brendan Hughes, the leader of the IRA prisoners.
After 53 days, the British government seemingly gave in and was willing to grant the prisoners POW status. The prisoners rejoiced, but after Christmas, they realized that it was all a lie and things went back to the way they were at Long Kesh. The prisoners had enough of the British lies. Led by Bobby, another hunger strike was planned to begin on March 1, 1981.
If their demands were not met, the prisoners would die and replaced by another until the demands were met. Bobby was prepared to pu his life on the line in order to win rights. Bobby insisted that he started two weeks in front of the other strikers so perhaps his death could secure the five demands and save the others lives. Bobby had no fear of his own death, and saw the hunger strike as more than a demand for prisoners ri ts, but having major repercussions of British rule in Ireland. He lost 16 pounds of weight and on March 23, 1981 he was moved to the prison hospital. On March 30, Bobby was nominated as candidate for the Fermanagh and South-Tyrone by-election after the sudden death of Frank Maguire, an independent MP who supported the prisoners cause.
After a close run, Bobby was elected with 30, 492 votes. Many pri ners had expected that Bobbys election would end the protest. With 30, 000 people behind Bobby Sands and the prisoners, how could Great Britain ignore them Bobbys own reaction to the victory was surprising non-optimistic. Owen Carron, who was Bobbys election agent, said of Bobbys reaction: He wad already heard the result on the radio. He was in good form alright, but he always used to keep saying, I my position, you cannot afford to be optimistic.
In other words, he didnt take it that because he had won an election that his life was saved. He thought that the Brits would need their pound of flesh. I think he was always on the premise that he would die. 1 At 1: 17 AM on Tuesday May 5, 1981, Bobby Sands MP died after going 65 days with only water and salt. The news of Bobbys death spread worldwide and raised resentment against the British. Protests were offered in Milian, Athens, Ghent, Paris and Oslo a well as across America and Ireland.
Violence erupted in France, Spain, and Portugal... The Italian, part of the Indian, Iranian, and Portuguese governments, as well as Poland's Leah Walesa and smaller American communities honored Sands. 3 Nine more prisoners followed Bobby to their deaths. After 217 days of hunger striking and ten people dead, the blanket protesters called off the strike. Even though there were many men men willing to volunteer for the strike, the IRA felt that more dea s would solve nothing.
In the end, however, POW status was granted to the prisoners, but too late for Bobby Sands and the other protesters. With Bobby Sands death, he became part of the mythology that surrounds the republican struggle for freedom. All over the world, people watched this man die, standing by what he believes in until death. His death was a triumph. He brought many more yo g men to the cause and shed a light that the whole world could see on the situation in Northern Ireland. His courage should serve as a model for everyone.
In essence Bobby Sands was a true freedom fighter, and in the end, he won.