The Morning Bobby Sands Died

Alex McCrory recalls his emotions on this day 37 years ago when the young IRA leader, Bobby Sands, died after 66 days on hunger strike.

This morning while enjoying a quiet cup of tea before the house came to life, I thought back to this day 37 years ago in the H-Blocks.

I was returned to the wing having completed three days in the punishment block on suspicion of receiving contraband on a visit; tobacco wrapped in clingfilm.

That weekend we awaited the death of our young leader and comrade Bobby Sands on hunger strike. He was in the final stage of his epic battle and his precious life hung by a thread.

The unthinkable stared us in the face and we were ill prepared for it coming. Years of torture and brutality did not help to soften the crippling blow or to ease our deep feelings of loss. A raw anger burned within us at this gross injustice.

Bobby was the best we had to offer; followed by nine other of our bravest.

The cell block orderly, an ordinary prisoner from the Ballymurphy area, whispered through the cell door that Bobby had died in the early hours of the morning. It was like being hit with a sledgehammer on the chest. All I could do was take deep breathes until the pain subsided.

Shortly breakfast arrived, but I could not but eat it. My comrade had died after more than 60 days without food so that to eat breakfast seemed like betrayal. Eating anything at that moment was wholly inappropriate.

On my return to the wing, I was met by a deathly silence, no pun intended.

My cell mate, Tom McVeigh, greeted me with a somber expression not realising I had heard the news already. I wrapped the blanket around my naked body and sat on the bed. We talked about what was sure to happen on the streets as the impact of Bobby's death sunk in, but our main thoughts on that fateful morning were of a courageous, loving family who had kept a pledge to support their son and brother until the bitter end.

Alex McCrory is a former republican prisoner and blanketman.

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Anthony McIntyre

Former IRA prisoner, spent 18 years in Long Kesh. Free Speech advocate, writer, historian, humanist, and researcher.

5 comments to ''The Morning Bobby Sands Died"

  1. recall it so well Alec

    good piece

  2. Very moving piece. The little details like "eating anything at that moment was wholly inappropriate" give much more of an insight into the state of mind in that period than a 2000 word essay.

  3. Great piece Alec.

    I remember how we waited in hope after Bobby won the bye-election but eventually the sad news of his death came to us. The way ahead seemed bleak and we couldn't see a future beyond the cell walls as another nine brave men followed him to the grave.

    There was a future beyond those walls for those of us who have come this far in life but we left those men back there in the past. It's so long ago now but if we are honest with ourselves are we any closer to achieving what they really died for?

    No. We are left to wonder how we were so blind as not to see what was coming. How, as these brave men were dying, others whom they trusted were using their deaths to redirect the Movement away from everything they were dying to achieve beyond a life and death struggle for political status, a 32 County Socialist Republic.

    Think of it. Sinn Féin have become everything the SDLP were back then. How did it get to this?

  4. Dixie,

    "Think of it. Sinn Féin have become everything the SDLP were back then. How did it get to this?

    Whilst having no wish to besmirch the courage of the hunger-strikers, nor to ridicule the prison campaigns, I do think your closing question is a worthy one. As is the other one posed earlier in your comment: "It's so long ago now but if we are honest with ourselves are we any closer to achieving what they really died for?"

    Have you attempted to ruthlessly and honestly answer these big questions Dixie?

    My own take on them is that we're further away from a 32 county socialist republic than we were in 1981. Though the achievement of a 32 county socialist republic is moot of itself. I'd now contend that the 32 county socialist republic was never attainable and alas will forever remain so. Myths are motivationally useful and rarely if ever achievable in reality. Myths are the fantasies of idealists which oftentimes become grist to the mill for the more politically savvy. Only the foolish allow themselves swallowed by their own propaganda.
    Though politics is oftentimes defined as the art of the possible it is most effectively played in the realm of the probable. A more subtle pragmatic approach was at the heart of the SDLP's policy positions as compared to the early idealism of Sinn Féin.

    Once Sinn Féin abandoned abstention from participation in partitionist assemblies the die was cast. When the political realities of electoralism became more apparent there was a inevitability that SF would become a replica of sorts of either Fianna Fáil or the SDLP.
    The culture of Irish Republicanism fundamentally shifted in '86. That cultural shift necessarily led, for by far the largest number of the membership, to a commensurate shift in both collective and individual values. Destiny is shaped by collective culture, individual values and the constant reciprocal influencing between them. The rest as they say, is history!

    (In fairness this post, had I more time, would be further balanced with an exploration of consequences of an alternative history where abstentionism had remained at the cultural core. But enough to say for now, that its more than probable, had that been the case, that Dixie, myself and the thousands who campaigned for the 'Republic' may have ended up with an even less palatable outcome than that which now exists).

  5. Dixie

    "Think about it. Sinn Fein has become everything the SDLP was then"

    Apart from the fact that the SDLP were not at that time run by a secretive body like the IRA Army Council nor were running the Northern Irish state and raking in all the salaries, perks and associated social capital for them and their hangers-on.

    Btw, the death of Bobby sands and the other nine hunger-strikers were for absolutely nothing just like the other 3,000 plus deaths in N Ireland's squalid and pointless conflict.


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