What did Bobby really die for?

Tonight The Pensive Quill carries an article from guest writer Dr John Coulter who describes himself as a radical unionist.

IRA icons Bobby Sands MP and Brendan Hughes must be having a right auld chin-wag in eternity as to what they really died for. The Shinners will be quick to point out – and effectively utilise to the SDLP’s demise – the Stormont and council polling day is the exact 30th anniversary of Sands’ death in hunger strike in 1981 after 66 days.

His funeral a few days later saw the biggest mobilisation of Catholic opinion in Ireland since the death of IRA legend Michael Collins in the 1920s.  Sinn Fein orchestrated 100,000 nationalists from across the island to converge on Milltown cemetery’s republican plot – the first time Northern Catholics had been able to rival Protestant attendances at the annual 12 July Boyne commemoration.

Sands’ death, along with his nine fellow hunger strikers, propelled Sinn Fein into the electoral process, a process which sees the party in major positions of influence in both the Dail and Stormont. When the Leinster House Shinner team turned up at Stormont to mark the last week of the present Assembly, both Alliance and the Ulster Unionists must have been green with envy at the TDs Sinn Fein has amassed. The Shinners had 41 MLAs and TDs from across the island. Davy Ford and Tommy Elliott would give their right hands to return to Stormont with 14 MLAs each.

But were these Dublin and Belfast scenarios the ones Bobby Sands died for? And why was senior IRA Belfast commander Brendan Hughes – a veteran of the hunger strike – so bitter against the Sinn Fein leadership before cancer claimed him in 2008?

As Sands lay dying inside the Maze jail, what would have been his reaction if the Grim Reaper had said: “Bobby, on the 30th anniversary of me taking your soul, Sinn Fein will have taken its Dail seats and will be propping up a partitionist parliament at Stormont with Peter Robinson’s DUP!”

Had Sands lived, he and Hughes - not Adams and McGuinness – would have run Sinn Fein. The republican movement which Sands died for is not the same organisation which will commemorate his anniversary by remaining not just the largest Northern nationalist party, but beat the DUP into the First Minister’s Office.

Ironically, Sinn Fein is returning to the 1905 roots of its founder Arthur Griffith, who opposed terrorism and was a huge fan of passive resistance. Griffith’s Sinn Fein was not a violent republican death squad, but a separatist party content for Ireland to be a British dominion.

Little wonder when the Shinners celebrated their centenary in 2005, they wanted Griffith airbrushed out. Republicans have conveniently forgotten that Griffith was the first Irish delegate to agree to the British terms which became the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921.

Would Sands have been as quick to agree the republican climb-down in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, or the complete remodelling of Sinn Fein in the 2006 St Andrews Agreement? Then again, would Sands even have been at any negotiating table? The republicans who died in 1981 were all committed to the concept of armed struggle.

Maybe the hunger strike was one way of getting these violent republicans out of the way? Hughes suggested before he died himself that some of the hunger strikers could have been saved.

Republicanism can sometimes be a very cruel set of beliefs. As a radical Right-wing Unionist looking in, it seems to have allowed people from its own camp to die needlessly. Chatting privately to friends of the late Brendan Hughes, I always detect a bitterness at the way The Dark was sidelined in his latter years.

As a Unionist, I fully appreciate how police officers and soldiers can lay down their lives for Queen and country. But what cause is so great that Sands would starve himself to death? Brendan Hughes was influential in calling off the 1980 hunger strike. I wonder did Sands have the same choice in 1981?

How many people would still be alive today if the republican leadership had not only saved Sands, but also called a permanent ceasefire instead of waiting another 13 years?


  1. Here we go- another one who thinks
    Bobby Sands and the other hunger strikers were not going to get the demands- it would actually kill
    dr john coulter if he were to say
    that the 10 in 1981 got the demands
    for their comrades

    Coulter also wants to equate the
    100.000 who marched behind Bobby's
    coffin with the numbers who took part in all the orange walks in july 1981- how petty is that

  2. Brilliant post John almost everyone with the exception of Mickeyboy believe that psf have climbed on the backs of those dead comrades, the treachery displayed by Adams to those brave men,and indeed to his fellow comrades on the AC,by engaging in secret negoltiations with the brits,whom I suspect helped him with the aid of Mc Guinness to carefully choregraph all the moves to destabilise the prm,which left those volunteers demoralised and open to the suggestion that "this war isnt going anywhere" and with all the old hard liners like Twomney, Mc Kee, O Hagan,etc out of the way and men like the Dark,Bell, Gorman sidelined to the point of irrelevance.with the help of these two men ,I believe the brits were able to bring the end game into play ie;the complete surrender of pira, I wonder is Jonathan Powell still writing his scripts or are the boys down Hollywood [belfast that is] way the new kitchen cabinet.

  3. michaelhenry,
    Everyone know the five demands were phased in following the hunger strike.
    However, that is not what this article is about, the author is asking whether or not Bobby Sands would have played an active part in upholding the bastion of unionist domination.
    Everyone nows knows, that the Dark was totally against this charade.
    It is till hard to believe that a person of his calibre was tormented and ostracised by a movement he had dedicated his entire life to for going against the party line.
    Would Bobby have been with them? Who Knows?

  4. Sinn Fein did not orchestrate 100,000 people to turn up at Bobby's funeral at Milltown. They came spontaneously !. The only organizing around the Hunger strike was done by the H-Block Armagh Committe.

    The most active by far all around the country were not provisional Sinn Fein members of that time. Provisional Sinn Fein hijacked the actual name Sinn Fein susequently.I was there to witness it.

    While you were inside H-Block Armagh Committee Mackers, this Committee, was doing the organizing. I witnessed it first hand from start to finish. Outside Belfast I can tell you that the IRSP were by far the most active part of that Committee and the most effective by far.

    I can also tell you that right through the Dirt protest of our English working class comrades in England, week in week out, did Trojan work, that would put most of their Irish comrades To shame.

    Sinn Fein and every TOM, dick and harry jumped on the Bobby Sand's bandwagon and the groundswell of support after his murder. I stood on the main street in Newry at the atart of the second Hunger Strike after Sean McKenna, with just a couple of wild kids and feck all support, while the blues suits, shirts and ties of the SDLP walked past sneering, just like PSF do today !

    Anyone with a faint heart today about numbers, remember before Bobby's murder, PSF were even smaller than the numbers of today. The reason Monarchist McGuinness doesn't know about it, was because he was rarely around when there was real 'work' to be done!


  5. Very good post.
    Don't think the Alliance Party or David Forde and the likes should be compared with SF trash. 14 TDs would not be sufficient for the leadership of small parties in the north to embark upon 30yrs of carnage. I wouldn't tarnish those guys with the same shitty wee brush Adams+co. use for their armani suits this last 30yrs.

    Glibney at it again today in the Irish News. An exercise in self delusion. His brain has been removed and replaced with gerry's wanksack.
    The GAA SF have united with their unionist brethren. Anyone rocking the boat of a united Northern Ireland will be severely dealt with. Delude themselves all they want. I for one regardless of the futility of Omagh, will retain my sanity. Fuck off Gibney and keep that shite for some one who wasn't around and doesn't know your ilk.

  6. Larry mo cara why put yourself throught it ,simple solution boycott the vatican times on a Thursday it works for me,the guys beyond repair .

  7. Marty,

    there was me last week googling for the Vatican Times because you said there was something in it about Jo Nesbo! If only you had told me the Irish News. I was wondering too why such a writer would be featured in the Vatican Times.


    it was a woeful piece. But you have to give it to him for consistency. He is consistently awful.

  8. John,

    an interesting take on the gap between what was sought and what was achieved.

  9. Jaysuuuuussss Anthony I thought ya knew that mo cara its been called that since I was a nipper and that was just around the time the wheel was invented mate.

  10. Marty,

    probably knew it a long time ago then and lost it in the swirls of forgetfulness.

  11. Marty
    the up side is that reading michaelhenry and Glibney confirms tht we avoided the total brainwashing those still daft enough to be in SF have undergone.
    At least our minds and lives are our own.
    Good to see Robert back on here. Genuine Unionist opinion worth reading, unlike the SF brand dressed up in a soiled green rag.

  12. Why would anyone assume that Sands and Hughes, if alive to day, and as implied, could have taken control of the Republican movement? This is pure hypothesis based on their political stance at a particular period in time…it is contextual. We are forgetting the force that is Adams and McGuinness and just what they are capable of plus there is also the Brits to bear in mind. Would they have allowed Hughes and Sands to take control when they were quite happy in dealing with Adams and McGuiinnes? We saw what happened to Hughes and what has happened to the Sands family.
    Hughes may have walked away from the Movement due to ideological reasons but when he did so his star faded until it barely dimmed. Would Sands have done the same?
    If we look at those who are so called leading lights within the Movement both then, in the prisons and now we can see that most of these have succumbed to the current direction Republicans are going in. Would Sands have done the same? Very few have openly stood against or even offered an alternative to it. Why?
    Could it be that those leading lights that remain do so for there is no where else for them to go. Without the Movement they are nothing and their star would dim and fade to black. Look outside the Movement and they are simply a member of the general public. Unknown to today’s youth! It would seem to be better to not rock the boat and row along and retain some degree of value or worth.

  13. Mackers
    I don't believe Gibney or the rest believe the shite thet come out with these days. But they are where they are and stuck with it. I doubt deep down their votes are of any real value to them, what can they do now only be good wee UK boys and girls while trying to fool everyone else they actually had a plan.

  14. The great hunger strike debate will contiune without the knock out punch required to end it being delievered.

    O'Rawe, in my opinion, has won the war of words with the Shinners who could not sustain the myth of the hunger strikers being solely repsonsible for their own fate any longer.

    Whether people are prepared to travel the painful journey plotted by his two books on the subject to a place where the young and brave of heart are used as expendable pieces in a bigger game is up to the reader.

    But there can be no doubting far more pepole now are willing to give O'Rawe a fair hearing than before.

    The article above raises the hard questions that most republicans simply wouldn't not have contemplated before 'Blanketmen' and 'Afterlives'.

  15. Tiarna

    ref your post which we have not yet put up, what is the point in posting it here? It also seems libelous if there is an impostor involved.

  16. my own personal point of view is,bobby and brendan were idealists and like all idealists they would have stuck with their position right through to the end! unlike brit controlled S.F

  17. Tiarna,

    fine. Contact me directly if you wish and we will discuss it. Send your private e mail and it will not be posted

  18. Niall
    “Hughes may have walked away from the Movement due to ideological reasons but when he did so his star faded until it barely dimmed” “Could it be that those leading lights that remain do so for there is nowhere else for them to go. Without the Movement they are nothing and their star would dim and fade to black. Look outside the Movement and they are simply a member of the general public. Unknown to today’s youth! It would seem to be better to not rock the boat and row along and retain some degree of value or worth”.

    How sad to think of Brendan Hughes in those terms. Men like Hughes, McGeough and others, who walked away from PSF due to ideological reasons, don’t need today’s “movement” to give them a “shred of value or self worth”. They achieved that based on their own merits and accomplishments within the movement and they left before the GFA could compromise them, as it did its leadership and others.

    If I am understanding you correctly, you are saying that it is better to betray your values and self-worth in order to be part of a movement so you have some credibility in life? I’d rather spend my time on a desert island than compromise my pride, dignity and self-respect not to mention give up my freedom of speech, for an ounce of “star power”.

  19. Remember the old saying Helen; power corrupts;absolute power corrupts absolutely,the psf are getting there,

  20. marty,
    I don't know if Niall was being serious when he wrote that or he was just being factious?

  21. Larry,

    ‘I don't believe Gibney or the rest believe the shite they come out with these days.’

    If we rule out self denial and self delusion as excuses I guess you are right.