Rosaleen Sands

Bernadette Sands McKevitt, eulogises her late mother, Rosaleen who died last week.

On behalf of the Sands family I wish to acknowledge and thank the staff of St. Peter's Nursing Home for the care and attention given to my late mother in her final days; And for the kindness and compassion shown to the family, which was a comfort to us all.

I also want to acknowledge and thank Olive and the staff of the Birches Alzheimer's Day Care Centre who provided the wonderful care for my mother over the last number of years. Indeed, thank you seems inadequate, as it cannot express our gratitude enough, nor recognise the great service the Birches provides to those afflicted with this terrible disease, the support they extend to their families and the wider community. Although she suffered from this disease, we were so blessed that it did not rob her of her sense of humour, her long-term memory and her ability to recognise her family, including those who were away from home for a long period of time. And despite Alzheimer's she found strategies to cope, aided with the help of the Birches that helped her to retain her dignity and helped her to live a fulfilled life.

Likewise, I want to thank my mother's carers - Paula and Magdaline, who tended to her needs with patience and compassion during the time that she lived at home in Blackrock. And to Marie in the Bluebird Care Service and the public health nurse - Christine who were only a phone call away and who always stepped forward to assist me in organising the care for my mother.

I would like to thank Dr. Grace Kenny who tended to my mother over the years and more recently the doctors in the Castlebellingham Healthcare Centre.

I also want to thank all those who travelled to pay their respects from all over Ireland and beyond, to those who sent messages of condolences, floral tributes, or took time to remember my mother in their prayers. To Fr. Keenan for the beautiful ceremony, to Patsy, Eamon and Erin for the lovely music, which means so much to us, and to O'Neills Funeral Directors for their care to detail and support. Thank you all.

Many claim to know Rosaleen Sands - mother of Bobby Sands. Indeed, she has figured in many books, films and documentaries written and produced by people who never met her; who were provided with information from people who didn't know her, or those whose knowledge of her was extremely limited.

My mother was born in the Markets Area of Belfast on the 25th of March, 1922 - one of six children to Robert and Rose-Anne Kelly. She had four sisters - Clara, Julia, Margaret and May and one brother James. Her father died when she was twelve years old. Her mother went out to work as a weaver to support the family. Each of her daughters, except May, would follow in her footsteps and become weavers also. My mother worked weaving Linen and later silk in Belfast Linen factories.

She was a working class girl from a working class area. My mother never forgot her roots. She was very proud of the fact that she was from the Market's area of Belfast. She spoke highly of the people from that area, whom she described as "A principled people who helped each other in times of trouble".

In her mid twenties, she made plans to emigrate to New Zealand along with her cousin. She had secured a job, had the necessary paperwork in order and was set to leave within weeks, when she met my father at a local dance in Belfast. And as all good romance stories go, he ripped up the papers and asked her to marry him.

As was the tradition in those days, my mother left work after she married my father. They moved to their new home in Abbots Cross in Whiteabbey outside of Belfast, where Bobby, Marcella and I were born and then later when they moved to Rathcoole where John was born. My mother's life revolved around her family and her home. She loved reading and in particular poetry. She would recite poems to us as children and as a natural story teller, she would have us spellbound with stories of her childhood, the war years and family history. She taught us through stories to be fair-minded, have a sense of justice and to protect those who were less fortunate. Through her she instilled in us a great love of music. She would sing to us and with us. There was nothing she loved more than a good sing-song.

My mother took pride in her home and her artistic, creative ability was reflected in this. She and my father were a hardworking team. He worked all the hours that God sent and she saved and managed the money to provide a comfortable upbringing for us all. She sewed and knitted garments for us to wear and took pride in turning us out in our Sunday best for Mass. She was a religious woman who recounted stories from the bible to us. She wouldn't let us leave the house without first saying our prayers and blessing ourselves with holy water from the font in the hall.

We were an ordinary family until extraordinary circumstances changed the course of all of our lives. Our family life was disrupted violently when our home was attacked and we were forced to flee. We moved to Twinbrook in west Belfast and shortly afterwards our world was turned upside down with the arrest of Bobby. This was the start of nine long years of weekly visits to Long Kesh and later the H Blocks. My parents never missed a visit. And when the news of the hunger-strike was broken to them they set about doing all in their power to highlight the plight of Bobby and his comrades. As quiet reserved people who shied from publicity, they suddenly found themselves thrown onto the world's stage as they frantically tried to save their son. My mother stepped forward pleading both publicly and privately with senior politicians - north and south and church hierarchy to intervene and save her son's life. But to no avail. Heart broken she pleaded with Bobby. He made one simple request of her…to stand with him and not against him. It was a choice that no mother can contemplate. However, it was a choice that she had to make and was one that demonstrated more than anything her love and loyalty to her son as she placed him in God's hands.

Likewise in the days that followed Bobby's death, she placed her trust in those whom he too had trusted. Leaving them to organise his funeral. Trust is the pertinent word and it was that trust that years later was betrayed when our family recently came to learn through documents viewed in the National Archives that Bobby's final burial wishes, which were not made known to us at the time, were not fulfilled and this added to the family's sorrow.

In the sad years after Bobby's death my mother received thousands of cards and letters from around the world from people who wanted to express their sincere condolences and acknowledge the impact that Bobby had had on their lives. She could have been excused from replying due to the sheer volume of the letters, however she set about replying to each and everyone of them expressing her gratitude and thanks.

She continued to support the prisoners and their families, never forgetting to send Christmas cards and presents to them. Likewise, thereafter, when each of her children endured difficult times, she was there to the fore, supporting and comforting us. Her sense of humour and her quick wit was to the fore. She was an inspiration to all. She has set a fine example to her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. She will be sadly missed and forever loved. As a special tribute, I would like to read a poem written by Bobby to his Mother.

Dear Mum

Dear Mum, I know you’re always there
To help and guide me with all your care,
You nursed and fed me and made me strong
To face the world and all its wrong.

What can I write to you this day
For a line or two would never pay
For care and time you gave to me
Through long hard years unceasingly.

How you found strength I do not know
How you managed I’ll never know,
Struggling and striving without a break
Always there and never late.

You prayed for me and loved me more
How could I ask for anymore
And reared me up to be like you
But I haven’t a heart as kind as you.

A guide to me in times of plight
A princess like a star so bright
For life would never have been the same
If I hadn’t of learned what small things came.

So forgive me Mum just a little more
For not loving you so much before,
For life and love you gave to me
I give my thanks for eternity.


  1. I was 14 years old during the hunger strikes. To be honest I don’t think at 14 you realize the full gravity of what was happening.
    I lost my friend Paul Whitters from Derry in April 1981, murdered by an RUC man with a plastic bullet. He used to say if Bobby dies we will burn Derry to the ground.
    My enduring memory of Mr.’s Sands was her stepping out of a van and a reporter asking her how was Bobby and she simply replied, he was dying. I cannot even look at that video now without getting emotional; trying to imagine the struggles she was going through as a parent.
    Looking back all these years later and now being a parent myself, I marvel at the strength of the woman.
    The dignity that she and the Sands family showed throughout still to this day amazes me, indeed all the hunger strikers families. It shows the total love they had for their son, husband or brother. There are not enough words of admiration that I could express. To us there were our soldiers; to them they were sons and brothers, daddies and uncles.
    Reading the eulogy, many of us can relate to the holy water fonts, the prayers and the sing songs.
    The hard working parents providing the best they can and we learn where Bobby got his love for poetry and music.
    I was very saddened to hear but not surprised that his final burial wishes where ignored.
    Apart from the rhythm of time, dear mum has always been to me one of my favorite pieces of his writings.
    My deepest condolences to the Sands family, like many others your mother will be in my prayers along with Bobby, Francis, Raymond, Patsy, Joe, Martin, Kevin, Kieran, Thomas and Mickey.

  2. RIP Mrs Sands deepest sympathy to all.