Anthony McIntyre ✒ is of the view that the issue of Bobby Sand's funeral wishes is far from being resolved.  

Forty years after his death, Bobby Sands remains a figure of considerable interest both at home and abroad. His courage, unquenchable thirst for justice, and unalloyed selflessness continue to inspire awe and reverence. Those of us who took part in the blanket protest with him are forever poised, heads bowed in respect for the tremendous act of dignified defiance that ended his short life. 

Bobby died on peaceful protest against the British men and women of violence. Whatever prompted Jim Gibney to say he didn’t really want to talk about him again, it is not a sentiment shared by me or many other blanketmen. The name Bobby Sands will always have a place in our conversation until the end of our time.

While the armed struggle that he was part of failed to coerce the British out of Ireland, failed to coerce the North into a unitary state, and failed to end partition, he and his nine comrades very successfully prevented that struggle from being portrayed by the British as an aggravated crime wave. In 1971 a republican weekly paper made the observation that funny how it is that all the countries Britain occupies are suddenly filled with criminal types. Max Stirner whose death preceded that of Bobby Sands by more than a century intuited the cynical penchant for skewing on the part of officialdom: “The state calls its own violence law, but that of the individual, crime.” Bobby Sands is the epitome of everything that is not a criminal enterprise. 

The fortieth anniversary of the late IRA volunteer saw the emergence of a previously unpublished comm penned by him a week before he commenced his hunger strike. In it he expressed a strong desire to be buried in a place other than Milltown Cemetery to which he harboured an aversion. His preference was Ballina where the previous two Provisional IRA hunger strikers, Michael Gaughan and Frank Stagg, are interred. He also asked not to be wrapped in a shroud but a blanket. The idea of a shroud he found humiliating.

His remains being wrapped in a blanket was not a shock. The blanket had defined the prison protest and he identified as a blanketman, even telling British secretary of state Roy Mason "bury me in my blanket." What very much did jolt the senses was his wish not to be buried in Milltown. Speaking to a former prisoner the other day, Alex McCrory, the view was expressed to me that being buried in Milltown seemed the best strategic choice to make if the lives of the other three men on hunger strike were to stand any chance of being saved. A massive display of public solidarity in Belfast with the hunger strikers and their cause was indispensable if the British Prime Minister was to be forced to step back from her determined position of allowing all the men to die.

It is a perspective I wholly concur with. Whether this was discussed with Bobby Sands by the republican leaders strategically managing the hunger strike, we do not know. There seem to be no comms which allow us to draw a conclusion one way or the other. What we are left with is the expressed preference of Bobby Sands not to be buried in Milltown.

The Bobby Sands Trust and Sinn Fein have both responded to the emergence of the comm. Michelle O’Neill in dismissing its publication as crass claimed to have “seen other communications where Bobby obviously changed his wishes in terms of his burial requests.” Perhaps she should share them because thus far nothing has been produced that would show Bobby Sands assenting to be buried in Milltown or in a shroud.

Sinn Fein claimed that:

He wrote in comms about the possibility of being buried in Carnmoney, of somewhere in the South and specifically of Ballina. However he changed his mind on each in turn and in the last comm dated 9 March where Ballina is referenced he explicitly states that he has changed his mind.

What we now know is that Bobby changed his mind from being buried in Ballina. We just do not know what he changed it to. We have seen nothing from Sinn Fein to show that he changed his mind “on each in turn”. If he did where is the evidence to support this claim? Given his closeness to his sister, Faughart in County Louth remains a strong possibility. There is nothing to indicate he had a change of mind or heart about that. If he changed his mind on Faughart where is the comm showing it? If he changed his mind on Milltown, again where is the comm to show this?

Danny Morrison was, unusually for him, fairly measured in his response, sticking to detail rather than smearing those who published the comm or spoke to the media about it. Yet, like O’Neill and Sinn Fein, he has singularly failed to sound convincing. He claimed it was assumed that Belfast republicans would be buried in Milltown. As far as an assumption goes it seems a fair enough one to have made. But if it was an assumption, where now the Sinn Fein claim that Bobby changed his mind? If he did change his mind about Milltown and informed the leadership about it, there would have been no need to assume. What is not an assumption is that the Hunger Strike Committee was in possession of the comm where Bobby Sands specifically objected to a Milltown burial. That comm was never made public, was withheld from the Sands family, and was only discovered fortuitously in the National Archive in Dublin.

Morrison, when speaking to the Irish News, obliquely had a go at Marcella and Bernadette Sands, sisters of Bobby. He claimed that when they both sat on the Bobby Sands Trust they did not raise their brother’s final resting place as an issue. Why would they when they were never told that Bobby had objected to Milltown? The Hunger Strike Committee of which Morrison was a member, however, did know about this at the time but never told the family. Moreover, Morrison had to have known since the death of Rosaleen Sands in 2018 that the family were in possession of information indicating that her son's funeral wishes had been subverted. Never once did he comment about this on the Bobby Sands Trust website. Nor did he publish on the same website the eulogy delivered by Bernadette to her mother. 

There is one way to settle the matter - produce the comms in their entirety: not excerpts, not redactions, just the full, uncensored words of Bobby Sands. He worked hard enough to produce them. Why hide them? Let us leave the matter concluding that only Roy Mason, Humphrey Atkins, Margaret Thatcher and their ilk wanted the words of Bobby Sands silenced. 

 ⏩Follow on Twitter @AnthonyMcIntyre.

Just The Full Uncensored Words Of Bobby Sands

Anthony McIntyre ✒ is of the view that the issue of Bobby Sand's funeral wishes is far from being resolved.  

Forty years after his death, Bobby Sands remains a figure of considerable interest both at home and abroad. His courage, unquenchable thirst for justice, and unalloyed selflessness continue to inspire awe and reverence. Those of us who took part in the blanket protest with him are forever poised, heads bowed in respect for the tremendous act of dignified defiance that ended his short life. 

Bobby died on peaceful protest against the British men and women of violence. Whatever prompted Jim Gibney to say he didn’t really want to talk about him again, it is not a sentiment shared by me or many other blanketmen. The name Bobby Sands will always have a place in our conversation until the end of our time.

While the armed struggle that he was part of failed to coerce the British out of Ireland, failed to coerce the North into a unitary state, and failed to end partition, he and his nine comrades very successfully prevented that struggle from being portrayed by the British as an aggravated crime wave. In 1971 a republican weekly paper made the observation that funny how it is that all the countries Britain occupies are suddenly filled with criminal types. Max Stirner whose death preceded that of Bobby Sands by more than a century intuited the cynical penchant for skewing on the part of officialdom: “The state calls its own violence law, but that of the individual, crime.” Bobby Sands is the epitome of everything that is not a criminal enterprise. 

The fortieth anniversary of the late IRA volunteer saw the emergence of a previously unpublished comm penned by him a week before he commenced his hunger strike. In it he expressed a strong desire to be buried in a place other than Milltown Cemetery to which he harboured an aversion. His preference was Ballina where the previous two Provisional IRA hunger strikers, Michael Gaughan and Frank Stagg, are interred. He also asked not to be wrapped in a shroud but a blanket. The idea of a shroud he found humiliating.

His remains being wrapped in a blanket was not a shock. The blanket had defined the prison protest and he identified as a blanketman, even telling British secretary of state Roy Mason "bury me in my blanket." What very much did jolt the senses was his wish not to be buried in Milltown. Speaking to a former prisoner the other day, Alex McCrory, the view was expressed to me that being buried in Milltown seemed the best strategic choice to make if the lives of the other three men on hunger strike were to stand any chance of being saved. A massive display of public solidarity in Belfast with the hunger strikers and their cause was indispensable if the British Prime Minister was to be forced to step back from her determined position of allowing all the men to die.

It is a perspective I wholly concur with. Whether this was discussed with Bobby Sands by the republican leaders strategically managing the hunger strike, we do not know. There seem to be no comms which allow us to draw a conclusion one way or the other. What we are left with is the expressed preference of Bobby Sands not to be buried in Milltown.

The Bobby Sands Trust and Sinn Fein have both responded to the emergence of the comm. Michelle O’Neill in dismissing its publication as crass claimed to have “seen other communications where Bobby obviously changed his wishes in terms of his burial requests.” Perhaps she should share them because thus far nothing has been produced that would show Bobby Sands assenting to be buried in Milltown or in a shroud.

Sinn Fein claimed that:

He wrote in comms about the possibility of being buried in Carnmoney, of somewhere in the South and specifically of Ballina. However he changed his mind on each in turn and in the last comm dated 9 March where Ballina is referenced he explicitly states that he has changed his mind.

What we now know is that Bobby changed his mind from being buried in Ballina. We just do not know what he changed it to. We have seen nothing from Sinn Fein to show that he changed his mind “on each in turn”. If he did where is the evidence to support this claim? Given his closeness to his sister, Faughart in County Louth remains a strong possibility. There is nothing to indicate he had a change of mind or heart about that. If he changed his mind on Faughart where is the comm showing it? If he changed his mind on Milltown, again where is the comm to show this?

Danny Morrison was, unusually for him, fairly measured in his response, sticking to detail rather than smearing those who published the comm or spoke to the media about it. Yet, like O’Neill and Sinn Fein, he has singularly failed to sound convincing. He claimed it was assumed that Belfast republicans would be buried in Milltown. As far as an assumption goes it seems a fair enough one to have made. But if it was an assumption, where now the Sinn Fein claim that Bobby changed his mind? If he did change his mind about Milltown and informed the leadership about it, there would have been no need to assume. What is not an assumption is that the Hunger Strike Committee was in possession of the comm where Bobby Sands specifically objected to a Milltown burial. That comm was never made public, was withheld from the Sands family, and was only discovered fortuitously in the National Archive in Dublin.

Morrison, when speaking to the Irish News, obliquely had a go at Marcella and Bernadette Sands, sisters of Bobby. He claimed that when they both sat on the Bobby Sands Trust they did not raise their brother’s final resting place as an issue. Why would they when they were never told that Bobby had objected to Milltown? The Hunger Strike Committee of which Morrison was a member, however, did know about this at the time but never told the family. Moreover, Morrison had to have known since the death of Rosaleen Sands in 2018 that the family were in possession of information indicating that her son's funeral wishes had been subverted. Never once did he comment about this on the Bobby Sands Trust website. Nor did he publish on the same website the eulogy delivered by Bernadette to her mother. 

There is one way to settle the matter - produce the comms in their entirety: not excerpts, not redactions, just the full, uncensored words of Bobby Sands. He worked hard enough to produce them. Why hide them? Let us leave the matter concluding that only Roy Mason, Humphrey Atkins, Margaret Thatcher and their ilk wanted the words of Bobby Sands silenced. 

 ⏩Follow on Twitter @AnthonyMcIntyre.

2 comments:

  1. A provocative piece. Alex's view reflects one valid element of the rationale at the time. I would imagine Bobby's family may have thought the same and also satisfied that his current burial place otherwise represented a mark of respect and honour to their loved one. In fact almost everyone in attendance or viewing the service from a far would probably have seen the whole funeral process as an indicator of the respect with which Bobby was being afforded.

    Except for a small few who knew that they were not honouring Bobby's wishes; one could perhaps forgive a mistaken judgment call about the location because of a number of circumstances. But, it is inexcusable and unconscionable that Bobby was not buried in a blanket.

    ReplyDelete
  2. will share on the Rebel Breeze blog, though unable to see a button to share on wordpress.

    ReplyDelete