Today, 5 May, 2021, is the 40th anniversary of the death of Bobby Sands, Irish republican prisoner. He died after being on hunger strike from 1 March, 1981. His demands, and the demands of the republican prisoners in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh Prison, (officially called HMP Maze Prison) outside of Lisburn, were:
the right not to wear a prison uniform
the right not to do prison work
the right of free association with other prisoners, and to organise educational and recreational pursuits
the right to one visit, one letter, and one parcel per week
full restoration of remission lost through the protest
The hunger strike was the culmination of a five year prison protest which began with the refusal of some Irish Republican Army and the Irish National Liberation Army prisoners
to wear prison uniforms which would have been a change in prison policy and a negation of their identity as political prisoners ("special category status"). Thatcher, The English government, headed by Margaret Thatcher, would not recognize the prisoners' demands and restore their previous rights . After Sands, nine other men were to die.
During this period, three Irish-Americans, including myself, formed the H-Block/Armagh Committee (Armagh was the women's prison) in New York CityWe supported the prisoners' five demands and worked to broaden the base of support within and beyond the Irish community in the U.SAfter a previous hunger strike ended and the demands of the prisoners were not met, Sands and other prisoners began a second hunger strike.
The tragedy that ensued was overwhelming and changed Ireland and the Irish diaspora. I toured the US with members of the National H-Block/ Armagh Committee
(from New York, Dublin and Belfast.), including Fergus O'Hare. We introduced others members of the Committee in Ireland, including Father Piaras O'Duill, to many in the US
when they toured here.I toured the US with members of the National H-Block/ Armagh Committee (from New York , Dublin and Belfast.), including Fergus O'Hare. We introduced others members of the Committee in Ireland, including Father Piaras O'Duill, to many in the US when they toured here.
I also attended four of the hungers strikers' funerals. We brought sympathetc supporters, like Father Daniel Berrigan, Philp Berrigan and Gerry Berrigan and other Catholic and Protestant clergymen, black civil rights activists, American Indian acitivists, reprensentatives of the Parti Quebecois and the former Attorney General of the US, Ramsey Clark to the North and the South of Ireland.
We met with prisoners families, attempted to gain admission to Long Kesh (to no avail), met with the press and demonstrated in front of Long Kesh and Armagh gaols. The message was always the same: we did not have to agree with each other about religion, politics in Ireland, Britain or America, or even the methods and aims of the IRA and the INLA to endorse their demands, which we believed were reasonable and that their previous rights should be restored. They were obviously not "ordinary criminals,"as Thatcher and others in government insisted, but political prisoners, no matter how you felt about them and their struggle. Shamefully, many with power in the 26 county government and even supposed "Nationalist" politicians and churchmen in the North sat on their hands and refused to fully endorse the full five demands of the prisoners.
The British intransigence, the silence of others and the terrible results changed my life and the lives of thousands of others. I have been an activist, in one form or another, since then. I still believe in the broad-based approach for Irish human rights, Irish republican prisoners rights (no matter what you hear to the contrary--there are still some--in Maghaberry and Portlaoise prisons), in the commemoration of Irish and Irish-American resisters to English rule, and in the ultimate reunification of Ireland. The Fenian Memorial Committee of America is firmly based on this foundation.
Today is a sad day for all of us who believe in these things, but it is a black and glowing reminder of our resolve to never forget our history and to work for one Ireland, devoid of the Sassanaigh who have had ther boots on Ireland's neck for centuries. My family prays for the ten men men who died-- every day.
Today, especially, we pray for them and remember them again, with respect and honor:
Ar dheis Dé go raibh siad
May they be at God's right hand
Submitted by George McLaughlin of the Fenian Memorial Committee of America