Chapter 3 from
|SOLDIER: You mean to starve? You will have none of it?|
I'll leave it there, where you can sniff the Savour.
Snuff it, old hedgehog, and unroll yourself.
But if I were the King, I'd make you do it
With wisps of lighted straw.
|- The King's Threshold, by W. B. Yeats|
The day was marked by Sinn Fein with a march through West Belfast.
It was a cold Sunday and it was raining. Four months before, about
10,000 had taken part in the march which had marked the beginning
of the first hunger strike; Bernadette McAliskey, watching it,
had had tears running down her face, of pride and excitement,
believing she was watching the birth of another mass movement
like the civil rights demonstrations eleven years before. Today
only 3,500 were taking part and giving little cause for excitement;
more for regret at lost opportunities, and a reflection of the
sense of déja vu in a tired community. There were some
fine statements, of course. One was read out to the demonstrators
on behalf of the prisoners, declaring: 'We have asserted that
we are political prisoners and everything about our country, our
interrogation, trials and prison conditions show that we are politically
motivated and not motivated by selfish reasons for selfish ends.
As further demonstration of our selflessness and the justice of
our cause, a number of our comrades, beginning today with Bobby
Sands, will hunger-strike to the death unless the British Government
abandons its criminalization policy and meets our demands.'
Inside H3 Sands was preparing his statement for posterity, a diary which the external leadership had asked him to try and keep. 'I am standing on the threshold of another trembling world,' he carefully wrote on a scrap of toilet paper. 'May God have mercy on my soul.'
He also made a present for one of his friends among the prisoners, Ricky - in the Irish, 'Risteard' - O'Rawe, who had taken over as public relations officer for the IRA men. The gift was the lyrics of a song he had written, which he carefully etched on cigarette paper. 'A Sad Song for Susan', it was called - a song replete with his own feelings of emotional loss.
I'm sitting at the window, I'm looking down the streetAt the end of it he scribbled a note to O'Rawe: 'There you are Risteard, fresh from the heart for what it's worth. I wrote it one rainy afternoon on remand in H1 when I had the fine company of a guitar to pick out the tune. So Sine e.'
I'm looking for your face, I'm listening for your feet.
Outside the wind is blowing and it's just begun to rain
But it's being here without you that's causing me such pain.
My mind is running back again to when you were here
And I wish I had you now, I wish you were near.
Remember the Winter nights when you warmed me from the cold
And the Spring when we walked through green fields and skies of gold
You're gone, you're gone, but you live on in my memory.
[From] H6,Sun 1.3.81The following morning the prisoners ended their no-wash protest, as planned. It passed off peacefully enough, but the enthusiastic response of the warders was unsettling. They were moved to clean cells, provided with new bedding, allowed haircuts and shaves and were told that loss of remission for failing to conform would be cut by half and that they would be getting fruit parcels once a month. It appeared the authorities were under the misapprehension that they were engaged in another step-by-step attempt to resolve the dispute. Time would tell them. The blanket protest would continue.
While Mass was in progress cell searches were carried out. During these searches disinfectant was thrown around all cells. It was also thrown over 4 mattresses and also two pillows, two mattresses were torn in half and three pillows destroyed. Sin e.
The INLA prisoners were getting worried about terms of reference for negotiations. Their commanding officer, Patsy O'Hara, told the IRA commander in his block, H5, he had received orders from the INLA Army Council that nobody could negotiate on their behalf. Their main worry was that their men would not get segregation from the IRA prisoners - being swamped by big brother was a perennial INLA concern.
Sands found that particularly generous portions of food were being offered to him. So his cell-mate, Malachy Carey, was having a feast. He deserved it. Because of Sands's pivotal role, first as officer commanding and then ,as lead hunger striker, Carey found himself something of a beast of burden, carrying supplies and comms. He had staggered out of one Mass, where smuggled items were usually exchanged between prisoners, with a wad of comms, tobacco, a camera, a radio and 'Rennie Barker' - a Parker pen refill - inside himself. It had earned him the nickname 'The Suitcase'.
On the Tuesday Sands had a visit with an Irish and an English journalist he had invited in. The English reporter asked him if he thought he was going to die. He said he did.
There was a sense of luxury to it all for him. A table was brought into the cell , and his food placed Ostentatiously on it, with the odd jibe as to whether he was still not eating. He was smoking - 'bog-rolled blow' - and had been allowed newspapers and a book of Kipling's short stories. There was a touch of irony in that, of course: Kipling, the bard of British Imperialism. There was an introduction by W. Somerset Maugham and one line leapt out at Sands: 'It is true that the Irish were making a nuisance of themselves.' Indeed. But he got a lot of satisfaction from the book.
On Wednesday he was feeling great. There was even jam with the tea.
Liam Og [Sinn Fein official] from Bik [McFarlane] 4.3.81
... I saw Charlie [Sands] out at the showers this morning. He shaved off his beard and is just now having his hair cut. He saw the doctor and had medical run-down - weight 63 kg, blood pressure 110/72, pulse 72 ... He has no complaints whatsoever and is sleeping well at night though not at all during the day. He spends the day yarning with the guy next door, reading and doing a bit of walking in the cell which is now completely furnished. He got everything he wanted on request and is visited by a Governor (McCartney, I think his name is) each day. He reckons this Gov. is the main man to monitor the hunger strike. The reasons for asking for books, papers, furniture is to simulate normal cell conditions so that if they try to move him he can insist that there is no reason so he will be in the exact same conditions as he is at present. It can then be seen for the move it is - ie. isolation. We hope to maintain this current position for quite some time. Index [Fr Toner) was in last night and spent most of the time talking about religion. Charlie reckons he was just trying to get deeper insight into him. Anyway Index remarked that he thought his spirit was very high. Incidentally Silvertop [Fr Murphy] made the same comment on Monday evening ... Now generally, Charlie is in good form and is not as yet experiencing any weakness, dizziness, tiredness, pains and nothing at all. He is not taking salt tablets, but has raw salt in his cell. The doctor was telling him that this was a better way to take it as it meant the water was fresh and not distasteful, which he believed was the cause of sickness among the last hunger strikers. So he takes a little raw salt each day and is drinking in the region of six pints of water ... I got a glimpse into his cell and he looks pretty comfortable. He has sheets and an extra blanket and one blanket hanging over the grille on the window ... Now Oliver dear chap, I know I am regarded as a religious freak, but my faith does not extend to withering fig leaves that don't bear fruit, or raising the dead, or my fine fellow, producing sheets of S&S [Stretch and Seal plastic, to wrap smuggled items] from fresh air!! I beg, plead, implore, beseech thee is there any bloody chance of lots and lots of lovely fresh S&S very very soon - Please? I mean what did I ever do to you? ... Take care and God Bless.
[Unsigned] 5.3.81The other prisoners' thoughts were constantly on Sands. Food had been dropped as the favourite topic of conversation - no more cries went up of 'Here comes Henry VIII, no more guessing games about what was for dinner. They had started saying the Rosary twice a day. Bobby himself was saying his prayers, and castigating himself as a crawler. He found he could ignore the food put out for him easily enough, but he kept longing for a piece of brown wholemeal bread, butter, Dutch cheese and honey. 'Well, there will be a great feed awaiting me above - if I get there,' he thought. 'But what if there is no food up there?' On Friday he was beginning to get brief spells of energy loss. He had dropped three kilograms by Saturday.
Bobby's weight today is 62 kg. His heart beat is 88 and blood pressure 112/70 ... He requested blankets. Said he felt the draft coming in the windows. So the screws put a blanket, on the windows during the night.
He stumbled across some articles about wildlife in the newspapers; he had been passionate about birds since childhood. He had been listening for them, curlews flying past the cell windows, the croak of the black crows, waiting for the sound of the lark and spring.
Monday the 9th was his birthday. He was 27.
Liam Og 9.3.81 from Mareella [Sands]
Comrade, how are ya? I'm still in the wing with the lads and how long that will last is uncertain. I'm feeling physically alright, I've had no headaches or even minor medical complaints. There are I believe several tactics being deployed at present, foremost is I believe a deliberate policy of false disinterest that is 'we couldn't care less' type of thing to make me feel small or insignificant and to try to create the impression in my mind that the hunger strike is merely confined to my cell. But I can see that. Secondly (and I must say first that I have no trouble in resisting the temptation of food because of my frame of mind) my opinion is that there has been a vast improvement in the quality and quantity of food. Stew is the best food here, we've had it 3 times in seven days ... It appears that the seven comrades are still a bit down. I was disappointed that I never even got a note from the Dark even if it was just to say goodbye, but I hope they'll be alright ...
To Liam Og from Marcella 9.3.81In the evening, when the dinner plates had been cleared away and the night guard had settled down, the 'scorchers' shouted the news across the courtyard between the two facing wings. Jake Jackson, with his fluent Irish and strong young voice, was the scorcher for A wing and he yelled that Sands was all right and his weight - 60 kilograms. At the end of it Spotto Devine in D wing shouted: 'One more thing.' And then their wing roared in Irish: 'Happy birthday, Bobby.'
Comrade, Just some worrying thoughts that are in my mind. As you should know, I don't care much to entering any discussion on the topic of 'negotiations' or for that matter 'settlements' but what is worrying me is this: I'm afraid that there is a possibility that at a crucial stage (which could be after death) the Brits would move with a settlement and demand Index [Prison Chaplin, Fr Toner) as guarantor. Now this is feasible, if a man is dying, that they would try to force Bik to accept a settlement to save life which of course would be subject to Index's interpretation. And we know how far that would get us. It wouldn't make any difference if it were he and Silvertop [Assistant Prison Chaplain, Fr Murphy), the same would occur. I've told Bik to let me or anyone else die before submitting to a play like that. Well that's what was bugging me - silly old fool aren't I!! . . . I was wondering (here it comes says you) that out of the goodness of all yer hearts you could get me one miserly book and try to leave it in: the Poems of Ethna Carberry - cissy. 'That's really all I want, last request as they say. Some ask for cigarettes, others for blindfolds, yer man asks for Poetry.
They celebrated with a concert which followed a now familiar form. 'Teapot' and 'Hector' were the impresarios. 'Teapot' was Jimmy McMullan - he got the name because a British army patrol had shot the top of his car off and filled him full of holes back in 1975. He was the second IRA man sentenced under the criminalization policy, after Kieran Nugent, and was now the longest-serving blanket man. 'Hector' - Jim McNeil - had a gammy leg and used a walking stick; he had been shot up after opening fire on an army patrol in 1976. The two of them were always vying, jovially, for ascendancy. Hector was a couple of inches shorter than Teapot and used to stand on an upturned chamber pot to get above him.
Bik McFarlane kicked off the concert, with a rendering of 'A Big Yellow Taxi'. Jake sang 'Skibereen', Bobby his own haunting composition, 'Back Home in Derry', and Blessed Noel Quinn from Bellaghy 'My Little Armalite':
I was stopped by a soldier, said he you are a swine,The song was in sharp contrast with the name: he had got the 'Blessed Noel' because he walked with an almost pious hunch, had a beard which parted in two peaks, and resembled a biblical figure in a rosary book the ~n chaplain had brought into the wing - or at least that was what Teapot said.
He beat me with his baton and he kicked me in the groin
I bowed and scraped, sure my manners were polite,
Ah, but all the time I was thinking of my little Armalite.
Hector gave a song about the murderous B Specials which went on and on and had everyone yawning ostentatiously at their doors and Teapot blowing raspberries. Big Tom McElwee down at the end of the corridor was called and he said: 'You'se all know I can't sing, so I'll do this poem,' which had them all jeering: 'Not that one again.' But he persevered, in his big countryman's voice, with the tale of the rock flowers spellbound by the mists from the sea. The evening ended with Bik playing requests, singing another of Sands's songs, 'McIlhatton'- the tale of the poteen maker in the Glens of Antrim - whistling jigs and reels to the rhythm of the bodhran drum played on the steel door of his cell.
9.3.81 [unsigned]Over the next few days birthday greetings came trickling into Sands's cell - some published as adverts in a local newspaper, others in conventional cards, or smuggled comms from other parts of the prison.
. . . [Bobby] says that there is not a thing wrong with him and is in pretty cheerful spirits. He seems to have totally accepted the fact that he will die, this has come across in his speech. He has mentioned it a few times in a quite matter of fact manner . . .
Liam Og from Sin Sin 14.3.81Sands was becoming increasingly tired. He very much wanted to try writing some more poetry - he had ideas for some on the hunger strike - but decided that he just did not have the energy. Better to concentrate on keeping going. The daily diary was taking too much out of him as it was. He stalled ten days before taking another bath, to avoid the risk of a cold. On Sunday the 15th he got company, at least in the abstract, with the announcement that Francis Hughes had joined the hunger strike in H5. The next day Sands had a visit with his family. He was concerned about the loss of energy involved in taking the walk to the visiting block, but was looking forward to the open air. He wrapped up warmly.
Bobby's weight 58.25 blood pressure and heart beat normal. The screws turned his cell lights on 3 times last night wakening him on every occasion. Times 10.00 P.M., 2.00 A.M., 6.00 A.M.. No other details.
To Liam Og from Bik 16.3.81
... Bob had a very good visit with his family and feels much happier at seeing them in a more contented frame of. mind. They were very sound indeed he says. He got some verbal abuse from screws at visits - usual rubbish about food etc. He did not get a search, out or in, apparently this is to do with screws working to rule. This morning they were informed by Hilditch since no-wash protest was terminated, they were now back to normal good time and normal wages - i.e. no bonus for kicking blanket men to death. One of them said to Ricky the NIO were no longer paying them to do the mirror search so they weren't going to do it. We don't think the Administration have put a stop to it - just the screws' work to rule OK!
Marcella to Liam Og 16.3.81While Sands and the leadership were worrying about the larger issues, other prisoners had their own problems.
Comrade, 'how are you? It's me. Well I'm .alright. I had a v sit with the family today. I was apprehensive going out (know what I mean) but I must say my ma, da and Marcella were just fantastic (circumstances considered). The visit really boosted me (not that I was in dire need of a boost - Sherlock!!) but it did do the heart good of course. My Ma's still a wee bit inquisitive on 'are you doing this of your own free will son' and has now accepted that I am; with me reassuring her of that. They were most interested to know what they can do to help me . . . they're sound enough. They have a wee bit of hope and I didn't say anything to wreck that hope. Now some wee points (I will mention them to Bik tomorrow. Silvertop and Index still come in. Silvertop is alright (well not devious) the other effort is overtly cordial and like a jackal waiting on prey, to physically weaken (well dare 'em). Silver is Sagart Mor's [Cardinal O Fiaich's] man. Sagart Mor was going to make statement following end of no wash to put the ball in the Brits' court, by saying the prisoners have moved with a show of flexibility, now Brits should make a return step-by-step gesture in granting clothes (and petty things). Sagart Mor thought this is a good move and was enthusiastic, but Silvertop put a halt to it saying that I did not want this, pointing out to him (1) I would not accept any petty concessions which would only serve to undermine 'once again' the true issue at stake i.e. status. (2) My advice is Sagart Mor is to take a political redner [blush] and speak out with clarity and with vigour against the Brit intransigence to solve this issue. (3) Sagart Mor also knows that only a public declaration from Brits or direct negotiations with guarantees leading to package of five demands will solve this issue okay. Now that Bik is OC only he, me and OC of Armagh (with other additions I didn't elaborate on) will negotiate and no one else and if (when) I die Bik will (and at all times) be in control okay. Comrade now here's a point that's worrying me: in the event of me, Frankie or Raymond dying you'll have no one left to work with and you know who'd be left [presumably the INLA representative, O'Hara] and what could happen. Just thought that someone behind him would be a safeguard. Let's face it comrade it may well happen like that. Sorry to be so cryptic but think about it ...
H4 16.3.81 [unsigned)Outside the prison it was all fairly quiet. In the House of Commons the Secretary of State, Humphrey Atkins, had declared yet again his Government's determination not to concede special status to the prisoners. MPs on both sides of the floor appealed to him to stop making such statements, because it was only giving the IRA publicity. Better to let them fade into obscurity, said one Conservative MP, John Farr. But on the very same day they were speaking a man died of a heart attack in Ireland; a death which would soon put an end to talk of obscurity.
On Sunday 3rd March a wing was moved from H4 to H6. There was no trouble. The wing was moved back from H6 to H4 on Friday 13th. This time there was trouble. The screws told the men to take their cell cards while moving from block to block. The men refused and a few beatings were handed out. Most of the beatings weren't too bad. Only a couple were slightly bad. One man's nose was bleeding and he had a swollen lip. Another man had a couple of bruises. Most of the men were running down the wing and through the circle with their arms up their backs. One man was kicked in the testicles. All of this trouble took place in H6. When the man who was kicked got back to H4 he saw a medical officer. One of his testicles had went inside him and the area was swollen. He was taken out the same day again and went to hospital. He is now in an outside hospital. His name is Owen O'Boyle, South Derry ... Sin e H4
His name was Frank Maguire. Big Frank Maguire. He ran a pub in Lisnaskea, Co. Fermanagh, in the south-east corner of northern Ireland. More importantly, he was a member of the House of Commons.
Fermanagh has an idiosyncratic Republican ethos among the counties of Ireland, which dates back to Partition and the Anglo-Irish Treaty. The Irish delegation to London which signed the Treaty believed - and indeed were encouraged to do so, with apparent good faith, by Lloyd George - that the border which would be delineated by a proposed boundary commission would make the northern statelet unviable as an economic, or national unit, with the major Nationalist population groups in Fermanagh, South Derry, Derry City and South Armagh going to the south. The sense of betrayal when they were incorporated in the Protestant north was felt particularly in Fermanagh, the only one of the six counties where there was an overall Nationalist majority. This, together with the scars of the civil war which followed the Treaty, created in Fermanagh a disillusionment with party politics, coupled with an almost paradoxical Nationalist unity. In the mid-1920s a Nationalist Registration Association was formed in the county to make sure that they maintained a majority in any elections and they were successful in that until the start of the Civil Rights movement in the late 1960s, which threw up a new and powerful political grouping, the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP). But even then, despite the intrusion of party politics into Fermanagh, Nationalist unity was the overriding political consideration among Catholic voters. And it was to resolve a split between rival Nationalist politicians that Frank Maguire emerged as a compromise candidate for the second of the two general elections in 1974, beating a former leader of the Official Unionist Party, Harry West, to take the seat.
Born in 1929, into a family of four children - three boys and one girl - Frank had worked at the Lisnaskea pub for his uncle, John Carron, who had been a Nationalist MP at Stormont before it was prorogued. He had been involved in the Republican Movement in the 1950s campaign and had been interned without trial for two years, acting for a time as Officer Commanding the IRA in the Crurnlin Road jail. But he had turned against the physical force tradition and was vehemently opposed to violence.
At Westminster, where he was rarely seen, he was regarded as a mildly eccentric character who, at the time of his death, had still to deliver his maiden speech. He made one critical non-appearance in 1979, when his absence contributed to the narrow defeat of the then Labour government of James Callaghan which brought Mrs Thatcher to power. But his great interest, in pursuit of which he would go to considerable lengths - even making a reluctant appearance in Parliament - was in prison welfare: not just Irish prisons, but anywhere in the world where he felt there was penal injustice. H e lent his name, for instance, to any group campaigning for prisoners of conscience behind the Iron Curtain. In Fermanagh itself he was an extremely popular figure, involved in GAA (Irish) football and always an easy touch, in his office above 'Frank's Pub', for a quick loan which as likely as not would be spent in another pub down the road.
When Frank died it was assumed his seat would be taken over by his brother Noel, who, at 49, was just two years younger than he. Noel, too, had been closely involved in politics. He had been particularly close to John Carron - had in effect been brought up by him and his wife - and had worked for him for a while as a political secretary at Stormont. When Frank became MP, Noel became his right-hand man, doing much of his constituency work for him. Politically he was like Frank, although he had a wider experience of the world. He had read history at Trinity College in Dublin, abandoning his studies to wander abroad. He had ended up in the United States where he worked as an archivist in Washington and as a ghost writer, attaching himself to a number of geographic expeditions, including one to Antarctica. He looked a bit like a sailor - a Captain Nemo figure, almost, with greying hair, blue eyes and nautical beard.
Certainly Sinn Féin posed no threat to the Maguire succession. The organization did exist at the time in Fermanagh, but only just, and largely in the diminutive figure of Owen Carron.
Owen Carron was just an ordinary member, virtually unheard of outside the county, even within the organization. He was a bachelor, aged 26, with a potentially powerful face - piercing blue eyes, jet black hair and aquiline features - which was compromised by a shy manner and small stature; he stood about 5 ft 5 in. tall. Trained as a teacher in Manchester, he had taught history, religion and English at a Catholic secondary school in Armagh, but had given it up because it was too far to travel from his home, a ten-acre farm near Enniskillen where he lived with his 75-year-old father. He had started a local H-Block Committee and had arranged some fairly successful meetings, marches and pickets in support of the first hunger strike. When that collapsed nobody even told the Committee - they heard about it on the radio like everyone else. When the second hunger strike started they found it almost impossible to generate any local interest.
Shortly after Frank Maguire's death Carron had a telephone call from the President of Sinn Féin, Ruairi O Bradaigh. There was a monthly meeting pending of Sinn Féin's national executive and the organization's attitude towards the election - who they should support - was likely to come up. O Bradaigh, who was wanted by the security forces in the north, asked Carron if he would come down and meet him in Carrick-on-Shannon, to advise him. Carron went down and told O Bradaigh that the possible rivals to Noel Maguire were Bernadette McAliskey and a former boy scout leader in the area, Bernard O'Connor. McAliskey had signalled her apparent interest in the seat by attending Frank's funeral on crutches - her fist public appearance since the bid to assassinate her. But, although she was one of the most outstanding political speakers and thinkers on the island and greatly admired for her pluck, conservative Ireland had never quite got over the shock of her having had a baby out of wedlock while an MP. And, despite a brief flirtation with the IRSP, she did not have the organizational backing to overcome the prejudices. O'Connor was a small gadfly on the rump of the establishment and liked for that; he had ones ran a local version of Private Eye, with scurrilous attacks on various dignitaries, and had stung the establishment even more tellingly in 1980 when he had been awarded £5,000 by the High Court in Belfast against the police for badly beating him up during interrogation. But he was not seen as a serious candidate and Carron's advice to O Bradaigh was that Sinn Fein should just stay well out of it all.
At the Executive Committee meeting in Dublm the following Saturday the issue was raised. Gerry Adams, Vice-President of Sinn Fein, had realized that something was needed to raise public consciousness, which had been so deflated by the anticlimactic ending of the first fast. He floated the idea of putting Sands up in Fermanagh-South Tyrone. The idea was backed by the second vice- president, Daithi O Conaill, another former Chief of Staff of the IRA. There was some argument over whether it was too great a risk, putting Sands forward and then having to withdraw. But it was agreed in principle that if they could persuade the other Nationalist candidates to give him a clear field he should go forward.
They called a meeting of Republicans from Fermanagh-South Tyrone to put the idea to them. It was held again south of the border, in the Swann hotel, in Monaghan. About 150 people turned up. The Sinn Féin leadership was on the platform in force - Adams, O Bradaigh, O Conaill, Joe Cahill, former Quartermaster General of the IRA. and John Joe McGirl, another one-time Chief of Staff. Opinion, on the floor, was obviously against a prison candidate and it was confirmed on a vote, with an overwhelming majority against Sands. As the meeting broke up Carron was asked to stay behind, to meet the leadership. He waited in the lobby while they had an impromptu meeting of the Sinn Féin executive. While he was waiting he talked to some friends from Fermanagh and they agreed among themselves that the Movement should press ahead with Sands as a candidate regardless of the vote at the meeting. Then the executive came out and Carron told O Bradaigh their thinking. O Bradaigh said the executive had just come to the same decision.
Adams headed for the telephone to tell the Belfast headquarters to issue a statement, with an appeal to other possible candidates to give way. What Adams and company had not told the meeting was that they already had undertakings of sorts from both McAliskey and Maguire. McAliskey had not hesitated; asked to come in to the Belfast offices to see Adams, she had walked in and said 'I know what you're looking for and that's OK.' Adams and another Sinn Fein officer, Jim Gibney, had gone down to Lisnaskea to see Maguire. They had a long chat with the family which was inconclusive until Adams ended it with the blunt question: 'You wouldn't stand against a hunger striker, would you?' To which Noel replied: 'No, if a prisoner stands I would withdraw. I think it would be a mistake ...'
In the prison Sands was having trouble with the cold. He wrapped
himself as tightly as he could in blankets, but he had difficulty
keeping his feet warm. By the 16th he had lost 5.75 kilograms.
After seventeen days he gave up his diary, it was too much effort.
He ended on a defiant and passionate note: 'They won't break me
because the desire for freedom, and the freedom of the Irish people,
is in my heart. The day will dawn when all the people of Ireland
will have the desire for freedom to show. It is then we'll see
the rising of the moon.' The 'rising of the moon' was a quotation
from a prom celebrating the great rising of 1798 written by a
young Fenian, John Casey, who died in 1879 at the age of 24, of
ill-health partly attributed to his harsh treatment in prison:
Well they fought for poor old Ireland
And full bitter was their fate
(Oh! what glorious pride and sorrow
Fill the name of Ninety-Eight.)
Yet, thank God, e'en still are beating
Hearts in manhood's burning noon,
Who would follow in their footsteps
At the risin' of the moon!
Poetry, as ever, was Sands's passion. And McFarlane did all he could to satisfy it.
Pennies from Bik 19.3.81The following Saturday, his twenty-third day without food, Sands started developing a sore throat. The doctor said he might have to take some medicine for it, but Sands said he was not prepared to do that. The doctor said it would only be penicillin and it did not have any vitamins in it, so Sands said he would think about it. The next day it seemed to be improving, although he could feel he was getting weaker. It was arranged for another prisoner to slop out for him as he did not feel up to it any more.
... Bob was pleased you managed to get that book for him. I told Liam Og to leave it up on Saturday. But you know that while we were in H6, during 1979, he sent up to me and told me after reading some of Ethna's [Carberry's] work that he had written her a wee note and 'you never know', sez Bob, she might just do something on the blocks. Did he take a red face when I informed him that she'd been dead more than 10 years. [In fact she had died in 1902.] He has been extra careful what he says to me since then. Anyway, will you do your best to get some more stuff like that for him. He's mad about poetry as you know ...
In Dublin, in room 3074 of the Arts Block at Trinity College, the 35-year-old Director of Employees Relations and Services from British Leyland in Coventry, Geoffrey Armstrong, was delivering a paper to sixty-four members of the local Junior Chamber of Commerce. At 2.20 P.M., in the middle of his talk, the doors at the back burst open and three men in combat jackets, masked by balaclavas, marched to the front. Some of the audience thought it was a student prank, but then two of the hooded men produced guns. 'Everybody freeze, nobody move, this action is in support of the H-Blocks,' one of them shouted. For a moment it looked as if they were going to shoot a woman in the front row. But a gunman turned back to Armstrong, who had retreated from his podium, shot him three times in the flesh of his legs. Armstrong turned pale, started shaking and collapsed. The gunmen ran out.
The title of the paper Armstrong had been delivering was: 'Managing change in an uncertain climate'.
Frank Hughes and his cell-mate, Raymond McCreesh - who had by now joined the hunger strike with the INLA commanding officer, Patsy O'Hara - were in high spirits. They had a concert for McCreesh in H5, during which he delivered a speech, entirely in Irish, on the meaning of the hunger strike. Frank was so lively they had to stop him singing and later he sent out a request for the latest issue of Republican News, because he had heard there was a photograph of him in it. The newspaper, a weekly, was a fairly thick tabloid, but Sinn Féin had perfected a method of reducing it in size, with the help of a photostat machine, and smuggling it inside in the normal way. Their smuggling was getting ever more ambitious. They tried to get in a camera - code-named Iris - but the prisoner who was due to collect it on a visit blanched at the sight of it, as McFarlane explained in a comm written with a new pen.
Liam Og from Bik 23.3.81McFarlane had got the pen as a farewell gift from Sands. On the morning of the 23rd Sands was taken away to see a specialist. The warders said he would not be coming back, he would be taken directly into the prison hospital, a small clinic adjoining the H-Blocks, with eight single-bed wards. Sands passed the pen on to McFarlane through Jake Jackson, who was being allowed by the warders to clean out Sands's cell. Jackson was given his hairbrush as his memento.
Comrade, as you will note, I have acquired a new pen - Bob's in fact!! Did you know that I had that blue Parker since the middle of the last hunger strike. Bloody marvellous job it was - took heart attack last night ... Big Tom is shattered - nearly shit himself when he saw 'Iris'. Said a girl like that could never have a successful relationship with shy chappie like him. So comrade it's curtains for Iris ...
Liam Og from Tony HS 25.3.81
. . . Patsy was out washing. Screws sent orderly to clean out his cell. Patsy told him not to do it and asked for his neighbours to do it. Screws didn't allow it. Governor told him that he is allowed one visit per week, but only for his family, 'no gangsters or reporters we would only turn them away'. Said he wouldn't get a radio, because 'you are still on protest and you would only it up for the other NCP's [non-conforming prisoners]. You are allowed two letters per week, but if 7 or 8 come the system will allow you them. On the Irish News 'there is no great demand for it, but we'll see'. On books from outside we wouldn't give straight answer. Doctors checked his stomach and chest told him he was sound. All 3 have to wait 10 minutes at the grille before seeing doctor. All in good spirits, That's it for now.
To O/C Blocks H3 - O/C H5 26.3.81 From Tony H5On the 26th Sinn Fein announced that Sands would be standing for Fermanagh-South Tyrone. But the field was still not clear of Nationalist candidates, as they had originally hoped. Word had come up from Enniskillen that Noel Maguire was having second thoughts - the local clergy appeared to be pushing him and he had deposited his nomination papers. And to complicate matters another possible candidate had appeared. The Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), led by John Hume, decided to opt out, but a leading member, Austin Currie, was rebelling. Currie had been the youngest MP ever elected to the old Stormont parliament. He was a Nationalist, but strongly opposed to the IRA, and he let it be known that if Maguire did not stand, then he would do so to block Sands.
. . . Now our propaganda is going OK, but seemed to slow up a bit. We put out 305 [comms) during the fortnight ending 21st ... Here are their weights when they started and last night. Frank 71.60 - 60.67: Ray 63.20 - 61.70: Patsy 76.76 - 75.35.
Inside the Kesh the prisoners bad mixed feelings about the decision to put Sands up, but generally supported it. Developments were watched closely from the cells.
Liam Og from Bik 29.3.81It was a bad time for Noel Maguire - probably the worst in his life. The previous year he had lost both his parents. His mother had phoned him one day to say his father had collapsed and had been taken to the hospital. He got to the hospital to find them both lying in the morgue - she had died as she put the phone down. In January his aunt - John Carron's wife, who was almost a mother to him - had also died. And then there was Frank in March. Now he was suddenly being presented as the man who stood between life and death for Bobby Sands. Letters poured into the Stag's Head pub, which he was running, and his uncle's home where he was staying just outside the town. Old-time Republicans made personal appeals to him and calls came in from as far afield as America, pleading and demanding that he stand down. He could not understand the pressure. He had no intention of standing against a prison hunger striker - Frank would never have done that and nor would he; the unity of the People was what counted. But he just did not believe that Sands would stand and he would not believe it until his nomination was in.
. . . Looks as though there is plenty of devious activity afloat with the election, just as you said - it makes me throw up. One thing is very clear - the Brits fear us taking this seat, hence the SDLP opposition. If Austin Currie runs against Bob the split vote will allow West to take the seat. The other Nationalist MPs won't want this and will of course seek agreement on a sole candidate. This means that Bob would have to slide out, if SDLP consent was to be gained - devious pro-Brit bastards!! No doubt, Maguire would be suitable to them and other Nationalists. Now I was just thinking - Bob would hammer Currie but not necessarily win the seat. Regardless of this it would be a blow to the SDLP and a boost of sorts to us. Currie is the weakest of any of the potential candidates but is holding the heap to ransom for the Brits (not forgetting the Church and Free State). I think we should not allow ourselves to be intimidated or bluffed out of this election. I reckon we should tell Maguire that we are going to run - just put it to him straight what Currie and that shower are up to and ask him to back us. If we get the seat then he can have a crack at it shortly. If West takes it, then it will only be a short period until a general election and it can be regained no problem. Maguire should be askedd to adopt Bernie's [McAliskey's] line and shelve his political career for a short while in the interests of men's lives what is at stake. If he and Bernie are behind us we will take that seat, even if Currie does run.
Owen Carron was frantically collecting signatures for the papers - of a proposer, seconder and eight nominees. He collected the last of them shortly before midnight on Sunday, with McAliskey as proposer, getting everyone to sign two sets of papers, because he was terrified there would be a technical hitch when he handed them in: the returning officer would no doubt be a Loyalist.
On the Monday Carron met Adams and Gibney at the house of an ex-prisoner, Jimmy McGivern, on the Catholic Ballygawley estate, in the town of Dungannon, where the returning office was situated. He went to lodge the papers with Gibney at about 11 A.M. There were no problems. Maguire had already lodged his papers. The question was whether he would now withdraw before the 4 P.M. deadline.
They went back to the Ballygawley house and the anxious wait began. Tension mounted. McGivern was pacing backwards and forwards, cursing under his breath. Gibney was making worried phone calls. Adams was being his usual cool self, puffing on his pipe, making occasional entries in his ever-present notebook. At about 3 P.M. McGivern said: 'Christ, he's not going to do it.' At 3.45 the telephone rang.
Noel Maguire was in his office above the Stag's Head, preparing his campaign with his agent, Michael Cunningham, when they got the news that Sands's nomination was in. His two nephews, Frank Og (Junior) and Martin were in the house next door and Noel raised them on an intercom system from the office: he did not feel in a state to drive, they had only fifteen minutes to get to the returning office in Dungannon; would Frank Og drive him? The two boys agreed to come. They jumped into Frank's old blue Ford Granada - Noel, the two nephews and Cunningham - and headed off.
At McGivern's house in Dungannon Adams and company began cheering: Maguire was on his way. They ran for their Ford Escort.
They parked the car around the corner from the office and Carron and Adams stayed in it - they did not want anyone to think they were prepared to withdraw Bobby. In fact Adams had already written a statement announcing Sands's withdrawal and had tucked it away in his pocket; he had already decided that if Maguire did not make it he would be pulling them out. McGivern and Gibney with another Republican who had joined them, Francis Malloy, went to see what was happening. The press was already there, waiting. There were only ten minutes to go and there were fears Maguire's car had got stuck in a traffic jam. Then the Ford Granada was sighted.
Cunningham got out first and walked to the where a local Republican began to abuse him for his part in encouraging Maguire to stand. Cunningham walked back to the car. The Sinn Féin trio held their breaths: was this the proverbial straw; would Maguire get angry and drive off. Then the familiar figure with his white beard clambered out of the car and walked, with distinctively delicate steps, up to the stairs. Reporters called out, asking whether he was withdrawing. He ignored them and went inside. A few minutes later he emerged carrying his nomination papers and made a brief statement: 'It, has now become a question of conscience with me. I have been told the only way of saving Bobby Sands's life is by letting him go forward in the elections. I just cannot have the life of another man on my hands. I am calling my supporters to throw their weight behind Bobby Sands.' Carron and Adams walked over and shook his hand.
In the Kesh the prisoners had been given their own, limited opportunity to make a political gesture - warders had presented them with government census forms. Outside the prison a campaign had been started to disrupt the census, by refusing to complete the forms, as a demonstration in favour of the hunger strikers. There was a debate among the prisoners as to how the papers should best he used - as toilet paper, or for cigarettes. Eventually they decided to play 'weddings', tearing the forms up and tossing the confetti out of their windows and around their cells.
In Anderson Crescent, in a Catholic enclave within Derry's predominantly Protestant area of Waterside, Joanna Mathers was going from door to door, collecting census forms. An honours graduate from Belfast's Queen's University and married to a farmer, she had given up a job with the Town and Country Planning services in the city to bring up her 2½-year-old son, Shane. To make some pin money, she had volunteered to help with the census. She had just got up to Patrick McLaughlin's house in Anderson Crescent when a masked man danced up to her, snatched the clipboard she was holding with one hand, put a gun at her head with the other and fired. The girl squealed and ran past McLaughlin, who was standing at the door. He slammed it shut, but the gunman crashed through it and, waving the gun, grabbed the census forms before disappearing. Inside the house Joanna was dead.
In Belfast the Reverend Ian Paisley. was galloping on down the Carson trail, without very much success. After his military-style parade on that Antrim hillside in February - in protest against the Anglo-Irish talks the previous December - he had decided to emulate Sir Edward Carson's 'Ulster Covenant', a petition signed by nearly half a million Protestant men in 1912 to protest against Home Rule for Ireland. Dr Paisley had announced that, in imitation of Carson's Covenant campaign, he was staging a series of rallies around northern Ireland, culminating in a monster rally at Stormont - underneath a statue of Sir Edward himself. The campaign turned out to be a pale imitation of the Carson campaign: fewer than 10,000 people turning up for the final 'monster' rally on Saturday 28 March. But the blow was softened for Dr Paisley by the police, who put the figure at between 28,000 and 30,000. Dr Paisley told the crowd he had information that British Intelligence was planning to assassinate him.
In the Kesh prison life continued in its rut.
Liam Og from PRO H4 30.3.81
Owen O'Boyle from South Derry came back to H4 today. On Tues 13.3.81 he was taken to the City hospital [after a punch-up with warders] until 15.3.81 then he was to Musgrave hospital where he underwent an operation on his scrotum to replace his testicles back in place. Altogether he got 15 stitches. On the 26th he was moved to the prison hospital until the 30th when he was moved back to H4.
From Pat to Liam Og'The doctor wants to see you to tell you when you are going to die,' a warder muttered as he walked into Patsy O'Hara's cell in H5.
Bit of crack here today. John Cassidy from Derry has a nervous breakdown and was taken out to hospital. He's been on the blanket from 1977. He's in a bad way. (He's doing 12 years.) Also do you know 3 ex-blanket men are already in psychiatric ward in hospital camp. Alex Comerford (Clonard) F. Hanley (Lower Fails) Gerry Murphy (Dundalk). Good PR point. Everything else sound. Pat H6.
Sands, in the prison hospital, had lost 11.3 kilos after thirty-two days without food. He was still downing pints of water, but finding the liquid increasingly repulsive. He reacted cautiously to the news from Dungannon.
To Brownie from Marcella [Sands] 2.4.81That evening McFarlane was trying to figure out what longer-term strategy to follow if deaths did take place. The hunger strike committee - an informal group of Sinn Fein and IRA officials, headed by Adams and set up to handle short-term planning of the hunger strike - had ruled out replacing the present four with a separate and second 'squad'; it would be too much like starting a third and then fourth hunger strike. Instead they had agreed with the prisoners that if a hunger striker did die he would be replaced with another on an individual basis. But if the present four did die they would effectively have another squad of replacements. So would it not be worth going beyond the four? McFarlane figured not. If public pressure failed to move the Government by the time the first four died they would have effectively shot their bolt. And after four, with the authorities still adamant, more deaths would start to look like suicide, which would be damaging for the Movement. But if they were to abandon the hunger strike after four deaths, what then? If the protest continued it would dwindle in size and just be a millstone around the Movement's neck, hampering the war effort. Far better for everyone to move off the protest as one unit, and then devote their energy, so far as the cellular system would allow, to training and politicizing the men for a return to the war. But if they were going to do that the men would have to be prepared for the decisions - they would have to start debating it in the wings soon. But how could he get such a debate going without encouraging a defeatist attitude, without destroying morale? They were tough decisions.
Well Comrade Mor, How are ya! Got your note. Seems we've well and truly entered new realms. Hopefully we'll be successful if only for the Movement's sake. I'm just getting the days in, they fly in. Feel myself getting naturally and gradually weaker. I will be very sick in a week or two, but my mind will see me thru. I've no doubt about that. Seen ya on TV, ya big ugly hunk, haven't changed a bit. I'm not at all building hopes on anything. I'm afraid I'm just resigned to the worse, so sin sin. People find this hard to grasp altho' I'm ensuring I give my family some hope to hold on to. I've been reading poetry and Gaelige in the papers and listening to whatever traditional music there is on the radioand generally carrying on - so for a change I'm taking it easy (such an excuse, are ye jealous?). Watch your big self and Beannacht de ort comrade. Marcella XXXXXXX
To Brownie Thursday 2.4.81 8.30 P.M.Suddenly Carron had found himself centre-stage in one of the most extraordinary political dramas witnessed by a country well used to drama. He was made election agent, which meant he would effectively have to play the part of the candidate. The Northern Ireland Office had refused to allow Sands any freedom to campaign, such as the right to be interviewed on television, despite a threat by the H-Block Committee to take them to court under the Representation of the People Act. So Carron had to go up to the Kesh to get Sands to sign papers appointing him his spokesman for election purposes.
... Do you mind you told me about lonely posts? - well you were dead right - I feel like an Arab in a synagogue!! Why me eh? It's all your fault, you know! Do you remember? -'Child, how would you like to take on a wee job - PRO?' 'No,' sez I - 'Child, you are now PRO.' Hope you're satisfied. I'm away to cry. Take care and God bless. - Bik -
It was the first time he had met Sands. Carron wore his customary blue, pin-striped suit - an unusually dapper figure for a Movement whose followers tended towards the proletarian uniform of anorak and jeans. In Sands he expected to find the long-haired and chubby person familiar to Republican posters and was mildly surprised by the frail figure with short, fair to ginger hair in pyjamas and dressing-gown who got up to greet him as he walked into the ward at the prison hospital. They adopted the small talk of strangers who knew of each other. Carron awkwardly said that if at any stage Sands wanted to opt out of the hunger strike he should not worry - he would handle things with the people outside. Sands said there was no question of that.
Although they had got a clear field for Sands in the by-election it was going to be no easy ride. The Loyalists also had a single candidate in Harry West, a local farmer and the Official Unionist who had held the seat before Frank Maguire. Sectarian rivalry in Fermanagh-South Tyrone had always ensured a big turn-out on polling days - it had repeatedly scored the highest percentage poll in the United Kingdom at general elections. The constituency was reckoned to have a built-in majority for the Nationalists of about 5,000 votes, which meant that if the Nationalists got a unity candidate they could generally expect to win. This time, however, there was no such certainty. Sands could lose through abstentions, largely by Nationalists who might still see a vote for him as a 'vote for violence'. There was also much antagonism at Maguire's treatment.
Carron and his fellow campaigners quickly discovered the strength of that antagonism when they went hunting for a campaign headquarters in Enniskillen. There was an empty shop in the town which would have been perfect, but when they went to see the owner, a local Catholic businessman, he threw them out indignantly. Eventually they found a little terraced house on the edge of the town centre which was awaiting demolition and squeezed into that.
They had only nine days to campaign, before polling day, and the pace was frenetic. Republicans poured into the constituency from all parts of Ireland to help. It had an extraordinary impact on the Catholic community. Fermanagh and South Tyrone was an area where Nationalists were not accustomed to public demonstrations of support for the Republican cause - it was too quick a way of landing up in a police interrogation room - so the sight of convoys of five or six cars flying tricolours and posters, blaring Republican songs from loudspeakers as they roared through little hamlets, created a sense of euphoria. There were problems, of course. Reports came in that the predominantly Protestant Ulster Defence Regiment - successors to the old 'B Specials' - were taking a hand in it, harassing canvassers and pulling down posters. At one stage campaigners reported that they had worked through to 4 A.M. putting up posters along a ten-mile route through the constituency, only to find they were all gone when they drove back again. They had gone back to the office, loaded up and started all over. again ... But the wrangling over Noel Maguire seemed to have been forgotten and the canvassers were increasingly encouraged by their doorstep soundings.
Polling day arrived. The booths had their impersonation agents from the two sides, watching eagle-eyed for dead citizens whose passion for voting from the grave was a byword in Fermanagh-South Tyrone. Adams did a tour of all the booths and was startled by the animosity shown by Loyalists - living in something of a political cocoon, in the 'ghettos' of West Belfast, he had had little to do with ordinary Protestants since the 'Troubles' had started and had not fully appreciated the depths of hatred felt towards the IRA and its associates.
In the House of Commons the Labour spokesman on Northern Ireland, Don Concannon, made an impassioned bid to swing the vote, warning: 'A vote for Sands is a vote of approval for the perpetrators of the La Mon massacre, the murder of Lord Mountbatten, and the latest brutal and inhuman killing of Mrs Mathers.'
The ballot boxes were locked in the evening and flown by army helicopter to Enniskillen for the count the next day. Adams slept overnight in Enniskillen and the next morning drove off alone across the border, on his way to report to O Bradaigh. In the Fermanagh College of Further Education the count went on, Carron and West watching the quick-fingered clerks going through the bundles of ballot papers, journalists peering in through the door, a small crowd gathering as the afternoon wore on. Up in the Kesh the Republican prisoners were huddled over their little crystal sets; McFarlane had warned them that if Bobby won there was to be no cheering - it would alert the warders to the fact that they had radios and precipitate searches. Shortly before 2 P.M. the screws in the circle in H5 started yelling and cheering and the prisoners' hearts sank. But it turned out to be only Alex 'Hurdcane' Higgins, the darling of the Irish snooker fraternity, sinking a corker on television in a world professional championship match against Steve Davis.
At the Fermanagh College of Further Education in Enniskillen the returning officer took the microphone: 'Sands, Bobby, Anti-H-Block-Armagh, Political Prisoner . . .'
On the Slane Road to Dublin the red Ford Escort started weaving
between the hedgerows as Adams pounded on the steering wheel,
shouting: 'Fuck it, we've done it, we've done it, we've done it
. . .'
In H5 the prisoners could not contain themselves and the roar of triumph, 'Bhi An Bua Againn' - Victory is Ours - brought the warders running.
Sands had won 30,492 votes to West's 29,046.
Liam Og from Bik Friday 10.4.81 8.30 P.M.
Comrade, What a day - a real super effort!! Don't know whether to laugh shout or cry. The news was greeted here in silent jubilation (we are very security conscious you see!!) Now I wonder will the opposition be just as quick to declare that the IRA have that popular support they were claiming would be seen if we won this seat. Good old Austin [Currie] was quick to say we hadn't and it wasn't a vote for the RA [Republican Army]. Up yours too, Austin my boy. Just looking at the figures; it would appear that our honourable opponent, farmer West, received an amount of Nationalist votes - fair play to the dear sensible bastard. Up theirs too!! Onward to victory. Hope you have sobered up sunshine, I'm sitting here picturing the heap of you swilling down loads of black brew and making right idiots of yourselves and boy am I jealous?? ... I'm away here to relax for a wee while. The strain of this last week has been too much man!! Congrats to one and all you wonderful people. We really showed them. Take care and God Bless ... UP the good old RA and other such outrageous outbursts. Nite, nite and God Speed. Bik.
Liam Og 10.4.81 from Tony H5The warders were not the only ones 'shattered' by the result. It undermined the entire shaky edifice of British policy in northern Ireland, which had been so painfully constructed on the hypothesis that blame for the 'Troubles' could be placed on a small gang of thugs and hoodlums who enjoyed no community support. Of course it was a shaky edifice in the first place; there had been plenty of evidence to discredit it before the Fermanagh-South Tyrone by-election, at least for those interested in looking for it. In fact it was not even the first time a jailed Republican had taken the seat. In the early 1920s an internee, Cahir Healy, had won it no less than twice and in 1955 Phil Clarke, serving time for an IRA raid on an army barracks, had taken it. But in the polarized circumstances of the north in 1981 you were either a believer or not and the word of the believers - of the security forces, the Government - had come to be accepted far beyond its disputed borders. It was, after all, the foundation of the Government's entire criminalization strategy, the central plank of security policy. And now more than 30,000 Catholics, in just one out of twelve constituencies in the north, had - if Don Concannon was to be believed - voted for 'the perpetrators of the La Mon massacre, the murder of Lord Mountbatten and the latest brutal and inhuman killing of Mrs Mathers'. The contradictions and confusion created in Britain were captured in a headline in the Tory-supporting Daily Express: 'Elected: The Hon. Member for Violence.' The Sunday Express followed with a blanket condemnation of the voters: 'Their attendance at Mass this morning is as corrupt as the kiss of Judas.'
. . . Fr Murphy was in his (Ray's) cell tonight and told him he was talking to Bobby this evening after the election result. Bobby was having a bath and was overjoyed. Fr Murphy was saying that he thought that there was a good chance that the British Government will act on the issue now seeing as we got 30,000 people to stand behind us. He added that he was also talking to Frank and he was very happy with the result ... comrade I find words hard to describe the jubilation felt here this evening. With the result of the election there is a feeling here tonight which has not been here in a long time. The screws are visibly shattered already - just great.
But governments, of course, do not lightly give up their misconceptions. Public policies are made up of interlocking structures and interests which over the years develop a momentum of their own; the ship of state is not easily diverted from its course. - not even by 30,492 voices out in what for Britain was, after all, the wilderness of Fermanagh-South Tyrone. And so the Government sailed blithely on. In far-off Riyadh, in Saudi Arabia, Mrs Thatcher emerged from a royal banquet to insist that the result changed nothing. 'A crime is a crime is a crime,' she said. 'It is not political, it is a crime.' At Westminster the Leader of the House of Commons, Francis Pym, started sounding out MPs on support for a move to summarily expel Sands. But it quickly became apparent that the Government would not get the support for it, not simply because it would open them to the charge of hypocrisy - in allowing Sands to stand and then disqualifying him because he had won - but because there was nothing to stop the Republicans immediately putting him, or another hunger striker, forward again in the ensuing by-election.
In the prison the hunger strike was continuing inexorably. As the count had got under way down in Enniskillen, Hughes was being moved to the prison hospital. Patsy O'Hara was beginning to feel the effects, telling the doctor that when he touched his left side, or his stomach, a pain shot up his body. The doctor said it was to be expected and would only get worse. A few days later, on the 15th, both he and Raymond McCreesh followed Sands and Hughes to the hospital, both of them getting rousing send-offs in their wings.
Quite apart from the overall political significance of the election result, it had destroyed the Government's short-term strategy for handling the hunger strike. It was obviously no longer possible to continue trying to ignore it. Instead it was decided to present a reasonable front - to be seen to be doing everything possible to resolve the dispute, short of meeting the demands. So when Sands put in a formal request to be allowed a visit from three members of the Dublin Parliament, it was quickly granted; so quickly that Sands himself was caught short - the outside leadership had not got around to telling him what was the purpose of the visit. He was getting short-tempered by this stage and was irritated by the lapse. He had had the last rites on Saturday the 18th. Medical staff had begun rubbing cream into his body and checking his condition every two hours. He was sleeping on a sheep-skin rug, on a waterbed, to try and protect his skin. His eyes were hurting all the time and he was finding it difficult to read the smuggled comms.
The three Irish Parliamentarians were also members of the European Parliament: Sile de Valera, a statuesque blonde and granddaughter of the founder of the present Irish Republic, Eamon de Valera; Neil Blaney, a former Irish Cabinet minister slung out of government after a scandal over alleged gun-running to the IRA; and John O'Connell, a medical doctor, editor of the Irish Medical Times and son of a British soldier.
They met at the Fairways hotel in Dundalk, just south of the border in the early hours of Monday morning, having been told that the RUC wanted them across the border by 7.30 A.M. for security reasons. Owen Carron and Danny Morrison met them at the hotel and they piled into Carron's car. On the other side of the yellow line marking the border the police were waiting. Two armoured Cortinas loaded with officers pulled out, one in front an one at the back, and they roared up the A6 to the Kesh.
As they went into the prison hospital John O'Connell turned to the other two and said that he was planning to ask Sands to end the hunger strike. They walked the cell, looking dapper - all three of them wearing suts - as the warder said: 'You've got visitors, members of the European Parliament.' Sands was lying on the bed looking gaunt, his face marble white, almost blending with the white sheets; he was very different from the chubby-faced picture everyone knew on the election posters and in the media. His eyes seemed glazed at first, but he brightened and sat up when he saw them. O'Connell looked at him critically, as a patient; he had little experience of starvation, only a couple of patients suffering anorexia nervosa, but the diagnosis he offered up mentally was easy: emaciated, needs nourishment fast, intravenously. They took his hand in turn - Sands too feeble to lift his - and introduced themselves. O'Connell made a quick medical check before they started talking: eyes shrunken and sight fading. He flashed a hand in front of his face: wink reflex going. The pulse was weak and, slipping a hand into his pyjama jacket, he felt the heart was feeble. About five or six days to live.
They sat down on the right-hand side of the bed. How could they help? they asked. Sands launched into an account of the hunger strike, explaining why the five demands had been devised and how they could be met by Britain without loss of face. They listened intently, struck by the clarity of his thinking. Then O'Connell appealed to him to come off, telling him that he had proved his point and that all three of them would fight for him and demand that Thatcher make the changes. It was right to stand and fight for what you believed in, but there was no use dying for it. Surely it was better to live and fight than to die. Sands clarified: 'I knew you would say that,' he said. No, he would not be coming off. They talked for about forty minutes - no limit had been set on the visit - when O'Connell decided Sands should be allowed to rest and said they had better be going. He took Sands's hand in his own, putting the other on his shoulder, and said: 'We'll do everything we can to help.' De Valera had tears in her eyes and put a hand behind him; for a moment O'Connell thought she was going to sweep him into her arms, like a mother cuddling a child. Blaney, big and toughh of reputation, bent over to say goodbye and caressed Sands's face with the back of his hand in a gesture of intense gentleness. As they looked back from the door all three knew they would not be seeing him again: there was no doubt in their minds that Sands was going the distance. De Valera turned to the warder and asked why they kept food at the bottom of the bed. 'In case he wants to eat,' said the warder.
They were taken out of the prison through a side gate, because there was a Loyalist demonstration taking place at the front against their visit. They had planned to go to Belfast to hold a press conference, but their police escort insisted they had to return south. So they headed back to Dundalk to organize an alternative press conference in Dublin and despatch a telegram to Thatcher, appealing for a meeting to discuss the prison dispute. Mrs Thatcher, still in Saudi Arabia, retorted at a press conference: 'It is not my habit or custom to meet MPs from a foreign country about a citizen of the UK, resident in the UK.'
Desperate moves were afoot in Dublin. The Papal Nuncio, Monsignor Gaetano Alibrandi - the Vatican's ambassador to Ireland - despatched a telegram to the Pope, outlining the growing crisis. The Prime Minister, Charlie Haughey, was becoming increasingly anxious. He had planned to hold an election in May and the groundwork was well advanced; the campaign song, 'Arise and Follow Charlie', had even made it into the pop charts. But if he held an election with the hunger strike still on, it could be disastrous for him. Sands had shown the impact the H-Blocks could have on an election and a few thousand votes stolen from Fianna Fail - the 'Republican Party' - by the prisoners could be enough to give FitzGerald power. He called in the British Ambassador for half an hour for discussions. Haughey, together with John Hume and the Bishop of Derry, Dr Edward Daley, was busily trying to arrange for an intervention by the European Commission for Human Rights. The European Commission had been involved in the H-Block issue before, although in completely different circumstances.
The commission was established to monitor and act under the European Convention on Human Rights, enacted and signed by twenty states in 1953. Staffed by about twenty lawyers, housed in a modern building behind the Council of Europe Assembly in Strasbourg, their brief was to investigate complaints, mediate between complainants and, where they were unable to resolve the issue, to refer the matter to the European Court of Human Rights for a ruling, or to the Council of Europe's Foreign Ministers for diplomatic action. In June 1980 they had rejected a complaint over the H-Blocks issue, brought by Kieran Nugent and three other prisoners, ruling that there were no grounds under international law for the claim to political status and that conditions in the prison were self-inflicted, and therefore no cause for complaint against Britain. But at the same time they had criticized Britain, expressing concern 'at the inflexible approach of the State authorities which has been concerned more to punish offenders against prison discipline than to explore ways of resolving such a serious deadlock'. It was the phrase which Haughey and Hume believed could give the opening to Britain to now act - because it could be presented as a reaction to the commission, rather than to the hunger strike. The problem was that the commission's constitution specified that complaints could only be lodged by signatories to the Convention, or 'any person, non-governmental organization, or group of individuals claiming to be the victims of the violation'. So the complaint had to come from the prisoners - preferably Sands. Hume, with his powerful contacts in Europe, had nearly persuaded the commission to allow two members, the Danish acting president, Professor Carlaage Norgaard, and a Norwegian, Professor Torkel Opsahl, to act as mediators. But a row had ensued at the commission's Strasbourg headquarters, with other members protesting that such an informal initiative might damage the commission's standing. So Haughey decided he would have to get a formal request out of the Sands family for the commission to intervene.
He had an hour-long meeting with Bobby's sister, Marcella, and their mother, at which he told them the only chance for him was to get the commission into the Kesh. Britain was looking for an opening for a settlement. It was a formality. He produced a prepared document - a complaint to the commission over the treatment of Sands in prison - and persuaded Marcella to sign it. It was a three-point complaint against Britain, for violating Sands's rights to life, to protection from inhuman treatment and to freedom of expression - the last a reference to the refusal of the authorities to allow him access to the media before the election and to have normal contact with his constituents since becoming an MP.
Within hours Professor Norgaard and Professor Opsahl were on their way, together with two commission officials, Mr Michael O'Boyle and Dr Hans Christian Kruger. They stopped off at London and had a ninety-minute meeting with Foreign Office officials, agreeing that while Marcella Sands's complaint was sufficient grounds for them to make the journey, it would have to be confirmed by Bobby Sands himself if they were to take it any further.
They went into the Kesh on Saturday the 25th, and ran straight into problems. Sands, through his lawyer, Pat Finucan, flatly refused to see them unless his 'advisers'- McFarlane, Gerry Adams and another senior Sinn Féin official, Danny Morrison - were present. The commissioners asked if they could see McFarlane to discuss it and he was brought across to the hospital to meet them. They asked him if there was any way they could get in to see Sands on their own, just to get confirmation of Marcella's complaint. McFarlane said that the conditions had already been agreed among themselves and would have to be met before Sands would agree to see them. The commissioners said rules of procedure by which they were bound wuld not allow it. The commission always conducted its business in confidence and the presence of 'witnesses' had a ring of publicity about it which worried them. McFarlane, as always looking for the opening to wrong-foot the Government, asked who had prevented them from bringing in Adams and Morrison. Professor Opsahl said it was the Government, but Dr Kruger cut in, saying the Government would prevent them if asked. McFarlane said that was only an assumption unto they made the request. Kruger said that was correct, but they did not feel able to make such a request. McFarlane said they had already set the precedent by asking to see him. There was no question of his asking Sands to change the preconditions. O'Boyle said talk of preconditions indicated inflexibility. McFarlane retorted that they had made many attempts to settle the issue in the face of British inflexibility.
With the argument unresolved McFarlane went in to see Sands for ten minutes. Sands could hardly talk. He was not incoherent, but his speech was slurred and slow, as if he was running up a hill. McFarlane outlined what was happening and Sands told him to stand fast. McFarlane went out to see the commissioners again, reaffirmed Sands's position and told them that if they could get permission to have Adams and Morrison in, it could lead to talks. He was taken back to his cell.
After eight hours in the Kesh the commissioners gave up. They slipped out of the prison through a side entrance, avoiding a demonstration by 200 followers of the Reverend Ian Paisley, who were waving placards demanding. 'Did 2,000 dead have human rights?' and brandishing hangmen's nooses. Later the commissioners issued a three-paragraph statement, pedantically headed: 'Marcella Sands v United Kingdom number (Application number 9338/81) It said Mr Sands did not wish to associate himself with his sister's complaint, although he was prepared to see them in the company of three colleagues. 'After further consultations the delegation concluded that in the circumstances it was not possible to see and confer with Mr Sands and accordingly no meeting took place.'
That night Sands had a crisis. His family were called up to the prison hospital and for a while it was touch and go whether he would make it through the night. Outside tensions rose. Bakeries in Catholic areas reported a run on bread supplies as stockpiling began. The IRA staged a show of strength in Armagh, setting up a road block with fifteen masked men carrying Armalites and sub-machine guns. The 'Ulster Army Council', a defunct umbrella organization which had been created to coordinate Loyalist paramilitary action, was revived and met to agree strategy for the defence of Protestant areas if civil war broke out. The UDA announced it was mobilizing 2,500 men in Belfast to protect Protestant areas. In Andersonstown, West Belfast, the INLA dumped a hijacked lorry in the middle of a road, blocking traffic. A police patrol arrived and Constable Garry Martin, aged 28 and the father of two baby sons, climbed into the cab to move it, dying instantly as it exploded. Near the town of Castlewellan, in Co. Down, IRA gunmen opened fire on an unmarked van carrying three soldiers. The driver lost control and the vehicle turned over, killing Lannce Corporal Richard McKee of the Ulster Defence Regiment. Across the Province police started rounding up H-Block campaigners for 'questioning'. In Belfast 13,000 took part in a march, showing the strength of Nationalist emotions. In London one end of Downing Street was padlocked as police, discreetly began introducing security measures. The Government seemed resigned to the death of Sands and the ensuing mayhem.
But at 4.30 P.M. on Tuesday the 28th the twice-hourly shuttle service to Belfast took off from Heathrow with another VIP on his way to try and settle the dispute at the Kesh: this time it was the Pope's secretary.
Fr Magee was an Irishman, born in Newry in 1936. He had studied philosophy in Cork before going out to Nigeria, working there for six years as a missionary teacher. In Nigeria he had been befriended by Cardinal Sergio Pignedoli, then papal delegate in Lagos, under whose patronage he was to have a meteoric career in the Church. Ordained in Rome in 1962, he was invited by Cardinal Pignedoli to join the Secretariat for Evangelization of Peoples in Rome. In 1975 he had been appointed personal secretary to Pope Paul VI, a personal friend of Cardinal Pignedoli. Fr Magee established a close relationship with Paul VI, who mentioned him in his will, but after his death was asked to remain secretary to John Paul I. It was Fr Magee who found the pontiff dead in his bed, thirty-three days later. When the Polish Paul II was elected he also asked Fr Magee to stay on, explaining: 'I don't know anyone around here at the Vatican.' Later the Pope appointed a Polish priest to share the secretarial duties with him.
Fr Magee had discussed papal intervention in the hunger strike with Cardinal O Fiaich, by phone to Armagh, a few days earlier. The Irish Cardinal was not particularly enthusiastic, feeling that it was too late and that to have an emissary come over from Rome in a blaze of publicity and then fail to settle the dispute would be worse than nothing. But the Pope and the Vatican's Secretary of State, Cardinal Casaroli, after consultations with the Catholic hierarchy in England as well as the Irish Government, decided the intervention was worth it. Fr Magee phoned Cardinal O Fiaich again on Tuesday 28 April to say he was on his way. The British Embassy in Rome was advised of the priest's plan and it was agreed that no announcement would be made until he actually got to Belfast and into the Kesh, to avoid Loyalist demonstrations on his arrival. But when he arrived on his Alitalia flight at Heathrow en route for Belfast he found the press had been alerted and the airport was swarming with journalists. He was met by the Minister of State at the Foreign Office, Peter Blaker, and had a brief talk with him in an airport lounge before taking the flight to Belfast.
In Belfast Cardinal O Fiaich had discovered that the police were arranging to pick Fr Magee up at the airport. He tried to persuade them not to, because it might identify him too closely with the authorities. But the police insisted, on security grounds. At the airport the cardinal suggested to Fr Magee that he go to Fr Murphy's home and then into the Kesh under the aegis of the prison chaplain. Fr Magee agreed, but police insisted on his making the trip to Fr Murphy's in a bulletproof limousine. So they set off in convoy, the cardinal in his car, Fr Magee in the police car and press cars tagging along behind. It was turning into a circus. At Fr Murphy's house, a. few miles from the Kesh, they had to talk in the bedroom, to avoid the heads peering in through the windows downstairs.
Fr Magee went into the Kesh twice, seeing Sands three times as well as meeting Hughes, McCreesh and O'Hara, making a personal appeal on the Pope's behalf to them to try to settle the dispute. He also spent an hour with Humphrey Atkins, finding the Secretary of State surprisingly hostile. He left Northern Ireland with nothing achieved, issuing a statement to 'assure all that the efforts of the Holy Father will continue in seeking-ways to help people in Northern Ireland, indeed in Ireland as a whole, to work out solutions to their communal problems in accordance with Christian teachings.'
The tension continued to rise, with some help from the Secretary of State, who announced he had knowledge that the IRA was planning to try and start sectarian warfare in the event of Sands's death; he claimed that in one area of Belfast they were intending to evacuate residents and burn their emptied houses, blaming it on Protestant paramilitaries to fuel sectarian conflict. When it emerged that the area he was referring to was the Short Strand - a Catholic enclave, in Protestant East Belfast - the claim was met with ridicule; one community leader in the area, making the point that virtually every family there had IRA connections, asked sarcastically: 'Whose house will they burn first?'
In Rome the Pope called on Roman Catholics to 'pray for our Catholic and non-Catholic brethren in Northern Ireland in the time of grave tension they are going through, which it is feared may again erupt in new and most grave acts of fratricidal violence'.
In the village of Toomebridge Bernadette McAliskey was appealing for calm. 'In the event of Bobby Sands dying we do not want a single riot, a single stoning, or a single petrol bombing,' she told several thousand demonstrators at an H-Block rally. 'If Bobby Sands can die for the five demands, we can hold our tempers.'
Inside the Kesh the tension was having its effect on McFarlane. He had anxiously asked the Falls Road for advice on what would happen if a settlement were reached while Bobby was in a coma. Would doctors be able to intervene, legally, if they had not had his prior permission? On the Monday night, after the commissioners had gone, he dreamed he was talking to Cardinal O Fiaich. The cardinal was giving him a verbal lambasting. Adams was standing behind the Primate, pissing against a wall and glaring at McFarlane menacingly over horn-rimmed glasses. It was beginning to dawn on McFarlane that maybe the Brits were not going to do anything: they were just going to let Bobby die.
Brownie [Gerry Adams] 29.4.81 from Bik
Comrade, Mor, got your very welcome comm today. Good to hear from you. This is really some situation isn't it? A terrific thought struck me two days ago and that was that there was every possibility the Brits will not say anything at all or make any attempt at dipping in attractive offers, but just stand back and let things run their course. I think your analysis of the Brit mentality is about as close as anyone can come i.e. their stupidity is unbelievable. I still don't think they have learned that oppression breeds resistance and further oppression - further resistance!! As for their arrogance - I never saw the likes of it (of course I'm not a much travelled individual but I reckon I'd have to go a long way to meet persons of a similar 'superior' nature). However, as you said, they will regret their stupidity. How I wish I were out - just to light the blue touch paper and retire if you know what I mean!! Old habits die hard though some of mine had to be re-diirected as you well know. Anyway, one day I'll make a few noises in the right sectors. Now, where was I? Yes, Brit arrogance. I mind Tom McKearney quoted me a bit of Rudyard Kipling (I think that's the guy who makes exceedingly good cakes!). According to old Rudy the British are immune to logic - a sensible enough assertion I would say. They're the only people I know who are perfectly correct when they are entirely wrong. I was over there a couple of years and found that this attitude was prevalent among all classes. Though I suppose its wrong of me to generalize in such a manner. Oh balls to the British - why waste skibs and ink? As you know I saw Bob on Saturday - it was quite an experience and in all honesty I haven't felt the same since. I just had a short yarn with him and when I was preparing to leave he said quietly: 'I'm dying Bik.' Don't think I can describe how I felt just then. I couldn't say anything except God Bless. I told him I'd see him again very soon and he just gave me quiet laugh. Man, what a feeling!! ...
To Liam Og 29.4.81 12.30 A.M. (of 30th)
. . . I think it's becoming increasingly more obvious that the Brits are going to hold fast. It's a nightmarish thought comrade which is taking on the form of cold hard reality with each passing day. . .
Liam Og from Bik 30.4.81Jim Gibney, a senior Sinn Féin official, had just been in to see McCreesh. He was in good shape. Gibney was walking down t he corridor when he saw Sands's door open. His mother, father and sister, Marcella, were alongside the bed. Bobby was wearing a crucifix given to him by Fr Magee on the Pope's behalf.
Comrade, just after reading your comm for the third time. What can I say? You should have been a psychologist - that was an invaluable therapy session on three skibs. The truth is you are perfectly correct in drawing the conclusions you did from my last comms as I have been worried of just such a situation you mentioned, i.e. a last minute life and death struggle, with the Brits trying to panic me. There is only one answer I suppose and that is to be strong - stronger than the Brits in fact and to have faith in oneself and those pulling with you. As you say - maintain the line and refuse to be panicked. I know Bob will see it through so I reckon 100 per cent effort must be forthcoming from the rest of us. It's just that this situation is exactly what you said it was - overwhelming - and it takes a bit of effort staying with it. However your comm had a sound effect on me - reassuring and solidifying I would say. You're really quite a chap you know and you needn't apologize for things which may hurt - very often they prove the only recipe for success. By the way it didn't hurt. Try harder next time (Ha). You're not really the 'B' you say you are though there are those who would say you were worse. Just on what you say about other men going hunger strike - I take your point about committing the Movement on men's personal opinions and agree that only the best interests should dictate our actions. You already know my feelings about replacing a dead comrade - I still feel we should do this though I did accept last week's decision of the Army Council. I believe that this situation has become even bigger than we imagined it would and therefore we should examine all strategies which may help to achieve a victory. I know we are speaking here of a terrible cost in terms of men's lives. Anyway the first four hunger strikers and then a possible repetition with those who follow. But high stakes will demand a high price. I know all the arguments against protracted hunger strike and basically speaking I have been in agreement with them. However if changing circumstances offer us other avenues which at one time considered infeasible are now thought feasible we should explore them. That's about it I reckon. I've enclosed the names of the first four replacements from my original list. I'll get them to comm you as soon as possible. They are 1. Joe McDonnell H5 Lenadoon. 2. Brendan McLoughlin H5 North Derry. 3. Kieran Doherty H6 Andersonstown. 4. Kevin Lynch IRSP H3 Dungiven. There are others which you won't need at present - just the first four OK. I haven't much else for you just now . . .
With speculation in the media that the end was only hours away for Sands, the Province settled into a deathly wait. On Thursday night he slept in snatches, from hour to hour. He had been managing to hold the water down, but was battling to get it out again. His hearing was going as well as his sight - noises seemed to echo in his head. Pain in his stomach and chest was constant. Friday was May Day and Labour's spokesman on Northern Ireland, Don Concannon, chose the occasion to fly over from London for a hurried visit to the Kesh, to inform Sands of his party's backing for the Government on the whole issue. Concannon, who as former minister at the Northern Ireland Office responsible for prisons had presided over the withdrawal of special category status, explained afterwards that he had gone in because he did not want Sands misunderstanding the Opposition's position.
Later in the day Carron was allowed in for time. He found Sands in no shape to talk. He was lying on the waterbed, his left eye was black and closed, the right eye nearly closed and his mouth twisted as if he had suffered a stroke. He had no feeling in his legs and could only whisper. Every now and then he started dry retching. He managed to ask Carron if there was any change. The Fermanagh man said no, there was no change. Sands said: 'Well, that's it.' He told Carron: 'Keep my ma in mind.' Carron bent over the bed, hugged him and kissed him.
'Do not tell me the IRA represents people in Northern Ireland,' said the Foreign Secretary, Lord Carrington, on Independent Radio. 'They have no status, they are not accepted by anyone,' he added.
Over the weekend one last, despairing bid was made by Haughey and, the Church. Fr Murphy went in to see McFarlane to relay the suggestion, from Cardinal O Fiaich, that if the prisoners would compromise with two or three demands - say their own clothing, the right not to work and perhaps free association - it would give Haughey more leverage in dealing with Mrs Thatcher. The Government had been insisting that the five demands amounted to political status, so that they could not claim that three demands also amounted to status. It would put them in an embarrassing position. McFarlane replied sarcastically: 'Why was. it only at the last minute that everyone wanted to put pressure on the Brits?' There was no way that they were going to provide escape hatches for 'Amadon' -'the Fool', as he called Haughey - in his dealings with 'Tinknickers', Mrs Thatcher. Obviously Britain did not want a settlement, so it did not matter whether there were fifteen demands or one demand. They were using the prisoners to try and break the IRA and were prepared to let men die to achieve that. And if that was the case then men would die, because they were not surrendering.
'You are looking for a victory over them and they the same over you, which means someone loses.' said the chaplain. 'What I'm looking for is a settlement whereby the prisoners get basically what they want and the Brits don't come under the accusing finger of surrendering to terrorism, which they won't do anyway.'
McFarlane said that if the Brits really wanted a solution they
would agree to fifteen demands and call it Man on the Moon Status.
The prisoners were sticking by five demands.
'I hope you win.' said Fr Murphy, as he left.
On Sunday Sands lapsed into a coma. His parents, brother Séan and Marcella were with him to the end, which came at 1. 17 on the morning of Tuesday 5 May 1981.
It was announced by the Northern Ireland Office thirty- five minutes later with a terse statement: 'He took his own life by refusing food and medical intervention for sixty-six days.' -the Speaker of the House of Commons, George Thomas, rose to tell Parliament with the words.. 'I regret to have to inform the House of the death of Robert Sands Esquire, the Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone.' He pointedly failed to extend condolences to the family, which are traditionally offered by the Speaker on the death of a Member.
Reaction flooded in from around the world. The US Government issued a statement expressing deep regret. The Longshoremen's Union announced a twenty-four-hour boycott of British ships. The New Jersey State legislature voted 34-29 for a resolution honouring his 'courage and commitment'. More than 1,000 gathered in St Patrick's Cathedral to hear New York's Cardinal Cook offer a Mass of reconciliation for northern -Ireland. Irish bars in the city closed for two hours in mourning. The New York Times said: 'Despite proximity and a common language the British have persistently misjudged the depth of Irish nationalism.' In San Francisco's Irish community the mood was reported to be 'subdued, courteous enough, but curiously menacing, as if everyone is waiting for a message as yet undelivered'. In Rome the President of the Italian Senate, Amintore Fanfani, stepped into the breach left by the British Speaker, expressing condolences to the Sands family. About 5,000 students burnt the Union Jack and shouted 'Freedom for Ulster' during a march in Milan. In Ghent students invaded the British consulate. Thousands marched in Paris behind a huge portrait of Sands, to chants of 'The IRA will conquer.' The town of Le Mans announced it was naming a street after him, which the British Embassy said was 'an insult to Britain'.
The Hong Kong Standard said it was 'sad that successive British governments have failed to end the last of Europe's religious wars'. The Hindustan Times said Mrs Thatcher had allowed a fellow Member of Parliament to die of starvation, an incident which had never before occurred 'in a civilized country'. Tehran announced Iran would be sending its ambassador in Sweden to represent the Government at the funeral. In Oslo demonstrators threw a balloon filled with tomato sauce at the Queen, who was on a visit to Norway. In India Opposition members of the Upper House stood for a minute's silence in tribute. Members of Indira Gandhi's ruling Congress Party refused to join in. In Portugal members of the Opposition stood for him. In Spain the Catholic Ya newspaper described Sands's hunger strike as 'subjectively an act of heroism' while the conservative ABC said he was a political kamikaze who had got his strategy wrong. Die Welt said in West Germany that the British Government was right and he was simply trying to blackmail the state with his life. In Russia Pravda described it as 'another tragic page in the grim chronicle of oppression, discrimination, terror and in violence' Ireland. In Poland Lech Walesa paid tribute. In Toulouse a bomb exploded in a warehouse used by the British tyre firm, Dunlop, and a slogan was found sprayed on a wall saying: 'English power kills.' A second bomb blew a hole in the door of the British Chamber of Commerce in Milan and a third exploded outside the Royal British Club in Lisbon. In London a parcel bomb addressed to the Prince of Wales was intercepted at High Holborn sorting office.
On the streets of West Belfast the women took to the streets, banging dustbin lids - in the days of internment used as the alarm to signal the troops were coming. By 2 A.M., as the news had spread throughout the ghetto areas, barricades were burning and Molotov cocktails arching their way towards police and army bases and patrols.
In cell 6, D Wing, H3, baby-faced Jake Jackson lay on his back in the top bunk, staring at the ceiling. He was remembering a day back in December 1965. He had been six years old, living with his granny in the Ardoyne. It had been snowing outside, which had added to the feeling of desolation. He had gone downstairs to his Aunt Mary and said: 'My Granny won't wake up.' Then Mary was crying and neighbours were running in and out. On the day of the funeral his mother had come back without his father and he'd said 'Where's daddy?' and his sister had said 'Your dad fell down. the hole and they filled it in' and he had cried and cried and cried. And on his bunk he cried quietly in the silence of the H-Block. Below him Bik was scribbling.
To Brownie 2.15 A.M.
Comrade mor, I just heard the news - I'm shattered -just can 't believe it. This is a terrible feeling I have. I don't even know what to say. Comrade, I'm sorry, but I just can't say anything else. May God in his infinite mercy grant eternal rest to his soul. Jesus Christ protect guide us all.
xoxo Bik xoxo
Liam Og Tue 5.5.81 8.00 A.M.
Comrade, this grief is unbelievable. I know you all must be wrecked out there. Words fail me to tell you the truth. I always was prepared for this and thought it would come but I was always praying and hoping that we could avoid it. When it did come it stunned me and I still feel numb. I can't really say much at present. I've enclosed a short note to the Sands family and Ricky has done one from the blanket men OK? Let's stay together comrade and hammer the bastards into the ground. I'll be in touch again soon. Could you get the signer [lawyer] up on Thursday just to get me out of this concrete box. God bless.
5.5.81 from Séanna H6
Got words on visits about Bob. No need to tell you how we feel. Also we got comm from you this morning. Screws not saying anything to lads, but slobbering and cracking jokes amongst themselves. Just before lock-up tonight they searched a few cells and wrote slogans on the walls. Screws weren't regulars . . . A few of the things they wrote, 'Goodbye Bobby, Bobby Sands RIP etc.' ...
To: - Frank - Ray + Patsy - Hospital
Comrades, the death of our comrade Bob has left us all in great sorrow and though we had prepared for such a tragic event it nevertheless stunned each of us. I feel a great sense of personal loss also - in fact we all do - blanket men are more than comrades - they are brothers. Therefore our loss is all the greater. We all feel a bitterness of immeasurable depth and a very great anger at this callous act by the British Government. From this has come an even greater determination, to resist and to fight back harder. It is a time for total commitment by each of us as we think on the ultimate sacrifice Bob made and of the torture each of you are enduring this very instant. We have taken strength from his death and from your resolve and I can tell you now that these men have responded in a true Republican spirit - totally disciplined and determined. We all stand with you and we shall not be shaken. We can succeed and we will succeed. May God take care of each of you and Bless you. -
To Liam Og from Bik 5.30 P.M.
Comrade, I've been following all the news and trying to keep a clear head at the same time. Things must be hectic out there. In here it's quiet - no trouble - no talk from screws - no problems. Hope you got all my stuff today. There's not a lot I can tell you at present - I'm ready and waiting for any moves anyone may make, but I don't reckon they are coming - not just now, anyway. I hear Frank is in a bad way now. Dear God what a place!! Your advice re people trying to put pressure on me, and what way I should get was sound. That's what Index was at this morning in his bungling fashion. I paid no heed comrade - such tactics aren't worthy of a reaction. Well mate, it's been a heartbreaking day for us all. We lost someone we all loved very dearly and we can't cry in case someone is looking. Who made these rules, eh? Love to all.
To Liam Og from Bik 5.5.81 1.00 P.M.
Comrade, got your comm a few minutes ago - sound enough. Not really much to say. My sorrow is now paralleled by an extreme bitterness comrade, but I'm sound enough. I've kept the lads on a tight rein and they have responded well. It's now ,1.30 and index has just left me. We didn't talk much though he asked if there was anything in my power to prevent the Hughes family going through the same agony next week. I told him that power lay with the Brits and if they didn't implement a solution then there would be more deaths and as far as I was on the cards. He said a prayer for Bob and just after he started he turned to me and said - 'we're praying for two Roberts aren't we-?' (referring to my father) - I just said - that' s correct. That's the heap. I'll get back to you tomorrow. Take good care and God Bless. Bik.
6.5.81 From Riasteard PRO
Alright comrade? Will you put an insertion in the paper on behalf of the blanket men using the following verse. 'They have nothing in their whole imperial arsenal that can break the spirit of one Irishman who doesn't want to be broke.' That's it cara, it is of sentimental importance to a lot of us for Bobby more or less adopted it as his motto ...
To Liam Og from O/C H5 6.5.81His body was brought home the following afternoon to his parents' house on Laburnum Way in Twinbrool Estate where it lay in state in an open coffin under the front window of the drawing room. Local youths built a shrine out of boxes across the road, with a crucifix painted black-the words 'peace', 'justice' and 'freedom' inscribed in white - a tiny statue of Christ in Glory and, fluttering above in the slight wind, the tricolour and the flags of the ancient kingdoms of Ulster, Munster, Connacht and Leinster. Relays of young IRA men and women in black masks, IRA uniforms and dark glasses stood, guard of honour night and day, one at each end of the coffin, watching as neighbours, friends and the curious walked through to pay their last respects. Several top IRA men who had never personally known Sands slipped by, kissing his cold and rouged face.
... The tension in the block prior to Bobby's death was running very high. There was an incident on Monday concerning a petty screw and one of our lads (Paddy O'Hara, Tyrone). There were words exchanged and when the screw started into Paddy's cell he was clocked. The screw got a black eye. Paddy at his point was alright, but he was then put between the grilles with the same screw and we heard scuffles there and believe Paddy may have received a severe beating. The men are now stunned and shocked at the reality of Bob's death. The tension is still there and the screws are not taking any chances, letting too many out at the same time ...
A Sinn Fein official whispered to Rosaleen Sands that there was an English journalist outside who wanted to see him. She did not want him in, but then someone said, 'Why not, let them see what they've done.' So he came in and stood uncertainly by the coffin, nodded to Mrs Sands who stared implacably back, and hurried out ...
A news agency photographer the Sands family £75,000 for a picture of Bobby in his coffin. During his time in internment a group photograph had been taken of him and fellow prisoners, with a smuggled camera, and the blurred picture had become one of the most famous in the world. His family turned down the offer of a new one.
The funeral was held on the Thursday. The Sands family had been refused a 'concelebrated Mass' - the Church did not want to make a fuss about Sands's death. The people did.
It was pure guesswork as to how many attended, but the general estimate was that more than 100,000 people lined the route from St Luke's church, a few yards from the Sands home, to Milltown cemetery. It was the silence of the numbers which made the deepest impression - not frightening, but awe-inspiring. The tricolour and gloves and a white rose were pinned to the coffin. It wended its way down the Stewartstown Road, past the army base at Lenadoon, where huge screens had been erected to protect a nearby Protestant housing estate from the sight of an IRA martyr's funeral. The procession was led by a piper, playing an H-Block song:
|But I'll wear no convict's uniform|
Nor meekly serve my time
That Britain may call Ireland's fight
Eight hundred years of crime.
It was raining and at Milltown the red clay was being churned by shuffling feet between the dangling Christs and the marble Marys watching over the tombstones. Mourners had ducked under their umbrellas and television cameramen and photographers from America, Europe, Japan and even Thailand clung to a scaffolding erected to give them a bird's eye view of the grave. The coffin was carried with the pomp of the slow march, 8-year-old Gerard smart in brown jacket with a Beatle-style haircut, clutching his grandmother's hand and following behind, looking bemused by the funeral rites for a father he had not known.
In the crowd a middle-aged woman in black leather coat and boots, her hair done up in loops, craned to try and see Mrs Sands. Peggy O'Hara whispered to her daughter, Elizabeth, in explanation that she was trying to see what a mother looked like who could stand by and let her son die.
They played the Last Post, rolled up the tricolour and gave it to Mrs Sands with the beret and the gloves. Owen Carron delivered the oration. He was tired - he had been up all night at Liam Og's house, writing it - but he said the required things, ending with the declaration: 'Bobby Sands, your sacrifice will not be in vain.' The coffin was laid in the grave. The family took turns shoveling in a symbolic clump of earth. Gerard had to be helped with the heavy spade.
The Secretary of State marked the day with a statement defending the Government against the charge of inflexibility. 'Is murder any less murder because the person responsible claims he had a political motive?' he asked. 'The answer is no,' he said.
The army's Spearhead battalion, on stand-by in Britain for emergencies, flew into the Province.
In Dublin there was a knock at the door of Garret FitzGerald's home. Mrs FitzGeraid opened it and saw a beggarman. English newspapers said the beggar was a gunman dressed in paramilitary uniform, come to assassinate Garret for criticizing the IRA.
Inside the Kesh, after the dinner dishes had been cleared away
and the warders had started the night watch, McFarlane called
down the corridor: 'Parade, fall in!' Behind the steel doors bare
feet stamped to attention. 'Stand easy!' Jake Jackson had been
working on the oration since the day before. Now he started reading
from the four sheets of toilet paper he had used to write it on:
'Comrades, we are gathered here to commemorate the death of a
friend and a comrade and a great Irishman . . .'
His cell-mate put down the Bible and clambered up beside him. The prisoner stepped down and began his circuit on the runway. He stopped, leant over his bed and dug into the foam, straightening up with the tiny square of paper, which he began to unfold. It was frayed and smudged and the blue ink had softened to cloudy mauve where dampness had crept in. At the top, barely legible, was the title: 'Mo Chraoibhin Cno' ('My Brown-Haired Girl') and the name of Ethna Carberry. The poetess from Rathcoole, from where the dog chased its tail and he had once played kick the tin. He picked out the brass link from the rosary, cradled in the centre of the paper, and searched the yellowing wall for yesterday's scratching, among the brown smears and Gaelic phrases. He found it..
A sword of light hath pierced the dark, our eyes have seen the star,Carefully he began etching: 'Within the gloom we hear a voice that once was ours to know . . .' On the next wing shift it would all be gone, washed and melted into curled-up wisps of paint by the steam-hose, the scalding water and bleaching detergents. But now at least it was a distraction. What else was there, but the brown-haired girl upon the wall?
Oh Eire, leave the ways of sleep now days of promise are,
The rusty spears upon your walls are stirring to and fro,
In dreams they front uplifted shields, then awake,
Mo Chraoibhin Cno!
The prisoner's arm was aching by the time he had finished. Carefully he folded the paper again and buried it back in the mattress. He began pacing the floor for warmth, falling into a rhythm with his cell-mate, walking parallel. Six paces up and six paces down. What would be the circumference if it was the diameter? He'd worked it out before, argued it out, but couldn't remember the answer. He grunted with impatience and stopped to peer out the window again. Two sparrows were trudging in the snow.
He turned to the rubbish pile and sorted out some bread, putting
that day's slices on one side; maybe he would try again at moulding
a chess set. He had stamped the last set flat, crumbling on the
heating pipes. Become a Grand Master. A game a week, that would
be fifty-two a year, 1,040 in twenty years, how many in twenty-two?
He lost the calculation. Twenty-two years. He grunted. His cell-
mate stopped the pacing.
'What d'you think things will be like in twenty-two years? Think we'd have robots for screws?'
'Aye, with the Red Hand of Ulster engraved on their arms.'
'Singing "The Sash".'
'Knowing my luck when I'm let out I'll be flattened by an automated bus at the front gate.'
The prisoner climbed back on the pipes and flung the bread out. One sparrow caught the movement, fluttered briefly in the air, dropped down and began pecking. The other quickly joined in. Not as excited as with the maggots.
Resting his head against the grille again, the prisoner remembered his panic the morning he woke up to find mattress, blankets, hair and beard crawling with the white slugs; their tiny rustles at night as they shoved the paper in the corner; the crunch under his bare feet when he got up. But the birds had loved them. So what did you do for the summer? Collected maggots for the birds ... His mind started its familiar wandering, Have you read the Bible? No, but I smoked the Ten Commandments. Not true. He'd been through it twice now. That was a Right. A Bible for 'spiritual consolation'. And to wipe your arse. The thought seemed to trigger his stomach.
He went over to the plastic chamber pots and took the lid off. Full. Christ, hope the other lasts until lock-up. Otherwise it will be out the window, with piss down the wall. Or general slop-out. The yellow stream slowed and stopped. 'Need a shit.' 'Right on,' said his cell-mate, moving to the window and staring studiously out. The prisoner slid the packet out and put it aside with his blanket, before squatting. Inevitably the story of the Secretary of State's wife flitted through his mind; the screw swinging the door open for her at just that moment. And Wee Lennie: 'How's about you then.' The screw frantically swinging the door.
Finished, the prisoner picked up the piece of sponge torn from the mattress and began the ritual smearing on the wall. Then he picked up his package. 'You'd better bangle it now,' he said, carefully peeling back the clingfoil. He picked out the two tiny packages, rewrapped the little clump of tobacco and Parker pen refill and handed it to his cell-mate who quickly slipped it up inside himself.
The prisoner stared at the two packages, still hesitant. He
hadn't opened them, but knew what was written inside, in tiny
scrawl on carefully creased cigarerette papers. One was from
his commanding officer to the Belfast Brigade. A list of names
and home addresses of screws culled from sympathetic 'crim' orderlies.
There'd be a duplicate going out. But it was a critical comm:
critical for him if he was caught with it. The thought, if any
of the names were hit while he was on the boards for carrying
the list! The rule was: no chances with critical comm. No betters
to increase the risk. But the letter was important. It had been
slipped to him at Mass by a friend - serving life for the murder
of two policemen - whose wife had decamped with their child and,
what made it worse, another member of the Movement. The letter
was begging for information. Would he still get the child up for
visits? Would she be raised by his parents? 'D'you think it'll
be all right?' 'Ah, sure, two's not much different.' They'd discussed
it the night before, so there wasn't much point talking any more.
He slipped back his foreskin and carefully moulded in the packages
before covering them up. Then he slicked some of the birds' margarine
off the wall and greased his anus, ready for the quick switch.
There should be some more tobacco. He didn't expect the visit
until the afternoon, but it was as well to be ready. He pulled
his blanket around him.
CAIN contains information and source material on the conflict and politics in Northern Ireland.
CAIN is based within Ulster University.
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