Bobby Sands (1954-1981) IRA hunger-striker

On May 5, 1981, Bobby Sands became the first of ten Provisional IRA hunger-strikers to die in the so-called H blocks of Belfast's controversial Maze Prison. Sands was serving a 14-years sentence for firearms offences. His protest was in support of demands for the reintroduction of special category status for Republican prisoners and had lasted 65 days.

During that time he had been elected to the Westminster Parliament in a by-election in the Northern Irish constituency of Fermanagh and South Tyrone. On May 7, he was buried in a Republican plot in West Belfast's Milltown cemetery.

Sands was born in March 1954 in Newtownabbey, a Unionist area. When he was six, the Unionists found out that his family was both catholic and nationalist, after which started the intimidation and harassment. Twice the family had to move. Bobby Sands joined the IRA in 1972.

In 1977 the British authorities hauled Sands before the court on a charge of possession of a revolver. Although he was tortured, he did not confess of any crime. The torture of Irish prisoners, of whom Bobby Sands was only one of thousands, was the direct result of instructions from the British government, which said in effect: “Get convictions no matter how”. The beatings and torture were described by Sands in his poem, Castlereagh. He and his five companions were given 14 years each. Feeling a political prisoner, he wrote to his electorate during his hunger strike:

There is but a single issue at stake, the right for human dignity of Irish men and women. Our protest and this hunger strike is to secure from the British government an end to its policy of labelling us as criminals.

An additional comment by spiregrain: "From a little piece in by node heaven: "Bobby Sands was convicted in October 1972 for firearms offences relating to his possession of 4 pistols. He returned to prison in September 1977, having been convicted on firearms charges relating to a shootout with police after the bombing of the Balmoral Furniture Company in Dunmurry."