16 January 2018
Bobby Sands' son Gerard (front right) carries the coffin of his grandmother Rosaleen Sands at St Oliver Plunkett's Church, Blackrock, Co Louth. Picture by Mal McCann
SHE was one of the most famous mothers in the world, but none who depicted Rosaleen Sands in scores of films, documentaries and books knew the real woman, mourners at her funeral heard yesterday.
Mrs Sands, the mother of IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands, died last week [January 12] aged 95, surrounded by her family.
Bobby's former cellmate 'Tomboy' Loudon was among those who travelled from across Ireland to pay their last respects at St Oliver Plunkett's Church at Blackrock, Co Louth.
Rosaleen Sands in 1981
Other mourners included former Newry Sinn Féin councillor Pat McGinn although there were no senior party members present.
His son Gerard, who maintains a low public profile, helped his uncle John and cousins carry Mrs Sands's coffin to the church.
Her daughter Bernadette Sands-McKevitt said they "were an ordinary family, whose life was reshaped by extraordinary events".
She was supported by her husband Michael McKevitt, who was released from prison in 2016 after completing a sentence for directing terrorism.
Gardai maintained a low-key presence outside the church.
"Many claimed to know Rosaleen Sands (and she) figured in many books, films and documentaries that were written and produced by people who never met her," Mrs Sands-McKevitt said.
She told how her mother was born in the Markets area of south Belfast in 1922 and her father died when she was just 12 years old.
"She was a working class girl from a working class area and my mother never forgot her roots.
"She was a principled person who had times of trouble."
The young Rosaleen Kelly was set to emigrate to New Zealand, with a job lined up at the other end of the long journey, when she met her husband John Sands.
The couple would go on to marry and raise four children.
None of the children were allowed to "leave the house without first saying our prayers blessing ourselves with holy water".
When their son Bobby was jailed, "my parents never missed a visit" and when the hunger strikes began "set about doing all in their power to highlight" the protest.
"They suddenly found themselves thrown onto the world stage as they desperately tried to save their son.
"Heartbroken she pleaded with Bobby. He made one simple request to her - to stand with him and not against him.
A young boy carrys a picture of Bobby Sands at the funeral of Rosaleen Sands the mother of Bobby Sands at St Oliver Plunkett's Church, Blackrock Co Louth Picture Mal McCann.
"It was a choice that no mother could contemplate, but it was one that she had to make.
"She left his life in God's hands and placed her trust in others to bury her son."
Mrs Sands-McKevitt, a founding member of the dissident republican 32 County Sovereignty Movement, then denounced her brother's former comrades from the pulpit.
"It was a trust that was breached. We found out years later (through documents) that Bobby's final burial wishes, which were not known to us at the time, were not followed."
She said, that in the years that followed Mrs Sands "continued to support prisoners and their families" and was always there "when each of her children suffered".
"She was an inspiration to us all and set a fine example to her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren."
She finished by reading a poem written by Bobby Sands for his mother; among the lines:
How you found strength I do not know
How you managed I’ll never know,
Struggling and striving without a break
Always there and never late.
You prayed for me and loved me more
How could I ask for anymore
And reared me up to be like you
But I haven’t a heart as kind as you.
(Young boy carries photo of Bobby Sands at the funeral)
Mrs Sands was buried privately afterwards at Belfast City Cemetery.
Mrs Sands is survived by her children Marcella, Bernadette and John.