Bobby Sands

BOBBY SANDS - From a nationalist ghetto to the battlefield of H-Block

An Phoblacht
4 March 2011

‘THE BIRTH of a republican: from a nationalist ghetto to the battlefield of H-Block’, by hunger-striker Bobby Sands, was first published anonymously in Republican News on December 16th 1978. It was reprinted in An Phoblacht/Republican News on April 4th 1981, after Bobby had been on hunger strike for one month.

The smuggled-out article, introduced as “A blanket man recalls how the spirit of a republican defiance grew within him”, is a semi-autobiographical account. For example, although blanket men had been denied compassionate parole for the funeral of a parent, as described in the article, Bobby Sands’s mother was very much alive and, in fact, she addressed the Belfast rally held on the first day of his hunger strike, calling for support for her son to save his life.

The birth of a republican

FROM MY earliest days I recall my mother speaking of the troubled times that occurred during her childhood.

Often she spoke of internments on prison ships, of gun attacks and death, and early morning raids when one lay listening with pounding heart to heavy clattering of boots on the cobble-stone streets, and as a new day broke, peeked carefully out the window to see a neighbour being taken away by the Specials.

Although I never really understood what internment was, or who the Specials were, I grew to regard them as symbols of evil. Nor could I understand when my mother spoke of Connolly and the 1916 Rising and of how he and his comrades fought and were subsequently executed – a fate suffered by so many Irish rebels in my mother’s stories.

When the television arrived, my mother’s stories were replaced by what it had to offer. I became more confused as ‘the baddies’ in my my mother’s tales were always my heroes on the TV. The British Army always fought for ‘the right side’ and the police were always ‘the good guys’. Both were heroised and imitated in childhood play,


At school I learnt history but it was always English history and English historical triumphs in Ireland and elsewhere.

I often wondered why I was never taught the history of my own country when my sister, a year younger than myself, began to learn the Gaelic language at her school I envied her. Occasionally, nearing the end of my schooldays, I received a few scant lessons in Irish history. For this, from the republican-minded teacher who taught me, I was indeed grateful.

I recall my mother also speaking of ‘the good old days’. But of her marvellous stories I could never remember any good times and I often thought to myself ‘Thank god I was not a boy in those times’ because then– having left school – life to me seemed enormous and wonderful.

Starting work, although frightening at first, became alright, especially with the reward at the end of the week. Dances and clothes, and girls and a few shillings to spend opened up a whole new world to me. I suppose at that time I would have worked all week as money seemed to matter more than anything else.


Then came 1968 and my life began to change. Gradually the news began to change. Regularly I began to notice the Specials (whom I now know to be the ‘B’ Specials) attacking and baton-charging the crowds of people who all of a sudden began marching on the streets.

From the talk in the house and my mother shaking her fists at the TV set, I knew that they were our people on the receiving end.

My sympathy and feelings really became aroused after watching the scenes at Burntollet. That imprinted itself in my mind like a scar, and for the first time I took a real interest in what was going on.

I became angry.

It was now 1969, and events moved faster as August hit our area like a hurricane. The whole world exploded and my whole little world crumbled around me.

The TV did not have to tell the story now for it was on my own doorstep. Belfast was in flames but it was our districts, our humble homes, which were burnt. The Specials came at the head of the RUC and Orange hordes, right into the heart of our streets, burning, looting, and murdering.

There was no one to save us except ‘the boys’, as my father called the men who were defending our district with a handful of guns. As the unfamiliar sound of gunfire was still echoing, there soon appeared alien figures, voices, and faces, in the form of British armed soldiers on our streets. But no longer did I think of them as my childhood ‘good guys’, for their presence alone caused food for thought.

Before I could work out the solution, it was answered for me in the form of early-morning raids and I remember my mother’s stories of previous troubled times. For now my heart pounded at the heavy clatter of the soldiers’ boots in the early-morning stillness and I carefully peeked from behind the drawn curtains to watch the neighbours’ doors being kicked in and the fathers and sons being dragged out by the hair and being flung into the back of sinister-looking armoured cars.

This was followed by blatant murder: the shooting dead of people in our streets in cold blood.

The curfew came and went, taking more of our people’s lives.


Every time I turned around a corner I was met with the now all-too-familiar sight of homes being wrecked and people being lifted. The city was in uproar. Bombings began to become more regular, as did gun battles as ‘the boys’, the IRA, hit back at the Brits.

The TV now showed endless gun battles and bombings. The people had risen and were fighting back and my mother, in her newly-found spirit of resistance, hurled encouragement at the TV, shouting “Give it to them, boys!”

Easter 1971 came and the name on everyone’s lips was ‘the Provos – the People’s Army’, the backbone of nationalist resistance.

I was now past my 18th year and I was fed up with rioting. No matter how much I tried or how many stones I threw, I could never beat them – the Brits always came back . . .

I had seen too many homes wrecked, fathers and sons arrested, neighbours hurt, friends murdered, and too much gas, shootings and blood – most of it my own people’s.

At eighteen-and-a-half I joined the Provos. My mother wept with pride and fear as I went out to meet and confront the imperial might of an empire with an M1 carbine and enough hate to topple the world.

To my surprise, my schoolday friends and neighbours became my comrades in war. I soon became much more aware about the whole national liberation struggle – as I came to regard what I used to term ‘the Troubles’.


Things were not easy for a Volunteer in the Irish Republican Army. Already I was being harassed and twice I was lifted, questioned, and brutalised, but I survived both of these trials.

Then came another hurricane: internment. Many of my comrades disappeared – interned.

Many of my innocent neighbours met the same fate. Others weren’t so lucky – they were just murdered.

My life now centred around sleepless nights and standbys, dodging the Brits and calming nerves to go out on operations.
But the people stood by us.

The people not only opened the doors of their homes to us to lend a hand but they opened their hearts to us, and I soon learnt that without the people we could not survive and I knew that I owed them everything.

1972 came and I spent what was to be my last Christmas at home for quite a while. The Brits never let up. No mercy was shown, as was testified by the atrocity of Bloody Sunday in Derry.

But we continued to fight back, as did my jailed comrades, who embarked upon a long hunger strike to gain recognition as political prisoners.

Political status was won just before the first but short-lived, truce of 1972. During this truce the IRA made ready and braced itself for the forthcoming massive Operation Motorman, which came and went, taking with it the barricades.

The liberation struggle forged ahead but then came personal disaste– I was captured.

It was the autumn of ‘72. I was charged and for the first time I faced jail. I was nineteen-and-a-half, but I had no alternative than to face up to all the hardship that was before me.

Given the stark corruptness of the judicial system, I refused to recognise the court. I ended up sentenced in a barbed wire cage, where I spent three-and-a-half years as a prisoner-of-war with ‘special category status’.

I did not waste my time. I did not allow the rigours of prison life to change my revolutionary determination an inch. I educated and trained myself both in political and military matters, as did my comrades.

In 1976, when I was released, I was not broken. In fact I was more determined in the fight for liberation. I reported back to my local IRA unit and threw myself straight back in to the struggle.

Quite a lot of things had changed. Belfast had changed. Some parts of the ghettos had completely disappeared and others were in the process of being removed. The war was still forging ahead although tactics and strategy had changed.

At first I found it a little bit hard to adjust but I settled into the run of things and, at the grand old age of 23, I got married.

Life wasn’t bad but there were still a lot of things that had not changed, such as the presence of armed British troops on our streets and the oppression of our people.

The liberation struggle was now seven years old and had braved a second (and mistakenly-prolonged) ceasefire.

The British Government was now seeking to ‘Ulsterise’ the war, which included the attempted criminalisation of the IRA and attempted normalisation of the war situation.

The liberation struggle had to be kept going. Thus, six months after my release, disaster fell a second time as I bombed my way back into jail!


With my wife being four months pregnant, the shock of capture, the seven days of hell in Castlereagh, a quick court appearance and remand, and the return to a cold damp cell, nearly destroyed me. It took every ounce of the revolutionary spirit left in me to stand up to it.

Jail, although not new to me, was really bad, worse than the first time. Things had changed enormously since the withdrawal of political status. Both republicans and loyalist prisoners were mixed in the same wing.

The greater part of each day was spent locked up in a cell. The Screws, many of whom I knew to be cowering cowards, now went in gangs into the cells of republican prisoners to dish out unmerciful beatings. This was to be the pattern all the way along the road to criminalisation: torture and more torture to break our spirit of resistance. I was meant to change from being a revolutionary freedom fighter to a criminal at the stroke of a political pen, reinforced by inhumanities of the most brutal nature.

Already Kieran Nugent and several more republican POWs had begun the blanket protest for the restoration of political status. They refused to wear prison garb or to do prison work.

After many weekly remand court appearances the time finally arrived, 11 months after my arrest and I was in a Diplock [no-jury] court. In two hours I was swiftly found guilty and my comrades and I were sentenced to 15 years. Once again I had refused to recognise the farcical judicial system. As they led us from the courthouse, my mother, defiant as ever, stood up in the gallery and shook the air with a cry of “They’ll never break you, boys!” And my wife from somewhere behind her, with tear-filled eyes, braved a smile of encouragement towards me.

At least, I thought, she has our child. Now that I was in jail, our daughter would provide her with company and maybe help to ease the loneliness which she knew only too well.

The next day I became a blanket man and there I was, sitting on the cold floor, naked, with only a blanket around me, in an empty cell.


The days were long and lonely. The sudden and total deprivation of such basic human necessities as exercise and fresh air, association with other people, my own clothes, and things like newspapers, radio, cigarettes, books and a host of other things made life very hard.

At first, as always, I adapted. But, as time wore on, I came face to face with an old ‘friend’, depression, which on many occasion consumed me and swallowed me into its darkest depths.

From home, only the occasional letter got past the prison censor.

Gradually my appearance and physical health began to change drastically. My eyes, glassy, piercing, sunken, and surrounded by pale, yellowish skin, were frightening.

I had grown a beard and, like my comrades, I resembled a living corpse. The blinding migraine headaches, which started off slowly, became a daily occurrence, and owing to no exercise I became seized with muscular pains.

In the H-Blocks, beatings, long periods in the punishment cells, starvation diets and torture were commonplace.

March 20th 1978, and we completed the full circle of deprivation and suffering. As an attempt to highlight our intolerable plight, we embarked upon a dirt strike, refusing to wash, shower, clean out our cells or empty the filthy chamber pots in our cells.

The H-Blocks became battlefields in which the republican spirit of resistance met head-on all the inhumanities that Britain could perpetrate.

Inevitably, the lid of silence on the H-Blocks blew sky-high, revealing the atrocities inside.

The battlefield became worse: our cells turning into disease-infested tombs with piles of decaying rubbish and maggots, fleas and flies becoming rampant. The continual nauseating stench of urine and the stink of our bodies and cells made our surroundings resemble a pigsty.

The Screws, keeping up the incessant torture, hosed us down, sprayed us with strong disinfectant, ransacked our cells, forcibly bathed us, and tortured us to the brink of insanity. Blood and tears fell upon the battlefield – all of it ours. But we refused to yield.


The republican spirit prevailed and as I sit here in the same conditions and the continuing torture in H-Block 5, I am proud, although physically wrecked, mentally exhausted, and scarred deep with hatred and anger.
I am proud because my comrades and I have met, fought and repelled a monster and we will continue to do so. We will never allow ourselves to be criminalised, nor our people either.

Grief-stricken and oppressed, the men and women of no property have risen. A risen people, marching in thousands on the streets in defiance and rage at the imperial oppressor, the mass murderer, and torturer. The spirit of Irish freedom in every single one of them – and I am really proud.

Last week, I had a visit from my wife, standing by me to the end as ever. She barely recognised me in my present condition and in tears she told me of the death of my dear mother – God help her, how she suffered.

I sat in tears as my wife told me how my mother marched in her blanket, along with thousands, for her son and his comrades, and for Ireland’s freedom.

When the Screws came to tell me that I was not getting out on compassionate parole for my mother’s funeral, I sat on the floor in the corner of my cell and I thought of her in Heaven, shaking her fist in her typical defiance and rage at the merciless oppressors of her country. I thought, too, of the young ones growing up now in a war-torn situation and, like my own daughter, without a father, without peace, without a future, and under British oppression. Growing up to end up in Crumlin Road Jail, Castlereagh, barbed-wire cages, Armagh Prison and Hell-Blocks.

Having reflected on my own past, I know this will occur unless our country is rid of the perennial oppressor, Britain. And I am ready to go out and destroy those who have made my people suffer so much and so long.

I was only a working-class boy from a nationalist ghetto but it is repression that creates the revolutionary spirit of freedom.

I shall not settle until I achieve the liberation of my country, until Ireland becomes a sovereign, independent socialist republic.

We, the risen people, shall turn tragedy into triumph. We shall bear forth a nation!

Bobby Sands

Bobby Sands' Diary - first entry

From the old Larkspirit site


Bobby Sands kept a secret diary of the first 17 days of his hungerstrike. This is his first entry from March 1981

Sunday 1st

I am standing on the threshold of another trembling world. May God have mercy on my soul.

My heart is very sore because I know that I have broken my poor mother's heart, and my home is struck with unbearable anxiety. But I have considered all the arguments and tried every means to avoid what has become the unavoidable: it has been forced upon me and my comrades by four-and-a-half years of stark inhumanity.

I am a political prisoner. I am a political prisoner because I am a casualty of a perennial war that is being fought between the oppressed Irish people and an alien, oppressive, unwanted regime that refuses to withdraw from our land.

I believe and stand by the God-given right of the Irish nation to sovereign independence, and the right of any Irishman or woman to assert this right in armed revolution. That is why I am incarcerated, naked and tortured.

Foremost in my tortured mind is the thought that there can never be peace in Ireland until the foreign, oppressive British presence is removed, leaving all the Irish people as a unit to control their own affairs and determine their own destinies as a sovereign people, free in mind and body, separate and distinct physically, culturally and economically.

I believe I am but another of those wretched Irishmen born of a risen generation with a deeply rooted and unquenchable desire for freedom. I am dying not just to attempt to end the barbarity of H-Block, or to gain the rightful recognition of a political prisoner, but primarily because what is lost in here is lost for the Republic and those wretched oppressed whom I am deeply proud to know as the 'risen people'.

There is no sensation today, no novelty that October 27th brought. (The starting date of the original seven man hunger-strike) The usual Screws were not working. The slobbers and would-be despots no doubt will be back again tomorrow, bright and early.

I wrote some more notes to the girls in Armagh today. There is so much I would like to say about them, about their courage, determination and unquenchable spirit of resistance. They are to be what Countess Markievicz, Anne Devlin, Mary Ann McCracken, Marie MacSwiney, Betsy Gray, and those other Irish heroines are to us all. And, of course, I think of Ann Parker, Laura Crawford, Rosemary Bleakeley, and I'm ashamed to say I cannot remember all their sacred names.

Mass was solemn, the lads as ever brilliant. I ate the statutory weekly bit of fruit last night. As fate had it, it was an orange, and the final irony, it was bitter. The food is being left at the door. My portions, as expected, are quite larger than usual, or those which my cell-mate Malachy is getting.

Bobby Sands

A broken deal meant ’81 fast was inevitable

Andersonstown News

Lurgan man Leo Green went without food for 53 days during the 1980 hunger strike. Currently working as part of Sinn Féin's Assembly support team at Stormont, he was arrested in 1977 and sentenced to life imprisonment. He spent over 17 years in prison.

“Coming up to the 30th anniversary there's a natural focus on the hunger strike but the story of the prison struggle was about much more than that,” he said. “It's a story about hundreds of prisoners in both Armagh and Long Kesh and a story of thousands of relatives and activists on the outside. That hundreds of prisoners endured such confinement, conditions and brutality over a protracted period is always worth thinking about before you come round to thinking about what happened next. It sets the context and to some degree explains the rationale behind the decision to go on hunger strike.”

Leo explained that on a personal level his biggest concern was about how his mother and father would take the news that he had volunteered to go on hunger strike.

“I knew they would be supportive but I was particularly worried about the impact my decision would have on my father who had a history of stroke-related illness,” he said.

“As it turned out, within days of hearing I would be on the hunger strike he did take another serious stroke. His health went rapidly into decline thereafter and he died a few years later.”

Leo said the decision to begin a hunger strike was only taken after almost five years of the blanket protest by prisoners in the H-Blocks and in Armagh.


“Those were five years of brutality, confinement, terrible conditions for hundreds of prisoners. Hundreds of support demonstrations took place on the outside including a significant international focus on what was happening in the prisons. And all of this had not brought sufficient pressure for a resolution,” he said.

“And while I didn't think of it like this at the time, with each passing year of protest, with each wave of brutality from the prison administration, and with each deterioration in conditions, the prospect of hunger strike was increasing all the while.

“The decision to escalate the protest to a hunger strike was made in the prison and by the prisoners and against all the advice from outside. It wasn't taken lightly. It was only taken when it was felt we had exhausted all other forms of protest and when we had witnessed a number of interventions on the outside coming to nothing.”

Seven republican prisoners went on hunger strike on October 27, 1980. The seven men were Brendan Hughes, Tom McFeeley, Sean McKenna, Leo Green, Tommy McKearney, Raymond McCartney and John Nixon. They remained on hunger strike for 53 days.

“I spent the early few days in the wing in H4,” recalled Leo. “All the hunger strikers were then moved to a wing in H3, which was converted into a sort of hospital wing. After a few weeks there we were moved to the prison hospital,” he said.

As Sean McKenna neared death the prisoners struck a deal with the authorities – only for the British government to renege on the promises made.

“When the first hunger strike ended I was relieved that no-one had died. I really thought that it meant the end of the protests and a resolution. I wasn't surprised to learn about the initial messing about by the jail administration – but I thought that was to be expected and that it would pass.

“Gradually it began to sink in that the Brits had no intention of working to a solution that they had sought only to defuse the growing support for the prisoners' demands.

“This realisation was quite depressing, particularly as I knew it might mean another hunger strike. I knew also that the prospect that someone might die on hunger strike would now be significantly higher.

“But the determination to go for a second hunger strike was high. I realised that immediately when we moved back on to the protest wings from the prison hospital.

“All the ingredients that had made the hunger strike inevitable in the first instance were still there – the intransigence of the Brits, the attitude of the screws and the determination of the prisoners not to be broken.

“Dozens had volunteered to go on hunger strike. And this remained the case even after each death during the 1981 strike.

“I thought the right decision was made to end it when it did eventually end. And although we had lost ten comrades and friends, I knew we hadn't lost. We all knew we hadn't lost.”

Leo reflected on the huge changes in the political situation that have taken place over the past decades.

“It was certainly a bit strange coming to work here in Stormont initially. And presumably it was the same for other Sinn Féin people who had experienced imprisonment,” he said.

“The situation in the North has changed enormously and it continues to change. Change never comes easy or quickly enough. But there is no doubt it is happening. The Orange State as we knew and experienced it has gone.

“This is not to say that everything is okay. Far from it – much more change is needed. But change has to be worked at, it doesn't happen of its own accord and it doesn't always come in the form we would like.

“I think teaching our history is very important. It is important that young people know about these events and it is equally important that they learn about them from republicans.”

Leo said that the key lesson learned by republicans during the period of the hunger strikes was that “to get what you want politically you have to be determined, resilient and have an ability to adapt”.

“What brings delivery is resilience, determination and hard work. On the day the second hunger strike ended we knew we hadn't lost.

“We had secured the key demand on the right to wear our own clothes. That opened up a space within the prisons to make further progress. And within a short space of time, the rest of the five demands followed.

“The price was enormous. But we hadn't just not lost – we had won.”
Bobby Sands

Sands book is to be launched today in Italy

Andersonstown News
Thursday 19th of July 2010

The Vice-President of the European Parliament, Roberta Angelilli MEP, is to launch a book about Bobby Sands today (Thursday) at the European Parliament Offices in Rome.

Il Diario di Bobby Sands: Storia di un Ragazzo Irlandese is the translation by Italian journalist Silvia Calamati of a book first published in Ireland a few years ago by Denis O’Hearn and Laurence McKeown.

That book, I Awoke This Morning – A Biography of Bobby Sands for Younger Readers, has also been published in Irish: Déirigh Mé ar Maidin: Beathaisnéis Roibeaird Uí Sheachnasaigh do Léitheoirí Níos Óige.

Danny Morrison, Secretary of the Bobby Sands Trust, is pleased the hunger strike continues to be acknowledged on the international stage.

“Once again we see international recognition of, and respect for, the struggle by Irish political prisoners, in particular the hunger strikers and that of the name Bobby Sands,” he said. “Their sacrifice has stood the test of time and what they came through in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh is an indictment of successive British governments.

“But when one looks at the tense situation in Maghaberry it is clear that the British government is slow to learn from its past mistakes. I would like to congratulate Silvia Calamati on the publication of this book and her ongoing commitment to covering events in the North of Ireland.”

Silvia Calamati will be appearing in An Chultúrlann, Falls Road, on July 31, as part of Féile an Phobail. She will be launching Scéalta Ban Ó Thuaisceart na hÉireann, an Irish language version of her book, Women’s Stories from the North of Ireland.
Bobby Sands

Claims only add to pain says ex-hunger striker

THE HUNGER STRIKE Was there a deal?

By Allison Morris
Irish News

Former republican hunger striker Bernard Fox says he is deeply distressed by allegations that a deal which could have ended the strike was vetoed in order to maximise electoral support for Sinn Fein.

The west Belfast man, who spent a total of 22 years in prison, was on hunger strike for 32 days when the protest was ended.

Speaking to The Irish News Mr Fox said: “I was a close friend of Joe McDonnell. I was on active service with him on the outside, and later imprisoned with him.

“Under those circumstances you get to know a person’s character very well.

“Joe loved life and had no desire to die but he was determined and pragmatic and was not for settling for anything other than the five demands – that I can say for sure.

“I wasn’t in the hospital at that time and I don’t know what the men were told or not told but I do know that there was no deal.

“Offers, yes – there were plenty of offers.

“Sure wasn’t Kieran Nugent given an offer of a convict’s uniform in 1976, an offer he declined?”

Having been interned twice the former IRA man was returned to the Maze prison as a convicted prisoner in 1977 and immediately joined the blanket protest, before volunteering for the Hunger Strike.

He spent 32 days on hunger strike before the protest, which claimed the lives of seven IRA and three INLA prisoners, came to an end.

“It took me 20 years before I could even speak openly about my experiences,” he said.

“It’s still emotional and raw for me even now. These claims just add to that pain.

“I can only imagine what it must be like for the families of the 10 lads.

“Bik [McFarlane] was chosen to act as our OC [officer commanding]. It’s a job no-one envied – the pressure must have been unbearable.

“Regardless of what I or anyone else may think about the political direction he has taken since, at the time we knew he wasn’t going to let us down.

“To suggest that he in some way colluded with the outside leadership to let his comrades die is sickening to me and does not hold up to scrutiny.

“After the first hunger strike we, [the prisoners] were very clear we wanted our demands in writing and delivered by a representative of the British government so there could be no reneging this time.

“Look, I would never criticise any former blanketman. We all suffered equally and the comradeship we had at that time was the only thing that saw us through.

“But try as I may I cannot understand where some people are coming from or why they would wait all these years to bring this out.

“Thatcher and the British government are responsible for the deaths of our comrades – that’s where the blame lies.”

In 1998 Fox was released from prison under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

He has since parted company with Sinn Fein in disagreement over its political direction.

“I have no personal or political agenda,” he said.

“My only concern is for the families and how all this must be hurting them.

Addressing calls for a public inquiry, he said: “I have no time for inquiries. What you need is not an inquiry but the truth and it would be naive to think the British will ever tell the truth.

“If there are unanswered questions my advice would be to seek clarification.

“That way the families who have called on all this to stop can be left in peace.”
Bobby Sands

There was an offer on the table – but the prisoners weren’t told

THE HUNGER STRIKE Was there a deal?

Irish News

Richard O’Rawe – former republican prisoner, PRO of the 1981 hunger strikers and author of Blanketmen – responds to Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams on claims a deal was available which would have saved the lives of six hunger strikers

There is now no room for doubting that the hunger strikers, by their sacrifice and courage, melted the iron will of Margaret Thatcher.

In doing so they tore asunder the British government’s policy of criminalisation. Not only that, but the hunger strikers forced the British to make a substantial offer, which was passed to Brendan Duddy (the Mountain Climber) on 5 July 1981.

Martin McGuinness said in his September 28 Irish News article that he took the offer from Duddy and passed it on to Gerry Adams in Belfast.

I believe that, had that offer not been rejected by those republican leaders on the outside who ran the Hunger Strike, it would have spelt victory to the Blanketmen, proved to be a massive propaganda coup for the republican struggle and, most importantly of all, saved the lives of six hunger strikers.

I also believe that while other accounts of the period have crumbled under the weight of damning contemporaneous evidence, my version of events has been vindicated: there was an offer; Bik McFarlane and I did accept it; a comm from Gerry Adams came in to the prison leadership which said that ‘more was needed’.

A similar message was sent to the British government.

Besides Martin McGuinness, the former hunger striker Laurence McKeown contributed an article to The Irish News special edition.

In it Laurence made no direct reference to this offer, preferring instead to write about a conversation he had had with a BBC producer in the 1990s.

That prompts the question: had Laurence and the hunger strikers been made fully aware of the details of the Mountain Climber offer?

I do not think they were and Laurence McKeown’s own book, Nor Meekly Serve My Time, demonstrates this.

For example: on July 29 1981, at the request of the families and Mgr Denis Faul, Gerry Adams, Fermanagh and South Tyrone election candidate Owen Carron, and INLA leader Seamus Ruddy visited the hunger strikers, ostensibly to give them their assessment of the situation.

Thirteen years later, in 1994, Laurence recorded the visit in his book. On page 236 he wrote of Gerry Adams having visited hunger striker Kieran Doherty:

“On their way out of his cell Doc’s parents met and spoke with Gerry, Bik and the others. They asked what the situation was and Gerry said he had just told all the stailceoirí, including Kieran, that there was no deal on the table from the Brits, no movement of any sort and if the stailc continued, Doc would most likely be dead within a few days. They just listened to this and nodded, more or less resigned to the fact that they would be watching their son die any day now.”

Kieran Doherty TD passed away four days after Adams’s visit, believing that there ‘was no deal on the table from the Brits, no movement of any sort’.

What Adams seemingly did not tell Kieran’s dignified parents, Alfie and Margaret, was that, actually, there was a deal on the table from the Brits, and it had been there from before Joe McDonnell died.

Moreover, he did not tell them that there had been movement.

Adams did not tell Mr and Mrs Doherty – or their noble son – about the Mountain Climber offer.

According to Laurence McKeown, Adams did not tell any of the hunger strikers about the Mountain Climber offer. Worse still, he told them the opposite of what he knew to be the facts of the situation.

I believe that Adams misrepresented the situation and Bik McFarlane did nothing to correct him. That is hardly surprising since before Adams even set foot in the prison McFarlane told Pat ‘Beag’ McGeown ‘Don’t make your opinions known,’ at the forthcoming meeting.

Subsequently Pat Beag said, ‘When Gerry was in I didn’t say anything to him.’

In the face of all the evidence Sinn Fein has sought to demonise anyone who criticises their version of the Hunger Strike by representing that any condemnation of them automatically means that the hunger strikers had been dupes.

The hunger strikers were never dupes. In reality, like Pat Beag, they were very astute and politically-aware individuals, people who would not be ‘easily deceived or cheated’ by anyone.

Yet, like any of us, they could only make decisions on the basis of the information they had.

If those they trusted withheld vital information from them, their judgements would obviously have been impaired.

Besides Gerry Adams not having told them of the Mountain Climber offer, when he visited them on July 29, Bik McFarlane never told them that he and I had accepted the Mountain Climber offer.

Furthermore, like McFarlane and the rest of the prison leadership, the hunger strikers were never shown a copy of the British government’s offer.

In fact, none of us prisoners in Long Kesh were told that the offer came in the form of a statement from the then secretary of state for Northern Ireland, Humphrey Atkins, which the British, as documents recently disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act made clear, would have been released if and when the Hunger Strike ended.

So, why was this offer not sent in to the hunger strikers so that they could properly evaluate the attitude of the British?

Who took the decision to withhold it from them?

And the biggest question of all – why?
Bobby Sands

Hunger strikers ‘were not sacrificed for political gain’

Ruairí Ó Brádaigh Interview

By Allison Morris
Irish News

STRATEGY: Ruairí Ó Brádaigh has dismissed suggestions by former republican prisoner Richard O’Rawe, inset, that some of the 1981 hunger strikers were allowed to die in the Maze Prison as part of a Sinn Fein strategy to gain electoral support

Throughout the1981 republican Hunger Strike, Ruairí Ó Brádaigh reigned as president of Sinn Fein. It is also believed he was a member of the IRA’s ruling army council throughout the same period.

Controversy surrounding the publication of Richard O’Rawe’s book Blanketmen, which claims the fast was allowed to continue for political gain, has provoked reaction from a vast spectrum of republicans.

While Ó Brádaigh has said he passionately supported using elections as a strategy to draw global attention to prison protest, he maintains it’s unthinkable that men were sacrificed for electoral success.

“When the first four men had died we had a situation in the 26 counties where Charlie Haughey was hesitating calling a general election,” he said.

“Men were dying and Haughey knew this would do him no favours.

“After the first four died it was thought there would be a space – people generally go about 60 days – so Haughey finally called the election “I pushed for a contest and I have

to say there was a lot of opposition to that, especially from people north of the border who wouldn’t be that familiar with the ground in the south.

“But eventually we got agreement and it went ahead.

“People were very nervous but men were dying. We had to do something.

“Getting reaction from people I knew well and whose judgment I trusted. The feedback I was getting back was that there was great support there.

“In the end two were elected but I would say if we had more time we could have got a couple more elected.”

The election of republican candidates achieved its aim, namely drawing attention to the protest.

However, allegations against Sinn Fein are that a deal, that came close to granting the prisoners’ five demands was rejected in order to exploit gains being made at the polls.

Ó Brádaigh, while no friend of the present Sinn Fein leadership, says he would challenge this version of events, claiming British dirty tricks were responsible for prolonging the protest.

“The Irish Commission for Justice and Peace (ICJP) were doing their best, I’m sure of that judging by the talks they had with us,” he said.

“But the Brits were up to their tricks.

“They would always have something else going on – and that is the diversion – while the real thing is going on somewhere else.

“That is what I believe was going on there with the ICJP, they were the diversion.”

As Ó Brádaigh was banned from Britain and Northern Ireland at the time he was only able to cross the border covertly.

It has been suggested the northern leadership could have been acting

autonomously without his knowledge and so rejected any deal without the knowledge of the full IRA army council.

“No, no, no I wouldn’t say that at all. With the situation as it existed at the time, no,” Ó Brádaigh said.

“Or even for the second by-election that has been much talked about, no that just couldn’t and wouldn’t have happened.”
Bobby Sands

Probe ’81 deal claim ex-INLA man says

By Allison Morris
Irish News

A FORMER Belfast councillor who represented the interests of INLA prisoners during the 1981 Hunger Strike has backed calls for an inquiry into controversial claims the protest was allowed to continue for political gain.

Former INLA inmate Sean Flynn said he thought enough evidence had come to light to warrant further investigation into the deaths of 10 republicans, including three INLA men.

During the republican prison protests Mr Flynn was spokes-man for the INLA prisoners.

He was one of two IRSP candidates elected to Belfast City Council in 1981 but served only half of his four-year term after going on the run to the Republic when he was implicated in paramilitary activity on the word of supergrass Harry Kirkpatrick.

Speaking from his north Belfast home the 61-year-old, who is no longer active in politics, said: “I’ve no agenda and I’m certainly not coming at this from a Sinn Fein bashing angle.

“I can only say what I know from my experiences at the time.”

Mr Flynn claimed he received a call on July 5 1981 from the NIO telling him it was imperative that he visited the jail that day.

By that time four prisoners had already died including INLA man Patsy O’Hara.

“The caller said he was from the NIO and that it had been arranged for me to gain entry to the jail,” he said.

“I did see Danny Morrison (the IRA prisoners’ spokes-man) that day and I don’t know if he saw me, he would have to answer that himself.

“They took me through the door the screws used and straight to the hospital.

“I spoke to Kevin Lynch. Micky Devine was at that point still being held in the blocks as he wouldn’t have been sick enough yet to be moved to the hospital.

“What I can say for absolute certainty is that the INLA and the IRSP were not made aware of the Mountain Climber negotiations or any proposed deal.

“I spoke to Kevin Lynch that day and he also didn’t know or he would have mentioned it.

“I have no idea if Danny Morrison told the IRA prisoners of an offer, I can only speak for our men and they didn’t know.

“Something was obviously going on or else why would the NIO have contacted me?”

Mr Flynn said the INLA prisoners had been denied the opportunity of making up their own minds on whether the Mountain Climber offer from the British government was worth accepting.

“There is also no way of knowing whether our prisoners would have been willing to accept an offer. I’ve been told that it was pretty close to the five demands,” he said.

Sean Flynn was to later give an oration at the funeral of Kevin Lynch in Dungiven, Co Derry, following his death on August 1 after 71 days on hunger strike. He was the seventh person to die.

“Look, I know that there is a lot of speculation and misinformation going about,” Mr Flynn said.

“What I will say is that Sinn Fein do need to answer some basic questions.

“Was there an offer and if so why were the IRSP not informed and given a chance to look it over?

“In that respect I would support recent calls for an inquiry,” he said.
Bobby Sands

Hunger striker's mother 'fully behind' INLA move

Derry Journal
13 Oct 2009

The mother of a Derry man who died on hunger strike says she fully supports the INLA's move away from violence.

Peggy O'Hara, whose son Patsy, an INLA volunteer, died on hunger strike in Long Kesh in 1981, says she is happy with the move which was announced at the weekend.

"I am happy with the announcement and happy that the political stance of the movement has not changed," she told the 'Journal' last night.
"The main thing for me is that they still remain implacably opposed to the Good Friday Agreement and the notion of a British police force in Ireland.

"I understand that it is only the tactics that have changed and that the political objectives remain the same as they were in 1981.
"I give my full support to the republican socialist movement," she added.

Mrs O'Hara has a long connection with the republican socialist movement and stood as an independent republican candidate in the Assembly elections in 2007 on an anti-PSNI ticket.

She received more than 1,700 first preference votes but was not elected.
Meanwhile, IRSP ard comhairle member Martin McMonagle says the families of INLA members who died during the Troubles were consulted before Sunday's announcement.

"A series of talks have been going on for the last few years," he said. "Families were happy in 1998 when the ceasefire was announced and that has not changed," he added.

Mr McMonagle insists the move is supported by the "vast majority" of republican socialists and ruled out any possibility of a split in the ranks of the INLA.

"If people were unhappy, this initiative would not have happened," he said. "It was important for us to keep the movement intact."
Bobby Sands

There was no deal


By Gerry Adams Sinn Fein president, West Belfast MP, MLA
Irish News

Twenty-eight years ago, 10 Irish republicans died over a seven-month period on hunger strike, after women in Armagh prison and men in the H-Blocks (and several men ‘on-the-blanket’ in Crumlin Road Jail) had endured five years of British government sanctioned brutality.

The reason for their suffering was that in 1976 the British government reneged on a 1972 agreement over political/special category status for prisoners which had actually brought relative peace to the jails.

Joe McDonnell

You would not know from reading Garret FitzGerald’s newly-found ‘memory’ of 1981 in the recent Irish News series that in his 1991 memoir he wrote: “My meetings with the relatives came to an end on 6 August when some of them attempted to ‘sit in’ in the government anteroom, where I had met them on such occasions, after a stormy discussion during which I had once again refused to take the kind of action some of them had been pressing on me.”

This came after a Garda riot squad attacked and hospitalised scores of prisoner supporters outside the British embassy in Dublin only days after the death of Joe McDonnell. It is clear from FitzGerald’s interview and from his previous writing that his main concern, before, during and after 1981, was that the British government might be talking to republicans and that this should stop.

With Thatcher he embarked on the most intense round of repression in the period after 1985. Following the Anglo-Irish Treaty of that year the Irish government supported an intensification of British efforts to destroy border crossings and roads and remained mute over evidence of mounting collusion between British forces and unionist paramilitaries.

The same FitzGerald was portrayed as a great Liberal, yet every government which he led or on which he served, renewed the broadcasting censorship of Sinn Fein. This denial of information and closing down of dialogue subverted the rights of republicans. It also helped prolong the conflict.

The men who died on hunger strike from the IRA and INLA were not fools. They had fought the British and knew how bitter and cruel an enemy its forces could be in the city, in the countryside, in the centres of interrogation and in the courts.

The Hunger Strike did not arise out of a vacuum but as a consequence of frustration, a failure of their incredible sacrifices and the activism of supporters to break the deadlock.

Part of the problem was that the Irish establishment, including the Dublin government, the SDLP and sections of the Catholic hierarchy had bought into British strategy.

This was actively supported by sections of the Catholic establishment in the north including The Irish News.

The prisoners, our comrades, our brothers and sisters, resisted the British in jail every day, in solitary confinement, when being beaten during wings shifts, during internal searches and the forced scrubbings.

In December 1980 the republican leadership on the outside was in contact with the British who claimed they were interested in a settlement. But before a document outlining a new regime arrived in the jail the hunger strike was called off by Brendan Hughes to save the life of the late Sean McKenna. The British, or sections of them, interpreted this as weakness. The prisoners ended their fast before a formal ‘signing off’.

And the British then refused to implement the spirit of the document and reneged on the integrity of our exchanges.

Their intransigence triggered a second hunger strike in which there was overwhelming suspicion of British motives among the hunger strikers, the other political prisoners, and their families and supporters on the outside.

This was the prisoners’ mindset on July 5 1981, after four of their comrades had already died and when Danny Morrison visited the IRA and INLA hunger strikers to tell them that contact had been re-established and that the British were making an offer. While this verbal message fell well short of their demands they nevertheless wanted an accredited British official to come in and explain this position to them, which is entirely understandable given the British government’s record.

Six times before the death of Joe McDonnell, the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace (ICJP), which was engaged in parallel discussions with the British, asked the British to send an official into the jail to explain what it was offering, and six times the British refused.

After the death of Joe McDonnell the ICJP condemned the British for failing to honour undertakings and for “clawing back” concessions.

Richard O’Rawe, who had never met the hunger strikers in the prison hospital, never met the governor, never met the ICJP or Danny Morrison during the hunger strike, and who never raised this issue before serialising his book in that well-known Irish republican propaganda organ, The Sunday Times, said, in a statement in 1981: “The British government’s hypocrisy and their refusal to act in a responsible manner are completely to blame for the death of Joe McDonnell.”

Republicans involved in the 1981 hunger strike met with the families a few months ago.

Their emotional distress and ongoing pain was palpable.

They were intimately involved at the time on an hour-by-hour basis and know exactly where their sons and brothers stood in relation to the struggle with the British government.

They know who was trying to do their best for them and who was trying to sell their sacrifices short.

More importantly, they know the mind of their loved ones.

That, for me, is what shone through at that meeting.

The families knew their brothers, husbands, fathers. They knew they weren’t dupes. They knew they weren’t stupid. They knew they were brave, beyond words and they were clear about what was happening.

All of the family members, who spoke, with the exception of Tony O’Hara, expressed deep anger and frustration at the efforts to denigrate and defile the memory of their loved ones. In a statement they said: “We are clear that it was the British government which refused to negotiate and refused to concede their [the prisoners’] just demands.”