Born Roibeard Gearóid Ó Seachnasaigh on March 9, 1954, in Rathcoole, Bobby Sands grew up in a predominantly loyalist district of north Belfast. From an early age, Bobby witnessed the deep religious and political divides in the six north eastern counties of Ireland, At the age of 10 his family were forced to move home owing to loyalist intimidation.
Bobby secured employment at the age of 16, he became an apprentice coach builder, joining the National Union of Vehicle Builders, two years into his apprenticeship, he was forced out of his job due to the further acts of intimidation by loyalists towards catholic workers.
Bobby described that time later:
“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 liberation of my country, until Ireland becomes a sovereign, independent socialist republic.”
Bobby joined the republican movement aged 18, in October 1972, would find himself imprisoned for three years for possession of arms. During his imprisonment, Oglach Bobby Sands read widely and taught himself the Irish language, which he would later teach to fellow prisoners in the H-Blocks.
Upon release he reported for active service with Óglaigh na hÉireann. He was arrested and held on remand for 11 months until his trial in September 1977. Oglach Sands was sentenced to 14 years incarceration in Long Kesh.
As a POW Oglach Sands did not waste time, upon his arrival he saw the conditions his comrades were being forced to endure. Bobby along with others pushed hard for reforms within the Long Kesh Concentration Camp.
The duty of a POW is to frustrate the enemy, this often resulted and required direct action by the POWs confronting authorities, he did not shy away from advancing the cause for better conditions. The establishment frequently sanctioned Bobby to long periods of solitary confinement. All the POWs were determined to maintain political status and to be treated as prisoners of war, not as criminals as the British Government had sought to advanced.
Five Demands and the 1980 Hunger Strike
On 27 October 1980, republican prisoners in the H Blocks of Long Kesh began a hunger strike. Many prisoners volunteered to be part of the strike, but a total of seven were selected to match the number of men who signed the Easter 1916 Proclamation of the Republic. The group consisted of Óglaigh na hÉireann, Oglach Brendan Hughes (RIP), Oglach Tommy McKearney, Oglach Raymond McCartney, Oglach Tom McFeeley, Oglach Sean McKenna, Oglach Leo Green, and Saoirse Náisiúnta na hÉireann (INLA) Oglach John Nixon.
On 1 December three prisoners in Armagh Women’s Prison joined the strike, including Oglach Mairéad Farrell (RIP) Oglach Mairéad Nugent and Oglach Mary Doyle. In a war of words between the leadership of Óglaigh na hÉireann, and the British government, the government conceded the prisoners’ five demands with a thirty-page document detailing a proposed settlement.
The prison protest for the 5 demands ended after 53 days on 18 December.
‘I am (even after all the torture) amased at British logic. Never in eight centuries have they succeeded in breaking the spirit of one man who refused to be broken. They have not dispirited, conquered, nor demoralised my people, nor will they ever.’
British Government Bad Faith 1981 Hunger Strike.
In January 1981, it became clear that the British Government had reigned on the agreement. Prison authorities began to supply the prisoners with officially issued civilian clothing, whereas the prisoners demanded the right to wear their own clothing.
On 4 February, the prisoners issued a statement saying that the British government had failed to resolve the crisis and declared their intention of embarking on a further hunger striking once more.
On the 1st March 1981, Oglach Bobby Sands (RIP) Officer Commanding Óglaigh na hÉireann began his protest by embarking on a hunger strike for political status and the 5 demands.
‘If a British government experienced such a long and persistent resistance to domestic policy in England, then that policy would almost certainly be changed… We have asserted that we are political prisoners, and everything about out country – our arrests, interrogations, trials, and prison conditions – show that we are politically motivated.’
During the first seventeen days of the hunger strike Oglach Sands recorded his thoughts and feelings on the momentous task that lay ahead of him.
Oglach Sands wrote:
‘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.‘
Oglach Booby Sands passed away on the 5 May 1981.
A further nine men would give their lives for the advancement of political status.
What we can say with absolute confidence is that Oglach Sands and the other nine men, fasted and died for political status. The H Block Armagh Campaigned focussed political status…nothing else
There can be no doubt the determination of an oppressed peoples will not be broken by oppression of imperialism.
‘They have nothing in their entire arsenal to break the spirit of one single
Republican prisoner-of-war who refuses to be broken,’ I thought, and that was very true. They cannot or never will break our spirit.
Fuair said bás ar son Saoirse na hÉireann