An Camchéacta/The Starry Plough, June 1981
Bobby Sands, IRA Volunteer and MP in that order as far as he was concerned, inspired as much attention and admiration as any other Irish or international hunger striker. But despite earning a place in the hall of Irish revolutionary fame, Bobby Sands was a rather typical working class youth from Belfast.
This, alongside his extraordinary courage, is the main lesson to be drawn from his young life, which in its short duration did more for the Irish working class than the parasites who claim to represent Bobby's people.
He was into everything: music, poetry, athletics, football, excelling at all of them. And he appeared to be set on the "normal" road of working class life, with an apprenticeship as a coach builder near Rathcoole. But Belfast is the abnormal centre of a political slum called Northern Ireland. The Sands family were intimidated out of their home by UDA-orchestrated terror and Bobby was forced out of his job for the same reason and by the same people.
Internment and British Army repression were all that Bobby needed to witness after that in order to join the resistance to British military rule in the north. As he so uniquely and appropriately put it, he went out as a young man with a rifle "and enough hate to topple an empire".
His short-lived manhood was spent almost entirely in jail. After 3 years in Long Kesh he came out in April 1976 to throw himself into local resistance activity almost immediately. Apart from his military activities as an IRA volunteer, he helped to organise a local republican newspaper in Twinbrook "Liberty". He organised a Sinn Fein Cumann, a local Green Cross group and even the extension of the black taxis route to Twinbrook.
Bobby was an exemplary proponent of the real revolutionary, and he proved that well before his hunger strike. But even the manner of his hunger strike and the fact that once again, and as usual, he was in the vanguard, showed his leadership mettle.
Bobby knew the pitfalls and the pressures, psychological as well as physical, and he was determined to resist them unless the five demands were conceded. Dying men they say, clutch at straws. But Bobby steeled himself against every insidious ploy. He was ready for Governors' promises, false hopes, commissioners, diversions and the final unbelievable visit from the excrecable Don Concannon of the British Labour Party. And he endured the scarring emotional pain of his loved ones, a spectacle that must have been at least as sharp to his eyes as it was to the world's cameras. But then there is little in this world quite so sustaining as the forebearance of an Irish working class republican mother who shares her son's sufferings and, unlike the "brilliant intellects" such as Garrett Fitzgerald, understands and supports. It is people like the Sands family who will change history, not the careerist politicians of Westminister and Leinster House.