seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Final Republican & Loyalist Prisoners Released from Maze Prison

maze-prison-releaseThe final seventy-eight republican and loyalist prisoners are released from the Maze Prison in Northern Ireland on July 28, 2000 as the final phase of the Good Friday peace accord scheme to release 428 inmates early.

Some of the most prolific bombers and gunmen involved in the Troubles have been imprisoned in the Maze, originally called Long Kesh, since it opened in 1971.

One of the freed republicans, Seán Lynch, describes what he saw as the real and symbolic importance of the Maze. “We had achieved the status of political prisoners even if the British Government never admitted it. The prison struggle was a microcosm of the larger struggle.”

Founder member of the Ulster Defence Association, Thomas McKeown, released in 1990 is one of over 10,000 loyalists sent to the prison. He reflects, “We had it pretty easy. We made replica weapons and instruments from wood and conducted military parades and drill every morning. There were also political classes and other sorts of education.”

After the H-block hunger strikes of the 1980s there are numerous escape attempts and by 1994 the authorities have given in to many of the prisoners’ demands for freedom of association and high levels of autonomy. A total of 2,700 incidents of officers being threatened or attacked are reported. A granite memorial outside the gates bears the names of the 29 prison guards murdered since the prison opened in 1971.

On September 29, 2000, the remaining four prisoners at the Maze are transferred to other prisons in Northern Ireland and the Maze Prison is closed. Redundancy packages are arranged for staff. These are accepted by 300 who left in June 2000.

The future of the buildings is uncertain, but some republicans want it to be turned into a museum to commemorate their struggle.

A monitoring group is set up on January 14, 2003 to debate the future of the 360-acre site. There are many proposals, including a museum, a multi-purpose sports stadium and an office, hotel and leisure village. In January 2006, the government unveils a masterplan for the site incorporating many of these proposals, including a 45,000 seat national multi-sport stadium for association football, rugby and Gaelic games. In October 2006, demolition work begins in preparation for construction on the site, however, in January 2009 plans to build the new multi-purpose stadium are cancelled, with Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure Gregory Campbell citing a lack of support and concerns for a net loss to the economy.

Discussion is still ongoing as to the listed status of sections of the old prison. The hospital and part of the H-Blocks are currently listed buildings, and will remain as part of the proposed site redevelopment as a “conflict transformation centre” with support from republicans such as Martin McGuinness and opposition from unionists, who consider that this risks creating “a shrine to the IRA.”

In January 2013, plans are approved by the Northern Ireland Minister of the Environment, Alex Attwood, for the site to be redeveloped as showgrounds as the result of an application by the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society with the objective of relocating Balmoral Show from its current location in Belfast. The site is now known as Balmoral Park.

In October 2019, the European Union withdraws £18m that had been approved to develop a peace centre, due to disagreements between Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist Party.

(Pictured: IRA prisoners walk out through the Maze turnstile, BBC News Online, July 28, 2000)


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First “Twelfth of July” Sectarian Riots in Belfast

orange-order-paradeThe first recorded “Twelfth of Julysectarian riots erupt in Belfast on July 12, 1813 as clashes break out between Orange marchers and Irish nationalists. Several Orangemen open fire on a crowd in Hercules Street, killing two Protestants and wounding four other people.

The Twelfth, also called the Glorious Twelfth or Orangemen’s Day, is an Ulster Protestant celebration held on July 12. It is first held in the late 18th century in Ulster. It celebrates the Glorious Revolution (1688) and victory of Protestant King William of Orange over Catholic King James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, which begins the Protestant Ascendancy in Ireland.

On and around the Twelfth, large parades are held by the Orange Order and Ulster loyalist marching bands, streets are bedecked with British flags and bunting, and large towering bonfires are lit. Today the Twelfth is mainly celebrated in Ulster, especially in Northern Ireland where it is a public holiday, but smaller celebrations are held in other parts of the world where Orange lodges have been established. The Twelfth involves thousands of participants and spectators.

In Ulster, where about half the population is from a Protestant background and half from a Catholic background, the Twelfth has been accompanied by violence since its beginning. Orange marches through Irish Catholic and Irish nationalist neighbourhoods are usually met with opposition from residents, who see the Orange Order and its marches as sectarian, triumphalist and supremacist. This sometimes leads to violence.

The Order is also politically a unionist/loyalist organisation. Violence related to the Twelfth in Northern Ireland escalates during the 30-year ethno-political conflict known as the Troubles. The Drumcree conflict is the most well-known dispute involving Orange marches.

Attempts have recently been made to downplay the political aspects of the marches and present the Twelfth as a cultural, family-friendly event at which tourists are welcome. The majority of events pass off peacefully, however, there is a small contingency who occasionally stir up trouble.

When July 12 falls on a Sunday, as it does this year, the parades are held on the following day instead.


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The Drumcree Conflict of 1998

orangemen-drumcree-marchThe Drumcree conflict or Drumcree standoff is a dispute over yearly Orange Order parades in the town of Portadown, County Armagh, Northern Ireland. The town is mainly Protestant and hosts numerous Protestant/loyalist marches each summer, but has a significant Catholic minority. The Orange Order, a Protestant unionist organization, insists that it should be allowed to march its traditional route to and from Drumcree Church on the Sunday before The Twelfth. However, most of the route is through the mainly Catholic/Irish nationalist section of town. The residents, who see the march as sectarian, triumphalist and supremacist, seek to ban it from their area. The Orangemen see this as an attack on their traditions as they have marched the route since 1807, when the area was mostly farmland.

In 1995 and 1996, residents succeed in stopping the march. This leads to a standoff at Drumcree between the security forces and thousands of Orangemen/loyalists. Following a wave of loyalist violence, police allow the march through. In 1997, security forces lock down the Catholic area and let the march through, citing loyalist threats to kill Catholics if they are stopped. This sparks widespread protests and violence by Irish nationalists. From 1998 onward, the march is banned from Garvaghy Road and the army seals off the Catholic area with large steel, concrete and barbed wire barricades. Each year there is a major standoff at Drumcree and widespread loyalist violence. Since 2001 things have been relatively calm, but moves to get the two sides into face-to-face talks have failed.

Early in 1998 the Public Processions (Northern Ireland) Act 1998 is passed, establishing the Parades Commission. The Commission is responsible for deciding what route contentious marches should take. On June 29, 1998, the Parades Commission decides to ban the march from Garvaghy Road.

On Friday, July 3, about 1,000 soldiers and 1,000 police are deployed in Portadown. The soldiers build large barricades made of steel, concrete and barbed wire across all roads leading into the nationalist area. In the fields between Drumcree Church and the nationalist area they dig a trench, fourteen feet wide, which is then lined with rows of barbed wire. Soldiers also occupy the Catholic Drumcree College, St. John the Baptist Primary School and some properties near the barricades.

On Sunday, July 5, the Orangemen march to Drumcree Church and state that they will remain there until they are allowed to proceed. About 10,000 Orangemen and loyalists arrive at Drumcree from across Northern Ireland. A loyalist group calling itself “Portadown Action Command” issues a statement which reads, “As from midnight on Friday 10 July 1998, any driver of any vehicle supplying any goods of any kind to the Gavaghy Road will be summarily executed.”

Over the next ten days, there are loyalist protests and violence across Northern Ireland in response to the ban. Loyalists block roads and attack the security forces as well as Catholic homes, businesses, schools and churches. On July 7, the mainly-Catholic village of Dunloy is “besieged” by over 1,000 Orangemen. The County Antrim Grand Lodge says that its members have “taken up positions” and “held” the village. On July 8, eight blast bombs are thrown at Catholic homes in the Collingwood area of Lurgan. There are also sustained attacks on the security forces at Drumcree and attempts to break through the blockade. On July 9, the security forces at Drumcree are attacked with gunfire and blast bombs. They respond with plastic bullets. The police recorded 2,561 “public order incidents” throughout Northern Ireland.

On Sunday, July 12, brothers Jason (aged 8), Mark (aged 9) and Richard Quinn (aged 10) are burned to death when their home is petrol bombed by loyalists. The boys’ mother is a Catholic and their home is in a mainly-Protestant section of Ballymoney. Following the murders, William Bingham, County Grand Chaplain of Armagh and member of the Orange Order negotiating team, says that “walking down the Garvaghy Road would be a hollow victory, because it would be in the shadow of three coffins of little boys who wouldn’t even know what the Orange Order is about.” He says that the Order has lost control of the situation and that “no road is worth a life.” However he later apologizes for implying that the Order is responsible for the deaths. The murders provoke widespread anger and calls for the Order to end its protest at Drumcree. Although the number of protesters at Drumcree drops considerably, the Portadown lodges vote unanimously to continue their standoff.

On Wednesday, July 15, the police begin a search operation in the fields at Drumcree. A number of loyalist weapons are found, including a homemade machine gun, spent and live ammunition, explosive devices, and two crossbows with more than a dozen homemade explosive arrows.


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The Loughinisland Massacre

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v80), quality = 90The Loughinisland massacre takes place on June 18, 1994 in the small village of Loughinisland, County Down, Northern Ireland. Members of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), a loyalist paramilitary group, burst into a pub with assault rifles and fire on the customers, killing six civilians and wounding five. The pub is targeted because it is frequented mainly by Catholics. The UVF claims the attack is retaliation for the killing of three UVF members by the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) two days earlier.

About 24 people are gathered in The Heights Bar, also known as O’Toole’s Pub, watching the Republic of Ireland vs. Italy in the 1994 FIFA World Cup. It is thus sometimes referred to as the “World Cup massacre.”

At 10:10 PM, two UVF members wearing boilersuits and balaclavas walk into the bar. One shouts “Fenian bastards!” and opens fire on the crowd with a vz. 58 assault rifle, spraying the small room with more than sixty bullets. Six men are killed outright and five other people are wounded. Witnesses say the gunmen then run to a getaway car, “laughing.” One witness describes “bodies … lying piled on top of each other on the floor.” The dead were Adrian Rogan (34), Malcolm Jenkinson (52), Barney Green (87), Daniel McCreanor (59), Patrick O’Hare (35) and Eamon Byrne (39), all Catholic civilians. O’Hare is the brother-in-law of Eamon Byrne and Green is one of the oldest people to be killed during the Troubles.

The UVF claims responsibility within hours of the attack. It claims that an Irish republican meeting was being held in the pub and that the shooting was retaliation for the INLA attack. Police say there is no evidence the pub had links to republican paramilitary activity and say the attack is purely sectarian. Journalist Peter Taylor writes in his book Loyalists that the attack may not have been sanctioned by the UVF leadership. Police intelligence indicates that the order to retaliate came from the UVF leadership and that its ‘Military Commander’ had supplied the rifle used. Police believe the attack was carried out by a local UVF unit under the command of a senior member who reported to the leadership in Belfast.

The attack receives international media coverage and is widely condemned. Among those who send messages of sympathy are Pope John Paul II, Queen Elizabeth II and United States President Bill Clinton. Local Protestant families visit their wounded neighbours in the hospital, expressing their shock and disgust.

There have been allegations that police (Royal Ulster Constabulary) double agents or informants in the UVF were linked to the massacre and that police protected those informers by destroying evidence and failing to carry out a proper investigation. At the request of the victims’ families, the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland investigate the police. In 2011 the Ombudsman concludes that there were major failings in the police investigation, but no evidence that police colluded with the UVF. The Ombudsman does not investigate the role of informers and the report is branded a whitewash. The Ombudsman’s own investigators demand to be disassociated from it. The report is quashed, the Ombudsman replaced and a new inquiry ordered.

In 2016, a new Ombudsman report concludes that there had been collusion between the police and the UVF, and that the investigation was undermined by the wish to protect informers, but found no evidence police had foreknowledge of the attack. A documentary film about the massacre, No Stone Unturned, is released in 2017. It names the main suspects, one of whom is a member of the British Army, and claims that one of the killers was an informer.


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Founding of the Royal Ulster Constabulary

royal-ulster-constabulary-badgeThe Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), the police force in Northern Ireland from 1922 to 2001, is founded on June 1, 1922 as a successor to the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC).

At its peak the force has around 8,500 officers with a further 4,500 who are members of the RUC Reserve. During the Troubles (late 1960s-1998), 319 members of the RUC are killed and almost 9,000 injured in paramilitary assassinations or attacks, mostly by the Provisional Irish Republican Army, which by 1983 makes the RUC the most dangerous police force in the world in which to serve. During the same period, the RUC kills 55 people, 28 of whom are civilians.

The RUC is superseded by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) in 2001. The former police force is renamed and reformed, as is provided for by the final version of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000. The RUC has been accused by republicans and Irish nationalists of one-sided policing and discrimination, as well as collusion with loyalist paramilitaries. Conversely, it is praised as one of the most professional policing operations in the world by British security forces.

Allegations regarding collusion prompt several inquiries, the most recent of which is published by Police Ombudsman For Northern Ireland Nuala O’Loan on January 22, 2007. The report identifies police, Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and Special Branch collusion with loyalist terrorists under 31 separate headings, in her report on the murder of Raymond McCord, Jr. and other matters, but no member of the RUC has been charged or convicted of any criminal acts as a result of these inquiries. Ombudsman O’Loan states in her conclusions that there is no reason to believe the findings of the investigation were isolated incidents.


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The Dublin and Monaghan Bombings

dublin-and-monaghan-bombingsThe Dublin and Monaghan bombings of May 17, 1974 are a series of co-ordinated bombings in Dublin and Monaghan, Ireland. Three car bombs explode in Dublin at Parnell Street, Talbot Street and South Leinster Street during the evening rush hour and a fourth car bomb explodes in Monaghan, just south of the border with Northern Ireland, almost ninety minutes later. The bombs kill 33 civilians and a full-term unborn child, and injure almost 300. The bombings are the deadliest attack of the conflict known as the Troubles, and the deadliest attack in the Republic of Ireland‘s history. Most of the victims are young women, although the ages of the dead range from pre-born up to 80 years.

The Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), an Ulster loyalist paramilitary group from Northern Ireland, claims responsibility for the bombings in 1993. It has launched a number of attacks in the Republic since 1969. There are allegations taken seriously by inquiries that elements of the British state security forces help the UVF carry out the bombings, including members of the Glenanne gang. Some of these allegations have come from former members of the security forces. The Irish parliament‘s Joint Committee on Justices calls the attacks an act of international terrorism involving British state forces. The month before the bombings, the British government lifts the UVF’s status as a proscribed organisation.

The bombings happen during the Ulster Workers’ Council strike. This is a general strike called by hardline loyalists and unionists in Northern Ireland who oppose the Sunningdale Agreement. Specifically, they oppose the sharing of political power with Irish nationalists and the proposed role for the Republic in the governance of Northern Ireland. The Republic’s government had helped bring about the Agreement. The strike brings down the Agreement and the Northern Ireland Assembly on May 28.

No one has ever been charged with the bombings. A campaign by the victims’ families leads to an Irish government inquiry under Justice Henry Barron. His 2003 report criticises the Garda Síochána‘s investigation and says the investigators stopped their work prematurely. It also criticises the Fine Gael/Labour Party government of the time for its inaction and lack of interest in the bombings. The report says it is likely that British security force personnel or MI5 intelligence is involved but has insufficient evidence of higher-level involvement. However, the inquiry is hindered by the British government’s refusal to release key documents. The victims’ families and others are continuing to campaign to this day for the British government to release these documents.

(Pictured: Some of the damage caused by the second car bomb on Talbot Street, Dublin)


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The Battle at Springmartin

kelly-bar-bombingThe Battle at Springmartin, a series of gun battles in Belfast, Northern Ireland, begins on May 13, 1972 and continues into the following day. It involves the British Army, the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), and the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF).

The night before the bombing, snipers from the UVF West Belfast Brigade take up position along the second floor of an abandoned row of flats at the edge of the Ulster Protestant Springmartin estate. The flats overlooked the Catholic Ballymurphy estate. Rifles, mostly World War II stock, are ferried to the area from dumps in the Shankill Road.

The violence begins shortly after 5:00 PM on Saturday, May 13, 1972, when a car bomb, planted by Ulster loyalists, explodes without warning outside the crowded Kelly’s Bar, at the junction of the Springfield Road and Whiterock Road. The pub is in a mainly Irish Catholic and nationalist area of Ballymurphy and most of its customers are from the area. At the time of the blast, the pub is crowded with men watching an association football match between England and West Germany on colour television. Following the blast the UVF snipers open fire on the survivors. This begins the worst fighting in Northern Ireland since the suspension of the Parliament of Northern Ireland and the imposition of direct rule from London.

Sixty-three people are injured, eight of them seriously. John Moran, age 19, who had been working at Kelly’s as a part-time barman, dies of his injuries on May 23.

For the rest of the night and throughout the next day, local IRA units fight gun battles with both the UVF and British Army. Most of the fighting takes place along the interface between the Catholic Ballymurphy and Ulster Protestant Springmartin housing estates, and the British Army base that sits between them. Five civilians (four Catholics, one Protestant), a British soldier and a member of the IRA Youth Section are killed in the violence. Four of the dead are teenagers.

At first, the British Army claims that the blast had been an “accident” caused by a Provisional IRA bomb. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, William Whitelaw, tells the House of Commons on May 18 that the blast is caused by a Provisional IRA bomb that exploded prematurely. However, locals suspect that the loyalist Ulster Defence Association (UDA) had planted the bomb. Republican sources say that IRA volunteers would not risk storing such a large amount of explosives in such a crowded pub. It later emerges that the bomb had indeed been planted by loyalists.

A memorial plaque on the site of the former pub names three members of staff who lost their lives as a result of the bomb and the gun battles that followed. It reads:

This plaque marks the spot
where Kelly’s Bar once stood
and here on 13th May 1972
a no warning Loyalist car bomb exploded.
As a result, 66 people were injured
and three innocent members of staff
of Kelly’s Bar lost their lives.
They were:
Tommy McIlroy (died 13th May 1972)
John Moran (died from his injuries 23rd May 1972)
Gerard Clarke (died from his injuries 6th September 1989)
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a namacha”


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Birth of Norman Whiteside, Northern Ireland Footballer

norman-whitesideNorman Whiteside, former Northern Ireland international footballer who played in two World Cups, is born in Belfast, Northern Ireland on May 7, 1965. He plays both as a midfielder and as a striker.

Whiteside grows up on Shankill Road, and because of his aggressive, physical playing style he is later nicknamed the “Shankill Skinhead” by Manchester United supporters. The family later moves to 10 Danube Street. He remains relatively unscathed by The Troubles as his Protestant parents keep a firm watch on their children to ensure that they do not stray far from home and that none of them become involved with Ulster loyalism. At around seven years of age he joins the Boys’ Brigade, and quickly shows his natural talent for football, scoring ten goals in a game against boys almost twice his age. He is educated at Cairnmartin High School, and becomes famous in the Shankill area as a footballing prodigy by the age of eleven.

Whiteside is said to have been discovered by Ipswich Town scout Jim Rodgers, who is told by manager Bobby Robson to wait until Whiteside grows older. Instead, it is Manchester United’s 80-year-old Ulster scout Bob Bishop, who previously unearthed Belfast-born George Best and Sammy McIlroy for the club, who first offers him a trial at an English club. He finds that he has been offered schoolboy terms at the club during a school trip to the United States, on which he and his classmates meet President Jimmy Carter in the Oval Office, a rare and extraordinary occasion for children from a disadvantaged background.

Whiteside signs professional forms in 1982 at the age of 17 and quickly becomes a key member of the Manchester United club. He scores 68 goals in 278 league and cup appearances for the club over the next seven years, picking up two FA Cup winners medals in 1983 and 1985, as well as playing in the 1982 FA Youth Cup final, the 1983 League Cup final, and the FA Charity Shield in 1983.

Whiteside remains with United until July 1989, when he is sold to Everton F.C. for £600,000. However intense running sessions run by coach Mick Lyons take their toll on his right knee, and on September 20, 1990 he takes a knock in a practice match, which requires him to have another operation on his right knee. After the return of Howard Kendall as manager in November 1990, he manages to appear in a few reserve team games, but this only delays the inevitable, and he is forced to retire from the game at the age of 26 in June 1991.

Upon retirement, Whiteside studies to become a podiatrist, graduating with a degree from the University of Salford, and serves Northwich Victoria F.C. as their assistant manager/physio from October 1991 until March 1992. He quits the role as he does not enjoy the amount of time spent travelling between games. He instead became an after-dinner speaker and also works for the Professional Footballers’ Association, while taking a postgraduate course at Manchester Metropolitan University. He later takes up private practice as a podiatrist in Manchester. Since 1994, he has also worked at the corporate hospitality department at Old Trafford. In 2003, he releases a book entitled My Memories of Manchester United. With the help of writer Rob Bagchi, he releases his autobiography entitled Determined in August 2007, published by Headline Publishing Group, and with a foreword by actor James Nesbitt.

Whiteside holds records as the youngest player to take part in a World Cup, the youngest player to score in a League Cup and FA Cup final, and the youngest player to score a senior goal for Manchester United. Winning 38 caps for Northern Ireland, he plays at the 1982 and 1986 World Cups, and also helps his country to win the last ever British Home Championship in 1983–1984.


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Death of IRA Blanket Protester Kieran Nugent

kieran-nugentKieran Nugent, volunteer in the Provisional Irish Republican Army, dies from a heart attack on May 4, 2000. He is best known for being the first person to start the blanket protest against the British Government’s treatment of republican prisoners.

Born in 1958, Nugent’s adolescence comes at a time when Northern Ireland is exploding into turmoil. On March 20, 1973, at the age of 15, he is standing with a friend on the corner of Merrion Street and Grosvenor Road when a car pulls up beside them and one of the occupants asks them for directions. Another occupant of the vehicle then opens fire with a submachine gun. Nugent is seriously wounded after being shot eight times in the chest, arms and back by the Ulster loyalists in the car. His friend, Bernard McErlean, aged 16, is killed.

At some point afterwards, Nugent joins the Provisional IRA. At the age of sixteen he is arrested by the British Army and spends five months on remand in Crumlin Road Gaol. When he is eventually tried, the case against him is withdrawn and he is released. He becomes an active volunteer until his arrest and internment, without trial, on February 9, 1975.

Nugent spends nine months in Cage 4 at the Long Kesh Detention Centre until November 12, 1975. He is arrested and imprisoned again on May 12, 1976, following the hijacking of a bus. On September 14, 1976 he is sentenced to three years and becomes the first Republican prisoner convicted since the withdrawal of Special Category Status for those convicted through juryless courts, due to the new British policy of ‘criminalisation’ introduced that March. Among other things, this change in policy means convicted paramilitaries can no longer wear their own clothes. Viewing himself as a political prisoner and not a criminal, he refuses to wear the uniform saying the prison guards would have to “…nail it to my back.” This begins the blanket protest.

Nugent is soon joined by Jackie McMullan, the next prisoner to don the blanket, followed by six more Irish republican prisoners from the Beechmount area of Belfast. By Christmas 1976 the number of participants has risen to over forty prisoners. Most incoming republican prisoners emulate Nugent and this starts five years of prison protests in pursuit of political status, which culminates in the 1981 Irish hunger strike and the death of eleven, including seven IRA and three Irish National Liberation Army prisoners.

Nugent, the father of four, is found dead of a heart attack at his home in Anderstown, Belfast on May 4, 2000.


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Birth of Irish Nationalist Bobby Sands

Robert Gerard Sands, commonly known as Bobby Sands, Irish nationalist and member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, is born on March 9, 1954 at Abbots Cross, NewtownabbeyCounty Antrim, outside Belfast.

Sands is the oldest of four children born to John and Rosaleen Sands, and the couple’s first son. Sands grows up in Belfast under the cloud of nationalist and loyalist divisions. At an early age, Sands’s life is affected by the sharp divisions that shape Northern Ireland. At the age of ten, he is forced to move with his family out of their neighborhood due to repeated intimidation by loyalists.

“I was only a working-class boy from a Nationalist ghetto,” Sands later writes about his childhood. “But it is repression that creates the revolutionary spirit of freedom.” Loyalist intimidation proves to be a theme throughout Sands’ life. At the age of 18, he is forced out of his job as an apprentice car builder. Not long afterwards, he and his family have to move again, as a result of political trouble.

The steady number of conflicts pushes Sands to join the Republican Movement in 1972. His ties to the movement soon capture the attention of the authorities, and later that year, he is arrested and charged with possessing firearms in his house. He spends the next three years of his life in prison. Upon his release, Sands immediately returns to the Republican Movement. He signs on as a community activist in Belfast’s rough Twinbrook area, quickly becoming a popular go-to person for a range of issues affecting the neighborhood.

In late 1976, authorities arrest Sands again, this time in connection with the bombing of Balmoral Furniture Company and an ensuing gun battle. After weathering a brutal interrogation and then a court proceeding that offers up questionable evidence connecting Sands and three others to the attack, a judge sentences Sands to 14 years in prison at the Long Kesh Detention Centre, a facility used to house Republican prisoners from 1971 until 2000, located just outside of Belfast.

As a prisoner, Sands’s stature only grows. He pushes hard for prison reforms, confronting authorities, and for his outspoken ways he is frequently given solitary confinement sentences. Sands contention is that he and others like him, who are serving prison sentences, are actually prisoners of war, not criminals as the British government insists.

Beginning on March 1, 1981, Sands leads nine other Republican prisoners in the H-Block section of the Maze prison on a hunger strike that lasts until death. Their demands range from allowing prisoners to wear their own clothes to permitting visits and mail, all of which are central in improving the inmates’ way of life.

Unable to move authorities to give in to his requests, and unwilling himself to end his hunger strike, Sands’s health begins to deteriorate. During the first seventeen days of the strike alone, he loses 16 pounds. A hero among his fellow nationalists, Sands is elected as a Member of Parliament (MP) for Fermanagh and South Tyrone while in prison. Sands becomes the youngest MP at the time. However he dies less than one month later without ever having taken his seat in the House of Commons.

Only days after slipping into a coma, on the morning of May 5, 1981, Sands dies from malnutrition due to starvation. He is 27 years old and has refused to eat for 66 days. He becomes so fragile over his final weeks that he spends his final days on a water bed to protect his deteriorating and fragile body. At time of his death, Sands is married to Geraldine Noade, with whom he has one son, Gerard.

The announcement of Sands’s death prompts several days of rioting in nationalist areas of Northern Ireland. Over 100,000 people line the route of Sands’s funeral. He is buried in the ‘New Republican Plot’ alongside 76 others. Their graves are maintained by the National Graves Association, Belfast.

While loyalists dismiss Sands’s death, others are quick to recognize its significance. Over the next seven months, nine other IRA supporters die on hunger strike. Eventually, the British government gives proper political recognition to the prisoners, many of them earning their release under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Bobby Sands’ final days are depicted in the 2008 Steve McQueen film Hunger, with actor Michael Fassbender portraying Sands.