Beidh ár díoltas an gáire ár bpáistí

Today 35 years ago a young man breathed his last at Long Kesh prison.

These past three and a half decades Bobby Sands has been gone from us, but as Sinn Féin contest elections today in the Six Counties, he is everywhere.

We’re of the same generation and I think of what I have experienced in the past 35 years.

What could he have achieved in that time?

In his short life Bobby Sands the writer showed a keen understanding of the human condition and a firm grasp of the long history injustice and the vital need to oppose it.

As Officer Commanding during the 1980 Hunger Strike British duplicity and Thatcher’s intransigence meant that he had two choices after the failure of that protest.

He could accept the enemy’s label of criminality or face them down.

In ancient Ireland going on hunger strike was a form of legal action.

Irish ways and Irish laws…

The summer of 1981 was when a Risen People in the Six Counties decided to use the Ballot Box as well as the Armalite.

By the end of the Strike, the British policy of Criminalising Republican POWs was in tatters.

No one in Westminster ever again tried to categorise these men and women as criminals.

I punched the air when he triumphed in the Fermanagh-South Tyrone by-election over the unionist Harry West.

Vote Sands

The lad from Twinbrook had become the people’s own MP.

I quietly wept when the clipped BBC chap spoke through my little radio and told me that Bobby had died.

Stupidly, I hoped that Thatcher would relent and a deal could be brokered.

I had no idea that another nine of his comrades would follow Bobby Sands.

When the Belfast Agreement was being brokered the centrality of prisoners was accepted by all sides.

In the eye of this storm was a young man from Belfast who didn’t ask to be an icon of the struggle.

He didn’t ask to be discriminated against from childhood in Rathcoole in a statelet that didn’t want him.

My grandmother died that same year as Bobby Sands.

I remembered her telling me stories about herself and other Cumann na mBan activists in Westport organising demonstrations for Terence MacSwiney.

The Lord Mayor of Cork used the same Brehon Law approved instrument to indict alien rule in Ireland.

Bobby Sands was the MacSwiney of my generation.

One hundred years ago today the British executed Seán Mac Giolla Bhríde.

The statue to him in his native Westport will be the focus of another memorial this Sunday.

A plaque to the 31 men taken from the town to Frongoch prison camp in Wales will be unveiled by Uachtarán na hÉireann.


I will be there with my son to honour all of them, but especially Óglach Michael Derrig.

The drive down from Donegal will be shorter with his craic and his laughter in the car.

Unfortunately na gCailíní are involved in exams or we would all be there le chéile.

It is appropriate to remember our Fenian dead and the how Britain tried to break them in their dungeons.

They failed.

Like the signatories of the 1916 Proclamation Bobby Sands defeated the British with his death.

Of course, if our enemies had been reasonable then there would have been no need for An stailc ocrais.

Then again reasonable people tend not to be imperialists.

Bobby Sands instinctively understood that Britain could not defeat the Republican struggle if the entire nationalist community were mobilised on a broad range of issues.

That meant being an activist did not just mean taking part in military operations against Crown forces.

Today 35 years later we all still have our part of play on this island.

That is the legacy of Bobby Sands.

In the New Ireland, he will be remembered and revered long after the names of the British state functionaries who tortured him are lost forever.

Beidh ár díoltas an gáire ár bpáistí.

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