1980-1989 | Northern Ireland



Bobby Sands mural in Belfast –
Olaf Baumann – CC BY-SA 2.0 – via Wikimedia Commons

[ 5 May 1981 ]

On 5 May 1981, the Sinn Fein MP and Irish Republican prisoner Bobby Sands died on the 66th day of his hunger strike at the H-Block Prison hospital at Long Kesh. At the age of ten, Sands and his family had been forced to abandon their home in Rathcoole, on the northern edge of Belfast, due to loyalist intimidation.  Leaving school at 15, Sands enrolled as an apprentice at the Alexander Coach Works in Belfast, but he was eventually forced out by harassment and death threats from his protestant co-workers.

In 1972, determined to help bring about the united independent Ireland he yearned for, Sands joined the Republican Movement. In September 1977, he was sentenced to 14 years in prison for the possession of a revolver.  Inside prison, he was deprived of the right to exercise and suffered from frequent beatings and long periods in the punishment cells for daring to demand better conditions. Resolute in his conviction that he and his fellow inmates should be recognised as political prisoners, he embarked on a hunger strike on 1 March 1981. During the first seventeen days, he kept a secret diary written on toilet paper. On day one, he wrote –

‘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.’1

On 23 March, he was moved to the prison hospital and a week later he was nominated as the candidate in a by election for the constituency of Fermanagh and South Tyrone. He was declared the winner on 9 April, but the British did not relent to any of his demands for improved conditions. Bobby Sands refused appeals to end his hunger strike and died at 1.17 am on Tuesday 5th May.


  1. Bobby Sands, Bobby Sands: Writings from Prison, Robert Rinehart Publishers, 1997, p. 219.

Please feel welcome to post comments below.  If you have any questions please email alisdare@gmail.com

© 2020 Alisdare Hickson All rights reserved

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *