Robert Gerard "Bobby" Sands (9 March 1954 – 5 May 1981) was an Irish volunteer of the Provisional Irish Republican Army and member of the British Parliament who died on hunger strike while imprisoned in HM Prison Maze.
He was the leader of the 1981 hunger strike in which Irish republican prisoners protested against the removal of Special Category Status. During his strike he was elected as a member of the British Parliament as an Anti H-Block/Armagh Political Prisoner candidate. His death resulted in a new surge of IRA recruitment and activity. International media coverage brought attention to the hunger strikers, and the republican movement in general, attracting both praise and criticism.
Early years and family
Sands was born into a Roman Catholic family in Abbots Cross, but also lived in a house in Doonbeg Drive, Newtownabbey, County Antrim, Northern Ireland, and lived there until 1960 whereupon the family were forced to move to Rathcoole, Newtownabbey.His first sister, Marcella, was born in April 1955 and second sister, Bernadette, in November 1958. His parents, John and Rosaleen, had another son, John, in 1962. On leaving school, he became an apprentice coach-builder until he was forced out at gunpoint by loyalists.
In June 1972, at the age of 18, Bobby moved with his family to the Twinbrook housing estate in west Belfast, and had to leave Rathcoole due to loyalist intimidation.
He married Geraldine Noade. His son, Gerard, was born 8 May 1973. Noade soon left to live in England with their son.
Sands' sister Bernadette Sands McKevitt is also a prominent Irish Republican. Along with her husband Michael McKevitt she helped to form the 32 County Sovereignty Movementand is accused of involvement with the Real Irish Republican Army. Sands McKevitt is opposed to the Belfast Agreement, stating that "Bobby did not die for cross-border bodies with executive powers. He did not die for nationalists to be equal British citizens within the Northern Ireland state."
Provisional IRA activity
In 1972, Sands joined the Provisional IRA. He was arrested and charged in October 1972 with possession of four handguns found in the house where he was staying. Sands was convicted in April 1973 sentenced to five years' imprisonment and released in April 1976.
On his release from prison in 1976, he returned to his family home in West Belfast, and resumed his active role in the Provisional IRA's cause. He was charged with involvement in the October 1976 bombing of the Balmoral Furniture Company in Dunmurry, although he was never convicted of this charge, the presiding judge stating that there was no evidence to support the assertion that Sands had taken part. After the bombing, Sands and at least five others were alleged to have been involved in a gun battle with the Royal Ulster Constabulary, although due to lack of evidence, Sands was not convicted. Leaving behind two of their wounded friends, Seamus Martin and Gabriel Corbett, Sands, Joe McDonnell, Seamus Finucane, and Sean Lavery tried to make their escape in a car, but were apprehended. Later, one of the revolvers used in the attack was found in the car in which Sands had been travelling. His trial in September 1977 saw him being convicted of possession of firearms (the revolver from which the prosecution alleged bullets had been fired at the RUC after the bombing) and Sands was sentenced to 14 years' imprisonment within HM Prison Maze, also known as Long Kesh.
Immediately after his sentence, he was implicated in a ruckus and spent the first 22 days on boards in Crumlin Road Prison, 15 days naked, and a No. 1 starvation diet every 3 days.
Long Kesh years
In prison, Sands became a writer both of journalism and poetry—being published in the Irish republican newspaper An Phoblacht. In late 1980 Sands was chosen as Officer Commanding of the Provisional IRA prisoners in Long Kesh, succeeding Brendan Hughes who was participating in the first...