Another Award for Italian Writer

May 11, 2016

le_compagne_di_bobby_sands_cover_Layout 1Congratulations to Italian writer and journalist Silvia Calamati who last month was given an international award for her book Bobby Sands’ Companions. Women and War in Northern Ireland. The book is dedicated to Kathleen O’Hagan, a mother of five who when seven months pregnant was assassinated in her home in Greencastle, County Tyrone, by a UVF murder squad under Billy Wright who was working for British Intelligence.

The introduction to the book was written by Clara Reilly, Chairperson of Relatives for Justice.

The book was chosen over a list of 722 books from Italy and abroad.

In her acceptance speech for the International Literary Prize ‘City of Cattolica 2016’, Silvia carried a plastic bullet which she showed to the audience. The prize was awarded to her at the Queen’s Theatre, Cattolica. Sponsored by the Presidency of the Italian Council of Ministers, the Emilia Romagna Region and the Municipality of Cattolica, it is considered as one of the most important in the Italian and international scene for literary excellence.

The book tells the stories of many women from the North who experienced deep suffering which they faced with strength and dignity, in a situation where violence, repression by state forces, murders and political persecution were further complicated by issues of poverty and unemployment.

“They deserve my dedication,” said Calamati. “My thoughts, too, are for those who defended human rights which were violated, such as the lawyer Rosemary Nelson, blown up with a bomb placed under her car in 1999.”

Silvia Calamati is the author of many other books, such as Northern Ireland. A Colony in Europe and Contemporary history of the War in Northern Ireland. She translated and edited One day in my Life by Bobby Sands and Renewing the Irish Church by Father Joe McVeigh.

Her translation of ‘I arose this morning’: A biography of Bobby Sands for Younger Readers, written by the former hunger striker Laurence McKeown and Denis O’Hearn, won the Alessandro Tassoni Award (2011) and the International Award ‘City of Cassino (2013)’.

Calamati is also the author of Snow and mud to quench my thirst. The Diary of Sotiris Kanellopulos, a partisan of the Greek Civil War (1 March -17 May 1949).

Vicenza/Verona Events

March 2, 2015

Last Sunday, 1st March, was the 34th anniversary of the day in 1981 that Bobby Sands began his hunger strike which lasted sixty-five days until his death. Recently, another former hunger striker, Laurence McKeown spoke at two events in Italy to commemorate the ten men who died in the struggle against criminalisation.

On 16th February Laurence spoke at an event in Verona (sponsored by Amnesty International and Verona’s Travel Agency Travel Team) and on 17th February in Vicenza (sponsored, again, by Amnesty International). The 2001 film H-3, written by the late Brian Campbell and Laurence McKeown, and directed by Les Blair, was also shown. Laurence gave an extensive interview to the newspaper Il Giornale di Vicenza.

The meetings were chaired by Silvia Calamati who has written extensively on Irish republicanism, on republican women in struggle and has written about and translated the writings of Bobby Sands.


Another Prize for Bobby’s Diary

November 4, 2013

An Italian translation of ‘The Diary of Bobby Sands’, Il diario di Bobby Sands. Storia di un ragazzo irlandese, by Silvia Calamati, Laurence McKeown and Denis O’Hearn has won yet another prize, this time in Cassino, Italy, on October 19th last. Young students made up the majority of jurors of the award which was made by the Italian Cultural Association LETTERATURE DAL FRONTE (Cassino). The association was set up in 2006 to continue the activities carried out by the ‘Committee to remember the Battle of Monte Cassino,’ a famous battle during WWII.*

Present for the award ceremony were Silvia Calamati (third from left in front page photo) and former hunger striker and writer Laurence McKeown (second from left). The aim of the prize, beyond the purely literary, is to involve young people in the reading of texts by European writers who are regarded as ‘carriers of testimonies of crises of humanity, wars, disease, persecution, and violence. Each year the award focuses on a different country and the literature from that country. In 2013 the chosen country was Ireland.

The selection process to decide the winner of the award is unique in that students from high schools in four Italian cities (Rome, Trieste, Cassino and Pico), together with a scientific panel consisting of representatives of the world of information and culture (including two public libraries and a jury presided by the Trieste Association ‘Radici e Futuro’), have the opportunity to vote for the book of their choice.

Seamus Heaney’s Fuori campo was second place in the vote with Roddy Doyle’s The Dead Republic and Joseph O’Connor’s The Star of the Sea coming third and fourth respectively.

The ‘MOTIVAZIONE UFFICIALE’, written and agreed by all the Award jury members, formally explained why they decided to give the award to the book on Bobby Sands.

“After reading the book the students were asked to answer the question, ‘What idea comes out of this book?’ Their response was, ‘the belief in values’. And when asked, ‘To whom would you recommend it?’, the unanimous answer was, ‘anybody’. These two answers are symptomatic to understand to what extent the reading of this book had such an emotional impact on the students and why they awarded the editors with the “Premio Internazionale Letterature dal Fronte – Conoscere le Crisi dell’Umanità per Costruire la Pace”.

“Northern Ireland’s history is marked with the sacrifice of young lives such as, amongst many, those of Bobby Sands and his comrades in his sadly infamous jail of Long Kesh: the conflict consumed their youth; Bobby Sands and his comrades their lives.

“Many of the students have confessed they did not know the history of Northern Ireland and we must credit Silvia Calamati, Laurence McKeown and Denis O’Hearn for having uncovered for us this sad chapter of our European history and having done so with a freshness in the language spoken by young people, and in a narrative style which is meaningful and clear at the same time. Their merit lies also in having reported the facts, using their pen as a scalpel to cut into the open wound of the contrast between British institutions and politics and the consequences of those policies on a people. If it is true that we build our freedom remembering how much it has cost, then Silvia, Laurence and Denis have given a meaningful contribution to the freedom of us all. We thank them gratefully for having transmitted with this book that ‘belief in values’ that our students so heartily have highlighted.”

Speaking at the ceremony Silvia Calamati said: “In spite of the strong attempt which is now taking place in the Six Counties to cancel the historical memory of the sacrifice of Bobby Sands and of his young comrades during the period of the hunger strikes, this award, the second award in Italy in three years, and the heartfelt interest for this book shown by hundreds of Italian students, indicates that Bobby Sands’ ideals and values that he believed in are still alive and strong all over the world. The decision taken by the Florence City Council to name a street after Bobby Sands is just one of the many examples that show how his ideals, values, and desire for a free Ireland cannot be quenched.”

Laurence McKeown, in his address to the assembled students and Scientific Committee, concluded by saying, “Bobby used to write under the pen-name ‘An Fhuiseog’, ‘The Lark’. I like to think of him as a lark, flying high over Montecassino today, feeling the heat of the sun on his body, the sun that he did not see when incarcerated in a concrete tomb in the H Blocks of Long Kesh; and looking down on this gathering of young students who thirty-two years after his death are inspired by his words. Bobby once wrote, ‘let our revenge be the laughter of our children’, and I can ensure you that today our children, a new generation, are laughing, are proud, are confident.”

On Friday 18th October, H – the feature film co-written by Laurence McKeown – was screened (with Italian subtitles) in a nearby college and followed by a Q & A event with the students, professors, and journalists.

*The Battle of Monte Cassino, 17th  January – 18th  May 1944 (also known as the Battle for Rome and the Battle for Cassino) was a costly series of four assaults by the Allies against ‘the Winter Line’ in Italy held by the Germans and Italians during the Italian Campaign of World War II. At the beginning of 1944 the western half of the Winter Line was being anchored by Germans holding the Rapido, Liri, and Garigliano valleys and some of the surrounding peaks and ridges. Together, these features formed the Gustave Line.

Monte Cassino, an historic hilltop abbey founded in AD 529 by Benedict of Nursia, dominated the nearby town of Cassino and the entrances to the Liri and Rapido valleys but had been left unoccupied by the German defenders. The Germans had, however, manned some positions set into the steep slopes below the abbey’s walls. Fearing that the abbey formed part of the Germans’ defensive line, primarily as a lookout post, the Allies sanctioned its bombing on 15th February and American bombers proceeded to drop 1,400 tons of bombs onto their target.

The destruction and rubble left by the bombing raid now provided better protection from aerial and artillery attacks, so, two days later, German paratroopers took up positions in the abbey’s ruins. Between 17th January and 18th May, Monte Cassino and the Gustav defences were assaulted four times by Allied troops, the last involving twenty divisions attacking along a twenty-mile front. The German defenders were finally driven from their positions, but at a high cost.


April 28, 2012

Four years after its release the award-winning film ‘Hunger’, an account of the last days in the life of Bobby Sands, is to be shown in Italy (in Italian). It is being released by BIM Distribuzione, the leading company which deals in high-level arthouse films. ‘Hunger’ garnered praise for its director Steve McQueen and Michael Fassbinder in the lead role as Bobby Sands. Its numerous awards include: the prestigious Caméra d’Or at Cannes in 2008; Gucci Group Award – Mostra del Cinema di Venezia 2008; Discovery Award – Toronto International Film Festival 2008; the Sydney Film Prize; best picture from the Evening Standard British Film Awards, receiving two BAFTA nominations, winning one; and winning six out of eight awards at the 2009 Irish Film and Television Awards.

A trailer for the film can be watched here.

Silvia Calamati, the journalist and writer who brought Bobby Sands’ story to Italy through her writings and translations was interviewed on the mainstream arts station, RAI’s Radio 3 which can be accessed here.


Bobby’s Story Wins Italian Award

July 11, 2011

Silvia Calamati, Laurence McKeown and Denis O’Hearn recently received the Alessandro Tassoni Award in Modena, Italy, for their book, ‘Il diario di Bobby Sands. Storia di un ragazzo irlandese’ (The Diary of Bobby Sands. The Story of an Irish Young Man) Rome, Castelvecchi Editore, 2010. Silvia Calamati was also given a cheque for 1000 Euros which she is donating to a Belfast Irish medium school for children.

The book was welcomed and applauded by both the award jury and the audience. In giving the award to Silvia Calamati Professor Francesco Muzzioli, Professor of Literature at La Sapienza University ( Rome)  and member of the award jury, said: “Thirty years after the dramatic events which led to Bobby Sands’ death after a long hunger strike, his story is brought back to life in this book. Written by Sands’ fellow inmate Laurence McKeown, with the help of journalist Denis O’Hearn, the Italian edition has been repared by Silvia Calamati. She has added a series of photos of the Long Kesh prison where Sands and the other prisoners were kept in inhuman conditions.

“It is the story of a twenty-year old boy who just through culture and studying found the will to fight back against his imprisonment.  Faced with cynicism and violence, he chose as the ultimate form of protest to abstain from food, suppressing within himself his own survival instinct. The book’s narrative alternates between the present and the past, including passages from Bobby Sands’ diary, which follow step by step his final days. They make us feel at close hand the courage of his radical form of struggle.

“Each chapter reconstructs part of his life, prior to his arrest, his growing political awareness, his first and second imprisonments, the worsening of the detainees’ conditions, followed by the hunger strike and his election to parliament and death on the 5th May 1981.

“The book also contains descriptions of the other young people who followed Bobby Sands in the strike with its inexorable consequences. It finishes with the lyrics of the songs that were themselves a result of this form of resistance against oppression. Whilst the slowness of the diary shows incisively the devastation of physical weakness, from the biographical element emerges the palpitating portrait of an ‘everyday hero’. Because Bobby Sands we can see him in photos and wall paintings reproduced in the book is a boy of the Sixties and Seventies, long hair and guitar, who like so many others demands independence, freedom and equality. His heroism consists in having not feared the threat of the power structure, and having shown himself, in the end, to be stronger than it.

“So, this is a book, which beyond the historical issue which still causes discussion must make us reflect about the ‘need for heroes’ and the high price of freedom. It makes us think about the ethical exhortation deriving from Sands’ story to “never surrender, never despair, never lose hope”. It should also serve to recreate ex novo the question of the European identity, in a period in which our continent’s unity seems to be falling apart on all sides even before it has been achieved: an identity capable of self-criticism, which takes account of episodes like these, of the grave lack of ‘human rights’ which took place in the heart of so-called civilisation”.

Footnote: Modenese Alessandro Tassoni (1565-1635) was an Italian political writer, literary critic, and poet. The Award was set up in Tassoni’s city of Modena in 2005 and has the support of the President of  Italy Giorgio Napolitano. It is sponsored by the Emilia Romagna Region  and by the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, two of the most important universities in Italy. The Award is organized by the cultural association Le Avanguardie and by the magazine Il  Bollettario, in collaboration with Modena City Council , Modena Province and Biblioteca Estense Universitaria, the historical library in Modena. The Award is given each year to a book which, as a homage to Tassoni and his ideals, is recognized by the Jury Award as ‘innovative, inspired by values of freedom and committed to the building of a more just and democratic world’.


Bobby Sands Book Launched

July 14, 2010

The Vice-President of the European Parliament, Roberta Angelilli MEP, launched a book about Bobby Sands last Thursday, July 15th, at the European Parliament Offices in Rome. ‘Il diario di Bobby Sands. Storia di un ragazzo irlandese’ is the translation by Italian journalist Silvia Calamati of a book first published in Ireland a few years ago by Denis O’Hearn and Laurence McKeown. That book, ‘I Awoke This Morning – A Biography of Bobby Sands for Younger Readers’, has also been published in Irish – ‘D’éirigh mé ar maidin: Beathaisnéis Roibeaird Uí Sheachnasaigh do Léitheoirí Níos Óige’.

Welcoming the publication, the secretary of the Bobby Sands Trust, Danny Morrison, said: “Once again we see international recognition of  and respect for the struggle by Irish political prisoners, in particular the hunger strikers and that of the name Bobby Sands. Their sacrifice has stood the test of time and what they came through in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh is an indictment of successive British governments. But when one looks at the tense situation in Maghaberry it is clear that the British government is slow to learn from its past mistakes. I would like to congratulate Silvia Calamati on the publication of this book and her ongoing commitment to covering events in the North of Ireland.”

Footnote: many streets around the world have been named after Bobby Sands. In 1981 the Iranian government officially changed the name of Winston Churchill Boulevard where the British Embassy is based to Bobby Sands Street. The response of the British was to seal the entrance to their embassy on Bobby Sands Street and knock through the wall into Ferdowsi Avenue, which is now their new address. In 2001, a memorial to Bobby Sands and the other hunger strikers was unveiled in Havana, Cuba.

Silvia Calamati will be appearing in An Chulturlann, Falls Road, on July 31st, as part of Féile an Phobail. She will be launching ‘Scéalta Ban ó Thuaisceart na hÉireann’, an Irish language version of her book, ‘Women’s Stories From The North of Ireland’.

Il diario di Bobby Sands

May 19, 2010

This week sees the launch in Italy of a new book about Bobby Sands. Silvia Calamati, a journalist and a writer, has translated ‘I arose this morning…A Biography of Bobby Sands for Younger Readers’ by Denis O’Hearn and Laurence McKeown which was published a few years ago.

She was in Belfast last week – on the anniversaries of the death of Bobby Sands and Francis Hughes – to speak about her latest translation ‘Il diario di Bobby Sands. Storia di un ragazzo irlandese’, published by Castelvecchi, Rome.

Since 1982 Silvia has been interested in the Irish question and has lived in Dublin and Belfast for considerable periods of her time. From 1990 until 1995 she wrote for the Italian weekly magazine ‘Avvenimenti’.

Since 1999 she has been working as a free-lance journalist for many Italian radio stations, in particular with RAI NEWS 24 and RAI-Radiotelevisione Italiana, reporting on the main events throughout the Irish conflict.

Previously, she has translated ‘One day in my life’ by Bobby Sands ( ‘Un giorno della mia vita’, Feltrinelli, Milan, 1996), and ‘Renewing the Irish Church’ by Joseph McVeigh,  (‘Guerra e liberazione in Irlanda. La Chiesa del conflitto’, Edizioni della Battaglia, Palermo 1998). She is the author of ‘Irlanda del Nord. Una colonia in Europa’ (Edizioni Associate, 2005) (‘Northern Ireland. A Colony in Europe’).

In 2001 she published ‘Figlie di Erin. Voci di donne dell’Irlanda del Nord’ (Edizioni Associate). In 2002 this book was released in Belfast in English, with the title ‘Women’s Stories from the North of Ireland’ (Beyond the Pale Publications). In 2006 Icaria (Barcelona) published it in Spanish, with the title ‘Hijas de Erin. Voces de Mujeres de Irlanda del Norte’. In 2007 this book won two important awards in Italy: ‘Concorso Internazionale ‘Storie di Donne’ (Salerno) and ‘Premio ‘Il Paese delle Donne’, awarded by the International Women’s Centre in Rome.

In 2008 she published ‘Qui Belfast. 20 anni di cronache dall’Irlanda di Bobby Sands e Pat Finucane’ (‘News from Belfast. 20 years of articles from the country of Bobby Sands and Pat Finucane’).

The book, a collection of articles written mostly by Silvia Calamati from 1984 to 2004, covers the most important political and social events which resulted in the outcome by the Northern Ireland political parties signing the historical Good Friday Agreement in April 1998. In 2002 she was awarded the TOM COX AWARD at the West Belfast Festival for her commitment as a writer and a journalist.


Silvvia Calamati

Figlie di Erin. Voci di donne dell’Irlanda del Nord

Edizioni Associate, Roma, 2001

ISBN  8826704139


Silvia Calamati

Women’s Stories from the North of Ireland

Beyond the Pale, Belfast, 2002


Silvia Calamati

Hijas de Erin – Voces de Mujeres de Irlanda del Norte

Icaria, Barcelona, 2006

See also –





Irish Resistance Marked In Italy

April 7, 2010

The memory of Bobby Sands and the struggle for Irish freedom are to be celebrated in Italy at a special conference on 24th April. The Historical Institute of Resistance in Pistoia (a city near Florence in Tuscany), which is an institute related to Italian anti-fascist resistance, each year chooses an internationalist theme: last year it was South Africa; in 2008 it was Ruanda.

This year, 2010, it will be dedicated to the Irish struggle for freedom. The City Council of Pistoia and the Province of Pistoia will both promote additional events throughout the province.

Planning began on the 9th of January for students of secondary schools at a conference hosted by the journalist and the author of the book ‘Storia del conflitto anglo-irlandese. Otto secoli di persecuzione inglese’, Riccardo Michelucci. A second conference of 300 students of Irish History, attended by journalists and local television, was addressed by the author Silvia Calamati (and translator of Bobby Sands’ writings) on the 16th January. A short film on Bloody Sunday was shown and was followed by a Q & A.

Former republican prisoner Rosaleen McCorley will address the 24th April conference on the historic legacy of the 1981 hunger strike and the event will also include screenings of films related to resistance to British rule in Ireland and the political gains made by the Republican Movement. For further information contact Salvatore at




Pat Finucane Anniversary Events

February 10, 2009

A new mural was unveiled on the barracks site, Andersonstown, on Tuesday, 10th February, to murdered human rights lawyer Pat Finucane. This Thursday, 12th February, marks the 20th anniversary of his assassination by agents of the British state. Pat had been Bobby Sands’ solicitor and sat as a legal advisor to the Bobby Sands Trust when it was first established in 1981/82.

His murder was carried out by UDA agents, planned by the British army’s Force Research Unit, upon the British government’s direction.

The speakers at today’s unveiling included Pat’s brother Seamus, Gerry Adams MP and Mark Thompson of the Relatives for Justice. Earlier, in a statement the RFJ said: “There have been government appointed investigations including those by John Stevens and Judge Peter Corry which all justify the Finucane family’s conviction that state sponsored collusion was the director and executor of Patrick Finucane. Despite the unquestionable evidence and assurances at varying stages of political negotiations the British government has refused to comply with its obligations to provide a full independent international public inquiry into the murder of this human rights solicitor.

“Patrick Finucane was a son, a husband, a father of three and a brother who is dearly missed by his family. He was a pioneer in human rights advocacy and his legacy lives on through the new generation of human rights lawyers who carried on his work and succeeded him. He represented those most dispossessed, censored and marginalized during the conflict, and is remembered for his vigour and commitment to cases which hitherto had seemed hopeless. It was this dedication which led to him being targeted and executed.

“In his memory and in order to highlight the burning demand for truth around his death Relatives for Justice will be organizing two events on the day of Pat Finucane’s anniversary.”

On Wednesday, 11th February, beginning at 12.30pm, the Italian journalist Silvia Calamati will speak at an event in the University of Ulster, Belfast Campus, on ‘Qui Belfast – An Italian Witness’, which will include a showing of  the film ‘An Fhirinne – In Search for the Truth’.

On Thursday 12th February at 12.30pm there will be a vigil of remembrance at the High Court, Chichester Street, Belfast. Mike Ritchie Director of the Committee on the Administration of Justice and Monsignor Raymond Murray, friend of Pat Finucane and founder member of Relatives for Justice, will be speaking. On Thursday night at 7pm in St Mary’s College Falls Road there will be a Public Meeting – ‘Pat Finucane: Time for Truth.’ This public meeting will be addressed by Seamus Finucane (brother of Pat), Peter Madden (Pat’s law practice partner), Jim McCabe (husband of Nora McCabe, whom Pat Finucane represented), and Alex Maskey MLA (who was targeted by UDA agent Brian Nelson and subsequently shot and injured). The event will be chaired by Relatives for Justice chairperson and friend of Pat Finucane Clara Reilly.

Another major event, sponsored by The Finucane Family and British Irish Human Rights Watch, and endorsed by the U.S. Brehon Law Society, will be held in Dublin on 12th, 13th, and 14th February. Among the speakers will be Pat’s widow, Geraldine Finucane, the lawyer Michael Mansfield, the journalist John Ware, Param Cumaraswamy (human rights lawyer and former UN Special Rapporteur) and Judge Peter Cory (former Justice Supreme Court of Canada who presided over a collusion inquiry into the murders of Pat Finucane and others.