Forty years ago, in the early hours of this morning, Bobby Sands died after sixty-six days on hunger striker. During that time he was elected MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone and his became a household name in Ireland and internationally. Radio stations around the world broke into their scheduled programmes with news of his death.
From the H-Blocks Bik McFarlane wrote: ‘To Brownie 2.15am. Comrade mor, I just heard the news – I’m shattered – just can’t believe it. This is a terrible feeling I have. I don’t even know what to say. Comrade, I’m sorry, but I just can’t say anything else. May God in his infinite mercy grant eternal rest to his soul. Jesus Christ protect and guide us all. God Bless. Bik.’
From Armagh Prison, Sile Darragh, OC, wrote: ‘To Liam Og. Comrade, I’ll be brief. Everyone is wrecked, as I’m sure you are. Bobby’s death has been a terrible blow, no matter how much we tried to prepare for it. As you can imagine, things have been very emotional but there has been no trouble with screws or anything and I don’t believe there will be.’
On the fortieth anniversary of his death, Bobby’s friend and comrade, Seanna Walsh, paid this special tribute at his grave
From forty years ago, Danny Morrison’s interview with John Tuso on BBC 2 Newsnight
A short film of the international response to Bobby’s death can be watched here
Below an extract from David Beresford’s monumental book on the hunger striker Ten Men Dead is also about the international response:
‘Reaction flooded in from around the world. The US Government issued a statement expressing deep regret. The Longshoremen’s Union announced a twenty-four-hour boycott of British ships. The New Jersey State legislature voted 34-29 for a resolution honouring his ‘courage and commitment’. More than 1,000 gathered in St Patrick’s Cathedral to hear New York’s Cardinal Cook offer a Mass of reconciliation for Northern Ireland. Irish bars in the city closed for two hours in mourning. The New York Times said: ‘Despite proximity and a common language the British have persistently misjudged the depth of Irish nationalism.’… In Rome the President of the Italian Senate, Amintore Fanfani, stepped into the breach left by the British Speaker, expressing condolences to the Sands family. About 5,000 students burnt the Union Jack and shouted ‘Freedom for Ulster’ during a march in Milan. In Ghent students invaded the British consulate. Thousands marched in Paris behind a huge portrait of Sands, to chants of ‘The IRA will conquer.’ The town of Le Man announced it was naming a street after him, which the British Embassy said was ‘an insult to Britain’.
‘The Hong Kong Standard said it was ‘sad that successive British governments have failed to end the last of Europe’s religious wars’. The Hindustan Times said Mrs Thatcher had allowed a fellow Member of Parliament to die of starvation, an incident which had never before occurred ‘in a civilized country’. Tehran announced Iran would be sending its ambassador in Sweden to represent the Government at the funeral. In Oslo demonstrators threw a balloon filled with tomato sauce at the Queen, who was on a visit to Norway. In India Opposition members of the Upper House stood for a minute’s silence in tribute… In Portugal members of the Opposition stood for him. In Spain the Catholic Ya newspaper described Sands’s hunger strike as ‘subjectively an act of heroism’… In Russia Pravda described it as ‘another tragic page in the grim chronicle of oppression, discrimination, terror and violence’ in Ireland. In Poland Lech Walesa paid tribute. In Tehran students renamed Winston Churchill Avenue, the address of the British Embassy, to Bobby Sands Street, which it remains to this day despite appeals to the Iranian government by Jack Straw, when he was British Foreign Secretary, to have the name changed back.’
Today, in Ireland and around the world republicans and progressive people remember Bobby Sands and his comrades.