For the first seventeen days of his hunger-strike 25 years ago this week, Bobby Sands kept a secret diary in which he wrote his thoughts and views.
The following is his writings for the first nine days. It is extracted from ‘Skylark Sing your Lonely Song: An Anthology of the Writings of Bobby Sands.’
I am standing on the threshold of another trembling world. May God have mercy on my soul.
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.
I believe and stand by the God-given right of the Irish nation to sovereign independence, and the right of any Irishman or woman to assert this right in armed revolution. That is why I am incarcerated, naked and tortured.
Foremost in my tortured mind is the thought that there can never be peace in Ireland until the foreign, oppressive British presence is removed, leaving all the Irish people as a unit to control their own affairs and determine their own destinies as a sovereign people, free in mind and body, separate and distinct physically, culturally and economically.
I believe I am but another of those wretched Irishmen born of a risen generation with a deeply rooted and unquenchable desire for freedom. I am dying not just to attempt to end the barbarity of H-Block, or to gain the rightful recognition of a political prisoner, but primarily because what is lost in here is lost for the Republic and those wretched oppressed whom I am deeply proud to know as the ‘risen people’.
There is no sensation today, no novelty that October 27th brought. (The starting date of the original seven man hunger-strike) The usual Screws were not working. The slobbers and would-be despots no doubt will be back again tomorrow, bright and early.
I wrote some more notes to the girls in Armagh today. There is so much I would like to say about them, about their courage, determination and unquenchable spirit of resistance. They are to be what Countess Markievicz, Anne Devlin, Mary Ann McCracken, Marie MacSwiney, Betsy Gray, and those other Irish heroines are to us all. And, of course, I think of Ann Parker, Laura Crawford, Rosemary Bleakeley, and I’m ashamed to say I cannot remember all their sacred names.
Mass was solemn, the lads as ever brilliant. I ate the statutory weekly bit of fruit last night. As fate had it, it was an orange, and the final irony, it was bitter. The food is being left at the door. My portions, as expected, are quite larger than usual, or those which my cell-mate Malachy is getting.
Much to the distaste of the Screws we ended the no-wash protest this morning. We moved to ‘B’ wing, which was allegedly clean.
We have shown considerable tolerance today. Men are being searched coming back from the toilet. At one point men were waiting three hours to get out to the toilet, and only four or five got washed, which typifies the eagerness (sic) of the Screws to have us off the no-wash. There is a lot of petty vindictiveness from them.
I saw the doctor and I’m 64 kgs. I’ve no problems.
The priest, Fr John Murphy, was in tonight. We had a short talk. I heard that my mother spoke at a parade in Belfast yesterday and that Marcella cried. It gave me heart. I’m not worried about the numbers of the crowds. I was very annoyed last night when I heard Bishop Daly’s statement (issued on Sunday, condemning the hunger-strike). Again he is applying his double set of moral standards. He seems to forget that the people who murdered those innocent Irishmen on Derry’s Bloody Sunday are still as ever among us; and he knows perhaps better than anyone what has and is taking place in H-Block.
He understands why men are being tortured here -- the reason for criminalisation. What makes it so disgusting, I believe, is that he agrees with that underlying reason. Only once has he spoken out, of the beatings and inhumanity that are commonplace in H-Block.
I once read an editorial, in late ‘78, following the then Archbishop O Fiaich’s ‘sewer pipes of Calcutta’ statement. It said it was to the everlasting shame of the Irish people that the archbishop had to, and I paraphrase, stir the moral conscience of the people on the H-Block issue. A lot of time has passed since then, a lot of torture, in fact the following year was the worst we experienced.
Now I wonder who will stir the Cardinal’s moral conscience...
Bear witness to both right and wrong, stand up and speak out. But don’t we know that what has to be said is ‘political’, and it’s not that these people don’t want to become involved in politics, it’s simply that their politics are different, that is, British.
My dear friend Tomboy’s father died today. I was terribly annoyed, and it has upset me.
I received several notes from my family and friends. I have only read the one from my mother -- it was what I needed. She has regained her fighting spirit -- I am happy now.
My old friend Seanna (Walsh, a fellow blanket man) has also written.
I have an idea for a poem, perhaps tomorrow I will try to put it together.
Every time I feel down I think of Armagh, and James Connolly. They can never take those thoughts away from me.
I’m feeling exceptionally well today. (It’s only the third day, I know, but all the same I’m feeling great.) I had a visit this morning with two reporters, David Beresford of The Guardian and Brendan O Cathaoir of The Irish Times. Couldn’t quite get my flow of thoughts together. I could have said more in a better fashion.
63 kgs today, so what?
A priest was in. Feel he’s weighing me up psychologically for a later date. If I’m wrong I’m sorry -- but I think he is. So I tried to defuse any notion of that tonight. I think he may have taken the point. But whether he accepts it, will be seen. He could not defend my onslaught on Bishop Daly -- or at least he did not try.
I wrote some notes to my mother and to Mary Doyle in Armagh; and will write more tomorrow. The boys are now all washed. But I didn’t get washed today. They were still trying to get men their first wash.
I smoked some ‘bog-rolled blows’ today, the luxury of the Block!
They put a table in my cell and are now placing my food on it in front of my eyes. I honestly couldn’t give a damn if they placed it on my knee. They still keep asking me silly questions like, ‘Are you still not eating?’
I never got started on my poem today, but I’ll maybe do it tomorrow. The trouble is I now have more ideas.
Got papers and a book today. The book was Kipling’s Short Stories with an introduction of some length by W. Somerset Maugham. I took an instant dislike to the latter on reading his comment on the Irish people during Kipling’s prime as a writer: ‘It is true that the Irish were making a nuisance of themselves.’ Damned too bad, I thought, and bigger the pity it wasn’t a bigger nuisance! Kipling I know of, and his Ulster connection. I’ll read his stories tomorrow.
Ag ra an phaidrin faoi dho achan la ata na buachailli anois. Nil aon rud eile agam anocht. Sin sin. (Translated this reads as follows: The boys are now saying the rosary twice every day. I have nothing else tonight. That’s all.)
Fr Murphy was in tonight. I have not felt too bad today, although I notice the energy beginning to drain. But it is quite early yet. I got showered today and had my hair cut, which made me feel quite good. Ten years younger, the boys joke, but I feel twenty years older, the inevitable consequence of eight years of torture and imprisonment.
I am abreast with the news and view with utter disgust and anger the Reagan/Thatcher plot. It seems quite clear that they intend to counteract Russian expansionism with imperialist expansionism, to protect their vital interests they say.
What they mean is they covet other nations’ resources. They want to steal what they haven’t got and to do so (as the future may unfortunately prove) they will murder oppressed people and deny them their sovereignty as nations. No doubt Mr Haughey will toe the line in Ireland when Thatcher so demands.
Noticed a rarity today: jam with the tea, and by the way the Screws are glaring at the food. They seem more in need of it than my good self.
The Welfare sent for me today to inform me of my father being taken ill to hospital. Tried to get me to crawl for a special visit with my family. I was distressed about my father’s illness but relieved that he has been released from hospital. No matter what, I must continue.
I had a threatening toothache today which worried me, but it is gone now.
I’ve read Atkins’ statement in the Commons, Mar dhea! (Atkins pledged that the British government would not budge an inch on its intransigent position.) It does not annoy me because my mind was prepared for such things and I know I can expect more of such, right to the bitter end.
I came across some verse in Kipling’s short stories; the extracts of verses before the stories are quite good. The one that I thought very good went like this:
The earth gave up her dead that tide,
Into our camp he came,
And said his say, and went his way,
And left our hearts aflame.
Keep tally on the gun butt score,
The vengeance we must take,
When God shall bring full reckoning,
For our dead comrade’s sake.
‘I hope not,’ said I to myself. But that hope was not even a hope, but a mere figure of speech. I have hope, indeed. All men must have hope and never lose heart. But my hope lies in the ultimate victory for my poor people. Is there any hope greater than that?
I’m saying prayers -- crawler! (and a last minute one, some would say). But I believe in God, and I’ll be presumptuous and say he and I are getting on well this weather.
I can ignore the presence of food staring me straight in the face all the time. But I have this desire for brown wholemeal bread, butter, Dutch cheese and honey. Ha!! It is not damaging me, because, I think, ‘Well, human food can never keep a man alive forever,’ and I console myself with the fact that I’ll get a great feed up above (if I’m worthy).
But then I’m struck by this awful thought that they don’t eat food up there. But if there’s something better than brown wholemeal bread, cheese and honey, etcetera, then it can’t be bad.
The March winds are getting angry tonight, which reminds me that I’m twenty-seven on Monday. I must go, the road is just beginning, and tomorrow is another day. I am now 62 kgs and, in general, mentally and physically, I feel very good.
There was no priest in last night or tonight. They stopped me from seeing my solicitor tonight, as another part of the isolation process, which, as time goes by, they will ruthlessly implement. I expect they may move me sooner than expected to an empty wing. I will be sorry to leave the boys, but I know the road is a hard one and everything must be conquered.
I have felt the loss of energy twice today, and I am feeling slightly weak.
They (the Screws) are unembarrassed by the enormous amount of food they are putting into the cell and I know they have every bean and chip counted or weighed. The damned fools don’t realise that the doctor does tests for traces of any food eaten. Regardless, I have no intention of sampling their tempting morsels.
I am sleeping well at night so far, as I avoid sleeping during the day. I am even having pleasant dreams and so far no headaches. Is that a tribute to my psychological frame of mind or will I pay for that tomorrow or later! I wonder how long I will be able to keep these scribbles going?
My friend Jennifer got twenty years. I am greatly distressed. (Twenty-one-year-old Jennifer McCann, from Belfast’s Twinbrook estate, was sentenced to twenty years’ imprisonment for shooting at an RUC man).
I have no doubts or regrets about what I am doing for I know what I have faced for eight years, and in particular for the last four and-a-half years, others will face, young lads and girls still at school, or young Gerard or Kevin (Bobby’s son and nephew, respectively) and thousands of others.
They will not criminalise us, rob us of our true identity, steal our individualism, depoliticise us, churn us out as systemised, institutionalised, decent law-abiding robots. Never will they label our liberation struggle as criminal.
I am (even after all the torture) amazed at British logic. Never in eight centuries have they succeeded in breaking the spirit of one man who refused to be broken. They have not dispirited, conquered, nor demoralised my people, nor will they ever.
I may be a sinner, but I stand -- and if it so be, will die -- happy knowing that I do not have to answer for what these people have done to our ancient nation.
Thomas Clarke is in my thoughts, and MacSwiney, Stagg, Gaughan, Thomas Ashe, McCaughey. Dear God, we have so many that another one to those knaves means nothing, or so they say, for some day they’ll pay.
When I am thinking of Clarke, I thought of the time I spent in ‘B’ wing in Crumlin Road jail in September and October ‘77. I realised just what was facing me then. I’ve no need to record it all, some of my comrades experienced it too, so they know I have been thinking that some people (maybe many people) blame me for this hunger-strike, but I have tried everything possible to avert it short of surrender.
I pity those who say that, because they do not know the British and I feel more the pity for them because they don’t even know their poor selves. But didn’t we have people like that who sought to accuse Tone, Emmet, Pearse, Connolly, Mellowes: that unfortunate attitude is perennial also...
I can hear the curlew passing overhead. Such a lonely cell, such a lonely struggle. But, my friend, this road is well trod and he, whoever he was, who first passed this way, deserves the salute of the nation. I am but a mere follower and I must say Oiche Mhaith.
I received a most welcome note tonight from Bernie, my sister. old Bernie. I love her and think she’s the greatest.
I am now convinced that the authorities intend to implement strict isolation soon, as I am having trouble in seeing my solicitor. I hope I’m wrong about the isolation, but we’ll see.
It’s only that I’d like to remain with the boys for as long as possible for many reasons. If I’m isolated, I will simply conquer it.
A priest was in today, somewhat pleasant, and told me about Brendan O Cathaoir’s article in The Irish Times during the week, which I saw. We had a bit of discussion on certain points, which, of course, were to him contentious. He was cordial in his own practised way, purely tactical, of course, and at the same time he was most likely boiling over inside, thinking of the reference to this week’s AP/RN (February 28th issue) calling him a collaborating middle-class nationalist, or appropriate words to that effect.
He is too, says I, and I sympathise with those unfortunate sons of God who find themselves battling against the poverty, disease, corruption, death and inhumanities of the missions...
I am 61 kgs today, going down. I’m not troubled by hunger pangs, nor paranoiac about anything pertaining to food, but, by God, the food has improved here. I thought I noticed that during the last hunger-strike. Well, there is a lot at stake here.
I got the Irish News today, but there’s nothing in it, that’s why I got it.
I’m looking forward to seeing the comrades at Mass tomorrow, all the younger looking faces, minus the beards, moustaches, long rambling untamed hair matted in thick clumps.
One thing is sure, that awful stage, of the piercing or glazed eyes, the tell-tale sign of the rigours of torture, won’t be gone - if it is ever removed. I wonder is it even conceivable that it could be erased from the mind?
We got a new comrade during the week. Isn’t it inspiring the comrades who keep joining us? I read what Jennifer said in court. (On being sentenced, Jennifer McCann said: ‘I am a Republican prisoner of war and at the moment my comrade Bobby Sands is on hunger-strike to defend my rights as a political prisoner.’) I was touched and proud, she is my comrade.
I’ve been thinking of Mary Doyle and Ellen McGuigan and all the rest of the girls in Armagh. How can I forget them?
The Screws are staring at me perplexed. Many of them hope (if their eyes tell the truth) that I will die. If need be, I’ll oblige them, but my God they are fools. Oscar Wilde did not do justice to them for I believe they are lower than even he thought. And I may add there is only one thing lower than a Screw and that is a Governor. And in my experience the higher one goes up that disgusting ladder they call rank, or position, the lower one gets...
It’s raining. I’m not cold, my spirits are well, and I’m still getting some smokes -- decadence, well sort of, but who’s perfect. Bad for your health. Mar dheas anois, Oiche Mhaith.
In a few hours time I shall be twenty-seven grand years of age. Paradoxically it will be a happy enough birthday; perhaps that’s because I am free in spirit. I can offer no other reason.
I was at Mass today, and saw all the lads minus their beards, etc. An American priest said Mass and I went to Communion. One of the lads collapsed before Mass, but he’s all right now. Another was taken out to Musgrave military hospital. These are regular occurrences.
I am 60.8 kgs today, and have no medical complaints.
I received another note from my sister Bernie and her boyfriend. It does my heart good to hear from her. I got the Irish News today, which carried some adverts in support of the hunger-strike.
There is a stand-by doctor who examined me at the weekend, a young man whose name I did not know up until now. Little friendly Dr Ross has been the doctor. He was also the doctor during the last hunger-strike.
Dr Emerson is, they say, down with the ‘flu... Dr Ross, although friendly, is in my opinion also an examiner of people’s minds. Which reminds me, they haven’t asked me to see a psychiatrist yet. No doubt they will yet, but I won’t see him for I am mentally stable, probably more so than he.
I read some wild-life articles in various papers, which indeed brought back memories of the once-upon-a-time budding ornithologist! It was a bright pleasant afternoon today and it is a calm evening. It is surprising what even the confined eyes and ears can discover.
I am awaiting the lark, for spring is all but upon us. How I listened to that lark when I was in H-5, and watched a pair of chaffinches which arrived in February. Now lying on what indeed is my death bed, I still listen even to the black crows.
I have left this rather late tonight and it is cold. The priest Fr Murphy was in. I had a discussion with him on the situation. He said he enjoyed our talk and was somewhat enlightened, when he was leaving.
On the subject of priests, I received a small note from a Fr S. C. from Tralee, Kerry, and some holy pictures of Our Lady. The thought touched me. If it is the same man, I recall him giving a lecture to us in Cage 11 some years ago on the right to lift arms in defence of the freedom of one’s occupied and oppressed nation. Preaching to the converted he was, but it all helps.
It is my birthday and the boys are having a sing-song for me, bless their hearts. I braved it to the door, at their request, to make a bit of a speech, for what it was worth. I wrote to several friends today including Bernie and my mother. I feel all right and my weight is 60 kgs.
I always keep thinking of James Connolly, and the great calm and dignity that he showed right to his very end, his courage and resolve. Perhaps I am biased, because there have been thousands like him but Connolly has always been the man that I looked up to.
I always have tremendous feeling for Liam Mellowes as well; and for the present leadership of the Republican Movement, and a confidence in them that they will always remain undaunted and unchanged. And again, dare I forget the Irish people of today, and the risen people of the past, they too hold a special place in my heart.
Well, I have gotten by twenty-seven years, so that is something. I may die, but the Republic of 1916 will never die. Onward to the Republic and liberation of our people.