Sands' death remembered
Sands' death remembered

Members of the family of Bobby Sands assembled for a private gathering on Friday in the former Long Kesh Prison near Lisburn to mark the 25th anniversary of his death.

Relatives of all ten hunger strikers of 1981 and former republican prisoners also gathered in west Belfast to discuss the legacy of the hunger strike.

Bobby Sands commenced his hunger strike on 1 March I981. He was elected an MP and died on 5 May after 66 days without food.

He was followed by Francie Hughes, 59 days; Patsy O Hara, 61 days; Raymond McCreesh, 61 days; Joe McDonnell, 61 days; Martin Hurson, 46 days; Kevin Lynch, 71 days; Kieran Doherty, then a TD, 73 days; Tom McElwee, 62 days; and Michael Devine, 60 days.

Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness hailed the legacy of Bobby Sands after attending a private ceremony in the hospital wing of Long Kesh prison.

Brendan McFarlane, the IRA officer commanding in Long Kesh at the time of the hunger strike, spoke of the bravery of those who died.

"I feel that it is important that a new generation hear the story of the prison protest and understand the circumstances which brought about that terrible summer of 1981 and the deaths of ten courageous republican volunteers in this prison," he said.

"Bobby Sands and his comrades are remembered as icons of the freedom struggle in Ireland and indeed across the world. I think that that says much about the legacy of 1981."

Former African National Congress member Robert McBride -- now police chief in Johannesburg's East Rand district -- later delivered the Bobby Sands memorial lecture.

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP also laid a wreath at a republican memorial at Hackballscross in memory of Bobby Sands.

"He was the first of ten republican prisoners to die that terrible summer," said Mr Adams. "Almost 50 other people, among them three children struck by plastic bullets, died during that time. It is clear 25 years later that the hunger strikers hold a special place in the hearts of many people.

"Their huge generosity of spirit, self sacrifice and unselfishness have made Bobby Sands and his 9 comrades role models for Irish republicans everywhere. Their titanic battle against great odds and over five difficult, harrowing years, caught the imagination and touched the hearts of millions.

"The determination of the men in the H Blocks and the women prisoners in Armagh ultimately defeated the British government's criminalisation strategy. The enduring legacy of the hunger strikers is to be found all around us. Like the Easter Rising 65 years earlier it is a watershed in modern Irish history. The political growth of Sinn Féin and of Irish republicanism is in no small measure a result of their courage.

"But more importantly, their legacy is to be found in the peace process and the positive transformation it has wrought in Irish society in recent years. That process of change continues. It is taking place every single day. For many the twenty fifth anniversary of the deaths of the H Block hunger strikers will be a personal as well as a political time of remembrance. But for everyone interested in freedom and justice and peace in Ireland it is a time to reflect on the lessons of the past and to commit to continuing the struggle to achieve a free, democratic and united Ireland.

"And I believe that we will succeed in doing that - not least because of the example set by Bobby Sands and his comrades."

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© 2006 Irish Republican News