Tributes have been paid to Rosaleen Sands, the mother of hunger striker and MP Bobby Sands, who passed away on Friday.
“Rosaleen was a strong, inspirational woman who, like all families of the hunger strikers, bore immense pain but stood by her son Bobby during the darkest of times,” said Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams.
“The dignity and strength she displayed was a testament to her character and her belief in standing up for what was right and just, even if that meant great suffering for herself, Bobby’s father John and their family.
“In many ways she epitomised what all the mothers of the hunger strikers endured and her sacrifice will never be forgotten.”
On May 5, 1981 IRA prisoner Bobby Sands became the first of 10 republicans to die on hunger strike at Long Kesh prison against the criminalisation policy of Margaret Thatcher. The hunger strike followed a dirty protest in the long running campaign for political status within the jail.
Rosaleen and Bobby’s sister, Marcella Sands, were the public face of the family during the hunger strike, and campaigned on his behalf in his successful bid to be elected MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone at a Westminster by-election.
Mrs Sands showed unwavering support for her son’s wishes to maintain his hunger strike. A well known image was when she was interviewed outside Long Kesh and asked Margaret Thatcher to compromise and resolve the hunger strike. Tragically, that appeal fell on deaf ears, and Bobby died less than 48 hours later.
The courage and restraint she showed in her son’s death is also remembered in the comments she made as her son passed away. “I appeal to the people to remain calm and have no fighting, and cause no death or destruction,” she said. “My son is dying. But he has offered his death to improve conditions, not to cause death outside.”
The 32 County Sovereignty Movement said they heard the news of her passing “with great sadness”.
“In 1981 she made an extremely painful sacrifice to honor her sons wishes and not allow doctors to intervene to save Oglach Bobby Sands life while on hunger strike,” they said.
“While Bobby and his comrades died in lonely hells to resist being depicted and treated as criminals, Rosaleen and so many other mothers no doubt continued to carry this cross throughout their lives.
“Rosaleen and others are often the forgotten heroes of the struggle for liberation. We offer our heartfelt condolences to the Sands Family at this time.”
The following poem, ‘Dear Mum’, has been widely shared in the aftermath of her passing. It was written by Bobby Sands in tribute to his mother:
Dear Mum, I know you’re always there
To help and guide me with all your care,
You nursed and fed me and made me strong
To face the world and all its wrong.
What can I write to you this day
For a line or two would never pay
For care and time you gave to me
Through long hard years unceasingly.
How you found strength I do not know
How you managed I’ll never know,
Struggling and striving without a break
Always there and never late.
You prayed for me and loved me more
How could I ask for anymore
And reared me up to be like you
But I haven’t a heart as kind as you.
A guide to me in times of plight
A princess like a star so bright
For life would never have been the same
If I hadn’t of learned what small things came.
So forgive me Mum just a little more
For not loving you so much before,
For life and love you gave to me
I give my thanks for eternity.”