There were tributes far and wide to IRA Volunteer Bobby Sands on Wednesday on the 40th anniversary of his death, after 66 days on hunger strike in Long Kesh prison.
Commemorations were held in memory of Sands, the first of 10 men to die as a result of the 1981 hunger strike, although many had to be held online due to the Covid pandemic.
They were protesting in support of five demands, all of which were eventually won as the strike ended in October 1981: the right not to wear a prison uniform; the right not to do prison work; the right of free association with other prisoners; the right to organise their own educational and recreational facilities; the right to one visit, one letter and one parcel per week.
The hunger strikers won mass support far beyond the traditional republican communities amid anger at then British prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s callous disregard for human life.
During the course of the hunger strike, Sands was elected to Westminster as the MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone. His 30,000 votes refuted Thatcher’s claim that republicanism had no support outside of prisons.
International tributes were paid to Sands in honour of the sacrifice he made for the freedom of his people.
Democratic Party member in the Philadelphia House of Representatives Kevin J Boyle said: “Bobby Sands died on hunger strike in a British jail demanding recognition as a political prisoner.
“The current campaign for a free and united Ireland wouldn’t have been possible without the patriotic sacrifices he and those other Irish republicans in 1981 heroically took.”
In Madrid, Margaret Thatcher Square was renamed Bobby Sands Plaza. British Labour MP Chris Williamson praised the move.
He wrote: “Viva España! Thatcher Plaza in Madrid changes name to Bobby Sands Plaza on 40th anniversary of Irish hunger striker’s death.”
In Rome, a new Irish republican hunger strike mural was unveiled, while a rally was held in Nantes in tribute to Bobby Sands.
Recalling his sacrifice in an online commemoration, Sinn Féin said that Sands and the other hunger strikers “defeated the British government’s criminalisation policy — they were political prisoners.”
The party’s deputy leader Michelle O’Neill said: “We remember the courage and sacrifice of the hunger strikers with pride.”
“Forty years on and Bobby’s legacy inspires freedom-loving people everywhere,” Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald said.
There were also commemorative events by republicans in Dublin and Belfast.
Republican Sinn Féin held a black flag vigil at the GPO. The party laid a wreath at the grave in Milltown Cemetery today and delivered an oration.
Saoradh and its youth group Éistígi said it had held a series of vigils and events across Ireland and Scotland.
Éirígí organised a black flag vigil on O’Connell Bridge.
“Although I was only seven years old at the time of the 1981 hunger strike, it was critical in motivating me to join the republican movement eight years later at the age of fifteen,” said party chairperson Brian Leeson.
“30+ years later the sacrifice of Sands and his comrades continues to inspire me as we continue to fight for the new all-Ireland Republic for which they died.”