Robert Gerard Sands ( 9 March 1954 – 5 May 1981), commonly known as Bobby Sands, was an Irish member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army who died on hunger strike while imprisoned at HM Prison Maze (Long Kesh).
He was the leader of the 1981 hunger strike in which Irish republican prisoners protested against the removal of Special Category Status. During his strike he was elected to the British Parliament as an Anti H-Block candidate. His death and those of nine other hunger strikers were followed by a new surge of Provisional IRA recruitment and activity. International media coverage brought attention to the hunger strikers, and the Republican movement in general, attracting both praise and criticism.
Sands was born in 1954 to Roman Catholic parents, John (died 2014) and Rosaleen, who were both raised in Belfast. After marrying, they relocated to the new development of Abbots Cross, Newtownabbey, County Antrim outside North Belfast.
While in prison Sands had several letters and articles published in the republican paper An Phoblacht under the pseudonym “Marcella” (his sister’s name). Other writings attributed to him are: Skylark Sing Your Lonely Song and One Day in My Life. Sands also wrote the lyrics of Back Home in Derry and McIlhatton, which were both later recorded by Christy Moore, and Sad Song For Susan which was also later recorded. The melody of Back Home in Derry was borrowed from Gordon Lightfoot’s famous 1976 song The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.The song itself is about the penal transportation of Irishmen to Van Diemen’s Land in the 19th century (modern day Tasmania, Australia).
The hunger strike centred on five demands:
- the right not to wear a prison uniform;
- the right not to do prison work;
- the right of free association with other prisoners, and to organise educational and recreational pursuits;
- the right to one visit, one letter and one parcel per week;
- full restoration of remission lost through the protest.
Sands died on 5 May 1981 in the Maze’s prison hospital after 66 days on hunger strike, aged 27and died .