The 40th anniversary of the death of Bobby Sands on hunger strike on May 5, 1981, brought renewed controversy over his legacy.
Former H-Block blanketman Anthony McIntyre published a comm (a message written in tiny writing smuggled out of the prison) from Sands regarding his wish to be buried in another location than the Republican plot at Milltown cemetery in Belfast.
McIntyre, who was a prisoner in Long Kesh and on the blanket with Sands, published a typed copy made of the comm at the time on his blog, The Pensive Quill.
“In the comm he outlined his apprehensions about the possibility of burial in Milltown, a cemetery he did not like.
He also expressed a desire for his remains to be wrapped in a blanket and not a shroud. He believed, much like the prison uniform, that a shroud would be humiliating.
His family were not made aware of his written preferences. Nor were they shown the comm in which he expressed them.
He is buried in Milltown Cemetery in a shroud.”
The communique would have been delivered to the IRA leadership at the time. Leigue cemetery in Ballina, County Mayo, was where the two Mayo IRA Volunteers Frank Stagg and Michael Gaughan who had died on hunger strike in England just five years before are now interred. Sands several times refers to them in his prison writings.
Sinn Féin responded to the publication by claiming that Bobby Sands had written a later comm in which he indicated that he had changed his mind. That was dated March 9, 1981 and has been partly published in two subsequent books. But with no reference to the burial. This is the one which Michelle O’Neill claims contains Sands’ change of mind regarding where he was to be buried.
McIntyre, however, points to the fact that the comm in question, was published in two books which were written with the approval of the Sinn Féin leadership, but that they both contain the same redaction where the reference to his having changed his mind would presumably be.
None of this can be clarified until all of the communications, and indeed all of the details of what transpired between the hunger strikers, the IRA leadership in the H Blocks and the IRA leadership outside, are made available to researchers.
The families of the men themselves deserve to be shown what their loved ones wrote during that time, as it would seem they were not with regard to the comms regarding Bobby Sands funeral.
That only further adds to the suspicion that exists in relation to how the hunger strike was directed, not only from within the prison but with regards to negotiations between the IRA leadership and the British.
That has already been the subject of dispute around the books written by another former blanketman Richard O’Rawe, which suggested that Sinn Féin leadership at the time turned down a deal with the British government which would have called off the hunger strikes and saved 7 lives because they sought to gain electorally from the public attention and sympathy the strikes engendered.
Shock and anger were expressed on at the revelations by McIntyre yesterday
“Terribly sad to read this, this comm should have been given to his family so they could at least know his death plan and carry out what they could in accordance with his wishes,” one woman wrote as a comment on The Pensive Quill
Another reader asserted: “Bobby’s last wishes were denied him, he was and has been systematically used as political canon fodder by Adams and his ilk this 40yrs, I am not at all shocked , but am really feeling the hurt for Bobby’s clan just now. He gave his life for Ireland, and his wishes ignored in death for what?
Mr McIntyre told the Newsletter that he believed “the hunger strike should have been stopped after Bobby won the Westminster seat”.
The Pensive Quill transcribed the comm from Sands “for ease of reading”. “Some words unknown and/or may be inaccurately transcribed,” he said.
“The central hub for all the comms about strategy was the H-Block Information Centre on the Falls Road. Upon arrival they were immediately transcribed and the originals taken out of the office and into safe houses (because of the regular RUC/British army raids and seizures). All of these comms are lodged and preserved in the National Library” *
25.2.81 Liam Og [Tom Hartley, who handled correspondence from the prisoners].
I got your wee note the other day in regard to what I was doing with signer [lawyer]. Firstly I wouldn’t tell you to mind your own business because to a large extent it is as much your business as anyone else’s.
I’ve thought about it all and know how all my family feel at present and it isn’t very comforting to know.
I admit two things
(one) I fear what will happen after death, [rather than] death itself and I know that what I fear may well occur, for that reason or partly because of that reason I done what I done with the [signer]. I believe that I’m right (two) even though I’m right I’m being inconsiderate and selfish.
So I compromise my final consolence to what you suggested and I done it to our Marcella in about ten words, which in themselves were no doubt ten words too much.
I would just like to explain a few wee things (I know I don’t have to) but it would make me feel better, so I’ll just cry on your shoulder ‘cos you’ll let me.
You see comrade we have (all of us) our little human fears and whiches and so on, to be honest I don’t like Milltown, what the difference at that stage)
We always wanted buried in Carnmoney the Catholic part of which lies under the shade of the west side of Carnmoney hill I wrote a poem about this once, you should have it there, my reasons are many, as you know I grew up out there, even I realize that this during a war could never for obvious reasons, so there is also the consideration of my sister who I haven’t seen for four years and whom I won’t see again.
That is why I wanted to go to Ballina and there are other reasons none of which pertain to the political hazzle involved. I even considered [Fochuairt], which lies on the Free State side of the South Armagh border.
I don’t like Milltown and that’s being honest your probably wrecked calling me a morbid eccentric, I’m not I’m human and worry on wee things like those and finally I wanted wrapped in a blanket cause I don’t want humiliated in a stinkin’ suit or shroud and I’ve said enough.
I’ve dropped the heap ‘cos your right about my people etc. and I don’t want to distress them any more.
I’m sort of hoping I’ll get a letter from my sister in Dundalk, would someone see her, my ma would hold the letters back from her ‘cos she’s rep. minded.
I got Marcella’s note last night. I heard about the girls and am relieved and happy about it.
Index [Father Tom Toner] and Silvertop [Father John Murphy] have been in trying to discourage me, but they have no argument. Silvertop is not too bad but thinks I’m hard on the Amadan. Index does not like my opinions [blank] and in particular on the morale blackmailor. I feel better after a discussion with Index ‘cos he can’t offer an argument.
When the H/S begins I won’t be talking with anyone on the subject, I’m taking up an interest in football again!!
They want me out on a visit with a Rep. nun whose father was once on H/S and came off it. Silvertop wasn’t pleased with my reply.
I thought the girls in Armagh were gallant and better doing what they done now than later.
I have some wee points in regard to breaking the rigours of isolation but I’ll get them to you later.
I hope everyone well, tell Marie l love her, yahoo!!
I’m saying nothing about you know who [blank] was asking, tell Pennies [Danny Morrison] and the Big Lad [Gerry Adams] the same! I’m alright.
Photo credit: Pensive quill