by Anthony McIntyre

The 5th of May is a memorable day in the Irish republican calendar. When it happens to fall on a Tuesday the poignancy seems even more enhanced. The creative, vibrant life of Bobby Sands, the first of ten republican prisoners to die during the H Block hunger strikes, ended on Tuesday the 5th of May, 1981.

It was the first thing to enter my mind as I awoke this morning to get my son off to school after the bank holiday weekend. The skies had opened and the rain pelted down. For that reason my focus drifted towards the day Bobby was buried in Milltown Cemetery, in rain-strewn Belfast. Today’s downpour seems almost symbolic if you are given to that type of thing. It combines the last day of his life with his funeral of two days later and infuses them with a greyness to match the skies above my head.

In a few minutes time, upon completion of this short piece, I will write a brief note, as I do every day of his imprisonment, to Alec McCrory in Maghaberry. It will be penned on a Remember The Hunger Strikers postcard, the most appropriate of ink drawing surfaces on which to inscribe a message between those who were on the blanket protest on the day that is in it.

This very moment 34 years ago Alec was a teenage republican prisoner enduring the hardship of the blanket protest and, like the rest of, us just in receipt of the news of the death of Bobby. I don’t recall what block he was in at the time but no doubt the sombre quietude that enveloped H3 was replicated wherever he was. Alec was a republican comrade of Bobby who, like him, felt the British had no place in Ireland. Today Alec is still a republican who continues to believe that Britain has no place in Ireland.  Time has not contorted his memory.

We can debate the reasons ad infinitum, but whatever way it is looked at the Provisional IRA campaign failed wholly to achieve a united Ireland. Its leaders have in its stead signed up to a partitioned Ireland and have legitimised the means by which partition is sustained, the consent principle: something they had previously sought to violently overthrow. They administer rather than subvert British rule. They demand that republicans who oppose that rule in the manner that Bobby Sands did be informed upon to the British police so that they may be passed to the same unreformed prison service that turned the keys 34 years ago.

Martin McGuinness, the chief of staff of the Provisional IRA at the time of Bobby’s death, might not have been familiar with the work of Alexander Dumas but he articulated it with aplomb when he stood, appropriately chastened, alongside the British security and unionist political establishments to reaffirm Dumas’ point that “the difference between treason and patriotism is only a matter of dates.”

The above is a shortened version of an article on The Pensive Quill yesterday.

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