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Sinn Fein is determined to keep control of Bobby Sands narrative and rewrite the past

Republicans use the hunger striker's story to radicalise the next wave of party activists, says Nelson McCausland

Published 04/08/2016

Hunger striker Bobby Sands' coffin, flanked by an IRA colour party, leaving his mother's home in Twinbrook.
Hunger striker Bobby Sands' coffin, flanked by an IRA colour party, leaving his mother's home in Twinbrook.
Bobby Sands' son Robert Gerald holds his mother's hand at the funeral of his father Bobby in west Belfast flanked by Masked IRA men. Picture by Martin Wright
Tomboy Loudon, Gerry Roche, Denis Donaldson and Bobby Sands pictured in the Long Kesh prison, Northern Ireland.
Hunger strike protesters outside the Dail in Dublin 1981
Hunger strike marchers blocked by gardai as they approach the British Embassy in Dublin
PACEMAKER BELFAST Rioting in west Belfast on the day hunger striker Bobby Sands died in 1981
A man walks past the Bobby Sands mural, in the Falls road area of Belfast
Masked gunmen fire a volley of shots beside hunger striker Bobby Sands coffin, at Milltown Cemetery.
Bobby Sands (seated fourth from left). The Star of the Sea football team.
Hunger striker Bobby Sands funeral procession making its way down Stewartstown Road on Route to Milltown cemetery
Several unionist politicians have called for Maze cells which housed hunger strikers to be flattened
Bobby Sands funeral
1st March 2011. Launch of the Hunger Strike 30th Anniversary Exhibition in the Linen Hall Library, Belfast. Ten republican prisoners died during the 1981 protest inside the Maze Prison. A letter written by Bobby Sands on cigarette paper which was smuggled out of the prison pictured at the exhibition.
Michael Fassbender stars in Hunger, the film about the last six weeks in the life of Bobby Sands
Kieran Doherty died in the Maze prison in 1981 after being on a hunger strike
Former taoiseach Garret FitzGerald pleaded with Ronald Reagan to pile pressure on Margaret Thatcher over the hunger strikes

Robert Gerard ‘Bobby’ Sands joined the Provisional IRA in 1972 at the age of 18, and the following year he was sentenced to five years in prison for an arms offence. He was released in April 1976 and then, in October 1976, he was one of a six-man team of IRA men who were arrested after the bombing of a furniture store and a gun battle with the RUC.

This time Sands was sentenced to 14 years, where he joined the prison protests, became the OC of the IRA prisoners, was elected as MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone and died on hunger strike.

Since then he has been turned into a “hero-martyr” by the IRA and Sinn Fein and has been eulogised in rebel ballads, popularised in books and films and utilised by Sinn Fein.

The hunger strikes were part of the republican strategy of broadening the battlefield and opening up new fronts to complement the terrorist front.

They developed a cultural strategy, which was built around the Irish language, and they also developed a political strategy, “the Armalite and the ballot box”.

The name of Bobby Sands has been invoked in support of both the cultural and political strategies. An Irish-medium primary school in Twinbrook was named Scoil na Fuiseoige in honour of Sands and Sinn Fein handed out Bobby Sands medals and certificates and Bobby Sands Gaeltacht scholarships to children at a secondary school in the same area.

IRA “hero-martyrs” are usually memorialised with a rebel ballad, a mural, a booklet and an annual parade.

However, the republican machine has taken Bobby Sands to a different level altogether, as they try to turn a terrorist into a freedom fighter, poet, author and philosopher.

As regards “hero-martyrs”, Sinn Fein wants a modern “hero-martyr”, who is up there with Pearse and Connolly. They want a “hero-martyr” for the Provos, one of their own, one whose narrative they control and they welcome anything that helps to elevate Bobby Sands.

There was the 1996 film Some Mother’s Son, which starred Helen Mirren, but was written and directed by Terry George, who was associated with the Irish Republican Socialist Party in the 1970s and was imprisoned for an arms offence.

Dougie Adams, Jane Adams, Cathy Gormley-Heenan and Ronan Heenan are pictured at the film premiere of Bobby Sands: 66 Days at the Omniplex Cinema at the Kennedy Centre in west Belfast.
The premiere was hosted with Féile An Phobail and West Belfast Film Festival.
Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Dougie Adams, Jane Adams, Cathy Gormley-Heenan and Ronan Heenan are pictured at the film premiere of Bobby Sands: 66 Days at the Omniplex Cinema at the Kennedy Centre in west Belfast. The premiere was hosted with Féile An Phobail and West Belfast Film Festival. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Gerry and Margaret Kelly are pictured at the film premiere of Bobby Sands: 66 Days at the Omniplex Cinema at the Kennedy Centre in west Belfast. The premiere was hosted with Féile An Phobail and West Belfast Film Festival. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Mary Nellis and Mary Kay Hinphey are pictured at the film premiere of Bobby Sands: 66 Days at the Omniplex Cinema at the Kennedy Centre in west Belfast. The premiere was hosted with Féile An Phobail and West Belfast Film Festival. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Hunger striker Bobby Sands' coffin, flanked by an IRA colour party, leaving his mother's home in Twinbrook.
Sabina Cherek, Rabek Cherek and Alina Grychta are pictured at the film premiere of Bobby Sands: 66 Days at the Omniplex Cinema at the Kennedy Centre in west Belfast. The premiere was hosted with Féile An Phobail and West Belfast Film Festival. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Loretta Van der horst and Marco bij le Veld pictured at the film premiere of Bobby Sands: 66 Days at the Omniplex Cinema at the Kennedy Centre in west Belfast. The premiere was hosted with Féile An Phobail and West Belfast Film Festival. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st July 2016 Mary Nellis, Mitchel McLaughlin and Mary Kay Hinphey are pictured at the film premiere of Bobby Sands: 66 Days at the Omniplex Cinema at the Kennedy Centre in west Belfast. The premiere was hosted with Féile An Phobail and West Belfast Film Festival. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Bobby Sands' son Robert Gerald holds his mother's hand at the funeral of his father Bobby in west Belfast flanked by Masked IRA men. Picture by Martin Wright
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st July 2016 Alex Maskey, Liz Maskey, Patricia Maskey and Paul Maskey are pictured at the film premiere of Bobby Sands: 66 Days at the Omniplex Cinema at the Kennedy Centre in west Belfast. The premiere was hosted with Féile An Phobail and West Belfast Film Festival. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st July 2016 Pauline and Padraig Omuirigh are pictured at the film premiere of Bobby Sands: 66 Days at the Omniplex Cinema at the Kennedy Centre in west Belfast. The premiere was hosted with Féile An Phobail and West Belfast Film Festival. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st July 2016 John Darcy, Eamonn Mallie and John Darcy are pictured at the film premiere of Bobby Sands: 66 Days at the Omniplex Cinema at the Kennedy Centre in west Belfast. The premiere was hosted with Féile An Phobail and West Belfast Film Festival. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st July 2016 Leontia McKenna and Peter Lynch are pictured at the film premiere of Bobby Sands: 66 Days at the Omniplex Cinema at the Kennedy Centre in west Belfast. The premiere was hosted with Féile An Phobail and West Belfast Film Festival. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Tomboy Loudon, Gerry Roche, Denis Donaldson and Bobby Sands pictured in the Long Kesh prison, Northern Ireland.
Hunger strike protesters outside the Dail in Dublin 1981
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st July 2016 Bairbre de Brún, Sile Darragh, Mary Doyle and Carál Ní Chuilín are pictured at the film premiere of Bobby Sands: 66 Days at the Omniplex Cinema at the Kennedy Centre in west Belfast. The premiere was hosted with Féile An Phobail and West Belfast Film Festival. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st July 2016 Brendan Byrne and Colm Scullion are pictured at the film premiere of Bobby Sands: 66 Days at the Omniplex Cinema at the Kennedy Centre in west Belfast. The premiere was hosted with Féile An Phobail and West Belfast Film Festival. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st July 2016 Brendan Byrne, Olivia Byrne, Sharon Darby and Greg Darby are pictured at the film premiere of Bobby Sands: 66 Days at the Omniplex Cinema at the Kennedy Centre in west Belfast. The premiere was hosted with Féile An Phobail and West Belfast Film Festival. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Hunger strike marchers blocked by gardai as they approach the British Embassy in Dublin
PACEMAKER BELFAST Rioting in west Belfast on the day hunger striker Bobby Sands died in 1981
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st July 2016 Michele Devlin and Brendan Byrne are pictured at the film premiere of Bobby Sands: 66 Days at the Omniplex Cinema at the Kennedy Centre in west Belfast. The premiere was hosted with Féile An Phobail and West Belfast Film Festival. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st July 2016 Sheila, Ella, Mia and Trevor Birney are pictured at the film premiere of Bobby Sands: 66 Days at the Omniplex Cinema at the Kennedy Centre in west Belfast. The premiere was hosted with Féile An Phobail and West Belfast Film Festival. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st July 2016 Colm Scullion and Peter Bryson are pictured at the film premiere of Bobby Sands: 66 Days at the Omniplex Cinema at the Kennedy Centre in west Belfast. The premiere was hosted with Féile An Phobail and West Belfast Film Festival. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
A man walks past the Bobby Sands mural, in the Falls road area of Belfast
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st July 2016 Laurence McKeown, Michelle Beyers and Lachlan Whalen are pictured at the film premiere of Bobby Sands: 66 Days at the Omniplex Cinema at the Kennedy Centre in west Belfast. The premiere was hosted with Féile An Phobail and West Belfast Film Festival. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st July 2016 Michael and Betty Doherty are pictured at the film premiere of Bobby Sands: 66 Days at the Omniplex Cinema at the Kennedy Centre in west Belfast. The premiere was hosted with Féile An Phobail and West Belfast Film Festival. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st July 2016 Niall Ó Donnghaile, Irene Sherry and Dominic Adams are pictured at the film premiere of Bobby Sands: 66 Days at the Omniplex Cinema at the Kennedy Centre in west Belfast. The premiere was hosted with Féile An Phobail and West Belfast Film Festival. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Masked gunmen fire a volley of shots beside hunger striker Bobby Sands coffin, at Milltown Cemetery.
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st July 2016 Professor Siobhan O'Neill and Professor Deirdre Heenan are pictured at the film premiere of Bobby Sands: 66 Days at the Omniplex Cinema at the Kennedy Centre in west Belfast. The premiere was hosted with Féile An Phobail and West Belfast Film Festival. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st July 2016 Danny Devenny and Paddy Molloy are pictured at the film premiere of Bobby Sands: 66 Days at the Omniplex Cinema at the Kennedy Centre in west Belfast. The premiere was hosted with Féile An Phobail and West Belfast Film Festival. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st July 2016 Denzil McDaniel, David McDaniel and Trevor Birney are pictured at the film premiere of Bobby Sands: 66 Days at the Omniplex Cinema at the Kennedy Centre in west Belfast. The premiere was hosted with Féile An Phobail and West Belfast Film Festival. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Deceased hunger striker Bobby Sands (seated fourth from left). The Star of the Sea football team.
Hunger striker Bobby Sands funeral procession making its way down Stewartstown Road on Route to Milltown cemetery
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st July 2016 Brendan Byrne, Aisling Higgins, Trevor Birney and Paul Higgins are pictured at the film premiere of Bobby Sands: 66 Days at the Omniplex Cinema at the Kennedy Centre in west Belfast. The premiere was hosted with Féile An Phobail and West Belfast Film Festival. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st July 2016 Brendan Byrne, Fran Rowlatt McCormick, Ben Rowlatt McCormick, Andrew Tully and Trevor Birney are pictured at the film premiere of Bobby Sands: 66 Days at the Omniplex Cinema at the Kennedy Centre in west Belfast. The premiere was hosted with Féile An Phobail and West Belfast Film Festival. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st July 2016 Brendan Byrne, Professor Siobhan O'Neill, Professor Deirdre Heenan and Trevor Birney are pictured at the film premiere of Bobby Sands: 66 Days at the Omniplex Cinema at the Kennedy Centre in west Belfast. The premiere was hosted with Féile An Phobail and West Belfast Film Festival. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st July 2016 Trevor Birney, Martin McCann and Brendan Byrne are pictured at the film premiere of Bobby Sands: 66 Days at the Omniplex Cinema at the Kennedy Centre in west Belfast. The premiere was hosted with Féile An Phobail and West Belfast Film Festival. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st July 2016 Brendan Wright, Catherine James, Jennifer Wright, Siobhan Wright and Trevor Birney are pictured at the film premiere of Bobby Sands: 66 Days at the Omniplex Cinema at the Kennedy Centre in west Belfast. The premiere was hosted with Féile An Phobail and West Belfast Film Festival. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st July 2016 Rita Harkin and Stephen Douds are pictured at the film premiere of Bobby Sands: 66 Days at the Omniplex Cinema at the Kennedy Centre in west Belfast. The premiere was hosted with Féile An Phobail and West Belfast Film Festival. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st July 2016 Sharon Curran and Eva Grossman are pictured at the film premiere of Bobby Sands: 66 Days at the Omniplex Cinema at the Kennedy Centre in west Belfast. The premiere was hosted with Féile An Phobail and West Belfast Film Festival. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Bobby Sands funeral
©Jonathan Porter/Presseye.com - Press Eye Ltd -Northern Ireland - 1st March 2011. Launch of the Hunger Strike 30th Anniversary Exhibition in the Linen Hall Library, Belfast. Ten republican prisoners died during the 1981 protest inside the Maze Prison. A letter written by Bobby Sands on cigarette paper which was smuggled out of the prison pictured at the exhibition.
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st July 2016 The audience at the film premiere of Bobby Sands: 66 Days at the Omniplex Cinema at the Kennedy Centre in west Belfast. The premiere was hosted with Féile An Phobail and West Belfast Film Festival. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st July 2016 The audience at the film premiere of Bobby Sands: 66 Days at the Omniplex Cinema at the Kennedy Centre in west Belfast. The premiere was hosted with Féile An Phobail and West Belfast Film Festival. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st July 2016 Michele Devlin, festival director, Belfast film festival pictured at the film premiere of Bobby Sands: 66 Days at the Omniplex Cinema at the Kennedy Centre in west Belfast. The premiere was hosted with Féile An Phobail and West Belfast Film Festival. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Michael Fassbender stars in Hunger, the film about the last six weeks in the life of Bobby Sands
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st July 2016 The audience at the film premiere of Bobby Sands: 66 Days at the Omniplex Cinema at the Kennedy Centre in west Belfast. The premiere was hosted with Féile An Phobail and West Belfast Film Festival. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st July 2016 The audience at the film premiere of Bobby Sands: 66 Days at the Omniplex Cinema at the Kennedy Centre in west Belfast. The premiere was hosted with Féile An Phobail and West Belfast Film Festival. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st July 2016 The audience at the film premiere of Bobby Sands: 66 Days at the Omniplex Cinema at the Kennedy Centre in west Belfast. The premiere was hosted with Féile An Phobail and West Belfast Film Festival. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st July 2016 The audience at the film premiere of Bobby Sands: 66 Days at the Omniplex Cinema at the Kennedy Centre in west Belfast. The premiere was hosted with Féile An Phobail and West Belfast Film Festival. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Kieran Doherty died in the Maze prison in 1981 after being on a hunger strike
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st July 2016 Aisling and Seamus Higgins are pictured at the film premiere of Bobby Sands: 66 Days at the Omniplex Cinema at the Kennedy Centre in west Belfast. The premiere was hosted with Féile An Phobail and West Belfast Film Festival. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st July 2016 Paul Mullin and Cathy Church are pictured at the film premiere of Bobby Sands: 66 Days at the Omniplex Cinema at the Kennedy Centre in west Belfast. The premiere was hosted with Féile An Phobail and West Belfast Film Festival. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st July 2016 Ciaran Morrison and Cath Kelly are pictured at the film premiere of Bobby Sands: 66 Days at the Omniplex Cinema at the Kennedy Centre in west Belfast. The premiere was hosted with Féile An Phobail and West Belfast Film Festival. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Former taoiseach Garret FitzGerald pleaded with Ronald Reagan to pile pressure on Margaret Thatcher over the hunger strikes

There was also a fictionalised account of Sands in the 2008 film Hunger, which was part-funded by Northern Ireland Screen.

An adulatory biography of Bobby Sands was written in 2006 by Denis O’Hearn, an Irish-American, who came to Belfast in the 1970s. O’Hearn taught at Queen’s University, sent his children to Scoil na Fuiseoige and became a governor of the school.

O’Hearn also co-authored (with Laurence McKeown, another IRA hunger striker) an illustrated children’s biography of Bobby Sands aimed at primary school children, and this was translated into Irish. Then, earlier this year, there was a full-colour graphic novel with the title Bobby Sands: Freedom Fighter, part-funded by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

Now there is the controversial documentary Bobby Sands: 66 Days and it could be coming to a television set in your house, courtesy of part-funding from Northern Ireland Screen and BBC Four’s prestigious Storyville documentary series.

On Sunday night the Belfast premiere was hosted by the Belfast Film Festival, which was founded by Laurence McKeown, and Feile an Phobail, which looks like a wholly-owned subsidiary of Sinn Fein, so Sinn Fein must be fairly happy with it.

That means there is now a BBC Four documentary to complement the murals, the memorials, the songs, the biography, the children’s biography, the Irish language children’s biography, the Irish language medals and certificates, the graphic novel and the Hollywood films, all about a terrorist, as well as the framed photographs and the posters on sale in the Sinn Fein bookshop.

Sinn Fein wants to rewrite the history of the Troubles and impose its  own narrative, which portrays evil as good.

It also wants to radicalise a new generation of young people and draw them into the republican movement.

This is about Sinn Fein rewriting the past, reassuring its followers and recruiting a new generation of republicans.

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