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Bobby Sands was an Irish nationalist who led a hunger strike in prison in 1981. He was elected Member of Parliament during the strike and died May 5, 1981.
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Born in 1954, Bobby Sands grew up in Belfast under the cloud of nationalist and loyalist divisions. He joined the Republican Movement when he was 18 and was soon arrested and imprisoned for possessing a firearm. A second arrest in 1976 led to a 14-year-sentence. In prison, Sands embarked on a long hunger strike that led to his death. During the strike he was elected a Member of Parliament.
"It is repression that creates the revolutionary spirit of freedom."
"I was only a working-class boy from a Nationalist ghetto. But it is repression that creates the revolutionary spirit of freedom."
A hero among Irish nationalists, Robert Gerard "Bobby" Sands was born in Belfast, Ireland on March 9, 1954. Bobby Sands was the oldest of four children born to John and Rosaleen Sands, and the couple's first son. At an early age, Sands's life was affected by the sharp divisions that shaped Northern Ireland. At the age of 10, he was forced to move with his family out of their neighborhood due to repeated intimidation by British loyalists.
"I was only a working-class boy from a Nationalist ghetto," Sands later wrote about his childhood. "But it is repression that creates the revolutionary spirit of freedom."
Loyalist intimidation proved to be a theme in Sands's life. At the age of 18, he was forced out of his job as an apprentice car builder (he had joined the National Union of Vehicle Builders just two years before) by a group of British supporters. Not long after, he and his family had to move again, as a result of political trouble.
The steady number of conflicts pushed Sands to join the Republican Movement in 1972. His ties to the movement soon captured the attention of the authorities, and later that year, he was arrested and charged with possessing firearms in his house. He spent the next three years of his life in prison. Upon his release, Sands immediately returned to the Republican Movement. He signed on as a community activist in Belfast's rough Twinbrook area, quickly becoming a popular go-to person for a range of issues affecting the neighborhood.
In late 1976, authorities arrested Sands again, this time in connection with a bombing that had taken place at a large furniture company, and an ensuing gun battle. After weathering a brutal interrogation and then a court proceeding that offered up questionable evidence connecting Sands and three others to the attack, a judge sentenced Sands to 14 years in prison at Her Majesty's Prison's Maze, a facility used to house Republican prisoners from 1971 until 2000, located just outside of Belfast.
As a prisoner, Sands's stature only grew. He pushed hard for prison reforms, confronting authorities, and for his outspoken ways, he was frequently given solitary confinement sentences. Sands's contention was that he and others like him, who were serving prison sentences, were actually prisoners of war, not criminals as the British government insisted.
Beginning on March 1, 1981, Sands led nine other Republican prisoners into the H Block section of the Maze prison, on a hunger strike that would last until death. Their demands ranged from allowing prisoners to wear their own clothes to permitting visits and mail, all of which were central in improving the inmates' way of life.
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The 1980s were an important era in London marked by several significant social and historical events. On July 29, 1981 the United Kingdom saw the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana. The new Princess of Wales soon became a cultural icon—noted for her patronage, charity work and refined sense of fashion. Another history maker, Margaret Thatcher, served as Britain's first female prime minister, soon establishing herself as the authoritative "Iron Lady." Biography.com looks at these powerful women and the many other figures of the '80s, who made their mark on the decade.
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