May 5, 1981: 27-year-old Irish Political Prisoner, Bobby Sands, a leader in the struggle against British imperialism and occupation of Northern Ireland as a solider in the Irish Republican Army (IRA), died following a 66-day hunger strike.
On a hunger strike to protest the British government’s removal of IRA soldiers status as Political Prisoners, the strike had five demands: 1) the right not to wear prison uniforms; 2) the right not to do prison work; 3) the right to free association with other prisoners and to organize educational and recreational pursuits; 4) the right to one visit, one letter and one parcel each week; 5) full restoration of remission lost through the protest.
Sands, who ate his last meal on February 29th, had been an IRA soldier 10 years before his imprisonment in what was known as Her Majesty’s Prison Maze. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher refused to negotiate with the strikers resulting in the deaths of Sands and nine others before it was called off.
Upwards of 70,000 people lined the funeral procession as the body of Bobby Sands was carried from St. Luke’s Chapel to its final resting place. Ultimately, European and global outrage led to support and the transformation of the IRA and its fight for Irish freedom into the mainstream Sinn Fein party.