The Birth of a Republican
From a nationalist ghetto to the battlefield of H-Block
by Bobby Sands, MP
Every time I turned a corner I was met with the now all-too-familiar sight of homes being wrecked and people being lifted. The city was in uproar. Bombings began to become more regular, as did gun battles, as "the boys", the IRA, hit back at the Brits.
The TV now showed endless gun battles and bombings. The people had risen and were fighting back, and my mother, in her newly found spirit of resistance, hurled encouragement at the TV, shouting "give it to them boys!"
Easter 1971 came, and the name on everyone's lips was "the Provos", the people's army, the backbone of nationalist resistance. I was now past my eighteenth years and I was fed up with rioting. No matter how much I tried, or how many stones I threw I could never beat them- the Brits always came back. . . I had seen too many homes wrecked, fathers and sons arrested, neighbours hurt, friends murdered, and too much gas, shootings, and blood; most of it my own people's.
At eighteen-and-a-half I joined the Provos. My mother wept with pride and fear as I went out to meet and confront the imperial might of an empire with an M1 carbine and enough hate to topple the world. To my surprise, my schoolday friends and neighbours became my comrades in war. I soon became much more aware about the whole national liberation struggle - as I came to regard what I used to term "the Troubles."
Things were not easy for a Volunteer in the Irish Republican Army. Already I was being harassed, and twice I was lifted, questioned and brutalised, but I survived both of these trials. Then came another hurricane: internment. Many of my comrades disappeared - interned. Many of my innocent neighbours met the same fate. Others weren't so lucky, they were just murdered.
My life now centered around sleepless nights and standbys, dodging the Brits, and calming nerves to go out on operations. But the people stood by us. The people not only opened the doors of their homes to us to lend a hand, but the opened their hearts to us, and I soon learned that without the people we could not survive and I knew that I owed them everything.
1972 came, and I had spent what was to be my last Christmas at home for quite a while. The Brits never let up. No mercy was shown, as was testified by the atrocity of Bloody Sunday in Derry. But we continued to fight back, as did my jailed comrades, who embarked upon a long hunger-strike to gain recognition as political prisoners. Political status was won just before the first, but short-lived, truce of 1972. During this truce the IRA made ready and braced itself for the forthcoming massive Operation Motorman, which came and wet, taking with it the barricades.
The liberation struggle forged ahead, but then came personal disaster - I was captured. It was the autumn of '72. I was charged, and for the first time I faced jail. I was nineteen and a half, but I had no alternative than to face up to tall the hardship that was before me.
Given the stark corruptness of the judicial system, I refused to recognise the court. I ended up sentenced in a barbed wire cage, where I spent three and a half years as a prisoner of war with "special category status". I did not waste my time. I did not allow the rigours of prison life to change my revolutionary determination an inch. I educated and trained myself both in political and military matters, as did my comrades.
In 1976, when I was released, I was not broken. In fact I was more determined in the fight for liberation. I reported back to my local IRA unit and threw myself straight back into the struggle. Quite alot of things had changed. Some parts of the ghettos had completely disappeared, and others were in the process of being removed. The war was still forging ahead, although tactics and strategy had changed.
At first I found it a little bit hard to adjust, but I settled into the run of things and, at the grand old age of twenty-three, I got married. Life wasn't bad, but there were still alot of things that had not changed, such as the presence of the armed British troops on our streets and the oppression of our people.
The liberation struggle was now seven years old, and had braved a second and mistakenly-prolonged ceasefire. The British government was now seeking to Ulsterise the war, which included the attempted criminalisation of the IRA and attempted normalisation of the war situation. The liberation struggle had to be kept going. Thus, six months after my release, disaster fell a second time as I bombed my way back into jail!