Monday, December 25, 2006
Be Like Bobby!
The following piece is an article from Ógra Shinn Féin National Organiser Barry McColgan. He wrote the piece for the Ógra publication 'Awaiting the Lark' which is available to buy at most Sinn Féin shops and also online at www.osf.pro.ie. (All profit will be used to publish further publications.) Copies limited.
The article is interesting in the fact that the author was not born at the time of the hungerstrike yet it was this massive sacrifice that inspired this young republican to get involved in the republican struggle.
In the classrooms, nurseries, workplace, the children and people of Cuba have a saying, ‘Be like Che!’It demonstrates the utmost respect for a National hero, a revolutionary who bravely assisted the people of Cuba in their victorious struggle to freedom, and who died struggling to achieve another beacon of hope in Bolivia.
So it is only right that the people pay homage to this fine revolutionary, ‘El Che’ and aspire to live their lives according to his ideals.
In Ireland we have many national heroes, many brave comrades who have paid the ultimate sacrifice to ensure the Proclamation words become a reality, dying on active service, or on Hungerstrike and while every contribution is just as important and valued, there is something about the 1981 hungerstrike which sticks out in the mind, something heartbreaking, inspirational, iconic!
Perhaps it is that all the other deaths were so sudden and abrupt, while the Hungerstrike was drawn out, young men, full of energy, with young families and their whole life in front of them preparing to die for their people.
So the Hungerstrike of 1981 was iconic and the Leader of that Hungerstrike Bobby Sands an icon, an image of hope, of bravery, of kindness and selflessness to oppressed people the world over.
A beacon of light to humanity, a young man who in an increasingly materialistic world give up everything for his nation and its people – our hero – our role model is Bobby Sands, and I think it is only right that we begin to advocate the use of the quote, ‘Be like Bobby!’ Inspiring our children to have all the fine qualities of this outstanding individual.
So, my thoughts on the Hungerstrike, first of all I think it is very important to point out that I wasn’t alive during the Hungerstrike – I would have to wait another 3 years, July 1984 until I was born into the occupied 6 Counties of Ulster.
In 1981 my father, who is now a Sinn Féin Councillor in Omagh District Council was only 17 and it was during this time he got involved in the struggle. I write this because during the first 10 years of my life, my entire knowledge of the Hungerstrike was from seeing posters, An Phoblachts and leaflets of 1981 around the house, and then asking my Da questions about it?
I always remember viewing the pictures of the Hungerstrikes as good and with pride, I always remembered Bobby Sand’s name because he was constantly mentioned, Martin Hurson because he was from Tyrone, and Patsy O’Hara because he looked like a neighbour of mine.
But from an early age the Hungerstrike to me filled me with thoughts of good and something to be proud of! The image of Maggie Thatcher conjured up other feelings – its funny how childlike thoughts get it so right and remain.My father and uncle were imprisoned during the war and so at an early age I remember visiting the Courts, the Crum, and the Kesh!
Stories of the Blanket, no wash and that awful year of 1981 always accompanied the journey on the way home, usually with the lingering question, ‘How did they do it?’I also remember attending Republican marches and the faces of the Hungerstrikers being carried, so my early age give me a great awareness from which I developed a massive interest in Irish History, all the factors leading up to the Hungerstrike and after.
In school, I learnt snippets of that era, but after joining Ógra Shinn Féin in the Summer of 2001, I remember reading the diary of Bobby Sands, so human, such an easy read and yet details everything it means to be an Irish Republican, egalitarian – achieving equality for all the people, selflessness, a national liberation movement part of a global struggle to free oppressed people, community led socialism – of the people, with the people, for the people, and one of the most important things that the diary taught me is that ‘ no matter how dark, never lose hope, there is always a way!’
Those inspirational words and the Hungerstrikers courageous, selfless sacrifice keep me going every moment of every day!
Republican valour and truth, dedication to the struggle and the people will always provide a way to smash any deadlock and force the struggle onwards.I realise now after travelling to other oppressed nations like the Basque Country and Corsica why Irish Republicans are held in such high regard – 1981 was a beacon of hope to so many oppessed people around the world - we should always remember this, the regard we are held internationally is testament to the calibre of activists the struggle commands past and present.
The Hungerstrikers to me are an endless source of inspiration, in times of difficulty I always think ‘What Would Bobby Sands do?’, they are an endless source of answers to any question, how can anyone attempt to criminalise, crush a struggle that answers back with enormous selfless courage like in 1981.
The legacy of the Hungerstrike and of the Prison struggle is the birth of a new confidence in Republicans, a new generation of activists, broad international and domestic support, challenged Republicans to diversify strategy and develop new arenas of struggle, the Peace Process and of course to create 10 icons of immense struggle, guiding all of us forward to freedom.
I am of the age of the Hungerstrikers, I think it is very important to point out, that all of the Hungerstrikers were of Ógra Shinn Fein age. (16-29)
I often think that young activists forget how lucky we are, while we undoubtedly face problems in our life and in the struggle, we must always find a way. I see the strength and dedication in young activists, I know that there is a Mairead, a Martin or a Bobby amongst the young Ógra activists of today, maybe prison and very direct oppression truly exposes the very character, the best qualities in people. But I know that every quality the Hungerstrikers possessed is within our young activists of today.
Young activists need to put our struggle in perspective and from this will come confidence, while we enjoy relative freedom, can socialise, go to the pub and discos, go to University, eat good food, watch TV, enjoy the company of our loved ones, have a relationship – do all the things normal young people do – the prisoners from the Hungerstrike era where locked in their confined cells 24 hours a day/7 days a week, had nothing but a coarse blanket as a garment, excrement on the walls, a flimsy foam sheet as a mattress, flooded cells, constant freezing temperature, no reading material or music (apart from Hurson Boy), no drink, no relationship, terrible food, endured constant beatings and torture from the screws – they were tough times and they truly had something to worry about, yet they adapted with massive resilience and got on with it!
Whatever problems we encounter truly are wee buns! With the Hungerstrikers in our hearts and minds we can overcome anything in our path, we are the generation who will see the rising of the moon – Onwards to the Socialist Republic!