IRA VOLUNTEER, hero, martyr, terrorist, criminal, political prisoner, poet, MP for Fermanagh-South Tyrone, writer, icon, Irish Republican - Bobby Sands was some of these things, and he has been described as all of these things.
In this year of the 35th anniversary of the 1981 hunger strikes, the leading and iconic figure in that event, Bobby Sands, is the subject of a new documentary, Bobby Sands: 66 Days, directed by Brendan Byrne, will be screened on Friday July 8 at 4pm in the Town Hall Theatre, as part of the 2016 Galway Film Fleadh.
The best place to get to know Sands is through his prose and poetry as collected in his book Writings From Prison, but Sands' life and actions also had very wide and far reaching consequences. The hunger strikes saw the IRA (and INLA ) in a duel to the death with Margaret Thatcher in a demand for the right to be recognised as political prisoners.
Thatcher refused to give way and won praise for her stance. Yet, after the hunger strikes were called off, the prisoners demands were quietly met. In the following years, British diplomats were instructed that the strikes were a defeat for the UK government. Sands' stance turned him into an international figure, and his election as an MP became a powerful argument for Sinn Féin to embrace politics, leading the movement towards eventual ceasefire and the peace process.
66 Days tells the story of Sands’ life on film for the first time, based on the diary he kept for the 17 days of his hunger strike, along with eye-witness testimony, unseen archive, reconstructions, and animation. Alongside this, the film also seeks to understand the events that first politicised Sands and the influences of Irish Republican history on Sands’ actions.
Variety said of the film: "This finely crafted documentary may well long stand as the most balanced among such treatments, as it respectfully examines Sands’ folk-heroic legacy rather than simply amplifying it."
Tickets are available from the Town Hall on 091 - 569777 or www.tht.ie There will be a panel discussion post-screening with Brendan Byrne and The Irish Times' Fintan O’Toole.