Tributes paid to hunger striker Bobby Sands on what would have been his 66th birthday
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Tributes paid to hunger striker Bobby Sands on what would have been his 66th birthday

TRIBUTES HAVE been paid to Irishman Bobby Sands today, on what would have been his 66th birthday.

The Provisional IRA member and leader of the Maze Prison hunger strikes was born in County Antrim on this day in 1954.

He was elected MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone during his imprisonment, and died at the age of 27 after 66 days on hunger strike in an attempt for those interned under the Northern Irish Special Powers Act to be treated as political prisoners.

100,000 people lined the streets to mourn the leader of the hunger strikers, but British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher addressed the House of Commons by saying: "Mr. Sands was a convicted criminal. He chose to take his own life. It was a choice that his organisation did not allow to many of its victims."

Twenty three men took part in the strikes, which lasted 7 months in total.

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Ten died of starvation, including Bobby Sands.

His strike sparked international scrutiny in how the British Government treated prisoners in Northern Ireland: at the time, Mayor of Vermont, Bernie Sanders, even wrote a letter to Margaret Thatcher urging her to "stop the abuse, humiliation and degrading treatment of the Irish prisoners now on hunger strikes in Northern Ireland".

The letter from Bernie Sanders to maragret Thatcher, posted on Reddit by user TheHowlinReeds

Public figures and organisations in Ireland and around the world have been paying tribute to Sands, who would have turned 66 today, with many using his own quotes to honour him.

US political outlet Jacobin posted a photograph of the iconic Bobby Sands mural, which can be found in Belfast, alongside the words "Our revenge will be the laughter of our children".

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French outlet France Culture marked the date by writing the same quote in French, alongside a few words acknowledging that while some consider him a terrorist due to his PIRA background, othersview him as a martyr who fought to defend Catholics and protest against the treatment of prisoners in Northern Ireland.

Ogham Art, an art business which focuses on the ancient Irish language of Ogham, honoured him with an old quote which states "repression...creates the revolutionary spirit of freedom".

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And Nació Digital, an outlet from Catalonia, whose own political atmosphere has recently been affected by bids for independence from Spain, also honoured "one of the icons of the Republican cause".

On this day in 1981, Sands was spending his birthday in Maze Prison, where he would live for a further two months until his death.

In his prison diary at the time, he wrote on this day:

"It is my birthday and the boys are having a sing-song for me, bless their hearts. I braved it to the door, at their request, to make a bit of a speech, for what it was worth.

"I wrote to several friends today including Bernie and my mother. I feel all right and my weight is 60kgs".

The Bobby Sands mural in Belfast (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
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He went on to describe how Irish revolutionary James Connolly inspired him, for the "great calm and dignity he showed right to his very end, his courage and resolve".

At the end, he wrote:

"I have gotten by twenty-seven years, so that is something.
"I may die, but the Republic of 1916 will never die. Onward to the Republic and liberation of our people."