Mercier Press, £7.99
The story of Bobby Sands is well known to anyone who has taken even a cursory glance at Northern Irish history. A member of the IRA since the early seventies, Sands served his first prison term as a 'special category' or political prisoner in the Maze prison at Long Kesh. Released in 1976, he was re-arrested just six months later and sentenced to fourteen years for possession of a gun.
Sands was returned to the newly built H-Blocks at Long Kesh. By that stage, the 'special category' had been abandoned and political prisoners were to be treated in the same way as other criminals. Together with many of his comrades, Sands refused to wear the prison uniform and they began a 'dirty protest', refusing to wash and slop-out. Their protest escalated into a hunger strike in 1981. While Sands was on hunger strike he was elected MP to Westminister for Fermanagh and South Tyrone but died soon after, on 5 May 1981, after sixty-six days on hunger strike.
This book, written during the 'dirty protest' is an account of one day in Bobby Sands' life from waking, naked and cold in his filthy cell to his last words of the day "Tiocfaidh ár lá" (our day will come). No martyr here but instead a man who sometimes gets down about what he's doing, fears the casual beatings and cruelties handed out by the prison warders and looks forward to the monthly half-hour visits from his family. It is a snapshot of a day in what Sands described as a "stinking, smelly tomb", where the value of a packet of tissues, a tiny ball of tobacco or a cell-bound sing-song at night is inestimable. Sands was an ordinary man who did the extraordinary thing of dying for his beliefs although, from the account in this book, living for them was almost more difficult.