Northern Ireland

Bobby Sands originally wanted to be buried in Co Mayo but later 'changed his mind'

Bobby Sands's grave in the republican plot in Milltown Cemetery, west Belfast, on the 40th anniversary of his death on May 5 1981. Picture by Mal McCann
Bobby Sands's grave in the republican plot in Milltown Cemetery, west Belfast, on the 40th anniversary of his death on May 5 1981. Picture by Mal McCann

IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands initially indicated he wanted to be buried in Ballina, Co Mayo, but communications from jail suggest he later changed his mind, the chairman of the Bobby Sands Trust has said.

Former IRA prisoner Anthony McIntyre yesterday published a communication from Sands, on the 40th anniversary of the 27-year-old's death in the Maze prison, which outlined his dislike of Milltown Cemetery, his wish to be buried elsewhere and his request not to be buried in a suit or shroud.

In the communication, Sands mentioned the possibility of being buried in Ballina where IRA hunger strikers Michael Gaughan and Frank Stagg, who died in the 1970s, were laid to rest.

McIntyre wrote that: "His family were not made aware of his written preferences. Nor were they shown the comm in which he expressed them.

"He is buried in Milltown Cemetery in a shroud."

However, Danny Morrison, chairman of the Bobby Sands Trust, said after Sands went on hunger strike in March 1981, he sent a subsequent communication showing he had changed his mind about being buried in Ballina.

Mr Morrison sent The Irish News excerpts of transcripts of a series of communications in which Sands discussed his burial wishes.

The communications are part of the Bobby Sands Trust archive which was donated to the National Library of Ireland in Dublin. The Trust has kept typed transcripts of the documents.

In the first communication in early February 1981 - weeks before he went on hunger strike - Sands said he wanted to be buried in the Republic because he had not seen his sister Bernadette, who was on the run, for more than three years.

"Because of her (and I’m not trying to be smart or stupid or mimic anyone) I wanted buried down there [the Republic]," the communication reads.

In a subsequent communication, dated February 15 1981, he suggested he could be buried in Ballina in Co Mayo alongside republican hunger strikers Michael Gaughan and Frank Stagg.

"Sent you a message with Signer [his solicitor] the other night, i.e., Ballina.

"No one else knows about this and it is a genuine, personal wish. I’ll be getting Signer to write it down so as it will be adhered to by my family."

A subsequent communication, dated February 25, 1981, was published on McIntyre's The Pensive Quill blog yesterday.

In it, Sands wrote that he had considered several possible resting places.

"You see comrade we have (all of us) our little human fears and wishes and so on, to be honest I don't like Milltown, what the difference at that stage," it reads.

"We always wanted buried in Carnmoney the Catholic part of which lies under the shade of the west side of Carnmoney hill. I wrote a poem about this once, you should have it there, my reasons are many, as you know I grew up out there, even I realize that this during a war could never for obvious reasons, so there is also the consideration of my sister who I haven't seen for four years and whom I won't see again.

"That is why I wanted to go to Ballina and there are other reasons none of which pertain to the political hazzle involved. I even considered [Fochuairt], which lies on the Free State side of the South Armagh border.

"I don't like Milltown and that's being honest you're probably wrecked calling me a morbid eccentric, I'm not I'm human and worry on wee things like those and finally I wanted wrapped in a blanket cause I don't want humiliated in a stinkin' suit or shroud and I've said enough."

However, Sands sent a later communication, dated March 9 1981 - several days after he went on hunger strike on March 1 - in which he said he had changed his mind.

"If I don’t get seeing the Signer you should tell him of my change of heart on the Ballina thing, or should I say, change of mind..." he wrote.

Mr Morrison said in all subsequent communications, Sands made no other references to be buried in Ballina, Co Mayo.

"He did want to be buried in Ballina but he changed his mind," he said.

"That comm (communication) exists in the National Library."

Mr Morrison said it was a hugely sensitive issue, given the anniversary of Sands's death.

"The assumption would be that Belfast republicans were buried in Milltown cemetery," he said.

"All the other republicans who died on hunger strike were buried in republican plots.

"Kevin Lynch was in the family plot but it is a republican grave.

"They were all buried with republican ceremonies, military funerals, and they went to republican plots."

Mr Morrison said the initial communication in early February, 1981, in which he initially stated he wanted to be buried in the Republic "appears on page 55 of David Beresford’s Ten Men Dead which was published in 1987".

He said that when Sands's sisters Bernadette and Marcella sat on the Bobby Sands Trust they did not raise his final resting place as an issue.

In 2018, Sands's sister Bernadette Sands-McKevitt denounced his former comrades from the pulpit at their mother Rosaleen's funeral.

She said that republicans ignored her brother's burial wishes following his death.