Tuesday, May 26, 2020

the last book I ever read (Patrick Radden Keefe's Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland, excerpt eight)

from Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe:

He never came. On May 5, 1981, Bobby Sands died. It was the sixty-sixth day of his strike, and just as Terence MacSwiney’s death had six decades earlier, the story made headlines around the world. Gerry Adams later recalled Sands’s death as having “a greater international impact than any other event in Ireland in my lifetime.” One hundred thousand people poured onto the streets of Belfast to watch his coffin being carried to the cemetery. There was an overwhelming upsurge of support for the republican cause on both sides of the border in Ireland. Thatcher showed no remorse over taking a firm line. “Mr. Sands was a convicted criminal,” she declared after his death. “He chose to take his own life. It was a choice his organization did not allow to many of its victims.”

But while the world focused on her fatal contest of wills with Bobby Sands, Thatcher had quietly shown that she was capable of mercy when it came to Dolours Price. Two weeks before Sands died, Price had been released “on medical grounds,” and the balance of her twenty-year sentence had been remitted. The official explanation for this decision was that she was “in imminent danger of sudden collapse and death.”

For years afterwards, Price would weep when she thought of that moment, in which Bobby Sands perished and she was set free. The Price sisters had stared down the British crown on two occasions, and in both instances, the damage they inflicted upon their own bodies was enough to make them prevail. Sands may have been less fortunate, in that he perished, but he was more fortunate in the sense that he achieved more in martyrdom than he ever might have had he lived. And Humphrey Atkins and Thatcher had been wrong when they speculated that among the ten strikers there must be at least one weak link. After Sands died, another nine followed, starving to death one by one throughout that summer.

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