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Father of Maze hunger striker Bobby Sands dies at the age of 91

John Sands pictured front left, carrying his sons coffin in May 1981

John Sands pictured front left, carrying his sons coffin in May 1981

The father of IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands has died in hospital aged 91.

John Sands was not a public figure and was rarely mentioned in the media.

He died surrounded by his family on Saturday morning.

Mr Sands – along with wife Rosaleen and children Bobby, Marcella and John jnr – was living in the predominantly Protestant Rathcoole estate in Newtownabbey when the Troubles erupted, leading to the polarisation of the two communities.

He moved his family to the sprawling, mainly Catholic Twinbrook estate on the outskirts of west Belfast.

In a magazine article shortly after the IRA hunger strike of the early 1980s, John snr, the product of a mixed Catholic/Protestant marriage, was quoted as saying the whole family felt betrayed.

“I was a war veteran of the British Navy at Anzio and the South Pacific. The freedom I fought for didn’t help us,” he said.

His son Bobby would come to prominence as the first of 10 republican prisoners to die in the Maze Prison on hunger strike.

Pictures of John snr carrying his son’s coffin, along with one-time Sinn Fein MP Owen Carron, were carried in the media following the funeral in May 1981.

Among the newspaper death notices for Mr Sands this week were those from his daughters Marcella and Bernadette (Sands-McKevitt) and her husband Michael, and son John.

Ms Sands-McKevitt has been an outspoken opponent of the Good Friday Agreement and is a founder member of the 32 County Sovereignty Movement.

Following the signing of the agreement in 1998, she said: “Bobby did not die for cross-border bodies with executive powers.

“He did not die for nationalists to be equal British citizens within the Northern Ireland state.”

John Sands’ funeral is due to take place this morning at St Agnes’ church on the Andersonstown Road, followed by burial in the City Cemetery.

 

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