Sunday Night Music Byte
Black 47 is a Celtic rock band made up of Irish expatriates, formed in the Bronx, by Larry Kirwan and Chris Byrne in 1989. Their name is derived from 1847, the worst year of the Great Irish Famine. It began as a two-piece with Larry Kirwan on vocals and electric guitar and Chris Byrne on whistles. Their first performance was in the Bronx on October 2, 1989. During the first year a horn section was added with Fred Parcells on trombone and Geoffrey Blythe on saxophones. Later they were joined by Thomas Hamlin on drums.
In 1991 the band released an eponymous independent album.
The Cars’ Ric Ocasek produced “Fire of Freedom” their first major label release in 1993. “Home of the Brave” followed in 1994 with Jerry Harrison serving as producer. In 1996 the band shifted from EMI to Mercury Records. They released “Green Suede Shoes”.
In their tenth year together, Black 47 released a limited edition compilation “Ten Bloody Years” and their first live recording “Live In New York City” which took place in the now defunct Wetlands nightclub.
In 2000, founding member Chris Byrne left the band to focus on his solo music project Seanchaí and the Unity Squad.
Black 47 have made television appearances on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Late Show with David Letterman, Late Night with Conan O’Brien and Gay Byrne’s Late Late Show in Ireland.
Tonight’s video clip is of the Black 47 song, “Bobby Sands MP”.
Robert Gerard Sands (Irish: Roibeárd Gearóid Ó Seachnasaigh), commonly known as Bobby Sands, (9 March 1954 – 5 May 1981), was an Irish Provisional Irish Republican Army volunteer and member of the United Kingdom Parliament who died on hunger strike while in HM Prison Maze (also known as Long Kesh).
He was the leader of the 1981 hunger strike, in which Irish republican prisoners protested against the removal of Special Category Status. During his strike he was elected as a member of the United Kingdom Parliament as an Anti H-Block/Armagh Political Prisoner candidate. His death resulted in a new surge of IRA recruitment and activity. The international media coverage brought attention to the hunger strikers, and the Republican movement in general, attracting both praise and criticism.
Irish Republican prisoners had organised a series of protests seeking to regain their previous Special Category Status and not be subject to ordinary prison regulations. This started with the “blanket protest” in 1976, when the prisoners refused to wear prison uniform and wore blankets instead. In 1978, after a number of attacks on prisoners leaving their cells to “slop out” (i.e., empty their chamber pots), this escalated into the dirty protest, where prisoners refused to wash and smeared the walls of their cells with excrement.
The 1981 Irish hunger strike started with Sands refusing food on 1 March 1981. Sands decided that other prisoners should join the strike at staggered intervals in order to maximise publicity with prisoners steadily deteriorating successively over several months.
The hunger strike centred around the “Five Demands”:
- the right not to wear a prison uniform;
- the right not to do prison work;
- the right of free association with other prisoners, and to organise educational and recreational pursuits;
- the right to one visit, one letter and one parcel per week;
- full restoration of remission lost through the protest.
The significance of the hunger strike was the prisoners’ aim of being declared as political prisoners (or prisoners of war) and not to be classed as criminals.
Three weeks later, Sands died in the prison hospital after 66 days of hunger-striking, aged 27. The original pathologist’s report recorded Sands’ and the other hunger strikers’ causes of death as “self-imposed starvation”, later amended to simply “starvation” after protests from the dead strikers’ families. The coroner recorded verdicts of “starvation, self-imposed”.
The announcement of his death prompted several days of riots in nationalist areas of Northern Ireland. A milkman and his son, Eric and Desmond Guiney, died as a result of injuries sustained when their milk float crashed after being stoned by rioters in a predominantly nationalist area of north Belfast. Over 100,000 people lined the route of Sands’ funeral and he was buried in the ‘New Republican Plot’ alongside 76 others. Their grave is maintained and cared for by the National Graves Association, Belfast Sands was a Member of the Westminster Parliament for 25 days, though he never took his seat or the oath.
In response to a question in the House of Commons on 5 May 1981, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said, “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”. The official announcement of Sands’ death in the House of Commons omitted the customary expression of sense of loss and sympathy with the family of the member. Nine other IRA and Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) members who were involved in the 1981 Irish Hunger Strike also died after Sands.
Bobby Sands was survived by his parents, siblings, and a young son (Gerard) from his marriage to Geraldine Noade.