Bobby Sands joined the Provisional IRA as a teenager and was imprisoned in 1972 for possession of weapons. Shortly after his release in 1976 he was arrested for possession of a firearm and sentenced to 14 years in the H Block at HMP Maze/Long Kesh.
At this time in Long Kesh there were around 300 'blanket protesters'; prisoners who refused to wear prison uniform or carry out prison duties in protest against the withdrawal of 'special category status' or political prisoner status for republican prisoners in 1976.
The blanket protests escalated into a 'no-wash protest' following violent clashes between prisoners and staff, when protesters did not leave their cells to wash or empty chamber pots. The situation worsened on 1st March 1981 when Bobby Sands became the first of 23 prisoners to go on hunger strike.
Whilst on hunger strike Bobby Sands was put forward as an Anti-H Block/Armagh Political Prisoner candidate for a by-election and was subsequently elected MP for Fermanagh & South Tyrone. Despite this remarkable turn of events, the British Government continued to refuse to concede to the hunger strikers' demands.
Sands died aged 27 from starvation on 5th May 1981, after 66 days on hunger strike. His death prompted rioting in nationalist areas across the north of Ireland and made international headlines as far afield as Cuba, Tehran and South Africa. Over 100,000 people attended his funeral at Milltown Cemetery, where he was buried in the Republican Plot.
A further 9 men lost their lives during the hunger strike, before it was called to an end on the 3rd October 1981.
The British Government changed the law so no other prisoner could be elected MP.