Conflicted Visions
Troubles Cinema, Political Myths, and Steve McQueen's Hunger
Charles Andrews

The clock of hunger-strikers dead is not ignored
with ease
and ‘please, God, please keep loved ones safe’
was then
repeated round and round and round
like rosaries told upon a bead,...

With his customary humility, the Irish poet, playwright, senator, and occultist W. B. Yeats took credit for inventing the hunger strike in 1904 through his verse drama The King’s Threshold. This dramatic work depicts a poet starving himself to regain his privileged access to the court, and Yeats claimed in his notes that “when I wrote this play neither suffragette nor patriot had adopted the hunger strike, nor had the hunger strike been used anywhere, so far as I know, as a political weapon” (315). In the play, Yeats’s poet Seanchan (pronounced “Shanahan” by the playwright) upholds his principled stance against the outrage of the aristocrats, his peers, and the common people, and his visionary self-destruction is blessed as heroic martyrdom. The titular king in the play rues Seanchan’s actions and the disgrace that will come upon his governance, since “The common people, for all time to come, / Will raise a heavy cry against that threshold, / Even though it be the King’s” (258). But what also emerges in the play is a dispute about the appropriateness of this technique, as characters like the Old Pupil and others argue that Seanchan is dying for a trivial custom and using a weapon that is disproportionate to the fight.

Whether Yeats’s version of the origins of hunger striking is accurate or not, his play has become a touchstone for analyses of the political hunger strikes in Northern Ireland, where Seanchan remains a spiritual and moral emblem of the Republican cause.1 Bruce Beresford, for instance, author of Ten Men Dead, the most celebrated history of the protests in Belfast’s Long Kesh prison, quotes Yeats’s play at the beginning of each chapter in his book and concludes with a triumphant excerpt from a speech by Seanchan: “When I and these are dead / We should be carried to some windy hill / To lie there with uncovered face a while / That mankind and that leper there may know / Dead faces laugh. King! King! Dead faces laugh.” This final phrase was even Beresford’s preferred title for his book, suggesting the ultimate triumph of the Hunger Strike and the much-displayed, grinning photograph of Bobby Sands that became an icon for Irish Republican politics (2006, 250).2

The climax of Northern Ireland’s Hunger Strikes occurred in 1981 with the deaths of ten IRA prisoners in Belfast, men who were agitating for a set of rights relating to their treatment as political prisoners of war rather than as criminals. Margaret Thatcher’s government categorically refused to recognize the IRA prisoners as anything other than terrorists and law-breakers, and the Prime Minister’s famous iron will remained rigid as one by one the men succumbed to starvation, beginning with the charismatic and good-looking Bobby Sands. To this day, the effect of these hunger strikes and the righteousness of the prisoners’ claims remains controversial.

Studying the Northern Ireland conflict of (roughly) 1968 to 1998 always entails stepping onto contested ground.3 Even the commonplace name for this conflict—“The Troubles”—sounds quaint and trivializing and is fraught with misunderstanding. The poet and conflict mediator Pádraig Ó Tuama explains this etymology in his prose-poem “Sorry for Your Troubles” which begins with a “gay British Asiancomedian at a club in Belfast saying “What about the troubles, then? Why do you people call it that? It sounds so twee. It sounds like a spot of bother” (4). This story is paired with the words of a Republican man, who saysDon’t call this war in Ireland the troubles… Some English bastard made that word up, I’m sure.” Correcting both of these views, Ó Tuama continues: “In Irish, there isnt a specific word for bereavement. In English, the wordbereavemeans to deprive of, to despoil, to seize or rob. There isn’t a word for this in the Irish language. Our way of saying bereavement is trioblóid, which, anglicised, is troubled” (5).4 In the Troubled terrain of Ireland’s North, even the very name of the land is contentious—Catholics prefer “the North of Ireland,” while Protestants say “Northern Ireland”—and attention to language is deeply political.

These were a few of the many lessons learned during my recent time in Northern Ireland with a group of fifteen professors from multiple disciplines at Lilly Network schools who convened at the Corrymeela Centre in Ballycastle during July 2012 for a seminar called “Teaching Peace and Reconciliation in Northern Ireland.” The seminar was led by the above-mentioned poet Pádraig Ó Tuama, a Catholic from Cork who lives in Belfast and serves the Corrymeela Community in many capacities relating to group therapy, conflict resilience, and art.

At Corrymeela, people from opposing sides of the Conflict are routinely brought into lengthy listening sessions, asked to hear each others’ stories of loss and to see one another as human beings and fellow-sufferers rather than “ideas” or emblems of the “Other Side.” At our sessions, we conversed with professors, clergy, peace workers, former (and not-so-former) paramilitaries—people from across the spectrum of difference in Northern Ireland. Everyone who engages in group work at Corrymeela shares their stories, their grief, and dishwashing, an activity that often yields as much community-building as a therapy session. The shared labors following each meal are essential to seeing the Other as an embodied, living person instead of as just a symbol. The poet Eavan Boland has condemned the tendency she finds in Irish poetry for women to be reduced to merely symbolic status: “The wrath and grief of Irish history seemed to me—as it did to many—one of our true possessions. Women were part of that wrath, had endured that grief. It seemed to me a species of human insult that at the end of all, in certain Irish poems, they should become elements of style rather than aspects of truth” (356–7). Wrath and grief are crucial parts of peoplesstories of bereavement, and Boland’s insistence on recognizing women’s real and embodied selves is put into practice for all people at Corrymeela.

The healing effects of embodied communities like Corrymeela and other peace centers exist in stark contrast to the bodily assault of hunger strikes. What makes these acts by Seanchan, early twentieth-century suffragettes, and today’s Guantanamo Bay prisoners so powerful is that the individual suffering becomes symbolic of larger concerns shared by all involved in the protest. For the prisoners in Long Kesh, having their political demands rejected required a grand gesture. Initially, the prisoners refused prison-issued uniforms, choosing to be naked and wrapped in blankets as long as their own clothing was denied. Then they quit shaving, showering, or getting hair-cuts in what became the “no-wash protest.” Their penultimate phase was the “dirty protest,” where the prisoners refused to “slop out” their cells, choosing instead to smear the walls with food scraps and their own excrement to produce political art out of abject squalor.5 This array of bodily humiliations culminated in the Hunger Strike, the ultimate form of physical self-denial and display of personal destruction for a grand cause.

The destructiveness of hunger striking is captured particularly well in Ó Tuamas poemhunger strikerswhich serves as the epigraph for this essay. The poem describes in imagistic form the appearance of the strikers: “all those younger faces became stripped and old / eyes shrunk back and foreheads cold & bold / with skin that’s limp and paper thin, / barely separating blood and bone from stone” (9). In the wasting and aging faces, we find icons of the political protest, an iconography that embellishes the rosary bead image from earlier in the poem. Part of Ó Tuama’s effect here is achieved through his recreation in language of the famous visual images from the IRA Hunger Strikes.

This visual dimension of the IRA protests is exploited even further in the many films about the Northern Ireland conflict which focus on the prisons. In works like In the Name of the Father (1993), Some Mothers Son (1996), and H3 (2001), the images of long-haired, shaggy-bearded men emblematize this particular phase of the conflict. More important than the historical accuracy or inaccuracy of these films is their appropriation of visual tropes familiar to those in the Conflict.

The different ways that stories about this history are represented influences how certain values are reproduced out of sacred, political mythologies. Cinema has a special role in this process, particularly in Northern Ireland where the “Troubles Film” has become a recognizable sub-genre, significant enough to merit its own college courses, film festivals, and critical monographs.6 In Troubles cinema we find a complicated mixture of political statement, visual art, and commercial entertainment.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Yeats and collaborators like Lady Augusta Gregory and J. M. Synge used the Irish Literary Theatre and the Abbey Theatre to self-consciously fashion dramas that would resuscitate Ireland’s mythic past and assert a political vision for its future free from British rule. Populating their works with characters like Cathleen Ni Houlihan, the Poor Old Woman who represents Ireland herself and who needs the sacrificial blood of young men to return to queenly youth, Yeats and others wanted a political art that could redeem the nation. On the whole, Troubles-era cinema is far more circumspect about the worth of political art and far more critical of bloodloss and bloodletting as virtuous tools. And yet, as I intend to show here, even attempts at using the history of the Troubles for artistic purposes can get mired in the conflict.

A century after The Kings Threshold, the award-winning British filmmaker Steve McQueen offered his own lyrical take on the 1981 Hunger Strike and its emblematic figure Bobby Sands. McQueens Hunger is arguably the best of the prison-related Troubles films and even one of the best films ever made about Irish politics. It is unquestionably masterful in purely aesthetic terms, beautiful to look at and employing a trove of flashy directorial moves that serve the storytelling while reminding us we are in the hands of a skillful auteur. McQueen won the Turner Prize in 1999, an annual award for the best British artist under age fifty, and he has recently become famous in the United States for his film 12 Years a Slave which won the 2014 Academy Award for Best Picture. This latest, highly-decorated film is the third entry in a loose trilogy begun with Hunger (2008) and Shame (2011) and starring Michael Fassbender, whose extreme self-debasement may be the central unifying thread in the three films.

McQueen studied art at the Chelsea College of Art and Design in London as well as at Goldsmith’s College working in experimental film, and this background shows in his relative neglect of plot and his deliberate fixation on the image as the central facet of the medium. If conventional narrative cinema has as its literary analogue the short story or novel, it seems appropriate to describe Hunger as a closer relative of the poem with its series of significant, evocative images that are suggestive of character and emotion rather than being concerned with backstories or explanations. McQueen has said that he wanted the audience not to be given a lot of explanation, to trust that we know the history of the Hunger Strikes and of Bobby Sands and that his film should make us close observers and intimate witnesses of the prison conditions.

With its poetical beauty, Hunger offers a commanding and sympathetic look at the Belfast prisons in the early 1980s. But the film gestures toward being something more than Irish Republican hagiography. Were it more simplistically focused on glorifying Sands and the other prisoners in the style of, say, Neil Jordan’s Michael Collins (1996), which features Liam Neeson as its highly idealized, swashbuckling hero, then it would be less necessary to investigate its politics. But the several ways McQueen and his collaborators tug our sympathies toward and, more importantly, away from Sands suggests that the film strives for a nuanced—even critical—portrayal: a portrayal that it ultimately does not fully deliver. My contention is that this failure occurs partly through the beautiful aesthetics that make the film so artistically successful, and that the powerful forces of mythologizing and memorializing Troubles-era North­ern Ireland interfere with complex artistic representation.

As with so much in the Northern Ireland conflict, the term “memorial” is fraught. The UK government-created Consultative Group on the Past recommended public memorials as one of the steps toward reconciliation and specifically suggested a shared memorial honoring the dead from all sides. Jay Winters theorization of First World War memorials has offered a template for this sort of public witness. Winter observes that memorials carry a host of conflicting political, religious, moral, and aesthetic interpretations, but nevertheless allow disparate views to converge in the unifying act of public mourning around what he callsvisible signs ofcollective bereavement” (79). More common in Northern Ireland are memorials with only a limited unifying effect and that display aggression toward the other side. Sara McDowell has even argued that memorialization was a deliberate tactic by Sinn Féin in what Gerry Adams called the “new phase” of struggle after the era of the ArmaLite and ballot box (727). And something similar, of course, may be seen in Loyalist murals, such as a prominent building on the Shankill Road which depicts five acts of Republican violence including the Frizzell’s Fish Shop bombing of October 23, 1993. The text above this mural reads “30 Years of Indiscriminate Slaughter by So-Called Non-sectarian Irish Freedom Fightersand below is a list of questions asking “Where are our inquiries? Where is our truth? Where is our justice?” These questions might be most appropriately read with the word “our” emphasized, since they suggest that Catholic/Nationalist/Republicans harmed in the Conflict have received a larger share of justice through inquiries into events like Bloody Sunday, 1972.

SandsThe famous Bobby Sands mural on the Falls Road in West Belfast is one memorial that seeks not only to give space for public remembrance but also for solidifying a mythology. His name is printed as Bobby Sands MP emphasizing the role of his parliamentary election while imprisoned, and a list of descriptors calls him (among other things) a poet and a Gaeilgeoir (Irish for an Irish speaker). Curiously, the Hunger Strike itself is an insignificant part of the mural, shifting the narrative away from the prison almost entirely, except through the abstract image of broken chains around the border. Arguably, the most important part of the mural is the iconic picture of Sands with his beaming smile that corresponds to the quote our revenge will be the laughter of our children. The mural makes a profound contribution to the Sands mythology by emphasizing his words, his lightness, and the free future for others that he tried to create.

The film Hunger might seem a long way from this kind of public art, and yet it too slips into mythos and iconography while avoiding direct affirmation of Republicanism. Much like memorials that are historically significant markers of a grieving public’s values rather than “objectivehistory, Hunger provides not a history lesson but an emotionally resonant portrait of committed belief overcoming harsh and repressive conditions. Sands becomes some­thing other than a symbol of the Republican movement. He is a symbol for all types of perseverance and commitment. In essence, McQueen hijacks the political symbol and deploys it in service of universal humanism.

It could be argued that any sort of hijacking of a deeply cherished political symbol is a successful intervention, a subversion laudable for the way that art can disrupt political agendas and narratives. While  McQueen does achieve something of a triumph by creating a Bobby Sands movie that diverts the focus from Republicanism, that diversion leads into something far vaguer and not completely satisfying.

Before the film’s initial release at Cannes, IRA comments touched upon this shift in focus. Former prisoner and IRA press officer Richard O’Rawe said, “I have heard the film is more a psychological story about one man facing death. If that is all it is, then I have no problem with that” (Thorpe and McDonald). During production, Belfast City Council refused to allow a one-day shoot of a violent scene, and as one Democratic Unionist Party councillor put it, “we don’t need to open old woundsabout the Troubles” (OHara). The main concern of these groups before the film’s release had much to do with how the symbol of Bobby Sands would be used in the present day peace process. By attending more to Sands’s agonizing death than to any of his specific beliefs, the film manages to set aside questions about Sands’s place in current Northern Irish politics.

McQueen has claimed in interviews that Hunger is not a political film, and though this sounds a bit like Gabriel Conroy in Joyce’s story “The Deadwishing to tell the staunch nationalist Miss Ivors thatliterature is above politics,” there is a sense in which he may be right. Many Troubles films have rather overt political or social agendas. For instance, Alan Clarkes avant-garde short Elephant (1989) shows eighteen killings in Belfast presented in an unrelenting stream with long tracking shots on the gunmen and lingering obser­­-

vation of the victims. Lacking music, dialogue, or a story, the succession of killings feels excessive, and Clarke’s purpose seems to be provoking the viewer to wish for all this to stop. Since the gunmen are not marked as either Republican or Loyalist, Clarke achieves something like the Consultative Group on the Past’s wish for a shared memorial: all sides are implicated in the killings and all viewers should desire their cessation. Much more typical are films like Bloody Sunday (2002) or Omagh (2004) that recreate specific historical events as memorials to injustice on a particular side of the Conflict. Closer still would be Terry Georges Some Mothers Son which also portrays the 1981 Hunger Strike, but does so with a flatfooted political message about IRA righteousness and clearly sides with Helen Mirrens character, a mother who wrestles with her decision to remove her son from the strike. Michael Fassbender—who also says Hunger is not politicalhas said in interviews that this typical kind of Troubles film is “embarrassing and insulting.”

Hunger is especially resistant to the common-practicetaking of sidesthrough its portrayal of the perspective of the prison guards. In a first act largely conducted without dialogue, we are introduced to a guard named Raymond Lohan who quietly eats breakfast with his wife and enters the prison locker room to suit-up. His entrance is paralleled by the entrance of Davey Gillen, a newly-arrested IRA man who “suits up” for his role by stripping before a group of guards and taking a blanket. The prison guard character who we follow for the first part of the film suggests a humanizing of the British or Unionist figures, but this humanizing does not extend into any serious engagement with their political positions. As this main guard stands in the snow against an austere wall smoking or rinses blood from his knuckles or stares at himself in the mirror, the overall impression is that he is ashamed, not that he is committed to an ideal. Exiting his driveway through iron gates while his wife warily observes from the window and changing into his uniform at the prison locker room, we see that he too is imprisoned. There is a systemic entrapment of these men into their roles.

It might seem that this revealing of systemic oppression could function as the true politics of the film, but that sense of the systemic evil is overwhelmed by the last third of the movie where McQueen takes us into close identification with Bobby Sands. For much of this final act, we remain with Sands, the dialogue muted and images blurred to represent the shutting down of his sense organs. More than just inhabiting Sands’s point of view, McQueen’s elegant aestheticization of Sandss death renders us complicit in his transcendence of material conditions, politics, and perhaps even death. After a particularly gruesome sequence focusing on Sands’s bed sores and vomiting, the camera swoops and bobs, finally fading through a series of shots with birds flying, an echo of Sands’s reminiscences of a childhood cross-country meet in a pastoral part of the Republic. This flock of birds fades into a graphic match of Sands’s artfully blood-stained bed. In these images, the transcendence of the birds culled from Sands’s most vivid childhood memory unites with the transcendent, aesthetically rich shedding of blood. Absent in these moments is any central focus on Republicanism, prisonersrights and demands, or sense that anyone is experiencing this other than Bobby Sands. We are locked into Sands’s experience and share his last moments, a choice that makes us not only intimate observers but also accomplices in his transcendent death.

The scene which has drawn perhaps the most commentary, including special commendation at Cannes when the film won the Caméra d’Or prize for best debut feature, is a twenty-four minute long conversation between Sands and Father Dominic Moran that occurs in the middle of the film and connects the largely dialogue-free first and third acts. Seventeen minutes of this scene is a single take with a static camera focused on the two seated men, lit so that their faces are obscured like silhouettes. Moran and Sands verbally joust about the righteousness and effectiveness of a hunger strike, and the priest tries every robust argument he can muster: the authority of IRA leadership and Christian scriptures, the pathos of abandoning Sands’s child, and even a charge that Sands is a self-serving martyr craving posthumous celebrity. But the long take of debate between Sands and Father Moran ends in a cut to close-up on Sands, his face now visible after seventeen minutes of profile, and with painful, earnest conviction he tells a story about his childhood (fabricated for the film by McQueen and his co-writer Enda Walsh) where he killed an injured foal, knowing that he would be blamed and punished instead of his friends who were with him. In this speech, he reveals that he has always seen the angles, known well before others the significance of his own actions, and known that violence can be a wonderful tool even when others fail to realize this in the short term. Here, the mythology of Bobby Sands is on full display, where an added speech is like a Midrash on the historical record and where Sands’s power derives from conversational skills and the purity of his unwavering conviction. Sands thanks Moran for testing him, offering a checklist of arguments against the hunger strike that he can now do without. The triumph here is in his absolute certainty, and though a debate scene like this momentarily pulls the audience’s sympathies away from Sands by asking us to consider the priest’s arguments, Sands’s victorious final speech merits no rejoinder from Father Moran who leaves bested.

Father Moran’s accusation of intentional martyrdom resonates with the religious undercurrent that permeates the film, a final way that McQueen indulges in mythologizing Sands. In his essay for the Criterion Collection Blu-Ray of Hunger, Chris Darke remarks that in the late 1970s media images of the prisoners on the blanket protest had what Darke describes as “an ascetic otherness that was inescapably Christlike” (“Threshold”). We are introduced to Sands thirty minutes into the movie as he is beaten, shorn, and forcibly bathed. By beginning with the character Davey Gillen who is new to the blanket protest, McQueen de-centers Sands and avoids turning Hunger into a mere biopic, but this portrayal also dehumanizes him. After his beating scene, we get a carefully composed shot of light on Fassbender’s face, one eye nearly swelled shut, the other staring out radiantly and evoking the Byzantine image of Christ Pantocrater. FasbenderHe becomes more of an idea or an icon than a person. There is even a religious quality to this narrative: Sands’s belief in the Movement coupled with unwavering practicing of his faith is rewarded after death with immortality. The film does little to challenge this religion apart from the substantial but temporary engagement with the other religious presence in the form of a Catholic priest.

Maud Ellmann’s analysis of Yeats’s The King’s Threshold and the Irish Hunger Strike focuses on the “strategies by which the flesh is transfigured into words, because the art of disembodiment depends on this fatal alchemy” (60). Ellmann employs a Girardian analysis of sacrifice to show that “although Seanchan insists that he is starving for the nation… he would rather the nation starve for him; and the poetry implies that he is sloughing off the weight of nationalism, leaving his imagination stateless, free to soar” (64). McQueen’s film, while never suggesting that Sands would rather let others do the starving, entertains a similar weightlessness. As Sands lies in his hospital bed, a feather floats by evoking his decreasing body weight and the lightness of his spirit. Twice we hear voice-over sound clips from Margaret Thatcher publically condemning the IRA and the hunger strikers, and this certainly connects us to the political context. However, since Thatcher is present only as a disembodied voice, she functions more as pure ideology and maintains the weightlessness of the film. The “freedom to soar” that Ellmann observes in Yeats’s play emerges in Hunger through the birds, the feather, and the swooning steadicam shots of Sands in his last days.

A final set of intertitles across a black screen inform us about Bobby Sands’s parliamentary victory and the Pyrrhic victory of the Hunger Strikes. And, we even have some return to the opening character Raymond Lohan with a statement about the sixteen prison guards killed during the “blanket” and “no wash” protests. But these titles are more of a gesture toward the historical context rather than a full part of the artistic investigation of the Prison War. Thus, Sands remains an icon removed from a precise identification with the long-haired, angelic image from his most famous photo. The memorializing that occurs in McQueen’s film is distinct from the politically driven Republican memorializing of the murals. But it is a memorial to something somewhat more bland and abstract, a testament to an individual’s commitment and, I would argue, a Gnostic flight from his own body.

In McQueen and Fassbender’s follow-up collaboration Shame, a similar lyricism buoys a story about a successful New York yuppie consumed with sexual addiction. A third act rampage of lust functions much like the sequence of Sands’s slow death, but with a noticeably different effect. In Shame, McQueen’s ethereal style paradoxically acts as counterpoint to the intense physicality of its protagonist’s orgies. Fassbender’s agonized climaxes are lit to capture every line in his face and self-loathing in his eyes. But with Hunger, the ethereal direction evokes not the heavy despair of sinking but the diminishing weight of the striker and the ­loftiness of his transcendence. Sands becomes less human and more symbolic, reproducing for aesthetic purposes the mythologizing accomplished by Irish Republicans in politics.

Myths like the martyrdom of Sands and the nine men who followed him into death are deeply ingrained in Northern Ireland’s struggle to achieve a lasting peace. Otherwise senseless deaths in the Troubles can take on rich meaning if they are immortalized and made symbolic. Part of the great work of organizations like Corrymeela is in addressing unresolved tensions at the symbolic level. Taking in Protestant and Catholic schoolchildren during the tinder box season of Orange Order parades in July works by providing physical safety, but it also symbolizes the ways Corrymeela reforms the mindsets of the youngest inheritors of the Conflict. Corrymeela’s founder Ray Davey wrote in his memoir that the temptation for Nationalist youth was to join the “armed struggle,” and the temptation for Unionists was to avoid conflict altogether. “Very quickly,” Davey explains, “we [at Corrymeela] began to grasp the importance of our existence as an alternative to violence and to apathy, by offering the way of co-operation between the two traditions, and also to recall and reaffirm the Christian values of justice and peace, and the dynamic of the Gospel of forgiveness… Our task was to try, even in a small way, to make this alternative visible” (80–1). As a visible sign of the third way between violence and apathy, the Corrymeela Community embodies peace-­making in the midst of Northern Ireland’s conflicted visions. Even where other, more destructive political mythologies have deep roots, the shared life of bodies united by story, song, food, and work allows reconciliation to grow.


Charles Andrews is Associate Professor of English at Whitworth University.


Works Cited

Beresford, David. Ten Men Dead. New York: HarperCollins, 1987.

_____. “Writing Ten Men Dead.” In Hunger Strike: Reflections on the 1981 Hunger Strike, Danny Morrison, ed.: 243–253. Dingle: Brandon, 2006.

Boland, Eavan. “A Kind of Scar: The Woman Poet in a National Tradition.” In Nations and Identities: Classic Readings, Vincent P. Pecora, ed.: 354–8. Oxford: Blackwell, 2001.

Coogan, Tim Pat. On the Blanket: The Inside Story of the IRA Prisoners’ “Dirty” Protest. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002.

Darke, Chris. “On the Threshold” Criterion essay.

Davey, Ray. A Channel of Peace: The Story of the Corrymeela Community. London: HarperCollins, 1993.

Ellmann, Maud. The Hunger Artists: Starving, Writing, and Imprisonment. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1993.

Hunger. DVD. Dir. Steve McQueen. Perf. Michael Fassbender. New York: IFCFilms, 2008.

McDowell, Sara. “Armalite, the ballot box and memorialisation: Sinn Féin and the state in post-conflict Northern Ireland.” The Round Table: The Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs, Vol. 96, No. 393 (2007): 725–738.

O’Hara, Victoria. “Row over Hunger Strike Film.” Belfast Telegraph, 1 November 2007. http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/local-national/row-over-hunger-strike-film-28389514.html.

O’Malley, Padraig. Biting at the Grave: The Irish Hunger Strikes and the Politics of Despair. Boston: Beacon Press, 1990.

Ó Tuama, Pádraig. Sorry for Your Troubles. Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2013.

Rolston, Bill. Drawing Support 3: Murals and Transition in the North of Ireland. Belfast: Beyond the Pale, 2003.

Thorpe, Vanessa, and Henry McDonald. “Anger as new film of IRA hero Bobby Sands screens at Cannes.” The Observer, May 10, 2008.

Yeats, W. B. The Variorum Edition of the Plays of W. B. Yeats. New York: Macmillan, 1966.

Winter, Jay. Sites of Memory, Sites of Mourning: The Great War in European Cultural History. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1998.



1. Among the many examples of Seanchan’s afterlife, Padraig O’Malley’s book about the hunger strikes Biting at the Grave takes its title from Yeats’s play and includes an epigraph of the king urging his subjects to persuade Seanchan to eat.

2. Bill Rolston’s series of books entitled Drawing Support offer a sustained look at the changing murals in Belfast. Drawing Support 3: Murals and Transition in the North of Ireland has the frequently reproduced Bobby Sands mural on its cover.

3. The outbreak of the Troubles is often seen as occurring on October 5, 1968 when police violently disrupted a march in London/Derry held by the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA). The Good Friday Agreement at Stormont on April 10, 1998 marked the official end of violent conflict, though the subsequent decades have continued to experience violent flare-ups.

4. More of Ó Tuama’s work can be found at www.intheshelter.com, including audio recordings of his poems. An additional hour-long presentation of his stories and poems can be found here: https://www.whitworth.edu/Podcast/index.aspx

5. For an early journalistic account of these protests by a popular historian with pronounced Republican sympathies, see Tim Pat Coogan’s On the Blanket: The Inside Story of the IRA Prisoners’ “Dirty” Protest.

6. See, for instance, Bill McIlroy’s Shooting to Kill: Filmmaking and the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland (Steveston Press, 1998).


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