“Comrades in the Dark”: Writing in the H Blocks, 1976–1981

  • Lachlan Whalen
Part of the New Directions in Irish and Irish American Literature book series (NDIIAL)


This stanza from the first section of Bobby Sands’s long poem “Trilogy” encapsulates some of the most crucial preoccupations of the Republican POWs who were composing their texts in the H Blocks between 1976 and 1981. Like many texts written during incarceration, the space of the prison intrudes, the fearful interior of Castlereagh interrogation center standing in stark opposition to the beauty of the natural world exterior to jail walls. Indeed, this violent juxtaposition propels Sands’s poem: as the POW is dragged inside the cell, so is the audience metaphorically incarcerated alongside him. While the “quaking wretch” found in the cell at first may appear to be a solitary figure, the stanza insists that all of this takes place “Amidst a people’s screams.” The political prison is but one locus of a larger, shared trauma—a trauma willfully ignored, Sands asserts, by the artists and writers whose duty it is to communicate such injustice to the rest of the world.


British Government Political Prisoner Back Cover Officer Commanding Hunger Strike 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Chapter Three “Comrades in the Dark”: Writing in the H Blocks, 1976–1981

  1. 1.
    Bobby Sands, “Trilogy” Skylark Sing Your Lonely Song: An Anthology of the Writings of Bobby Sands (Dublin and Cork: Mercier Press, 1982) 57–8.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    W. B. Yeats, “The Tower,” Oxford Anthology of British and Irish Poetry, ed. Keith Tuma (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001) 47.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Allen Feldman, Formations of Violence (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991) 148.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 7.
    David Lowry, “The English System of Judicial Injustice,” Catholic League Newsletter 7.11 (1980): 3.Google Scholar
  5. 8.
    Pat Magee, Gangsters or Guerillas? (Belfast: Beyond the Pale, 2001).Google Scholar
  6. 9.
    Tim Pat Coogan, The IRA (Boulder: Roberts Rinehart, 1994) 368.Google Scholar
  7. 12.
    Denis O’Hearn, Nothing but an Unfinished Song: Bobby Sands, the Hunger Striker Who Ignited a Generation (New York: Nation, 2006) 185–6.Google Scholar
  8. 16.
    Gerry Adams, “Inside Story,” Republican News 16 Aug. 1975: 6.Google Scholar
  9. 17.
    Eileen Fairweather, Roisin McDonough, and Melanie McFadyean Only the Rivers Run Free, Northern Ireland: The Women’s War (London: Pluto, 1984) 57.Google Scholar
  10. 20.
    David Lloyd, Anomalous States (Durham: Duke University Press, 1993) 47.Google Scholar
  11. 24.
    Bobby Sands One Day in My Life (Dublin and Cork: Mercier, 1983) 25.Google Scholar
  12. 25.
    Gerry Adams, “Cage Eleven,” Cage Eleven (Dingle: Brandon, 1990) 16.Google Scholar
  13. 26.
    Bobby Sands, “I Once Had a Life,” An Phoblacht/Republican News 17 Mar. 1979: 2.Google Scholar
  14. 28.
    Bobby Sands, “Christmas Eve,” Skylark Sing Your Lonely Song (Dublin and Cork: Mercier Press, 1982) 99.Google Scholar
  15. 31.
    Bobby Sands, “The harvest Britain has sown” [sic], Republican News 16 Sept. 1978: 8.Google Scholar
  16. 32.
    Elaine Scarry, The Body in Pain. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985) 4–6.Google Scholar
  17. 34.
    Bobby Sands “Teach Your Children” Skylark Sing Your Lonely Song (Dublin and Cork: Mercier Press, 1982) 113.Google Scholar
  18. 35.
    Laurence McKeown, Out of Time: Irish Republican Prisoners Long Kesh 1972–2000 (Belfast: Beyond the Pale, 2001) 70.Google Scholar
  19. 39.
    Bobby Sands, “How Much More?” and “I fought a monster today” [sic], Republican News 7 Oct. 1978: 9.Google Scholar
  20. 40.
    Bill Ashcroft, Post-Colonial Transformation (New York: Routledge, 2001) 168.Google Scholar
  21. 41.
    Bobby Sands “On the Blanket,” Republican News 1 Apr. 1978: 2.Google Scholar
  22. 47.
    Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Vintage, 1977) 201.Google Scholar
  23. 50.
    Bobby Sands, “The window of my mind” [sic], Republican News 25 Nov. 1978: 7.Google Scholar
  24. 53.
    Bobby Sands, “The Gloves Have Been Removed,” Republican News 16 Sept. 1978: 8; Sands, “Harvest” 8.Google Scholar
  25. 54.
    Bobby Sands, “I fought a monster today” [sic] and “How Much More” Republican News 7 Oct. 1978: 9.Google Scholar
  26. 55.
    Bobby Sands, “The Birth of a Republican,” Republican News 16 Dec 1978: 6.Google Scholar
  27. 61.
    Bobby Sands, “On the Blanket,” Republican News 7 Jan. 1978: 6.Google Scholar
  28. 62.
    Bobby Sands, “Poetic Justice,” Republican News 2 Dec. 1978: 5.Google Scholar
  29. 65.
    Danny Morrison, “Introduction,” in Bobby Sands, Prison Poems (Dublin: Sinn Féin Publicity Department, Oct. 1981) 10.Google Scholar
  30. 67.
    Roibeard O Seachnasaigh (Bobby Sands), “An scéal” [sic], An Phoblacht/Republican News 10 Dec. 1981: 10.Google Scholar
  31. 78.
    Jerome McGann, A Critique of Modern Textual Criticism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983) 8.Google Scholar
  32. 83.
    G. Thomas Tanselle, Textual Criticism and Scholarly Editing (University of Virginia Press, 1990) 187.Google Scholar
  33. 86.
    Bobby Sands, “The Diary of Bobby Sands,” special supplement, An Phoblacht/Republican News 13 June 1981: vii.Google Scholar
  34. 87.
    Bobby Sands, The Diary of Bobby Sands (Dublin: Sinn Féin Publicity Department, June 1981) 42.Google Scholar
  35. Bobby Sands, The Diary of Bobby Sands (Dublin: Republican Publications, May 1990) 53.Google Scholar
  36. 97.
    Bobby Sands, “The Writings of Bobby Sands,” An Phoblacht/Republican News 21 Mar. 1981: 6–7.Google Scholar
  37. 99.
    Qtd. in Brian Campbell, Laurence McKeown, and Felim O’Hagan, Nor Meekly Serve My Time (Belfast: Beyond the Pale, 1994) 104.Google Scholar
  38. 102.
    Bobby Sands, “The Birth of a Republican,” An Phoblacht/Republican News 4 Apr. 1981: 7.Google Scholar
  39. 103.
    Bobby Sands, “The rhythm of time” [sic], An Phoblacht/Republican News 29 June 1981: 16.Google Scholar
  40. 104.
    Bobby Sands, “The Captain and the Cowards” and “All God’s Children,” An Phoblacht/Republican News 19 Sept. 1981: 8–10.Google Scholar
  41. 106.
    Gerry Adams, “Introduction,” in Bobby Sands, The Writings of Bobby Sands (Belfast?: Sinn Féin, Mar. 1981).Google Scholar
  42. 115.
    Bobby Sands, “The Lark and the Freedom Fighter,” The Writings of Bobby Sands, (Belfast?: Sinn Féin, Mar. 1981). No pagination.Google Scholar
  43. 120.
    Gerry Adams, “Introduction,” in Bobby Sands, The Writings of Bobby Sands (Dublin: Sinn Féin POW Department, Apr. 1981) 5–6.Google Scholar
  44. 134.
    Marcella, H6 (Bobby Sands), “… and the woman cried” [sic], An Phoblacht/Republican News 24 Mar. 1979: 11.Google Scholar
  45. 135.
    Roibeard, H5 Block (Bobby Sands), “Poetic Justice,” Republican News 2 Dec. 1978: 5.Google Scholar
  46. 136.
    Sands, “The Rhythm of Time,” Prison Poems (Dublin: Sinn Féin Publicity Department, Oct. 1981) 81.Google Scholar
  47. 138.
    Gerry Adams, “Real poetry” [sic], An Phoblacht/Republican News 17 Dec. 1981: 9.Google Scholar
  48. 147.
    Bobby Sands, Writings from Prison (Boulder: Roberts Rinehart, 1997) 3, 24.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Lachlan Whalen 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lachlan Whalen

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations