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|The Hunger Strikes 1980-1981
On 27 October 1980 six republican prisoners refused food and demanded political status. Shortly before Christmas they called off the hunger strike, believing wrongly that they had won.
Despite reservations from leaders on the outside, Bobby Sands, the 27-year old leader of the Provisional IRA prisoners began a second action on 1 March 1981. In an international publicity coup, Sands stood for and dramatically won the Fermanagh-South Tyrone Westminster by-election after a massive show of pan-nationalist support.
But with Margaret Thatcher's government still determined not to bow to pressure, he died on 5 May after 66 days on hunger strike. Another nine hunger strikers had died by the end of August.
At least 70,000 people attended Bobby Sands' Belfast funeral and protests erupted across nationalist areas of Northern Ireland, leading to a significant rise in IRA membership and a renewed cycle of violence.
Under pressure from their families, the six remaining hunger strikers ended the protest in October. Days later the government allowed them to wear their own clothes, one of the key five demands.
While the action failed in its short-term goals, it demonstrated to republicans the potential electoral gains to be made through a twin strategy that quickly became known as the "Ballot box and the Armalite".
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