Thirty years ago today.
I remember exactly where I was and I remember exactly how I felt.I can see the room, the grey plastic radio alarm flicked on and telling me that he had died in the night as I slept.
Like a picture.
Psychologists who spend their lives in academe studying the accuracy of long term memory are convinced that it is deep emotions that “imprint” memories that can last a lifetime.
I think they’re correct.
The main emotion that I recall from that morning was initially of guilt.
It was, of course, inevitable that he would die. There was a brief hope after he became the Honourable Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone that that the British establishment would not allow a Westminster MP to die under such circumstances.
Thatcher, as ever, had other ideas.
The world came to his funeral he was laid to rest as he had lived his life, as an IRA Volunteer.
His frenetic activity in his Twinbrook area showed that he implicitly realised that there was much more to being a revolutionary that carrying a gun. Indeed for him it was just another tool in the struggle not the holy object as venerated by the Fenian tradition. Once captured he fought the enemies of his people with a biro refill, smuggled inside his body from visits. His prison writings remain of enduring value and fascination to millions. This is something that can’t be achieved with an M1 carbine no matter how many times it is fired at the enemy.
His election agent Owen Carron contested his seat and was returned.
A crucial lesson had been learned by a movement that had emerged from the most social excluded community in the United Kingdom.
Only a few could plant a bomb, but thousands could plant a vote. He understood from his Twinbrook days that the revolution had to include as many people as possible and not be the property of an armed conspiritorial elite.
The seed was planted.
These days middle age men who spent their twenties constructing ingenious bombs now tap psephological data into laptops at election centres.
“Target lists” have been replaced by canvass lists.
Today could see the election of Martin McGuiness as the North’s First Minister. The only thing stopping that is the amount of votes. Something that McGuiness and his comrades know very well. Today everyone has their part to play.
The Old Gerrymandered Six County Statelet is gone. The Orange supremacism is gone. The new institutions and the changing demographics mean that the old days will not return. The RUC that beat confessions out of his H-Block comrades is also in the past.
So much is changed and changed for the better.
Ordinary decent people do not rise in arms against the state unless the state has worked very hard at being a bad state. The Old Northern Ireland was a bad statelet, probably the worst in Western Europe within any democratic polity. That statelet is gone.
The new one has a chance of working for all of the people of the six counties.
Did he die for this?
No, but his sacrifice and his electoral triumph was a teachable moment for a revolutionary movement that had venerated the military over the political.
He showed in his short life that a different way was possible.
Thirty years ago this day I was heartbroken, crushed and very very angry. I felt we had to continually endure and react to a cruel, larger, stronger neighbour determined to rob us of everything that defined us.
Today all of those feelings are gone.
This small island has been remarkably improved in almost every way by the successful conclusion of the Peace Process.
If anyone cares to consider that and give thanks then I can think of only one fitting expression of genuine gratitude.
Kneel at the grave of Bobby Sands.