A passionate chronicle of the 1981 IRA prison hunger-strike of
Bobby Sands and his fellows, by the South African correspondent for
the Manchester Guardian. Despite the overdramatization (the author
equates the hunger strike to Shakespearian tragedy, while Peter
Maas, in his introduction, calls the prisoners' letters that form
the backbone of the book "nothing less than the Irish equivalent of
The Diary of Anne Frank"), this is a worthy narrative that gets
past the headlines of those tense months in the spring and summer
of 1981. The coup here is that Beresford got access to the body of
correspondence known as "comms" - letters written by the strikers
on any available scrap of paper, rolled into small cylinders and
smuggled out of the Maze Prison by visitors in various bodily
orifices. Beresford quotes heavily from these "comms," generating
awe for the moral fervor exhibited by the young men willing to die
in the face of such little hope. The author goes on to detail how
Bobby Sands (who was elected to the Northern Ireland Parliament
while on his hunger strike) captured the imagination of the media.
Indeed, many feared that his impending death might foment civil
war. In retrospect, the peaceful aftereffects of the strike (which
ended in ten deaths) were surprising: most of the demands of the
prisoners (which centered on their not having to wear the garb of
other common criminals) were granted. But the star of this book are
the comms, which range from witty (Sands, requesting a book:
"That's really all I want, last requests as they say. Some ask for
cigarettes, others for blindfolds, yer man asks for poetry") to
concerned (" [Sands] is in good form and is not as yet experiencing
any weakness, dizziness, tiredness, pains and nothing at all") to
strategic ("Young Bosco . . .needs gentle but finn sensible
treatment as he is highly erratic"). Though subsequent developments
have somewhat diminished the utility of the sacrifices, Beresford,
in his overenthusiasm, confers a sort of secular canonization on
these wasted martyrs. He might have done well to temper his
unimpeachable research with moderation, which in the pursuit of
justice would have been no vice. (Kirkus Reviews)
"An excellent history of the 1981 hunger strike in Ireland that
details the broad cast of characters with insight and care". --
from the New York Times Book Review's "best Books of 1989"
In 1981 ten men starved themselves to death inside the walls of
Long Kesh prison in Belfast. While a stunned world watched and
distraught family members kept bedside vigils, one "soldier" after
another slowly went to his death in an attempt to make Margaret
Thatcher's government recognize them as political prisoners rather
than common criminals.
Drawing extensively on secret IRA documents and letters from the
prisoners smuggled out at the time, Ten Men Dead tells the gripping
story of these strikers and their devotion to the cause. An
intensely human story, Ten Men Dead offers a searing portrait of
strife-torn Ireland, the IRA, and the passions -- on both sides --
that Republicanism arouses.
"Beresford puts in human terms the conduct of an often frightful
and inhumane struggle. He makes the incomprehensible
comprehensible". -- Commonweal
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