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Death By Starvation

IRA flag, IRA hunger strike of 1981

IRA flag, IRA hunger strike of 1981

Death By Hunger Strike

We will be taking a look at a few things that happen to Bobby Sands and his Irish Republican Army (IRA) buddies' bodies while they stood their ground during one of the most famous hunger strikes in Ireland. Their bodies truly suffered during the brutal process of starvation. When it comes to starving to death, you better choose a cause that you really, really, really believe in, because dying from starvation is one very long and excruciating way to prove your point.

Effects of Starvation On The Body

Suffering the ravages of heart failure, respiratory failure, dehydration, and brain death seems to be a pretty extreme way to say, "I told you so." Nevertheless, it does show just how dedicated these IRA members (and humans in general) can be when supporting a passionate cause. So, if you are okay with more than eight weeks of pure anguish, than this is the route for you. The physical details are anything but pretty, so proceed at your own risk.

The IRA 1981 Hunger Strike

The Hunger Strike King Was Bobby Sands

Not only a political prisoner of Northern Ireland's HM Prison Maze (Long Kesh), Bobby Sands was a member of British Parliament. He was voted in April of 1981 as he lay dying of starvation in prison. The strike was in response to the removal of Special Category Status (which gave IRA inmates prisoners of war status, or political prisoner status; thus having special rights). When these rights were denied, Bobby refused food, along with twenty-two other IRA inmates during the strike. He ended up starving himself to death over the span of sixty-six days. Of the twenty-two IRA inmates who participated in the hunger strike, nine died of starvation alongside Bobby.

Robert Gerard "Bobby" Sands (March 9, 1954 - May 5, 1981)

Hunger Strike IRA Style

Bobby Sands actually had one heck of a record when it came to his IRA activities. He had been incarcerated for gun possession early in life, and played an active role in some serious IRA incidents for most of his free-years. Following a bombing and the discovery of a handgun in his possession, he was convicted for the final time. In September of 1977, he was sentence to 14 years for the crime of handgun possession and began his imprisonment at Long Kesh. It would seem his IRA loyalty continued behind bars, as he spent his first 22 days in special lock-up, fifteen of those days he was stripped naked, and 3 days he spent on a starvation diet—the irony of which does not escape me. Within a scant four years, a twenty-seven year old Bobby Sands would suffer the torture of self-starvation, finally giving his life for the IRA cause he believed in.

What You Think Really Does Matter!

5 Demands Caused The 1981 Hunger Strike

The IRA prisoners had 5 political demands, when these were not met they began the infamous hunger strike.

The 5 1981 IRA Hunger Strike Demands

  1. The right to not wear a prison uniform
  2. The right to free association with Republican political prisoners
  3. The right as political prisoners to not have to do prison work
  4. The right to organize their own recreational and educational facilities
  5. The right to one weekly visit, letter and parcel

On March 1, 1981—five years to the day of taking the special category status away from the IRA prisoners—Bobby Sands refused the first of many meals, which was the beginning of the hunger strike that ended his life.

Bobby Sands, MP - Folk Songs Often Tell The Story Best

The Hunger Strike Diet


You would think, because we are so wrapped up in three squares a day, that starvation would happen pretty quickly. I mean after all, missing that 2:00 PM power bar can cause you to feel a little lightheaded and practically useless for the rest of the day. However, did you know that you could potentially live more than another two months should you suddenly be deprived of any food energy whatsoever? Be prepared though, because these are going to be the most horrible Sixty days known to man.

How Long Can A Human Live Without Food

Surprisingly enough, a human can survive for more than two months without eating a single bit of food. But, it is going to be two very painfully gruesome months.

What Happens To The Body When you Starve To Death

Starving To Death

Every single cell of the human body depends on a supply of food. When we eat and ingest food, we are turning this supply into energy. It is not just a case of eating your milk and oatmeal so you will feel good during the day. The energy food generates gives each of our organic duties—cell manufacturing, metabolism, body growth, muscle strength—the needed material they need to remain alive. Absent the energy food brings, we are really not much more than just a big pile of meat.

What Happens To Your Body During Starvation

The Mechanics Of Starving To Death

Eventually, every single system and cell in your body will fail if you are starved. To begin with, your body undertakes a campaign that starts with tapping into the carbohydrates which have been stored away for a rainy day within your liver and muscles. This will bring on significant weight loss right off the bat, at the cost of liver function and muscle mass. These carbs burn like flash-paper, so they get used up pretty quickly. The body is resourceful, so it will next head over to use the energy stored in your fat. But, as we all learn when trying to drop pounds in a more conventional manner, burning off that fat takes some time—in the case of our hunger strike scenario, this ain't such a bad thing since it means your energy will last longer and keep some weight on your carcass a little longer.

Starvation And A Shrinking Stomach

Without any food, you should expect to get hit by a pretty hefty dose of stomach cramps. But don't worry this will pass in a few days—it is simply your digestive system shrinking. At this point, you will be getting light headed, dizzy, and pretty darn lethargic because you are hitting the two-week period within the starvation timeline, which is where things start to really get interesting.

Fourteen Days Without Food

Your neuromuscular system becomes very listless making standing upright feel more like a marathon, while sitting up feels like you're lifting heavy weights. Your ability to control your muscle movement is quietly and drastically slipping away.

Fifteen to Twenty Days Without Food

You will constantly feel cold at this point during the starvation process, as your body is struggling to stay warm. You see, without any food energy or fat stores to draw from, the task is near impossible. You are very weak, which causes changes in your breathing and swallowing. Now, due to changes in swallowing, you will experience painful episodes of hiccups. The hiccups are not be discounted as "just hiccups." Because this kind of hiccup is going to really hurt under such harsh conditions. As the anemia sets in, your looking quite pale and your bones begin to change the architecture of your form, bulbous and visibly protruding from under your skin. A skeletal shadow is what becomes of your silhouette.

Thirty Days Without Food

This is the really exciting part! "Things" that are normally full-form begin to shrivel up, you know, like your testicles or ovaries (and it has nothing to do with temperature of the water). You'll be watching your hair as it floats to the ground in clumps from your once healthy follicles. Oh, and that big chunk of leather in your mouth, don't worry it is just your tongue. Things are simply not going well for you at all.

You will lose control of your eye muscles as starvation takes its toll.

You will lose control of your eye muscles as starvation takes its toll.

Six Weeks Without Food

The world takes on an entirely new look to you as your eyes keep rolling around inside your shrinking head. Even if you could lift a cup of water, you wouldn't be able to swallow it. If you could manage to get access to intravenous hydration, your cells can't keep a hold of the fluids—it may even cause diarrhea which could kill you quicker from even greater dehydration.

Eight to Twelve Weeks Without Food

Between the eighth and twelfth week of starvation, it becomes apparent that your heart, and every other muscle in your body, has shrunk. The heart works overtime in an attempt to pump blood through your body even as the low-pressure environment makes it a futile task. Your breathing is very shallow now. You will begin to take on that distinguishing look of a dead body now that the cold of having no fuel and minimal blood-flow has turned to hypothermia. Your liquids are pooling inside your arms, legs and abdomen just like they would in a corpse. The facts are, by this time you not only have the characteristics of a dead body, but due to heart failure, respiratory failure, or neurological seizing, you have likely become one.

Hunger Statistic For Women and Children World Wide

Information is derived from The Hunger Project


60% of the world's hungry are women

50% of pregnant women in developing countries lack proper maternal care.

300,000 deaths annually because of child birth are due to lack of maternal care.

1 in 6 births in developing countries result in low birth weight .

2.6 million child deaths annually are due to conditions surrounding malnutrition.

1/3 of all childhood death in sub-Saharan Africa is caused by hunger.

Every five seconds a child dies from some form of hunger-related disease.

Who Is At The Highest Risk Of Starvation

People who have a high risk of starving to death are those who undertake hunger strikes, severe anorexics, and the millions of undernourished people around this big world who have limited access to food supplies. It is no surprise that starvation is one horrific way to die. Yet in a particularly troubled political year, hunger-strike deaths can reach into the dozens. More concerning for me however, is this;

When it comes to the people who are NOT intentionally starving themselves to death, according to the United Nations estimates, more than 25,000 people will die from starvation every single day. Which means that more than 9,125,000 people will die of starvation every year.

Where Is Hunger The Worst

Comments for "IRA Hunger Strike"

lew armagh on December 16, 2012:

statistics! ideal body weight, lean body weight-

and weight at which an individual starves to death

Rachel Koski Nielsen from from PA, now homesteading in MN on October 03, 2012:

Interesting Hub; morbidly interesting, anyway. I've heard/read that a human can last 2 months without food, but never knew what was going to go on during those 2 months. Makes me have a little more respect for those who undergo hunger strikes! Great hub, voted up etc.

Deborah Brooks Langford from Brownsville,TX on July 31, 2012:

wow how interesting.. I had to have some procedures the other day and one of them I had to not eat for 24 hours just liquids.. I started freezing after awhile..

great hub


India Arnold (author) from Northern, California on July 31, 2012:

@Teresa Coppens~ It seems near impossible to live that long without food! But, people do. I believe I could come up with a less miserable way to say, "I told you so" than starvation...what a horrible way to go. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Know that your humor was not lost on me one tiny bit!---he-he-he--- ;) Good stuff, T!


@cherylone~Sorry medical reasons caused eating to be a problem, I hope you are wonderful now. I wouldn't choose this as an avenue of self demise either, just far too retched for my taste. Thank you for stopping by today, I appreciate you sharing your story.


Cheryl Simonds from Connecticut on July 30, 2012:

Extremely frigthtening, and I don't know how anyone can do this voluntarily. I have gone for some time without eating due to medical problems and they were bad enough.

Teresa Coppens from Ontario, Canada on July 28, 2012:

Frightening but interesting at the same time. I had no idea the human body could withstand that much time without food. What a horrific way to die. Very interesting hub though and a lot of 'food' for thought!

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