Unlikely as it may sound, two spots in Tehran, Iran pay homage to Bobby Sands, the IRA activist who died while hunger striking in the Maze Prison in Northern Ireland.
Perhaps a bit frivolously, a fast-food restaurant in Tehran bears the name of the political activist Bobby Sands and even includes the iconic mural that was first painted in Belfast on its front awning.
Another spot in the bustling Iranian capital is Bobby Sands Street, which was originally named Winston Churchill Street. Not surprisingly, the locale has a more politically influenced history.
Pedram Moallemian, a former Iranian student, wrote this article which is posted on the Bobby Sands Trust website. In it, Moallemian recounts back to 1981 when he and his friends, active in the turbulent political happenings of Iran at the time, moved to rename Winston Churchill Street to Bobby Sands Street.
“Shortly after the revolution of 1979, Iranians were busy changing names,” writes Moallemian. “Names of thousands of streets, buildings and even cities that had been named after the Shah, his family or others close to the former regime needed to be changed and replaced by new idols and symbols of the revolution.”
Moallemian and his friends concocted their idea in March 1981 when they first heard the news that Bobby Sands had died as a result of his hunger striking while in the Northern Irish prison. Sands quickly became a name for the teens to connect with righteous rebellion and wanted to pay homage.
One of the friends lived in an area that overlooked the British Embassy in Tehran which was located on the aptly named Winston Churchill Street. The Iranian teens knew they wanted to pay homage to Bobby Sands, and knew this would be the perfect place to do it.
Originally, the teens wanted to replace the Embassy’s British flags with Irish ones, but weren’t able to locate any in Tehran, and weren’t able to handcraft a decent looking one. Then, they came up with the plan to hoist a white flag bearing the letters ‘I.R.A,’ but the sheet was too heavy the flag wouldn’t fly.
Ultimately, the teens decided on attempting to rename Winston Churchill Street to Bobby Sands Street.
“The plan wasn’t as exciting and adventurous, but we were desperate at this point. We all agreed and had soon bought large white construction paper and navy magic markers to make signs. I was the most graphically gifted of the bunch, so I’d draw the shape of the actual signs, copying the real ones made by the city and the rest of the gang would color and cut them. We made about twenty of them and got out when it got dark to cover the old signs.”
“Next evening we returned to see if any of them were left and to our surprise, there were a few new ones made by others too and, thanks to the glue we had used, even the ones very close to the embassy compound had remained in place. However, the occasional missing corner was proof someone had tried to remove them. Soon the entire street had new signs and the city officially changed the name also.”
Moallemian recalls the first “victory” being when he heard a woman hail a cab and request her destination as “Bobby Sands.”
“The larger victory, however, was when we discovered the embassy had been forced to change their mailing address and all their printed material to reflect a side door address in order to avoid using Bobby’s name anywhere.”
Indeed, after Winston Churchill Street was renamed to Bobby Sands Street, the Embassy put a door on the opposite side of the building so its mailing address wouldn’t have to read Bobby Sands.
Read more: IRA inmates escape from Maze Prison in 1983
* Originally published in 2013