ABOUT H3

Seamus (Brendan Mackey) and Ciaran (Dean Lennox Kelly), are childhood friends with a shared commitment to Ireland's independence from British rule, a commitment which puts a sudden end to their 'teenage kicks' and lands them a lengthy sentence behind bars. 'You should be out chasing girls instead of planting bombs', a prison guard tells the newest inmate, Declan McCann, as he is brought into the Maze prison where he is stripped, jeered at and then brought down to H3 - the bleakest of all the H-Blocks.

As the door of the tiny cell is locked behind him, he comes face to face with Seamus who is not overjoyed to have company, especially not a naïve newcomer like Declan. And sharing a cell during the protest is a little more intimate than either would like. But gradually the two settle in as Seamus shows Declan the ropes and teaches him the ways of life 'on the blanket'. Cold, hungry, scared and with the constant threat of beatings, the will of the other prisoners is almost at breaking point. "What are we going to do?

Walk out with our hands up and say we're just criminals?" an exasperated Seamus asks Ciaran, who is questioning the point of continuing the protest. "Well, what are we going to do, Seamus?" replies Ciaran, "You tell me". Unfortunately, Seamus has no answers. They call a meeting to work out what to do next. Some want to test the authorities, to see if a way forward can be negotiated. Others are angry and frustrated and eager for decisive action. Everyone is more than aware of the consequences of the hard decisions being made. Seamus tries to find a solution that can avoid the inevitable hunger strike and suggests an alternative plan of action.

"What have we got to lose? he asks Bobby Sands. Recognising their lack of options, Bobby agrees to give Seamus's plan a go. But the plan backfires and their demands are once again refused. There is much anger and bitterness among prisoners and they question Seamus's judgement.

Things reach breaking point. A riot results in a severe retaliation by the riot squad. Ciaran cannot take anymore and cracks under the pressure. As he leaves his comrades and the protest, he is painfully aware that his decision means betrayal of both his cause and his oldest friend. Seamus is deeply unnerved by his best friends' leaving. He now accepts that a hunger strike is the only way to try and break the British authorities. A date is chosen and Bobby Sands volunteers to be the first to go on hunger strike.

To everyone's surprise, he chooses Seamus as his second-in-command, to co-ordinate the hunger strike and take over when Bobby is too weak to make decisions. "Why Seamus?, asks one prisoner sceptically. 'I need someone who has the strength to let me die', Bobby explains. This means that Seamus is now the man who has to choose the men who will replace the hunger strikers who die. Seamus, while accepting the challenge, is also wracked by uncertainties, torn apart by the prospect of his comrades' death, his duty in naming strikers to replace Sands and the inevitable suffering of the families outside. He knows he cannot in all conscience produce a list of names which does not include his own, but yet has to search deep within his heart for the courage to put his name down to die.

A last minute suggestion offers a possible reprieve - Bobby Sands is to stand in the British parliament election following the death of the MP Frank Maguire. All the prisoners throw themselves behind the election campaign, writing to everyone on the outside who may vote. But deep down, they fear that win or lose, the election won't stop the hunger strike. After what seems like a lifetime of waiting, the result comes through on a smuggled radio. Bobby has won. There is major euphoria and outpouring of joy and frustration among the prisoners.

Even the prison officers are silenced. 'Is that political enough for you?' a prisoner screams triumphantly at them from his cell window. "Do criminals get 30,000 votes? Even Maggie Thatcher didn't get 30,000 votes! But the result changes nothing and hope begins to ebb as Bobby's health severely breaks down and the pressure on Seamus to come up with a list of replacement names intensifies. Declan grows up fast as he watches Seamus wrestle with his inner demons and sees the suffering of his fellow prisoners. As dawn breaks, Seamus summons up the strength he needs to do what he thinks is right. After 66 days on hunger strike, Bobby Sands dies. Declan is the first to hear the news everyone has being dreading. A stunned silence surrounds the H-blocks as the prisoners try to come to terms with the death of their friend. A new reality has dawned and there is now no going back.

As the prisoners line up to take their places at the mass, each is renewed in their conviction that they will stand together, whatever it takes. It is this conviction which forms a bond of friendship between them, a bond so strong that it can endure all the suffering, heartbreak and sadness in the times ahead.