TWO DEATHS, FOUR FUNERALS AND THREE BURIALS

Diarmuid Breatnach

 

IRA Volunteer Michael Gaughan was killed in Parkhurst Jail on the Isle of Wight this month in 1974. He was killed on the 3rd June that year by force-feeding while on hunger strike. An honour guard of Provisional IRA had presided over his body’s removal by ferry to the mainland and from there to London, where the first of his three funeral processions was to take place.

Volunteer Michael Gaughan, the image most often associated with him.
(Photo source: Internet)

Also on hunger-strike with Gaughan although in different jails in Britain were other Provisional IRA prisoners: Gerry Kelly, Paul Holmes, Hugh Feeney and fellow Mayoman Frank Stagg. They were acting in support of the struggle of Volunteers Dolours and Marion Price1 to obtain political status and to be transferred to a jail in Ireland. The prisoners’ demands were as follows:

  • The right to political status
  • The right to wear their own clothes
  • A guarantee that they would not be returned to solitary confinement
  • The right to educational facilities and not engage in penal labour
  • The setting of a reasonable date for a transfer to an Irish prison2

At the time I was a young and fairly inexperienced activist supporting an English-based Marxist-Leninist group.3

 

LONDON

Vol. Gaughan’s funeral procession in Kilburn, London.
(Photo source: Internet)

On the 7th a funeral procession was being organised by Provisional Sinn Féın in an area of strong Irish diaspora settlement in North-West London. I took a bus from my South-East London home by a part of the canal near Peckham (now filled in) to the Elephant & Castle and changed on to the London Underground metro system to travel to Kilburn, from where I walked up to the Cricklewood area. There in the forecourt of the Crown pub was where I had been told the funeral procession would gather and where I would also meet my comrades of the organisation.

After a little, preparations were being made for departure. A priest was to lead the procession, which I strongly disliked but obviously had no say in the arrangements. A lone piper would follow, a traditional feature of mourning where Irish resistance is involved. The coffin would be carried for a period on the shoulders of volunteers, before being transferred to the hearse and a senior comrade of my organisation approached me.

Another view of the funeral procession of Vol. Gaughan through Kilburn, London.
(Photo source: Internet)

Some representatives of British Left organisations are going to carry the coffin,” he said. “We’ve been asked if we’d like to take part. What do you think?”

He was asking me, I presumed, because I was the only Irish supporter of the organisation present, although it had an excellent record of supporting Irish resistance and prisoners and several of its comrades had gone to jail as a result.

He seemed not keen on the idea and I got the impression that he felt as I did that it was tokenism, distasteful posturing by the British Left. Tariq Ali (now a journalist but then a member of the now-defunct Trotskyist organisation in Britain, the International Marxist Group) was one of those hefting the coffin. I agreed with my comrade and said we should not (a decision I now regret) and so we didn’t. No organisation on the British Left at that time, in terms of commitment and actions in proportion to its size, deserved the honour more than our organisation.

From the forecourt of the Crown a long parade escorted Gaughan’s coffin from Cricklewood in West London along the main road to the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Quex Road church in Kilburn. It was a very Irish area then with nearly every pub being of mainly Irish clientele and it contained a dance hall where Irish bands played. Every shop and pub along the way was closed for the funeral and crowds lined the route. The atmosphere was very solemn with the laments being played by the piper very audible.

 

DUBLIN

Michael Gaughan’s funeral procession approaching O’Connell Bridge, Dublin city centre.
(Photo source: Internet)

Another view of the Michael Gaughan funeral, Dublin

On the 8th of June 1974, the body of IRA Volunteer Michael Gaughan arrived in Dublin, where it was met by mourners and an IRA guard of honour. The body was brought to the Adam and Eve’s Franciscan church on Merchant’s Quay, where thousands filed past as it lay in state (no doubt under the watchful eyes of the Garda Special Branch).

Vol Gaughan lying in state with IRA honour guard in Dublin.
(Photo source: Internet)

 

MAYO

On the following day, the 9th of June 1974, Michael Gaughan’s funeral took place in Ballina, County Mayo. The funeral mass was held at St. Muiredach’s Cathedral, Ballina, procession then to Leigue Cemetery, Ballina. He was given a full republican burial and laid to rest in the Republican plot (where Frank Stagg, also killed by force-feeding, would join him after being reburied in November 1976 – see further below). Vol. Gaughan’s coffin was draped in the same Tricolour that had been used for Terence McSwiney’s funeral 54 years earlier (the same flag would later be used in the funeral of James McDade, IRA member killed in a premature explosion in Coventry). Gaughan’s funeral was attended by over 50,000 people, larger than the funeral of former Irish president Éamon de Valera.

 

FRANK STAGG

Frank Stagg, the image most frequently used.
(Image source: Internet)

It was no doubt to avoid scenes such as this that the Irish state took certain steps when two years later, on 12th February 1976, a comrade of Gaughan’s, Vol. Frank Stagg, also from Mayo, was also killed in Wakefield Prison, Yorkshire, by force-feeding while on hunger-strike. Although much of this this took place during the IRA truce of 1975-January 1976, the British authorities refused to grant any of the demands. The Wikipedia entry says that “Stagg died on 12 February 1976 after 62 days on hunger strike” which, though not untrue is a lie by omission.4

The repatriation of the body of Frank Stagg at Shannon Airport from Wakefield Prison in Britain where he died on hunger strike on 12 February 1976.

The Irish Government had the flight carrying his coffin diverted from Dublin where a large crowd awaited it, to Shannon airport.

On arrival at Shannon, the Gardaí snatched the coffin and drove it straight to Ballina, Mayo under armed guard, to a cemetery near Stagg’s family home, where it was placed in a prepared grave into which wet concrete was then poured, six feet deep, instead of soil. And the site remained under guard until the concrete had set and for some time after.

Sean, one of Frank Stagg’s brothers, being assaulted at Shannon Airport by Gardai (Photo source: Internet)

Although those proceedings would have been in complete opposition to the wishes of the deceased, the State had obtained agreement for them from Frank Stagg’s widow and one of his brothers, the Labour Party’s Emmet Stagg. It was opposed by another two of Frank Stagg’s brothers and of course by the dead Volunteer’s comrades.

The first burial of Vol. Frank Stagg, managed by the State, contrary to his wishes of the deceased. One of his brothers, Emmet, who colluded in that operation, is on the back left, lowering the coffin. (Photo source: Internet)

In November of that year, a number of those comrades dug down near the grave, tunneled under the concrete, removed the coffin and re-interred it in the Republican plot, near to Michael Gaughan’s grave, where it rests today.

A simple but plaintive song about Michael Gaughan survives in not uncommon use: Take Me Home to Mayo. There are a number of versions on Youtube; this one contains relevant images and film footage: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=14-kuxsHjPg

National Graves Association memorial in the Republican Plot, Leigue cemetery, Ballina, to which the names of Vol.s Stagg and Gaughan were added. The NGA is a nationwide non-State-funded organisation caring for the graves and erecting memorials to Ireland’s patriot dead. (Photo source: Internet)

 

end

FOOTNOTES

1Although Gerry Kelly is a current Sinn Féin MLA, both the Price Sisters denounced the Good Friday Agreement and Sinn Féin; Marian was effectively interned for a period because of her politics and has not been active politically due to ill-health since her release in May 2013.  On January 23rd of that year she was escorted from jail to attend the funeral of her sister, Dolours.  Of the surviving hunger strikers of 1975-’76, Paul Holmes was the only other one to attend that funeral.

2The British promised to concede the demands after Gaughan’s death – they had already conceded them to Loyalist prisoners – but reneged on the promise. The Price Sisters did eventually win repatriation to jail in the Six Counties, Ireland. The struggle on the issue of repatriation, which the British authorities conceded to British prisoners in Irish jails but not generally in reverse, carried on for many years. It is UN and generally human rights policy that prisoners should serve their sentences in jails close to their family networks.

3I had previously been an unaffiliated Anarchist activist, then came to support the English Communist Movement (M-L), which later became the Communist Party of England (M-L), which I left some years later. It has since gone through a number of bigger changes and evolved into the current Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain (M-L), a much-changed organisation from the days referred to in this article.

4This is an important omission because the death of Vol. Stagg at the State’s hands after Gaughan’s brought about a change in policy of the British Medical Association, which afterwards recommended to its members that people in sound state of mind embarking on a hunger strike should not be forcibly fed even if they were heading for death. In consequence, the British State no longer has a policy of force-feeding prisoners on hunger-strike, since such would have to be supervised by medical personnel.

ISLAMIST FUNDAMENTALIST BOMBERS AND THE BRITISH SECRET SERVICE

THE MANCHESTER ATROCITY WAS ALLEGEDLY COMMITTED BY SALMAN ABEDI, A MEMBER OF A FUNDAMENTALIST ISLAMIST GROUP SHELTERED BY BRITISH INTELLIGENCE SERVICES. WHAT ARE THE CONNECTIONS BETWEEN MANCHESTER, LIBYA, IRAQ, SAUDI ARABIA? THEY ARE FAR FROM TENUOUS: ESSENTIALLY, THEY ARE BRITISH, US AND FRENCH IMPERIALISM, AS JOHN PILGER EXPLAINS (see link below).

Images of some of the victims of the recent Manchester bombing (Source: Internet)

Comment

by Diarmuid Breatnach:

Irish anarchists and socialists should protest the visits of representatives of the US and British states (including the Royals) for this reason, since they seem unable to bring themselves to protest the occupation of a fifth of their country. Is not internationalist solidarity part of the creed of socialism? Do they not feel shame that the nearest imperialist power to them, its flag stained with the blood of millions and its hands dripping with fresh gore, can send its representatives to both parts of Ireland without any sign of socialist or anarchist protest?

Alleged photo of Salman Abedi, alleged Manchester bomber, from an unnamed source. Abedi was a member of an extreme Islamist group sheltered by British secret services, Pilger says.
(Source: Internet)

Irish Republicans, when protesting the visits of British Royals for reasons the socialists disdain to do, should add these imperialist crimes to their reasons, as well as the collusion of their governments in this world order. Irish Republicans claim to be socialists too – is not internationalist solidarity part of the creed of socialism? They can demonstrate this in support of Palestine – why not embrace the rest of the Middle East? After all, whatever success the Republicans hope to have against British colonialism and imperialism, they are sure to meet resistance from US and French imperialism too.

A man stands next to flowers for the victims of Monday’s bombing at St Ann’s Square in central Manchester, England, Friday, May 26 2017. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

 

 

Social democrats who think that Jeremy Corbyn, even if successful in his campaign for election as Prime Minister of the UK, can put an end to this dirty work are deluding themselves and others. This is the British State at work, representing the British ruling class – its work continues whoever is elected to the British Parliament. Only a revolution overthrowing that State can possibly bring that to an end.  Revolutionary socialists are often accused of being dreamers, impractical, Utopianists even …. but no-one can top social democrats for wishful thinking.

Hard-hitting report and analysis by journalist John Pilger of the connections between those powers and areas alluded to above: John Pilger article here