Austin Stack: A rarely praised but extremely praiseworthy Republican
Austin Stack was born in 1879 in the town of Tralee, Co. Kerry. As a young man, he participated in Kerry GAA sports and events, and got acquainted with the Republican underground in his area. He became active with the Irish Volunteers around his town and his reputation as a determined man spread.
His first arrest came in April 1916, when he, acting as Commandant of the Kerry Brigade, was captured by RIC members with fellow Irish Volunteer and Dublin man Con Collins while planning an attack the Tralee barracks where Roger Casement
was being held. Tried in typical British fashion, Stack was sentenced to 20 years.
In 1917, Stack was released under the general amnesty of Republican prisoners. He then became active in the new political arena developing in Ireland. He was elected as Secretary of Sinn Fein, a position he would hold for the next 12 years. Shortly after this, in early 1918, he was again arrested and taken to Crumlin Road Jail where he participated in numerous protests with his comrades. These hunger and thirst strikes would take a toll on Austin's health for the rest of his life.
While he was in prison, Stack stood in the 1918 General Election
and won the First Dail seat for Kerry West. This victory began a particular distaste from the British, and shortly after he was transferred to Strangeways prison in Manchester. He spent only a short time there; he escaped in the fall of 1919.
Upon returning to Ireland, he took his seat in the Dail and participated as the Minister of Home Affairs during the 2nd Ministry in the first half of 1920. During this time, he was key in organising the new Irish Republic judicial system, to replace the long injust British courts. Amidst all this, he was also leading IRA men against the Tans
Stack was re-elected to the 2nd Dail for the jurisdiction of Kerry Limerick West and again took the position of Minister of Home Affairs. He along with Cathal Brugha
, were nominated to accompany the delegation that would later sign the Treaty of surrender
. They all rejected the invitations. He refused to recognise the British Crown as having any hold on Irish self-determination.
He vocally rejected the signing of that Treaty of Partition
in December of 1921 and vowed to fight on. He is quoted as saying in front of the whole Dail, "Has any man here the hardihood to stand up and say that it was for this our fathers suffered, that it was for this our comrades have died in the field and in the barrack yard?"
He fought with the so-called Irregulars
[sic] (the "dissidents"
of those days) against the Free Staters. He was captured and imprisoned by Free State forces during their swoop of arrests in the Spring of 1923.
A mass hungerstrike was decided upon for October and hundreds of Republicans (women included) took part. The result of this strike was as desired. The Free State officials, fearing that their fledging hypocritic statelet would come under fire for allowing people to starve in their prisons, caved in and released the Republican prisoners. The number of Republicans participating in this strike is thought to have numbered around 700. Three men died during or directly after this strike, their names were Dennis Barry, Joseph Lacey and Andrew Sullivan.
Austin would never give up his hope for a 32-County Republic. He continued to fight politically for its recognition. He was elected three more times to the 32 County Dail. Sadly, towards the end of April 1929, Stack's body, riddled by years of hunger striking, finally quit on him and he died after complications from a stomach operation days before.
Austin Stack is revered in Republican circles as a man of no compromise and of flawless integrity. He is buried along with so many of his valiant comrades in Glasnevin Cemetery