*this is part two of a reprinted piece I did last year. It is slightly different than the original.
Earlier history of hungerstriking as a tool for bringing about justice
, the Republican Party[SIC!!!],
in 1939 proscribed the IRA and the jails of the Free State soon swelled with political prisoners. In 1940, prisoners wallowing in the appalling conditions of Mountjoy Gaol began a strike.
The strikers included Tony D'Arcy, Sean McNeela, Thomas Grogan, Jack Plunkett, Tomas MacCutrain and Michael Traynor
. A week into the protest, the prisoners were mercilessly beaten by the Free State screws.
Tony D'Arcy and Sean McNeela
paid the ultimate price for their participation in this protest. They died on April 16th and 19th respectively. Shortly after, the hungerstrike was called off when the prisoners were informed that a deal had been struck with the Free State government. This apparent deal was short lived and Free State exploitation of Republicans continued.
The last hungerstriker to perish in a Free State jail was Sean McCaughey
. He was a Belfast native who was O/C of the IRA's northern command in the early 1940's. He was arrested in Dublin for holding an informer (actually the COS of the IRA). The charges were common assault and unlawful imprisonment. He was sentenced to LIFE
An original blanketman, McCaughey refused to wear the prison clothes of Portlaoise Jail and spent nearly 5 years naked except for a blanket. He commenced his hungerstrike on April 19th, 1946 and after five days began a thirst strike as well. Under these conditions, one cannot live long. Sean died after 17 days on strike. He was rightfully buried in the Republican plot at Milltown in Belfast.
The original "special category" status of the early-mid 1970's was earned thru hungerstrike. In May of 1972, after an incident between a screw and a POW in the Crumlin Road Prison, it was decided by the leadership of republican POWs inside the jail to protest the prisoner's punishment. After being told that this punishment could not be over-ruled, the political prisoners upped the ante and demanded political status.
Told that this would never happen, six prisoners led by Billy McKee were chosen to spearhead the hungerstrike. As McKee's health began to deteriorate and his death seemed to be inevitable, the Brits agreed to a secret meeting to "negotiate" a settlement. Ireland's Own
says the following about the strike's end: "The Provos agreed to grant a ceasefire and meet with Whitelaw if two conditions were met: concede to the prisoners' demands for special political status; and free Gerry Adams from prison so he could participate in the talks."
This strike lasted 35 days and ended in the granting of "Special Category Status," a cop-out name pinned on the concession by the British to save face.
was one of the first Provisional IRA members to be imprisoned in England. He was tried and sentenced for his part in a bank raid at Old Bailey in December of 1971. Frank Stagg
was tried and sentenced in November of 1973 in Coventry on an vacuous charge of conspiracy to commit explosions.
Also in November 1973, the "Belfast Ten" were tried and sentenced to life for bombings that occurred earlier in the year in England. These ten included Marian
and Dolours Price, Gerry Kelly, and Hugh Feeney
. These four commenced hungerstrike upon entering prison. They were brutally force-fed for two hundred and six days.
Gaughan and Stagg joined the strike on March 31st, 1974 primarily to show support for their comrades already on strike and secondly for repatriation. After 23 days refusing food, they were force-fed. This brutal practice involves sticking a thick greased tube down a person's throat and into the stomach. Often the tube enters the windpipe and it was because of this that Michael Gaughan died. He became ill after the tube punctured his lung, caught pneumonia and died on June 3rd, 1974.
This death caused the British establishment much shame and led to the abandonment of force-feeding as a tactic for countering hungerstrikes. The four strikers of the "Belfast Ten
" ended their strike shortly after and Stagg's ended on the 7th.
Having his demands for repatriation ignored, Stagg began a second strike after being transferred from Parkhurst to Worcestershire. 10th October 1974 was the first day of Stagg's second strike. Thirty one days later he was told that he would be transferred to Long Kesh by March of 1975. He ended his strike in lieu of this deal.
In March of 1975, Gerry Kelly and Hugh Feeney were transferred to the cages of Long Kesh and the Price sisters were repatriated to Armagh Jail. But Frank Stagg remained in England. Now in Wakefield Prison, Frank commenced a third hungerstrike on the 14th of December 1975. He was to die after 62 days refusing food, February 12, 1976.
Free State officials had Stagg's body diverted from Dublin to Shannon airport to prevent a show of Republican sentiment in the city. The Special Branch thugs then seized his coffin and kept it in the airport for 48 hours before flying it by helicopter under guard to Robeen Church in Co. Mayo. The Special Branch prevented it from being buried in the Republican plot. Stagg was instead buried 10 metres away and his coffin was covered over top by cement to prevent it from ever being moved. Also, for six months there was a constant Special Branch presence in the cemetery. This didn't stop the rightful thing from happening.
On November 8th, 1976 a group of IRA Volunteers accompanied by a priest tunneled down under the grave and removed the coffin. They buried it in the Republican plot and held a short religious service.