11 May 2006

1946 hunger strike tribute

Daily Ireland

Mural and plaque dedicated to former IRA chief of staff who died 60 years ago today

by Mick Hall

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usA republican who died on hunger strike 60 years ago today will have a mural and plaque dedicated to his memory unveiled this evening in Belfast.

Photo of Séan McCaughey from Larkspirit's The Forgotten Hunger Strikes

Former IRA chief of staff Seán McCaughey, who lived in the Ardoyne area of north Belfast, went on hunger strike at Portlaoise Prison in Co Laois on April 19, 1946.
His hunger strike for political status ended when he died on May 11.
He had began refusing water after the fifth day of his protest.
Hundreds of republicans are expected to attend this evening’s commemoration, which will start at 6pm in Brompton Park, Ardoyne.
A mural by the local artist Michael Doherty will be on display.
Seán McCaughey was sentenced to death in 1941 after being convicted at Dublin’s Criminal Court of falsely imprisoning and assaulting the suspected IRA informer Stephen Hayes.
He subsequently had this sentence commuted to life imprisonment. He was incarcerated at Portlaoise with several senior republicans, including Liam Rice and Jim Crafton.
Taoiseach Eamon de Valera’s Free State government denied the prisoners political status.
In a forerunner of the H-block protests of 1976 to 1981, the men went on a “strip strike”.
From 1941 to 1943, they were held naked in solitary confinement.
They were also refused permission to use the toilet outside their cells.
McCaughey received no visits during this time at the prison. After the hunger striker’s death, one witness who saw the body described McCaughey’s tongue as having “shrunk the size of a threepenny bit”.
North Belfast resident Barry Mullan, a grandnephew of McCaughey, told Daily Ireland his great-uncle had been a committed republican who had, like many at that time, endured severe repression during and after World War II under the government of the 1940s.
“Seán was one of the first blanket men. His story has unfortunately been displaced amid the chaos of the past 35 years of conflict and I welcome this commemoration,” he said.
“We are commemorating 1916 and 1981 this year and, in doing so, it is also fitting that people are also remembering Seán and his comrades, who went through another dark period for republicans during this century.”
At an inquest held in the jail immediately after McCaughey’s death, former IRA man Seán MacBride — acting as counsel for the next of kin — was denied the right to cross-examine the governor.
MacBride asked the prison doctor if he would have treated his dog in the way the Belfast man had been treated. The doctor replied: “I would not treat any dog in that manner.”
Martin Óg Meehan, organiser of this evening’s event, said McCaughey’s death had had the effect of breaking through war-time censorship, exposing to the public the conditions suffered by republican prisoners at Portlaoise during those years.
“Few had any idea at the time about those barbaric conditions. It was only through Seán’s inquest and subsequent Dáil questions that the situation was exposed.”
With a change of government in 1948, General Seán Mac Eoin, the new justice minister, released the political prisoners, who numbered around 800.
Seán McCaughey, originally from Aughnacloy in Co Tyrone, moved to Ardoyne in the early 1930s.
He was a keen player of Gaelic games and a qualified teacher of the Irish language.
He joined the Belfast IRA in 1935 and was quickly promoted to chief of staff of the organisation after the Stormont regime interned most of the IRA leadership in the North during the late 1930s.
The National Graves Association will hold a special service in memory of Seán McCaughey at his graveside in west Belfast’s Milltown Cemetery this Sunday.

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