seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of Frank Stagg, Provisional IRA Hunger Striker

Frank Stagg, Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) hunger striker, is born in Hollymount, County Mayo on October 4, 1941.

Stagg is the seventh child in a family of thirteen children. His father, Henry, and his uncle had both fought in the Irish War of Independence and Irish Civil War. His brother, Emmet Stagg, becomes a Labour Party politician and a Teachta Dála (TD) for Kildare North. He is educated to primary level at Newbrook Primary School and at CBS Ballinrobe to secondary level. After finishing his schooling, he works as an assistant gamekeeper with his uncle prior to emigrating to England in search of work. Once in England, he gains employment as a bus conductor in North London and later becomes a bus driver. While in England he meets and marries fellow Mayo native, Bridie Armstrong from Carnacon in 1970.

In 1972, Stagg joins the Luton cumann of Sinn Féin and soon after becomes a volunteer in the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA).

In April 1973, Stagg is arrested with six others alleged to comprise an IRA unit planning bombing attacks in Coventry. He is tried at Birmingham Crown Court. The jury finds three of the seven not guilty. The remaining four are all found guilty of criminal damage and conspiracy to commit arson. Stagg and English-born priest, Father Patrick Fell, are found to be the unit’s commanding officers. Stagg is given a ten-year sentence and Fell is given twelve years. Thomas Gerald Rush is given seven years and Anthony Roland Lynch, who is also found guilty of possessing articles with intent to destroy property, namely nitric acid, balloons, wax and sodium chlorate, is given ten years.

Stagg is initially sent to the top security Albany Prison on the Isle of Wight. In March 1974, having been moved to Parkhurst Prison, he and fellow Mayo man Michael Gaughan join a hunger strike begun by the sisters Marian Price and Dolours Price, Hugh Feeney and Gerry Kelly.

Following the hunger strike that results in the death of Michael Gaughan, the Price sisters, Feeney and Kelly are granted repatriation to Ireland. Stagg is denied repatriation and is transferred to Long Lartin Prison. During his time there he is subject to solitary confinement for refusing to do prison work and is also subjected, along with his wife and sisters during visits, to humiliating body searches. In protest against this, he begins a second hunger strike that lasts for thirty-four days. This ends when the prison governor agrees to an end of the strip-searches on Stagg and his visitors. He is bed-ridden for the rest of his incarceration in Long Lartin, due to a kidney complaint.

In 1975 Stagg is transferred to Wakefield Prison, where it is demanded that he again do prison work. He refuses and is placed in solitary confinement. On December 14, 1975, he embarks on a hunger strike in Wakefield, along with a number of other republican prisoners, after being refused repatriation to Ireland during the IRA/British truce. His demands are an end to solitary confinement, no prison work and repatriation to prison in Ireland. The British government refuses to meet any of these demands and Stagg dies on February 12, 1976 after 62 days on hunger strike.

Stagg’s burial causes considerable controversy. Republicans and two of his brothers seek to have him buried in the republican plot in Ballina beside the grave of Michael Gaughan, in accordance with his wishes. His widow, his brother Emmet Stagg and the Irish government wish to have him buried in the family plot in the same cemetery and to avoid republican involvement in the funeral.

In order to prevent the body from being disinterred and reburied by republicans, the grave is covered with concrete. Local Gardaí keep an armed guard by the grave for six months. However, unknown to them, the plot beside the grave is available for purchase. Stagg’s brother George purchases the plot and places a headstone over it, with it declaring that the “pro-British Irish government” had stolen Frank’s body. In November 1977, a group of republicans dig down into the plot that George had purchased, then dig sideways and recover Stagg’s coffin from the adjacent plot under cover of darkness, before reburying it in the republican plot beside the body of Michael Gaughan. The Republicans hold their own version of a funeral ceremony before disappearing back into the night.

Following the final burial, an anonymous letter is sent to Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave, Minister for Justice Patrick Cooney, Minister for Post and Telegraphs Conor Cruise O’Brien and Minister for Foreign Affairs Garret FitzGerald, informing them each that they have been “marked out for assassination” because of their government’s involvement with Stagg’s burials. Stagg’s widow Bridie and his brother Emmett are reported to be intimidated by members of the Provisional IRA due to their opposition to his burial in a Republican plot.

The IRA swears revenge over Stagg’s death, warning the British public it is going to attack indiscriminately. They explode about 13 bombs throughout England within a month after his death.


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President McAleese Visits Brakey Orange Hall

mcaleese-at-brakey-orange-hallPresident Mary McAleese makes the first official visit by an Irish head of state to an Orange Order hall when she visits Brakey Orange Hall, just outside Bailieborough, County Cavan on November 28, 2008.

Brakey Orange Hall had been destroyed in an arson attack on July 13, 2000, but had since been rebuilt and reopened in 2004. Further extensions and improvements have been made since, with the latest recently completed in time for the occasion.

Approximately 50 local people, many of the men in their orange lapels and other regalia, pack the little hall to honour their guest. Placing the visit in a wider context, McAleese says the “journey of peace-building and peace-making” since the signing of the Belfast Agreement ten years earlier must continue, and calls for a new culture of tolerance and acceptance in both parts of Ireland.

McAleese is welcomed by Cavan County Grand Master Henry Latimer, who praises the financial support for Orange halls in Border counties provided by the Government. He outlines to the President and her husband, Dr. Martin McAleese, the close bond between local communities and Orange halls and the facilities provided for meetings, classes and social events. “Given the widespread nature of such activity, it demonstrates why when halls are damaged, attacked, destroyed or [placed] beyond use for periods of time, the community activity of its related hinterland suffers and is curtailed,” he adds.

McAleese hails the occasion as an example of fresh understanding in relationships between different traditions. “We have taken the first important steps towards ending the bitter culture of ‘either-or,’ of them versus us,” she says. She calls on Irish people everywhere “to build a new culture . . . each accepting that there are different perspectives and practices.”

McAleese praises Latimer as a good Cavan man, a good Irishman and a good Orangeman. The burning of Orange halls, she says, are “intemperate acts of vandalism” which are “a throw-back to another time.”

Appealing for an end to attacks on Orange halls and GAA clubs by arsonists McAleese adds, “I invite them all to stop and think how wonderfully transformed all our lives would be if we were all made as welcome in each other’s homes as I have been made welcome here.”

McAleese receives a bouquet of flowers and a piece of Cavan crystal to mark her visit. She later attends other engagements throughout Cavan.

(From: “President makes first official visit by Irish head of state to an Orange hall” by Dan Keenan, The Irish Times, November 28, 2008)


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The Stardust Nightclub Fire

stardust-ballroom-artaneThe Stardust nightclub in Artane, Dublin goes up in flames in the early hours of February 14, 1981. Some 841 people had attended a disco there, of whom 48 die and 214 are injured as a result of the fire.

The fire starts due to an electrical fault in a first floor store room inside the building that is open to the roof space. The non-compliant storage room contains dangerously flammable materials including drums of cooking oil. The staff observes a small fire outbreak on a seat in an alcove behind a curtain and fail in an attempt to extinguish it. This fire apparently starts after fire in the roof space comes through the roof tiles and falls onto the seat. The fire then spreads to tables and chairs and patrons notice smoke. The disc jockey announces that there is a small fire and requests a calm evacuation.

Outside, the fire is first spotted by a lady 200 metres from the Stardust and she calls the Dublin Fire Brigade. Within the same minute of her call, two other calls are made from the Stardust building to tell the Fire Brigade that there is a small fire on a seat in the ballroom. The fire is very small when first seen in the ballroom. Within two minutes a ferocious burst of heat and lots of thick black smoke quickly start coming from the ceiling, causing the material in the ceiling to melt and drip on top of patrons and other highly flammable materials including the seats and carpet tiles on the walls. The fire flashover envelopes the club and the lights fail.

The attendees at a trade union function taking place in the same building make their escape but the escape of some of the Stardust patrons is hampered by a number of obstructions. Some of the main fire exits are padlocked around the push bars and consequently are impossible to open.

The failure of the lighting in the club leads to widespread panic causing mass trampling as many of the patrons instinctively run for the main entrance. Many people mistake the entrance to the men’s toilets for the main entrance doors but the windows there have metal plates fixed on the inside and iron bars on the outside. Firemen attempt in vain to pull off the metal bars using a chain attached to a fire engine. Firemen rescue 25 to 30 of those trapped in the front toilets.

Ambulances from Dublin Fire Brigade, the Eastern Health Board, Civil Defence Ireland, the Irish Red Cross, the Order of Malta Ambulance Corps and St. John Ambulance Ireland are dispatched to the scene. Many ambulances leave the scene carrying up to 15 casualties. CIÉ also sends buses to transport the injured, and local radio stations ask people in the vicinity with cars to come to the club. The city’s hospitals are overwhelmed by the influx of injured and dying, in particular Mater Misericordiae University Hospital, Jervis Street Hospital and Dr. Steevens’ Hospitals.

The investigation at the time reports that the cause of the fire is arson. The finding of arson has recently been ruled out by investigators, as there was never any evidence to support the arson finding, even at the time of the tragedy.

There are allegations of a huge cover-up as to the cause of so many fatalities. There is a meeting before the public inquiry in 1981 of all of the experts including the Judge when the concept of arson is determined to be the cause to protect the Dublin Corporation from having to pay out millions in compensation to the victims and families. The Coolock Garda investigation is excellent but the Tribunal distorts the evidence. The Inquiry Report and the team of experts and coached witnesses conspire to conceal the truth and determine arson to be the cause without any evidence.

The club was located where Butterly Business Park now lies, opposite Artane Castle Shopping Centre.