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29 March 2024

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Irish Times corrected on burial of hunger striker Frank Stagg

A serious inaccuracy in the Irish Times concerning the burial of Frank Stagg has been corrected by Danny Morrison. In its obituary of Frank’s brother the late Emmet Stagg, former Labour Party TD, the newspaper omitted the hijacking and burial of Frank’s body by the Fine Gael/Labour government and gave the wrong location for that first burial. 

The Irish Times published Danny Morrison’s letter but changed the first sentence to take out the words “factually incorrect”. We carry here the letter as written by Danny. 

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Frank Stagg

• Frank Stagg

A Chara, - Your obituary (March 23rd) to the late Emmet Stagg is factually incorrect. You state: “In 1976 Stagg’s brother Frank (Proinsias), a member of the Provisional IRA, died on hunger strike in a West Yorkshire prison. Subsequently Emmet – as well as other prominent politicians at the time – was reportedly intimidated by members of the IRA due to his opposition to his brother’s reburial (Frank was initially buried in the family grave near Hollymount) in the republican plot in Ballina, Co Mayo.”

On Fine Gael/Labour Party government orders Frank Stagg was buried in an unmarked grave, not a family grave, in Leigue Cemetery, Ballina, after his coffin was seized from members of his family, including his mother. Frank Stagg’s dying wishes were to be buried in the republican plot in Ballina along with his comrade and fellow hunger striker Michael Gaughan.

Frank Stagg's mother

• Mary Stagg, Frank’s mother (right)

Frank Stagg's brother, Seán manhandled at Shannon Airport

• Frank's brother, Seán manhandled at Shannon Airport

Frank’s mother was unshakable in her love and support for her son. She believed that it was the family’s duty to support Frank. She and members of the family were awaiting the repatriation of Frank’s body at Dublin airport. Unknown to them the government had ordered the plane to divert to Shannon. You are correct about there being intimidation: Frank’s brother George who was accompanying Frank’s coffin was arrested on touchdown and driven to Ennis Gardai stationand imprisoned. Special Branch then locked the coffin in Shannon Airport, refusing to allow anyone, including his mother, to visit it or be near it. It was loaded onto an army helicopter by uniformed Gardai and flown to Mayo. No private cars were allowed at the funeral. The cortege consisted of approximately twenty armoured military vehicles and about fifty Garda personnel carriers. Road-blocks set up as the cortege passed, to prevent anyone following.

Huge Garda presence at the funeral

• Huge Garda presence at the funeral

A permanent Garda presence kept watch on the cemetery for eighteen months. All visitors to the grave, including Frank’s mother, were recorded, questioned and photographed. In July 1977, the top soil was removed and four foot of concrete was poured into the grave and the Garda withdrew, apparently in the belief that the grave was permanently sealed.

George Stagg later learnt that the government had not paid for the grave. He bought it and the plot next to it and in November 1977 he and others dug down into the empty plot, removed Frank’s remains and re-interred it in the republican plot next to Michael Gaughan, making good a promise George had made to his brother.

Frank Stagg headstone

The endorsement of the government hijacking of Frank Stagg’s body had had the support of Emmet who, as you said, was vehemently opposed to the IRA. This had led to a division in the family although I am glad to say that that was resolved, Emmett and his siblings having long since put any political differences to one side and the Staggs are totally united as a loving family.



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