Frank Stagg’s final resting place

On government orders, hunger striker was buried in an unmarked grave, not a family grave

A chara, – Your obituary on the late Emmet Stagg (March 23rd) states: “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 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’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 Garda station and 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 gardaí and flown to Mayo.

No private cars were allowed at the funeral. The cortege consisted of approximately 20 armoured military vehicles and about 50 Garda personnel carriers. Road-blocks set up as the cortege passed, to prevent anyone following.

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A permanent Garda presence kept watch on the cemetery for 18 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 feet of concrete were poured into the grave and the Garda withdrew, apparently in the belief that the grave was permanently sealed.

George Stagg later learned 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 reinterred it in the republican plot next to Michael Gaughan, making good a promise George had made to his brother.

The endorsement of the government hijacking of Frank Stagg’s body 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. – Yours, etc,

DANNY MORRISON,

Belfast.

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