A Man With Three Graves
IRA Volunteer Frank Stagg died on Hunger Strike in 1976 in Wakefield Prison in England. His final wish was to be brought home and buried beside his comrade and fellow Hunger Striker Michael Gaughan in the Republican plot in Ballina Cemetery in County Mayo.
The Irish Government, wanting to avoid a public display of support for the Hunger Striker, hijacked his body when it was being transported to Ireland and buried him in a grave in another part of the cemetery.
They posted guards at the burial site to ensure he would not be re-interned in the Republican plot.
Gerry Ginty was the caretaker of the cemetery and a Sinn Féin councilor in 1976. Gerry’s mother Jane, who also worked in admin at the cemetery, told Frank Stagg’s brother George that the Irish government had not paid for Frank’s grave and suggested he buy it.
‘Why?’ he asked.
‘In case you ever have to dig down,’ she said, enigmatically.
So George bought the grave and erected a headstone which read: ‘Here in a grave dug by government agents lies the body of Vol. Proinsias Stagg. His will required that he be buried in the Republican Plot alongside his comrade in the IRA Vol. M. Gaughan. Having died on hunger strike in an English jail his body was stolen and defiled by the pro British Dublin government of the day. The truth for which he lived will blossom when his remains are reburied with the Republicans of Mayo. Erected by his Comrades and family.’
He also bought the empty grave beside Franks.
The Guards maintained a round-the-clock watch on the grave. But after about a year they realized that it was a waste of garda time and resources. So, instead of the vigil, they poured about four tones of concrete on top of the grave.
Local republicans decided to act. They dug down through the adjacent empty grave and slipped Frank’s coffin out and reburied him in the Republican plot beside his comrade.
Frank’s last wishes were fulfilled.
Last week two veteran republicans who were involved in the secret re-interment of Frank Stagg’s body in 1977 have just finished a headstone and had the last word on the empty grave.
The new stone says: ‘To prevent Frank’s reburial State agents poured several feet of concrete into his grave. However, on the night of 5th November 1977, six volunteers silently dug down and tunneled under the concrete and soon recovered his remains. The volunteers then carried him to the Republican Plot where Frank was buried in dignity among his IRA comrades where he continues to rest in peace.’
The fitting postscript will stand forever as a pledge of brotherly love and loyalty.
The full story of that remarkable event is told by George in Hunger Strike—Reflections.
Gerry Ginty (left) with Frank Stagg’s brother George at the recently refurbished Republican Plot in Leigue Cemetery