The Hunger Striker, the Hijacked Corpse & the Midnight Burial
Today marks the 45th anniversary of the death of IRA man Frank Stagg. Originally from County Mayo, Frank was living in England, when arrested and sentenced to prison. Everyone knows the story of Bobby Sands and the 1981 hunger strikers, but Frank's story is no less impressive, if slightly less well know.
Along with other Irish republican prisoners, Frank went on hunger strike in Wakefield Prison in England. His demands were for better conditions, an end to mandatory prison work and to be repatriated back to a prison in Ireland to be closer to his family.
The British tried to call Frank's bluff, but Frank had the courage of his convictions. Frank Stagg died on the 12th of February 1976 in an English prison after starving himself for sixty-two days. In his final message to his comrades in the Republican movement, he wrote: “We are the risen people, this time we must not be driven into the gutter. Even if this should mean dying for justice. The fight must go on. I want my memorial to be peace with justice.”
Frank requested a republican funeral and that his body should be entrusted to Sinn Féin.
The plan was for his body to be returned to Ireland and from Dublin Airport to the cemetery in Ballina where Frank would be buried, according to his wishes, in the Republican plot.
The Fine Gael/Labour Coalition government, under Fine Gael Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave, chose to defy Frank's final wishes in the most callous and insulting manner imaginable. They diverted the plane carrying his remains to Shannon Airport and then transported him by helicopter to Ballina where the Garda Special Branch buried him in a separate plot. They then covered the coffin with cement and a Garda posted at the site for months so no one could get to Frank.
Unknown to the Garda, Frank’s brother George had bought the plot adjacent to the one in which they had buried Frank. George waited 22 long months before acting. In the dead of a cold winter's night, George and Frank's comrades got out their shovels and went to work. They dug down past the concrete in the adjacent grave and slipped the coffin out.
A rosary was then said and following Frank’s last wishes, he was finally buried in the republican plot in Ballina Cemetery. A fitting tribute to an Irish patriot and martyr.