John Crawley 🎤 commemorates IRA volunteer Michael Gaughan on 2-June-2024.

Michael Gaughan was born on the 5th of October 1949 and was killed by British prison authorities 50 years ago tomorrow, on the 3rd of June 1974, when he died as a result of injuries inflicted on him while being force-fed in Parkhurst Prison on the Isle of Wight.

Michael, the eldest of six children, had emigrated to England from Ballina to find work. While in London, he joined the IRA. He was eventually sentenced at the Old Bailey to seven years in prison in December 1971, having been captured after a bank raid carried out to fund IRA operations over the water.

Michael was considered by many who knew him to be a friendly young man with a cheerful disposition. He rapidly gained a reputation as a resolute and determined republican. In one prison incident, Michael was driven to act when witnessing the frequent assaults and harassment of some Jamaican prisoners by English thugs. Instinctively on the side of the underdog, he approached one of the notorious Kray twins and warned him that if these incidents did not stop, he would ensure that his IRA colleagues on the outside would take appropriate action. Michael’s brave intervention had the desired effect, and the assaults stopped.

On the 31st of March 1974, Michael joined a hunger strike with other Irish political prisoners in English prisons to obtain political status and to be transferred to a jail in Ireland. The British establishment ordered the force-feeding of the hunger strikers.

During a typical force-feeding session, prison warders would drag the prisoner by the hair to the top of the bed, where they would stretch the prisoner’s neck over the metal rail, force a block between their teeth, and then pass a feeding tube, which extended down the throat, through a hole in the block. It was an excruciating and gruelling procedure for the prisoner, who frequently vomited throughout the process. It was revealed at Michael’s inquest that at the time of his death, his mouth and throat had been badly cut, with some of his lower teeth knocked out.

The moral and physical courage needed to see this through is almost impossible to imagine. The British have awarded the Victoria Cross to a small number of soldiers who display the most conspicuous bravery, or some daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice, or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy. The American Congressional Medal of Honour has been awarded to a select few of their soldiers who displayed conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty. Most of these acts of undoubted courage were carried out impulsively in the heat of the moment when the adrenalin was at its highest, and the intensity of close combat blurs the ability to rationalise and analyse one’s actions.

Think of the heroism involved in hunger striking, especially hunger striking to the death. What conspicuous bravery and pre-eminent acts of self-sacrifice were displayed by Michael Gaughan? How high above and beyond the call of duty did he reach in his determination to achieve his mission? And not in any act of impetuous audacity but in the grinding physical and mental attrition of slow starvation compounded by the sheer torture of force-feeding.

I was recently asked by an Irish journalist why I do not refer to the period of armed struggle between the Soloheadbeg ambush in January 1919 and the Truce in July 1921 as the War of Independence. Why do I refer to it as the Tan War? I explained that Ireland has had many wars of independence and to imply the 1919 to 1921 period was the only War of Independence comes from a partitionist mindset that presumes that war was won and independence achieved when, in fact, it was only partially achieved. Michael Gaughan died as an Irish soldier in an Irish war of independence, as legitimate a war of independence as any in our history. He believed a young man from Ballina had as much right to an all-Ireland republic as a young man from the Bogside, Bellaghy, or Ballymurphy and had the same duty to fight for it.

Britain has been at war with Irish republicanism since the United Irishmen were first formed by 28 Irish protestants in 1791. That war has varied from military strategies to kill or imprison Irish republicans to political strategies to lure republicans to the negotiating table while keeping republicanism off the table. Britain’s long campaign against the formation of a national democracy within an all-Ireland Republic is never on cease fire.

A crucial component of British strategy is controlling the narrative. Controlling the narrative is the key to shaping the concept of Irish democracy. Britain’s goal is to manipulate the strategic environment in order to entice the Irish into becoming willing accomplices in our own constitutional divisions.

What is that narrative? At its most basic, it is that the Troubles are the result of an inherent character defect in the Irish people rooted in a domestic dispute between sectarian factions. A dispute in which Britain had no selfish, strategic, or economic interest but stands nobly in the middle, keeping the warring sides apart. Having successfully defeated terrorism, they continue to strive to secure a lasting peace. This ignores the fact that England drew first blood by invading Ireland. It was England that planted Ireland and injected the sectarian dynamic into Irish politics by declaring a Protestant kingdom in which no Catholic could be head of state or marry the head of state. It made Protestantism the test for loyalty and patronage for hundreds of years. The British are in no position to lecture the Irish people on the constitutional model of a united Ireland based on non-sectarianism. In fact, it is an essential aspect of British strategy that the sectarian dynamic remains intact in any future constitutional arrangements envisioned by the Good Friday Agreement.

While their claim to be British is for unionists, heartfelt and sincere, so too for many is their anti-Catholicism. That’s why their British identity has often proven to be conditional upon England maintaining their sectarian supremacy. The Orange Order was set up in 1795 to support ‘the King and his heirs so long as he or they support the Protestant Ascendancy.’

There is no question that for many Ulster unionists, their communal identity is rooted in a paradigm of settler colonialism. Every 12th of July, they celebrate this imperial legacy and their pride at being descended from the English and Scottish planters sent by a foreign King to ethnically cleanse Ulster and crush the native Irish who remained. It is a key component of their foundational dogma that they inhabit a unique and entitled position in Irish politics. A national democracy rooted in non-sectarianism and civic equality holds no allure for this mindset. Recognising this is one thing; pandering to it by sabotaging Ireland’s republican heritage is another. Our struggle must focus on the conflict’s root cause – on the union and not the unionists.

When those who endorse the Good Friday Agreement speak of re-imaging a ‘New’ Ireland, what they really mean is refashioning the division between Planter and Gael and giving it the truly national dimension it once held when Ireland was united as a single polity under British rule. When they speak of creating a United Ireland for everyone, they mean making all of Ireland British enough to encourage unionists to feel comfortable in it. Suggestions include discarding the national flag, changing the national anthem, and the South of Ireland re-joining the British Commonwealth. Republicans know from long experience there is no shortage of political opportunists in the nationalist community who will fly any rag, bang any drum, or hum any tune if it keeps their snouts firmly in the trough. They may speak of a New Ireland, an Agreed Ireland, or a Shared Island. What they never mention is the Irish Republic.

The Plantation of Ulster was carried out to alter the national character of Ireland and to pull our country more deeply into a British orbit. Ulster unionists and roll over nationalists believe this colonising mission should continue into any new constitutional arrangements. They contend that unionist exceptionalism not only grants them a veto over British political decisions but should pre-empt Irish decisions over the identity and symbols of a united Ireland before it is even legislated for. If these decisions need to be made, they should be left to the judgement of the Irish people as a whole after unity, as they would be in any normal democracy.

Those who believe that unionists may be enticed into a united Ireland by discarding the Irish national anthem and the national flag, by chasing English royalty around Ireland, or by attending British war memorials should bear in mind that Ulster unionists chose to opt out of joining the 26-County state in 1922 when that state had substantially closer links with Britain than it does today. The Free State government had retracted its allegiance to the Irish Republic, set up a subordinate parliament in the name of the King, took an oath to be faithful to that King, was a member of the British Commonwealth, and was actively killing IRA volunteers with arms supplied by the British government. And yet, unionists had no desire then and have no desire now to become subject to the democratic decision making of a national majority if that majority happens to be Catholic, irrespective of how infiltrated, counter-revolutionary, reactionary, and dependent upon British patronage those Catholics happen to be. The logic of democracy doesn’t burden unionism, and Britain ensures it doesn’t have to.

The key to understanding the political dynamic and direction some former republicans have been lured into by the Good Friday Agreement is having the ability to distinguish the signal from the noise. Anyone who has used radios in tactical communications will know that the signal is often veiled and muddled by static and other distractions that overwhelm and conceal the essential message.

What is often missed amid the happy-clappy froth and waffle around the Good Friday Agreement and all the static and noise about a New Ireland, an Agreed Ireland, a Shared Island, is its essential premise that the republican model of Ireland as one nation is a discredited concept. That the Irish Republic proclaimed in 1916 is dead and has been consigned to the dustbin of history. The Good Friday Agreement annuls the concept of national unity across the sectarian divide. It ensures that Britain continues to sabotage our national cohesion by guaranteeing that unionists will remain British citizens even after a nationalist majority is reached in the Six Counties. That Irish citizens of the nationalist tradition and those of the plantation tradition need never form a joint civic identity. It confirms that differences that would become incidental in a genuine republic will remain fundamental in the so-called ‘New Ireland’.

Britain was awarded no right to represent Ulster unionists in the three Ulster counties incorporated into the Irish Free State in 1922. Many of these unionists in Cavan, Monaghan, and Donegal had signed the Ulster Covenant and were as loyal to the Crown in their day as their brethren a mile up the road in Fermanagh or Tyrone are today. Many still attend Orange Lodges and Orange marches. Yet, they are now equal and valued citizens of the Irish State and, since the Ireland Act 1949, have no claim to British citizenship or a British passport.

When the signatories of the 1916 Proclamation called for us to be ‘… oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien government, which have divided a minority from the majority in the past.’ they were not claiming those differences did not exist, nor were they saying they could be dismissed as irrelevant. What they were saying is those differences should never be used to shape the political architecture of Ireland.

There is much talk of stretching ourselves by reaching out to unionists to encourage them to agree to end partition but this ignores the fact that unionists didn’t partition Ireland - England did. Nor can unionists end partition of their own volition. That decision lies exclusively in the hands of the British government. A government that, in a cabinet document in 1949, classified the North of Ireland ‘as a matter of first-class strategic importance’. It stated that:

it seems unlikely that Britain would ever be able to agree to Northern Ireland leaving His Majesty’s jurisdiction…even if the people of Northern Ireland desired it.

Lest you believe that this is out dated and irrelevant news, in February of this year, the British government warmly welcomed a document called Closing the Back Door published by Policy Exchange, the most influential conservative think-tank in the United Kingdom. Forwarded by two former UK Secretaries of State for Defence, it states that:

…the interests of the island of Great Britain and the territories of Northern Ireland are indissolubly intertwined…Northern Irish and British strategic interests are one and the same…Northern Ireland is therefore the key to addressing the UK’s security concerns.

The Brits are determined to maintain a strategic bridgehead in Ireland and have no more intention of pulling out of the North than they do in leaving Gibraltar. On the other hand, if the 26-County state were to re-enter the British Commonwealth (thus conceding the essential Britishness of Ireland), join NATO, and discard all things republican, including its flag and anthem, the British might agree to a border poll once the unionist population drops to an unsustainable level. Those nationalists co-opted to this British vision of a united Ireland that retains the British/Irish cleavage in national allegiances know that London rewards careerists willing to treat Ireland as a malleable geographical fragment and punishes republicans who regard it as an indivisible nation. The so-called ‘New’ Ireland or ‘United’ Ireland envisioned by the Good Friday Agreement would neither be new nor united as it would be predicated on all the old divisions. Thus, the political malignancy through which Britain historically manipulated and controlled Ireland will remain intact. Meanwhile, cynical pseudo-republicans will assure the Irish people that because the word ‘united’ is thrown in somewhere, this is what we had been fighting for all along.

History proves that when dealing with the Brits, we only get what we settle for. Anyone who believes the Good Friday Agreement is the best Ireland can do has an extremely poor view of what’s possible. How can anyone calling themselves republican have such contempt for Irish sovereignty that they would defer to London for terms and conditions regarding Irish unity that the British government alone has the constitutional authority to define, interpret, and adjudicate?

What would Michael Gaughan have made of all this were he alive today? It is impossible to say. There are some facts we do know. Michael wasn’t part of what is smugly referred to as the ‘Good Friday Agreement generation’ content to administer British rule in the Six Counties. Michael was part of the risen generation fighting to end British rule in the Six Counties.

In a final statement before his death, Michael said, ‘…my loyalty and confidence is to the IRA’.

But Michael Gaughan knew a much different IRA in 1974 than the IRA many of us would come to know by 1998.

· The IRA Michael joined was an army fighting a war of national liberation and not a political party militia engaged in thought policing and marginalising genuine republicans.

· It was an IRA putting arms to use in the service of Ireland and not putting them beyond use on the orders of England.

· It was an IRA determined to end British policing in Ireland, not legitimise it.

· An IRA that realised the solution to sectarian division could only be found in our deliverance from the government who invented it and not in appealing to them as persuaders and paymasters.

· It was an IRA that defined leadership as the ability to motivate people to fight to achieve republican objectives as opposed to keeping as many people as possible onboard while negotiating to make nationalists stakeholders in a regional assembly of the Westminster parliament at Stormont.

· An IRA that inspired national loyalty for liberation purposes and not the manipulation of tribal loyalty for electoral purposes.

After visiting Michael in jail, his brother John described his condition:

He was like something out of a concentration camp. His hands were ice cold and he had the look of death about him. His throat had been badly cut by forcible feeding and his teeth loosened. His eyes were sunken, his cheeks hollow and his mouth was gaping open. He weighed about six stone.

Michael’s mother, Delia, who visited him four days before his death, admitted that she only recognised her son by his hair. His weight had dropped from eleven and a half stone to about six stone. They were only allowed to see each other through a glass screen. She said they both cried on that final visit. Michael cried, but he did not surrender.

Michael Gaughan had been fasting for 23 days when force-feeding began on the 22nd of April. This horrific process was performed 17 times on the young Mayo man. He died on Monday, the 3rd of June 1974 after 64 days on hunger strike. He had been force-fed the previous night, and it is believed the feeding tube punctured a lung. He had only two years left to serve of a seven-year sentence when he died heroically refusing to be criminalised by the British government. He was just 24 years old.

Over ten thousand people attended Michael’s funeral in Ballina. Thousands more lined the roads as his body was brought from Dublin to this graveyard. Far more than participated in the funeral of Éamon De Valera a year later. Crowds lined the streets of every Irish town his cortege passed through. His coffin bore the same tricolour that covered the coffin of Terence MacSwiney, the Lord Mayor of Cork who died on hunger strike in Brixton prison in 1920, not as an emblem of the 26-County State but in its true and original meaning as the national flag of all Ireland.

The attitude of the Dublin government toward Irishmen who died fighting for the full freedom and independence of our country was revealed when a Garda sergeant who saluted the coffin was suspended for six months. It was more strikingly revealed two years later when the Dublin government ordered the hijacking of the body of Michael’s comrade Frank Stagg, who had died on hunger strike in England. This ghoulish act was intended to prevent any public display of support for the cause of full Irish freedom.

Michael’s sister Teresa told me that he was a great fan of the singer Tom Jones and she remembers him lying on the couch at home singing his favourite song, ‘The Green, Green Grass of Home’.

Michael Gaughan lies beneath that grass now, many decades before his time. He sacrificed all he had and would ever have to defend the rights and principles of Irish republicanism. He died for Ireland, for all of it, and thus for all of you.

A total of twenty-two Irish republican prisoners died on hunger strike between 1917 and 1981. Three of them, Michael Gaughan, Frank Stagg, and Seán McNeela, were County Mayo men and lie buried here together.

Fuir siad bás ar son Saoirse na hÉireann

John Crawley is a former IRA volunteer and author of The Yank.

Honouring Michael Gaughan

John Crawley 🎤 commemorates IRA volunteer Michael Gaughan on 2-June-2024.

Michael Gaughan was born on the 5th of October 1949 and was killed by British prison authorities 50 years ago tomorrow, on the 3rd of June 1974, when he died as a result of injuries inflicted on him while being force-fed in Parkhurst Prison on the Isle of Wight.

Michael, the eldest of six children, had emigrated to England from Ballina to find work. While in London, he joined the IRA. He was eventually sentenced at the Old Bailey to seven years in prison in December 1971, having been captured after a bank raid carried out to fund IRA operations over the water.

Michael was considered by many who knew him to be a friendly young man with a cheerful disposition. He rapidly gained a reputation as a resolute and determined republican. In one prison incident, Michael was driven to act when witnessing the frequent assaults and harassment of some Jamaican prisoners by English thugs. Instinctively on the side of the underdog, he approached one of the notorious Kray twins and warned him that if these incidents did not stop, he would ensure that his IRA colleagues on the outside would take appropriate action. Michael’s brave intervention had the desired effect, and the assaults stopped.

On the 31st of March 1974, Michael joined a hunger strike with other Irish political prisoners in English prisons to obtain political status and to be transferred to a jail in Ireland. The British establishment ordered the force-feeding of the hunger strikers.

During a typical force-feeding session, prison warders would drag the prisoner by the hair to the top of the bed, where they would stretch the prisoner’s neck over the metal rail, force a block between their teeth, and then pass a feeding tube, which extended down the throat, through a hole in the block. It was an excruciating and gruelling procedure for the prisoner, who frequently vomited throughout the process. It was revealed at Michael’s inquest that at the time of his death, his mouth and throat had been badly cut, with some of his lower teeth knocked out.

The moral and physical courage needed to see this through is almost impossible to imagine. The British have awarded the Victoria Cross to a small number of soldiers who display the most conspicuous bravery, or some daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice, or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy. The American Congressional Medal of Honour has been awarded to a select few of their soldiers who displayed conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty. Most of these acts of undoubted courage were carried out impulsively in the heat of the moment when the adrenalin was at its highest, and the intensity of close combat blurs the ability to rationalise and analyse one’s actions.

Think of the heroism involved in hunger striking, especially hunger striking to the death. What conspicuous bravery and pre-eminent acts of self-sacrifice were displayed by Michael Gaughan? How high above and beyond the call of duty did he reach in his determination to achieve his mission? And not in any act of impetuous audacity but in the grinding physical and mental attrition of slow starvation compounded by the sheer torture of force-feeding.

I was recently asked by an Irish journalist why I do not refer to the period of armed struggle between the Soloheadbeg ambush in January 1919 and the Truce in July 1921 as the War of Independence. Why do I refer to it as the Tan War? I explained that Ireland has had many wars of independence and to imply the 1919 to 1921 period was the only War of Independence comes from a partitionist mindset that presumes that war was won and independence achieved when, in fact, it was only partially achieved. Michael Gaughan died as an Irish soldier in an Irish war of independence, as legitimate a war of independence as any in our history. He believed a young man from Ballina had as much right to an all-Ireland republic as a young man from the Bogside, Bellaghy, or Ballymurphy and had the same duty to fight for it.

Britain has been at war with Irish republicanism since the United Irishmen were first formed by 28 Irish protestants in 1791. That war has varied from military strategies to kill or imprison Irish republicans to political strategies to lure republicans to the negotiating table while keeping republicanism off the table. Britain’s long campaign against the formation of a national democracy within an all-Ireland Republic is never on cease fire.

A crucial component of British strategy is controlling the narrative. Controlling the narrative is the key to shaping the concept of Irish democracy. Britain’s goal is to manipulate the strategic environment in order to entice the Irish into becoming willing accomplices in our own constitutional divisions.

What is that narrative? At its most basic, it is that the Troubles are the result of an inherent character defect in the Irish people rooted in a domestic dispute between sectarian factions. A dispute in which Britain had no selfish, strategic, or economic interest but stands nobly in the middle, keeping the warring sides apart. Having successfully defeated terrorism, they continue to strive to secure a lasting peace. This ignores the fact that England drew first blood by invading Ireland. It was England that planted Ireland and injected the sectarian dynamic into Irish politics by declaring a Protestant kingdom in which no Catholic could be head of state or marry the head of state. It made Protestantism the test for loyalty and patronage for hundreds of years. The British are in no position to lecture the Irish people on the constitutional model of a united Ireland based on non-sectarianism. In fact, it is an essential aspect of British strategy that the sectarian dynamic remains intact in any future constitutional arrangements envisioned by the Good Friday Agreement.

While their claim to be British is for unionists, heartfelt and sincere, so too for many is their anti-Catholicism. That’s why their British identity has often proven to be conditional upon England maintaining their sectarian supremacy. The Orange Order was set up in 1795 to support ‘the King and his heirs so long as he or they support the Protestant Ascendancy.’

There is no question that for many Ulster unionists, their communal identity is rooted in a paradigm of settler colonialism. Every 12th of July, they celebrate this imperial legacy and their pride at being descended from the English and Scottish planters sent by a foreign King to ethnically cleanse Ulster and crush the native Irish who remained. It is a key component of their foundational dogma that they inhabit a unique and entitled position in Irish politics. A national democracy rooted in non-sectarianism and civic equality holds no allure for this mindset. Recognising this is one thing; pandering to it by sabotaging Ireland’s republican heritage is another. Our struggle must focus on the conflict’s root cause – on the union and not the unionists.

When those who endorse the Good Friday Agreement speak of re-imaging a ‘New’ Ireland, what they really mean is refashioning the division between Planter and Gael and giving it the truly national dimension it once held when Ireland was united as a single polity under British rule. When they speak of creating a United Ireland for everyone, they mean making all of Ireland British enough to encourage unionists to feel comfortable in it. Suggestions include discarding the national flag, changing the national anthem, and the South of Ireland re-joining the British Commonwealth. Republicans know from long experience there is no shortage of political opportunists in the nationalist community who will fly any rag, bang any drum, or hum any tune if it keeps their snouts firmly in the trough. They may speak of a New Ireland, an Agreed Ireland, or a Shared Island. What they never mention is the Irish Republic.

The Plantation of Ulster was carried out to alter the national character of Ireland and to pull our country more deeply into a British orbit. Ulster unionists and roll over nationalists believe this colonising mission should continue into any new constitutional arrangements. They contend that unionist exceptionalism not only grants them a veto over British political decisions but should pre-empt Irish decisions over the identity and symbols of a united Ireland before it is even legislated for. If these decisions need to be made, they should be left to the judgement of the Irish people as a whole after unity, as they would be in any normal democracy.

Those who believe that unionists may be enticed into a united Ireland by discarding the Irish national anthem and the national flag, by chasing English royalty around Ireland, or by attending British war memorials should bear in mind that Ulster unionists chose to opt out of joining the 26-County state in 1922 when that state had substantially closer links with Britain than it does today. The Free State government had retracted its allegiance to the Irish Republic, set up a subordinate parliament in the name of the King, took an oath to be faithful to that King, was a member of the British Commonwealth, and was actively killing IRA volunteers with arms supplied by the British government. And yet, unionists had no desire then and have no desire now to become subject to the democratic decision making of a national majority if that majority happens to be Catholic, irrespective of how infiltrated, counter-revolutionary, reactionary, and dependent upon British patronage those Catholics happen to be. The logic of democracy doesn’t burden unionism, and Britain ensures it doesn’t have to.

The key to understanding the political dynamic and direction some former republicans have been lured into by the Good Friday Agreement is having the ability to distinguish the signal from the noise. Anyone who has used radios in tactical communications will know that the signal is often veiled and muddled by static and other distractions that overwhelm and conceal the essential message.

What is often missed amid the happy-clappy froth and waffle around the Good Friday Agreement and all the static and noise about a New Ireland, an Agreed Ireland, a Shared Island, is its essential premise that the republican model of Ireland as one nation is a discredited concept. That the Irish Republic proclaimed in 1916 is dead and has been consigned to the dustbin of history. The Good Friday Agreement annuls the concept of national unity across the sectarian divide. It ensures that Britain continues to sabotage our national cohesion by guaranteeing that unionists will remain British citizens even after a nationalist majority is reached in the Six Counties. That Irish citizens of the nationalist tradition and those of the plantation tradition need never form a joint civic identity. It confirms that differences that would become incidental in a genuine republic will remain fundamental in the so-called ‘New Ireland’.

Britain was awarded no right to represent Ulster unionists in the three Ulster counties incorporated into the Irish Free State in 1922. Many of these unionists in Cavan, Monaghan, and Donegal had signed the Ulster Covenant and were as loyal to the Crown in their day as their brethren a mile up the road in Fermanagh or Tyrone are today. Many still attend Orange Lodges and Orange marches. Yet, they are now equal and valued citizens of the Irish State and, since the Ireland Act 1949, have no claim to British citizenship or a British passport.

When the signatories of the 1916 Proclamation called for us to be ‘… oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien government, which have divided a minority from the majority in the past.’ they were not claiming those differences did not exist, nor were they saying they could be dismissed as irrelevant. What they were saying is those differences should never be used to shape the political architecture of Ireland.

There is much talk of stretching ourselves by reaching out to unionists to encourage them to agree to end partition but this ignores the fact that unionists didn’t partition Ireland - England did. Nor can unionists end partition of their own volition. That decision lies exclusively in the hands of the British government. A government that, in a cabinet document in 1949, classified the North of Ireland ‘as a matter of first-class strategic importance’. It stated that:

it seems unlikely that Britain would ever be able to agree to Northern Ireland leaving His Majesty’s jurisdiction…even if the people of Northern Ireland desired it.

Lest you believe that this is out dated and irrelevant news, in February of this year, the British government warmly welcomed a document called Closing the Back Door published by Policy Exchange, the most influential conservative think-tank in the United Kingdom. Forwarded by two former UK Secretaries of State for Defence, it states that:

…the interests of the island of Great Britain and the territories of Northern Ireland are indissolubly intertwined…Northern Irish and British strategic interests are one and the same…Northern Ireland is therefore the key to addressing the UK’s security concerns.

The Brits are determined to maintain a strategic bridgehead in Ireland and have no more intention of pulling out of the North than they do in leaving Gibraltar. On the other hand, if the 26-County state were to re-enter the British Commonwealth (thus conceding the essential Britishness of Ireland), join NATO, and discard all things republican, including its flag and anthem, the British might agree to a border poll once the unionist population drops to an unsustainable level. Those nationalists co-opted to this British vision of a united Ireland that retains the British/Irish cleavage in national allegiances know that London rewards careerists willing to treat Ireland as a malleable geographical fragment and punishes republicans who regard it as an indivisible nation. The so-called ‘New’ Ireland or ‘United’ Ireland envisioned by the Good Friday Agreement would neither be new nor united as it would be predicated on all the old divisions. Thus, the political malignancy through which Britain historically manipulated and controlled Ireland will remain intact. Meanwhile, cynical pseudo-republicans will assure the Irish people that because the word ‘united’ is thrown in somewhere, this is what we had been fighting for all along.

History proves that when dealing with the Brits, we only get what we settle for. Anyone who believes the Good Friday Agreement is the best Ireland can do has an extremely poor view of what’s possible. How can anyone calling themselves republican have such contempt for Irish sovereignty that they would defer to London for terms and conditions regarding Irish unity that the British government alone has the constitutional authority to define, interpret, and adjudicate?

What would Michael Gaughan have made of all this were he alive today? It is impossible to say. There are some facts we do know. Michael wasn’t part of what is smugly referred to as the ‘Good Friday Agreement generation’ content to administer British rule in the Six Counties. Michael was part of the risen generation fighting to end British rule in the Six Counties.

In a final statement before his death, Michael said, ‘…my loyalty and confidence is to the IRA’.

But Michael Gaughan knew a much different IRA in 1974 than the IRA many of us would come to know by 1998.

· The IRA Michael joined was an army fighting a war of national liberation and not a political party militia engaged in thought policing and marginalising genuine republicans.

· It was an IRA putting arms to use in the service of Ireland and not putting them beyond use on the orders of England.

· It was an IRA determined to end British policing in Ireland, not legitimise it.

· An IRA that realised the solution to sectarian division could only be found in our deliverance from the government who invented it and not in appealing to them as persuaders and paymasters.

· It was an IRA that defined leadership as the ability to motivate people to fight to achieve republican objectives as opposed to keeping as many people as possible onboard while negotiating to make nationalists stakeholders in a regional assembly of the Westminster parliament at Stormont.

· An IRA that inspired national loyalty for liberation purposes and not the manipulation of tribal loyalty for electoral purposes.

After visiting Michael in jail, his brother John described his condition:

He was like something out of a concentration camp. His hands were ice cold and he had the look of death about him. His throat had been badly cut by forcible feeding and his teeth loosened. His eyes were sunken, his cheeks hollow and his mouth was gaping open. He weighed about six stone.

Michael’s mother, Delia, who visited him four days before his death, admitted that she only recognised her son by his hair. His weight had dropped from eleven and a half stone to about six stone. They were only allowed to see each other through a glass screen. She said they both cried on that final visit. Michael cried, but he did not surrender.

Michael Gaughan had been fasting for 23 days when force-feeding began on the 22nd of April. This horrific process was performed 17 times on the young Mayo man. He died on Monday, the 3rd of June 1974 after 64 days on hunger strike. He had been force-fed the previous night, and it is believed the feeding tube punctured a lung. He had only two years left to serve of a seven-year sentence when he died heroically refusing to be criminalised by the British government. He was just 24 years old.

Over ten thousand people attended Michael’s funeral in Ballina. Thousands more lined the roads as his body was brought from Dublin to this graveyard. Far more than participated in the funeral of Éamon De Valera a year later. Crowds lined the streets of every Irish town his cortege passed through. His coffin bore the same tricolour that covered the coffin of Terence MacSwiney, the Lord Mayor of Cork who died on hunger strike in Brixton prison in 1920, not as an emblem of the 26-County State but in its true and original meaning as the national flag of all Ireland.

The attitude of the Dublin government toward Irishmen who died fighting for the full freedom and independence of our country was revealed when a Garda sergeant who saluted the coffin was suspended for six months. It was more strikingly revealed two years later when the Dublin government ordered the hijacking of the body of Michael’s comrade Frank Stagg, who had died on hunger strike in England. This ghoulish act was intended to prevent any public display of support for the cause of full Irish freedom.

Michael’s sister Teresa told me that he was a great fan of the singer Tom Jones and she remembers him lying on the couch at home singing his favourite song, ‘The Green, Green Grass of Home’.

Michael Gaughan lies beneath that grass now, many decades before his time. He sacrificed all he had and would ever have to defend the rights and principles of Irish republicanism. He died for Ireland, for all of it, and thus for all of you.

A total of twenty-two Irish republican prisoners died on hunger strike between 1917 and 1981. Three of them, Michael Gaughan, Frank Stagg, and Seán McNeela, were County Mayo men and lie buried here together.

Fuir siad bás ar son Saoirse na hÉireann

John Crawley is a former IRA volunteer and author of The Yank.

2 comments:

  1. What are the author's thoughts on America's occupation of Guantanomo , Iraq , Libya , Syria ? How ( morally ) was nine eleven different to the Enniskillen & Warrington bombings ? Reap what we sow .

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  2. I have no brief for the cause that Michael Gaughan fought and died for and totally disagree with the thread of the author's arguments but the way in which he was force fed (as well as the Price sisters) was a total violation of his bodily integrity and human dignity. Thank goodness at least the hunger strikers of 1980-81 were not subject to such barbaric treatment.

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