Michael Gaughan’s death, on Monday 3 June 1974, came as a shock. He died from pneumonia; the force-feeding tube having pierced his lung. He was 24 years of age
Both the hunger-strike deaths of the 1970s took place in prisons in England.
The first, on Monday 3 June 1974, was Michael Gaughan of Ballina, County Mayo, followed almost two years later by another Mayo man, Frank Stagg of Hollymount, on Thursday 12 February 1976.
Michael Gaughan was one of the earliest IRA Volunteers to be imprisoned in England, being sentenced to seven years at the Old Bailey in London, in December 1971, for his part in a bank raid.
He spent the first two years of his prison sentence in Wormwood Scrubs in London and then was moved to the Isle of Wight’s top security prisons: Albany and then, in 1974, to Parkhurst.
November 1973 had also seen the trial in Winchester of the Belfast Ten (Dolours and Marian Price, Hugh Feeney, Gerard Kelly and six others), who had been arrested following bomb explosions in London the previous March. Having received life sentences, the Price sisters, Feeney and Kelly immediately began a hunger strike for repatriation to prison in Ireland.
They were brutally force-fed for a total of 206 days.
Michael Gaughan and Frank Stagg joined this hunger strike on 31 March 1974, first of all in solidarity with the other hunger strikers and also for the right to wear their own clothes and not to do prison work.
On 22 April, 23 days into their hunger strike, Gaughan and Stagg were force-fed for the first time. They immediately escalated their demand to one for repatriation.
During the operation, the prisoners were seated on a chair and held down by the shoulders and chin. A lever was pushed between the teeth to prise open the jaw and a wooden clamp placed in the mouth to keep it open.
A thick greased tube was then put through a hole in the clamp, pushed down the throat and into the stomach. Often the tube would go into the windpipe and have to be withdrawn. During this procedure the victim would be constantly vomiting.
Visitors to Michael Gaughan and Frank Stagg were only allowed to see them through glass screen, supervised by prison warders. In fact, Michael Gaughan’s last visit with his mother, three days before his death, took place in such circumstances.
The death of Michael Gaughan caused major controversy in British medical circles and the use of forced-feeding was later abandoned by the British.
More immediately, the four Belfast hunger strikers were promised repatriation and ended their hunger strike on 7 June. Frank Stagg, having received a similar undertaking, ended his fast ten days later.
From the Isle of Wight to Ballina, Michael Gaughan’s funeral brought thousands on to the streets. On Friday 7 June and Saturday 8 June, thousands of people lined the streets of Kilburn in London and marched behind his coffin, which was flanked by an IRA guard of honour.
On Saturday, his remains were met by thousands more in Dublin and, flanked by IRA Volunteers again, were brought to the Franciscan Church on Merchant’s Quay.
On Sunday morning, the cortege began the long journey to Ballina, stopping in almost every town and village en route as the people turned out to pay their last respects.
In Ballina, there was a Requiem Mass in the Cathedral. As the coffin was borne outside, a volley of shots was fired over it, before it was taken to Leigue cemetery, to be buried with full honours in the republican plot.
With many thanks to: Richard Gaughan for the original posting
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