The annual Volunteer Sean McCaughey Commemoration took place on May 11th in Milltown Cemetery, Belfast, on the seventy–first anniversary of his death on hunger and thirst strike.
A crowd of about sixty people assembled and were welcomed on behalf of the National Republican Commemoration Committee by the commemoration chairperson Maíre Óg Drumm.
She reminded people that they were there to honour the memory and sacrifice of Lt General Sean McCaughey who on this date in 1946 died on hunger and thirst strike. Maíre continued by saying how “on April 24th 1916 Tom Clarke, James Connolly, Pádraig Pearse and their comrades read the proclamation declaring Ireland a Republic. Sean McCaughey pledged his allegiance to the Republic declared that day and paid for it with his life. We Republicans standing here tonight also swear allegiance to the Republic declared on the steps of the GPO 101 years ago.”
Maíre then invited Gráinne McCreesh to step forward and read the Proclamation to the assembled crowd.
After an excellent narration of the Proclamation by Gráinne a lament was played on Fife by Paula Ewing, as the colour party lowered the flags.
A minutes silence was observed in memory of Sean McCaughey and all those who have given their lives in the cause of Irish Freedom.
A wreath laying ceremony then took place with wreaths being laid by Jackie McClafferty on behalf of the IRPWA and by Alec Óg McCrory on behalf of the Republican Movement Belfast.
The oration was then given by Maíre Óg Drumm – “Sean McCaughey was born in Aughnacloy, Tyrone in 1915. After his father’s early death, when Sean was five years of age, the family moved to Ardoyne. Educated at Holy Cross Boys School he became interested in the Irish Language and Conradh na Gaelige, so much so, that his summers were spent teaching at the Gaeltacht in the Glens of Antrim. He joined Na Fianna Eireann and at seventeen he progressed to the ranks of the Óglaigh na hÉireann. From 1938 he was “on the run” and in 1940 was appointed O/C of the Northern Command. In 1941 he became attached to the GHQ in Dublin. After his appointment he began to detect a serious leakage of information including information on the leadership, personnel and activities of the movement. Investigating it with all the thoroughness for which he was noted, he had the then Chief of Staff, Stephen Hayes, arrested for interrogation. During the course of his detention, Hayes, voluntarily agreed to write a statement in which he confessed to being the person responsible for the leakage. Subsequently Hayes managed to escape from his guards and contact the nearest Garda barracks. On September 2nd 1941 , Sean McCaughey was arrested by the CID and later charged with “Unlawfully detaining and assaulting Stephen Hayes”. Sean refused to recognise the military court, consisting of three Free State army officers and on the evidence of Hayse alone was found guilty and sentenced to death. This sentence was later commuted to penal servitude for life. He spent the next five years in Portlaoise Prision, under the most inhumane and brutal conditions, refusing to accept criminal status, he refused to wear prison clothes. He was clad only in a blanket and kept in solitary confinement, he was refused all visits and communication with his relatives and was not even allowed to attend Mass. Imprisoned with him at this time was a fellow Belfast man, Liam Rice. On April 19th, 1946 Sean entered upon a hunger strike and after sixteen days he also went on thirst strike, and on May 11th 1946, after 23 days in all, Sean McCaughey joined his comrades, McSwiney, Ashe, McNeela and D’Arcy, all of whom also died on hunger strike, for the same ideals, the same principles and the same cause.
And so Sean began his last journey home to Belfast. Comrades from the Republican Movement met his remains and escorted them on the way home, with thousands lining the entire route to say their last farewells to this brave volunteer. His body lay in the Franciscan Church Dublin overnight, and the following morning the funeral procession left to complete Sean’s journey home. Sixty Republican soldiers, each one of whom had spent years in Free State jails, formed the advance guard. Others formed the guard of honour on each side of the coffin, one of those awarded this honour being our Billy McKee. At Drumcondra Bridge, the funeral halted, the advance guard formed single ranks on either said of the road and a volley of shots were fired over the coffin, a last tribute to fearless Sean McCaughey by his comrades in arms. In every town and village between Dublin and Belfast, people gathered to pay homage and as expected , at the border armed RUC men stopped the cortege and removed the tricolour from his coffin. On reaching Belfast, his remains were brought to Holy Cross Church, and at his funeral the next day, such was the esteem in which he was held, thousands again lined the route to Milltown Cemetery, including his comrades from Óglaigh na hÉireann. Sean was laid to rest in this grave where we now stand and in 1963, the plaque you can see here, was placed by his old comrades of the Northern Command.” – Oration ended and the crowd applauded.
Then after a short poem Maíre said how during the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s here in Ireland, we saw the deaths and executions of countless brave Volunteers of the Irish Republic. We would have expected nothing less from the Unionist regime in the North, but Republicans suffered more at the hands of people who claimed to be Republicans themselves in the Free State, and none more so than from DeValeras government. !940 saw the execution of the Easter Rising veteran Paddy McGrath, 1944 saw the hanging of IRA Chief of Staff Charlie Kerins, when DeValera brought a hangman from England to do his dirty work, and in 1946 saw the horrific death of Sean McCaughey in Portlaoise jail. Maíre continued by saying how “it is also fitting to remember Palestinians comrades on hunger strike at present fighting for their rights even within prison walls. She then quoted Volunteer Tom Williams – “The road to freedom is paved with suffering, hardship and torture; carry on my gallant and brave comrades until that certain day”.
Then Nuala Perry was asked to come forward and recall in verse about those lean years for Republicans in our country. Nuala did as always an excellent job, and the verse was very well received by the crowd.
The Nation Anthem “Amhrán na bhFiann” was then played on Fife by Paula Ewing as all in attendance stood in respect facing the Irish Tricolour.
The commemoration was brought to a conclusion by Maíre asking people to ponder a few things, 101 years after the Easter Rising, 71 years ago the death of Sean McCaughey fighting for his and his comrades right to be treated as political prisoners, 36 years from the death of ten of our own friends and comrades in the H Blocks of Long Kesh fighting again for recognition as political prisoners, and yet we still have Republican prisoners in jails throughout Ireland.
I would ask you to think of them and their families and to support them in their fight within the prisons.
With many thanks to: IRPWA Ireland.