He became an enthusiastic member of the Gaelic League in his early years and soon reached Fainne fluency. At the age of eighteen he joined the I.R.A. Promotion came to him rapidly, and eventually he was appointed O/C. Northern Command. In 1934 he was attached to G.H.Q. Staff, Dublin.
On the 2nd September 1941 he was arrested by free state forces and later charged with ‘unlawfully detaining and assaulting Stephen Hayes’, ex Chief-of-Staff, I.R.A., and self-confessed informer who had been suspected of such treachery. Sean refused to recognize the court and after evidence had been given against him by Hayes, he was found guilty on this evidence, and sentenced to death by a military court consisting of three free state army officers. The sentence was later commuted to penal servitude for life after a country-wide protest against the savage sentence which included the voice of Cardinal McRory.
After spending over five years under the most brutal and inhuman conditions in Portlaoise Prison, Sean entered upon a hunger-strike on April 19th, 1946. After he had been sixteen days on strike, he decided to go on a thirst strike also. This was the most torturous, agonizing and deadly weapon of all. On the 11th May, 1946 – the twenty-third day of his Gethsemani, Sean McCaughey died as the great McSwiney had died twenty-six years earlier.
‘They have slain bold Sean McCaughey
Who would not live a slave;
In traitors’ faces blanched and strained
Staring eyes were wild and pained
By the tenor of his grave.
Naked, refusing food and drink,
Confined to sunless gloom;
No criminal, he would not wear the convict’s garb
And did not fear his chosen path to doom.’
With many thanks to the: James Connolly Association, Brisbane, Australia for the original story