Interviewed 18 June 2021
In this section, retired Sergeant Eamon Hession, a native of Mayo, discusses his role in the funeral of IRA hunger striker, Frank Stagg. Stagg was a Provisional IRA hunger striker from Mayo who died in 1976 in Wakefield Prison, England, after 62 days on hunger strike. He was one of 22 Irish republicans to die on hunger strike in the twentieth century. Frank Stagg’s burial caused considerable controversy in Ireland. Two of his brothers sought to have Stagg buried in the republican in Ballina beside the grave of another IRA hunger striker, Michael Gaughan, in accordance with Frank’s wishes. His widow, referred to by Eamon Hession, his brother Emmet (later a Labour TD) and the Irish government wished to have him buried in the family plot and to avoid republican involvement.
In order to prevent the body from being disinterred and reburied by republicans, the first grave had been covered with concrete. Local Gardaí kept an armed guard by the grave for six months. However, unknown to them, the plot beside this grave was available for purchase. Frank’s brother George purchased the plot and placed a headstone over it, with it declaring that the “pro-British Irish government” had stolen Frank’s body. 22 months later in November 1977, a group of republicans dug down into the plot that George had purchased, then dug sideways and recovered Frank’s coffin from the adjacent plot under cover of darkness, before reburying it in the republican plot beside the body of Michael Gaughan under a third and final headstone. Producer Liam Mac Nally produced an acclaimed Documentary on One called Frank Stagg’s Three Funerals, which you can listen to HERE
RITA DELANEY: Yes. Now from the history perspective, and we spoke about this on the phone, I would know a little bit about Frank Stagg and he — you came, well, you may not have come across him. Did you know him before he died?
EAMON HESSION: No, I knew the fellow — as I say, he’s from a place called Robe in Hollymount, which is about four miles, less than four miles from me at home. I would have known the family. I wouldn’t have known them well now or anything like that, but Frank — I was on duty, I came on duty at 6 a.m., I don’t know what morning it was. Frank died on February the 12th 1976, as we know, an IRA hunger striker in England. We came on duty one morning at six o’clock…(interjection).
MS. DELANEY: Actually, for the tape and for the people that are going to be listening to it, they may not remember who he was. So would you just go back there and tell us about, you know, why he was on hunger strike …
MR. HESSION: Yeah, he was one of the hunger strikers that died. A lot went on hunger strike that time, ehm.
MS. DELANEY: He wasn’t in Northern Ireland, though, and he wasn’t with the 1981 hunger strikers … He died in the Isle of Wight in England?
MR. HESSION: That’s right, that’s right.
MS. DELANEY: There was a huge diplomatic problem about bringing him to Dublin or Belfast or Mayo and it was always very tense.
MR. HESSION: It was tense at the time and I think the flight came into Shannon, as far as I know, that time. But we came on duty that morning at six o’clock in Dun Laoghaire and there was a route out to say three Gardaí had to go, were needed from the F District to go down to Shannon with several more from all over the city. So they picked me. They picked another Guard from home as well. They picked a Limerick — and I at the time said, you know, we’re neighbours, but anyway, as you know, Rita, you do what you’re told … And away you go and we went off down to Shannon, I don’t know what, I can’t tell you what day it was or anything, in reality, what we were wearing and thinking we would be back that night, but we spent the whole weekend, whenever, two or three days with the funeral … Came on then, came on then to home and I stayed at home in my own house, which is a really awkward situation to be within a few miles.
MS. DELANEY: It must have been unbelievable because, you know, all your neighbours knew you were there and why you were there.
MR. HESSION: All my neighbours, I don’t know whether you want to put it on the table or not, I got a lovely job then, I got a job to escort Frank Stagg’s wife into the church.
MS. DELANEY: Oh my God.
MR. HESSION: Would you believe? Do you want to leave that on tape?
MS. DELANEY: Yes, please. A shiver has gone down my back, Eamon, and
someone has walked over my grave … I don’t know how you did that. It must
MR. HESSION: I got the job.
MS. DELANEY: Well, you do what you are told, you do it automatically, but it certainly takes a lot of courage to do something like that.
MR. HESSION: Yeah. Yeah, well, you see, really, Rita, it was bad for me, a lot of people knew me there and I said it to the Superintendent at the time, you know, this is a job for someone else, you know, really. Yeah. Yeah, well, you see, really, Rita, it was bad for me, a lot of people knew me there and I said it to the Superintendent at the time, you know, this is a job for someone else, you know, really, I’ll look after…(interjection). But anyways, they just said: “Go on and do it” and I did it and the Superintendent then brought me along and brought me home to my own address.