Michael Gaughan, an IRA man died 40 years ago today while on hunger strike in Parkhurst Prison. When people think of hunger strikers, the name that almost always comes to mind is Bobby Sands, but there have been countless male and female prisoners who have used that form of protest throughout the years. When Michael asked for political status and was denied, he like many others before and after him, went on a hunger strike.
The demands were political status, the chance to wear his own clothes, a guarantee of education and release from solitary confinement and a transfer to an Irish prison. He joined a strike already in effect in support of Delours and Marian Price who wanted the same. As usual, these demands were ignored by the British Government.
At that time, it was Britain’s policy to force feed inmates. This was often done by forcing a block between the teeth to hold the mouth open while a tube was passed through a hole in the block into the throat. This brutal method often resorted in broken or loose teeth and lacerations in the throat, both of which Michael’s brother John attested to. Michael was force fed 17 times during the course of his strike, but his weight still dropped and his health declined.
There is a controversy surrounding his death. The last time he was force fed was June 2nd, 1974 and he was dead at age 24 by the next day. Prison officials stated that he died of pneumonia due to his declining health, but the Gaughan family stated that he died after prison doctors injured him fatally when food lodged in a lung punctured by a force-feeding tube.
Following his death the policy of force feeding prisoners came to an end and the government said they would meet the demands that he had been fighting for, since only a week before they had met the demands of Loyalist prisoners who were on a hunger strike. In an all too familiar move, the British reneged on their promises to the Irish prisoners, though not the Loyalist ones, soon after making them.
Michael Gaughan is remembered in song and history. “Take me Home to Mayo,” is also known as “The Ballad of Michael Gaughan,” and has been recorded by many Irish musicians, including the Wolfe Tones and Christy Moore.
“I die proudly for my country and in the hope that my death will be sufficient to obtain the demands of my comrades. Let there be no bitterness on my behalf, but a determination to achieve the new Ireland for which I gladly die. My loyalty and confidence is to the IRA and let those of you who are left carry on the work and finish the fight.” – Michael Gaughan
Rest in Peace Sir.
B October 5th, 1949 D June 3rd, 1974