Michael Gaughan was born in Ballina, Co. Mayo in 1950. He grew up at Healy Terrace and was educated at St Muredach’s College, Ballina, and after finishing his schooling, he emigrated from Ireland to England in search of work. Whilst in London, Gaughan became a member of the Official IRA (OIRA) through its English wing Clann na hÉirreann and became an IRA volunteer in a London-based active service unit. In December 1971, he was sentenced at the Old Bailey to seven years prison for his part in an IRA fundraising mission to rob a bank in Hornsey, north London, which yielded just £530, and for the possession of two revolvers.
Whilst at Albany Prison, Gaughan requested political status; this was refused, and he was then put in solitary confinement. He was later transferred to Parkhurst Prison, where four of the Belfast Ten were on hunger strike for political status.
On 31st March 1974, Gaughan, along with Paul Holme, Hugh Feeney and fellow Mayoman Frank Stagg, went on hunger strike to support the fight of Dolours and Marion Price to obtain political status and to be transferred to a jail in Ireland. British policy at this time was to force feed hunger strikers. According to the National Hunger Strike Commemoration Committee, “six to eight guards would restrain the prisoner and drag him or her by the hair to the top of the bed, where they would stretch the prisoner’s neck over the metal rail, force a block between his or her teeth and then pass a feeding tube, which extended down the throat, through a hole in the block.” After visiting Michael in jail, his brother John described his condition: “His throat had been badly cut by force feeding and his teeth loosened. His eyes were sunken, his cheeks hollow and his mouth was gaping open. He weighed about six stone.”
During his hunger strike, his weight dropped from 160 lb to 84 lb Gaughan was force-fed from 22nd April and this occurred 17 times during course of his hunger strike. The last time he was force-fed was the night before his death on Sunday 2nd June. After a hunger strike that lasted 64 days, he died on Monday 3rd June 1974, aged 24 years old. The funeral mass took place on 9th June, at St. Muredach’s Cathedral, Ballina, and the procession then led to Leigue Cemetery, Ballina. Gaughan was given a full republican burial and was laid to rest in the Republican plot, where Frank Stagg would also join him after being reburied in November 1976. His funeral was attended by over 50,000 people. His coffin was draped in the same Tricolour that was used for Terence McSwiney’s funeral 54 years earlier.