#OTD in 1977 – A group of Republicans tunnelled into the concrete under the cover of darkness and retrieved Frank Stagg’s body to be re-buried with respect to his final wish, beside his fellow hunger striker and friend, Michael Gaughan, in the Republican plot in Leigue Cemetery, Ballina, Co Mayo.

There is a grave in Leigue Cemetery, Ballina, Co Mayo which has a concrete surface, placed there by the Gardaí in 1976, to prevent Frank Stagg’s body from being stolen. Forty years ago, the body was removed from the grave, during the night, without disturbing the concrete, and buried elsewhere in the cemetery.

When Stagg died, there was a row over his funeral between the Irish government and the Republican movement, with members of his family on both sides. The Republicans wanted a procession from Dublin Airport to the cemetery in Ballina where Frank would be buried, according to his wishes, in the Republican plot.

But the Irish Government didn’t want a show of Republican strength and diverted the plane, carrying Frank Stagg’s coffin, to Shannon. Gardaí seized the body and flew it by helicopter to Mayo and buried the body in a new plot in the Ballina cemetery. They then placed an armed guard on the grave, for months afterwards, to prevent the body being moved to the Republican plot.

The following day, republicans held their own ceremonies at the Republican Plot, despite a mass presence of Gardaí. A volley of shots was fired by IRA Volunteers to salute their fallen comrade. In his oration Joe Cahill made a promise to Frank Stagg. He said: “I pledge that we will assemble here again in the near future when we have taken your body from where it lies. Let there be no mistake about it, we will take it, Frank, and we will leave it resting side by side with your great comrade, Michael Gaughan.”

What the State authorities hadn’t realised was that the plot beside the grave of Frank Stagg was available to purchase. Frank’s brother, George, bought that grave.

Twenty-two months later, on a cold, windy and rainy night in November with no moon, six men came into the graveyard and dug down into the grave owned by George Stagg. When they were deep enough, they then dug across into Frank Stagg’s concrete plot, slid out the coffin, and carried it to the nearby Republican plot. A hurried decade of the Rosary was said and Stagg was reburied.

Frank Stagg actually has three headstones: One over the grave dug for him by the Gardaí; one over the adjacent grave purchased by his brother, George, saying that his body had been stolen by the “pro-British, Irish government”, and one over the Republican Plot.

But this was more than a tug-of-war over Frank Stagg’s body, the dispute was an indication of the severe political tension that prevailed, at the time, as a result of Republican activities in the South and Liam Cosgrave’s FG/Labour government’s hardline response to them.

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