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Outstanding IRA leader and giant of a man in the Republican Movement

REPUBLICANS everywhere were shocked at the sudden death on May 18 of Seán Mac Stíofáin, former Chief of Staff, Irish Republican Army. He was 73.

Although he had suffered a stroke in 1993, he had recovered and appeared to be in excellent health when he attended a meeting of the Coiste Gnó (Ard Chomhairle) of Conradh na Gaeilge three weeks before his passing.

Born in London in 1928, his father was English and his mother Irish – from Belfast. From his boyhood as he said in his autobiography Memoirs of a Revolutionary (published Gordon Cremona 1975) he always felt Irish and in time gave his allegiance to Ireland.

Many of the 1916 Volunteers who came over from England, Scotland and Wales for the Rising spoke with accents similar to Seán Mac Stíofáin, as did some of the men and women who were imprisoned for their part in the IRA’s Sabotage Campaign in England in 1939-40.

The young Mac Stíofáin travelled a road familiar to many Irish people of his generation. He first joined Conradh na Gaeilge, then the Irish Anti-Partition League, bought the United Irishmen, sold the paper himself, joined Sinn Féin in London and eventually in 1949 helped to organise a unit of the IRA.

As were many Irish people of that period he was moved by the anti-colonial struggles against British Imperialism throughout the world; in Kenya, in Malaya and other places after WWII the lead was given.

He was married in 1949 to Máire, an Irish girl from Castletownroche, Co Cork. They had two daughters, Catherine and Máire Óg. A third girl, Sinéad, was born much later in Ireland in 1969.

With Manus Canning of Derry city and Cathal Goulding of Dublin he was captured in 1953 and sentenced to eight years in prison. They had raided an Officers’ Training Corps armoury at Felstead School in Essex and seized 99 rifles, eight Bren guns, ten Sten guns, a Piat anti-tank gun, a 2-inch mortar and a Browning machine-gun.

In Wormwood Scrubs prison, London, Seán and Manus met and were associated with the EOKA fighters from Cyprus who were struggling against British rule also. Old EOKA prisoners sent a wreath to the funeral and a statement of support and sympathy per Séamus Murphy who was in prison with them in Wakefield.

Seán Mac Stíofáin came to Ireland in 1958 following his release and immediately became active again in Cork. He spoke at Bodenstown in 1959.

He was prominent in agitations in Midleton against ground-rent landlordism and against foreign buy-outs of Irish farmland in Co Meath where he moved with his family in 1966.

By this time he was a member of the IRA leadership and he trenchantly opposed the moves – underway from 1964 – to convert the Movement into a constitutional political party accepting Westminster, Stormont and Leinster House.

When the Six Occupied Counties “exploded” in 1969 he was to the fore in providing defensive measures for the nationalist population there.

He led the opposition to the proposal to accept enemy parliaments at the IRA Extraordinary Convention in December 1969 and told those who embraced constit-utionalism that they “were no longer the IRA”.

Working closely with faithful Volunteers in Belfast he quickly organised a Special Convention of the opposition delegates and the delegates who had been denied admittance to the Extraordinary Convention.

They elected a Provisional Army Executive and Provisional Army Council and secured recognition as the lawful leadership of the IRA from Comdt-General Tom Maguire, last and faithful surviving Deputy of the All-Ireland Dáil of 1921.

For the following three years (1969-1972) Seán Mac Stíofáin was IRA Chief of Staff and spearheaded the armed struggle of resistance to British rule in Ireland.

Following his arrest in Dublin in November 1972 he went on hunger strike and was sentenced to six months imprisonment for IRA membership by the Special Non-jury Court.

On the 59th day of his fast he was ordered off the hunger strike by the IRA leadership. Some weeks later he was transferred from the Curragh Military Hospital to the Curragh Glasshouse where he served the remainder of his sentence with the Republican prisoners there.

In 1981 he walked out of the Ard-Fheis of Sinn Féin in protest against its abandonment of the ÉIRE NUA policy with which he had been closely associated since its initiation in 1971.

Thereafter his work was in the main with the first Irish organisation he joined – Conradh na Gaeilge. It was the Conradh which had charge of his funeral – at his specific request.

While in prison in England he had become a fluent Irish speaker and on his release he wrote a series of articles in Irish for the monthly magazine COMHAR on his jail experiences.

On May 22, an interview in Irish by him was broadcast by Raidió na Gaeltachta. It had been recorded in 1992 and lasted three-quarters of an hour.

In the course of it he condemned the 1986 decision to accept Leinster House and praised the Sinn Féin Poblachtach policy document Towards a Peaceful Irelandwritten by Dáithí Ó Conaill three days before his death in 1991.

A huge crowd attended the removal of Seán Mac Stíofáin’s remains to St Mary’s Church, An Uaimh on Sunday evening, May 20. Ruairí Ó Brádaigh, life-long associate and Uachtarán, Sinn Féin Poblachtach was in attendance representing the Republican Movement.

Barney McLoughlin of Belfast and many old comrades including Tom Mitchell (elected in Mid-Ulster in 1955) were also present as was Seán Mac Mathúna, Ard-Rúnaí, Conradh na Gaeilge. The “Sunburst” flag of An Conradh was on the coffin at the request of the deceased.

He did not wish the Irish Tricolour, he had said, because he had not been killed on active service. However, a folded Tricolour was among the gifts brought to the altar at mass the next day.

At the funeral Mass an tAthair Piaras Ó Dúill, OFM Cap was among the priests who assisted. The noted Irish traditional musician, Noel Hill from Co Clare, played Marbhanna Luimnigh (Lament for Limerick) in accompaniment with the organist. Seán’s youngest daughter Sinéad sang Táim-se im’ Chodladh agus Ná Dúistear Mé.

The very large attendance walked one-and-a-half miles to St Mary’s Cemetery and the coffin was shouldered to the graveside by local people from the Co Meath Gaeltacht of Rath Cairn and Baile Ghib.

Íde Nic Chionnaith, iar-Uachtaran, Conradh na Gaeilge who had been closely associated with Seán down the years, delivered the graveside oration. The many beautiful wreaths of fresh flowers included one from EOKA in Cyprus.

Rinne iar-Uachtarán Chonradh na Gaeilge íonsaí géar ar nuachtáin a d’fhoilsigh líomhaintí faoi Sheán Mac Stíofáin, iarcheann foirne Óglaigh na hÉireann, agus í ag tabhairt aithisc le linn a shochraide.

Dúirt Íde Ní Chionnaith gur léirigh an slua mór a bhí i láthair ó gach eite de ghluaiseacht na Poblachta, maraon le Gaeilgeoirí agus mórán eile, nár chreid siad go raibh bun nó barr le hailt i nuachtáin éagsúla inar dúradh gur bhrathadóir é Mac Stíofáin do Bhrainse Speisialta na nGardaí.

Thug sí “clúmhilleadh carachtair” ar na hailt ina ndearnadh an líomhain seo i “nuachtáin lathaí” ar nós an Sunday Times agus an Irish Independent agus dúirt gur aithin Mac Stíofáin féin, i leabhar dírbheathaisnéise, an chontúirt a bhí ann go n-úsáidfí bolscaireacht dhubh chun amhras a chaitheamh air de bharr ar a ról i ngluaiseacht réabhlóide.

Dúirt sí gur onóir mhór aici gur iarr clann Mhic Stíofáin uirthi aitheasc a sochraide a thabhairt mar go raibh ardmheas aici ar an obair a rinne sé ar son na Gaeilge.

The general attendance included Ruairí and Patsy Ó Brádaigh; Joe O’Neill, Cisteoir, Sinn Féin Poblachtach; Tomás Mac Ruairí, Uachtarán, Conradh na Gaeilge; Proinsias Mac Aonghusa, Iar-Uachtaráin, Conradh na Gaeilge; Nollaig O Gadhra, iriseoir agus scríobhnóir Ghaeilge; local Republicans Fred McDonagh, Niall Fagan, John L McCormack, Róisín Stagg-Doyle and George Foster; Séamus Murphy, Republican prisoner in England 1955-59; and many ex-prisoners from both sides of the Border.

When Íde Nic Chionnaith referred in her oration to the scurrilous reports on the dead Republican leader in sections of the English and Irish press there was loud and sustained applause from those present.

Seán Mac Stiofáin was still held in high regard and his work for Irish freedom highly appreciated.

Déamaimid comhbhrón lena bhean chéile Máire a sheas leis thar na blianta, do Catherine, Máire Óg agus Sinéad a togadh le Gaeilge agus a thug grá agus tacaíocht dá idéal thar na blianta.

Leaba i measc Laochra Gael go raibh ag a anam uasal calma.

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Seán Mac Stíofáin -- a tribute

SEÁN Mac Stíofáin was a giant of a man in the Republican Movement. He was one of those who got a grip on the revolutionary situation which opened up in the Six Counties in August 1969 and brought the IRA to a culminating point in June-July 1972. At that time he led a delegation to London demanding British government withdrawal from Ireland for the first time since 1921.

He certainly was the “man for the job” as Chief of Staff of the IRA during those years. The three demands presented to British Ministers by his delegation in 1972 left no doubt as to what the IRA was fighting for: (1) The future of Ireland to be decided by the people of Ireland acting as a unit; (2) a British government Declaration of Intent to withdraw from Ireland by January 1975 and (3) the unconditional release of all political prisoners.

In the negotiations for a Bilateral Truce between the British government and the IRA which preceded the talks, the granting of Special Category or political status to Republican prisoners – a number of them led by Billy McKee were on hunger strike for this – was a precondition which was acceded to.

The withdrawal of this status in 1976 had a huge reaction – the blanket and no wash strikes and ultimately the hunger strike of 1981 with ten deaths.

Seán Mac Stíofáin believed deeply in the ÉIRE NUA proposals for a new federal Ireland of the four provinces including a nine-county Ulster and promoted it by every means at his disposal.

He was a fluent Irish speaker and an Irish language activist. He learned from the Cypriot EOKA prisoners in Wormwood Scrubs Prison in London, not only a smattering of Greek but also the realities of an anti-British rule guerrilla campaign.

He will be remembered as an outstanding IRA leader during a crucial period in Irish history.

Sincere sympathy is expressed to his wife Máire, to his daughters and all his relatives and friends.
— Ruairí Ó Brádaigh

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