Tragic Death of Sean McKenna

December 28, 2008 · Print This Article

Just before Christmas we received the sad news of the sudden death of former IRA Volunteer Sean McKenna at his home in Dundalk. Sean never fully recovered from his ordeal on the first H-Block hunger strike in 1980 which lasted for fifty three days. Sean was buried on Monday, 22nd December, in Calvary cemetery, Ravensdale, County Louth, after Requiem Mass in nearby St Mary’s Church.

Republicans from across Ireland, including many former prisoners and surviving hunger strikers, attended the funeral.

Sean had been illegally arrested, along with his father, and hundreds of others, by the British army on 9th August, 1971. His father was one of the ‘hooded men’ and died whilst in his early forties as a result of being tortured. Father and son were both interned in Long Kesh. After his release Sean returned to active service but lived in County Louth at Edentubber. On 12th March 1976 members of an SAS undercover team crossed the border and abducted Sean, again illegally, without any protest from the Dublin government at the breach of its sovereignty. Sean was sentenced in a Diplock Court and was on the blanket for several years prior to the hunger strike.

The Bobby Sands Trust was represented at his funeral by Gerry Adams, Jim Gibney and Danny Morrison.


9 Responses to “Tragic Death of Sean McKenna”

  1. Gerry O'Brien on December 30th, 2008 3:51 pm

    This is truly a sad day for all Irishmen/Women, here in Ireland and in America. How can one really understand all the pain this young man and his father suffered under the British Government. To this day the struggle for freedom of Ireland goes on. True we might be getting closer, but until we remove the cancer that has kill so many innocent lives.that been lost.


  2. A Close Personal Friend on January 11th, 2009 10:42 pm

    I would like to thank all those who attended the funeral, on behalf of those who knew Sean well.
    It was really touching, both at the wake and the funeral itself to see how many people turned out to support his family in their hour of need.

    As well as his deeds in the past, Sean was an amazing son, brother, uncle and friend. He was one of a kind, a kind which will never be seen again.

    More than just a hunger striker, he devoted the rest of his life to God and nature, his poetry and friends and to his family. A genuine, lovely human being.

    I felt that thanks needed to be expressed, and a tribute needed to be paid to the man that was.

    A void in our life.


  3. Jim Gibney on January 12th, 2009 7:23 am

    Hunger strikers’ contribution will endure
    The Irish News 01/01/09
    By Jim Gibney
    Sean McKenna died on December 19 2008. On December 19 1980, with hundreds of others, I had huddled in the biting cold outside the Belfast Royal Victoria Hospital (RVH) listening with dread to the rumours that swept through the crowd that the same Sean who had been rushed to the hospital from the H-Blocks the night before had died.
    There were other rumours that Sean was alive, that he had been brought from the prison where he had been on hunger strike for 53 days for political status wrapped in a special body-bag to preserve his body temperature.
    No-one knew for sure what to believe that cold winter night as we dispersed, uncertain of Sean’s fate. Sean survived that ordeal although the priest at his funeral Mass said that Sean had been ‘clinically dead’ for four seconds in the prison hospital before being moved to the RVH and that he lived a difficult life with health problems thereafter.
    The circumstances were entirely different when I saw Sean McKenna for the first time in 1973. We were interned in Long Kesh. Sean was 17 or 18, similar in age to myself. He wore denim: jacket and jeans, a checked shirt and Dr Martin boots. He looked like a pop star with his spiked hair and lean frame.
    He was strikingly handsome with distinctive eyes.
    The next time I saw Sean I did not recognise him. It was late 1984. We were in the H-Blocks in separate wings. I saw him through a series of grill bars. Gone were his lean frame and his striking looks. He was overweight due to the daily medication he had to take as a result of his hunger strike.
    His eyesight was poor but he could see you if he raised his eyes looking upwards which revealed the whites of his eyes – a sight which left you aching with sympathy for him.
    Sean McKenna’s difficult life mirrored that of his father, also called Sean. Both were illegally arrested on the first day of internment, August 9 1971, and interned for several years.
    Sean senior was selected for special torture by the RUC. He was one of the ‘hooded men’ – a group of republicans used as guinea pigs and experimented on by interrogators who used inhuman and degrading treatment against them.
    He never regained his full health and died shortly after being released from internment.
    The McKennas are republicans. They believed partition was wrong and actively opposed British occupation. They paid a high price for their political convictions.
    There were other reminders of the consequences of partition over the festive season. On Christmas Eve I attended the funeral of Robbie McDonnell, the father of Joe McDonnell, one of the 10 republicans who died in the H-Blocks on hunger strike.
    The McDonnells are another republican family which has paid a heavy price for their beliefs.
    Not much was said in the media about the McKennas or the McDonnells. I did not read any obituaries examining the hurt caused to either family. No analysis of why state forces should arrest a father and son, torture the father and permit the circumstances where defenceless prisoners should end up on hunger strike with 10 dying.
    There was, however, lots of media for the contrived furore sponsored by the SDLP when minister for education Caitriona Ruane correctly praised Bobby Sands when she attended St Colm’s school in Twinbrook, where Bobby Sands had lived.
    Similar public commentary greeted the passing of Conor Cruise O’Brien a few weeks ago.
    O’Brien was in a very privileged place in Irish society, put there by those men and women who fought and died for Irish independence and secured a measure of it in the setting up of the 26-county state.
    O’Brien started out his political life as a liberal, crusading for justice, for oppressed people around the world, yet the injustice of partition meant little to him.
    Ending that injustice was left to families like the McKennas and McDonnells and others.
    And it is their contribution to that end which will endure and make the difference to peace, justice and freedom – not that offered up by Cruise O’Brien.

  4. cathy fox on September 5th, 2010 8:24 pm

    my father was a close friend of seans and my aunt was engaged to him and as a child visiting and writing and receiving letters from him i knew him as my dads best friend and would like him to get recognised for what he was THE REAL HUNGER STRIKER!

  5. ciaron mckenna on February 10th, 2011 10:00 am

    this man was my cusin i did not no that untill my farther told me stirys about him and his old days

  6. Depth of Field VI: Nachtwey¹ on June 29th, 2011 7:30 am

    […] Maze prisoners and IRA members Brendan Hughes, Tommy McKearney, Raymond McCartney, Tom McFeeley, Sean McKenna, Leo Green, and Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) member John Nixon went on hunger strike to […]

  7. susie on January 14th, 2013 11:11 am

    A brave man who sacrificed his life for his cause. One must always speak out when injustice occurs. My thoughts are with him.

  8. Eamonn Mc Kenna on March 29th, 2013 9:19 am

    Big Sean,
    Thinking of you, and Uncle John this Easter. Remembering the good days, and riding on the back of your motorcycle on the college avenue!
    Never forgotten,

  9. thomas mayford on January 20th, 2018 2:07 am

    Never knew you Sean but as a supporter of the cause you will always be in all of our hearts from the country hills of Ireland to the shores of America… God Bless you….

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