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Seán Mac Stíofáin (17 February 1928 – 18 May 2001), born John Stephenson, was an English-born chief of staff of the Provisional IRA, a position he held between 1969 and 1972.

Contents

1 Childhood 2 Joining the IRA 3 Leading the Provisional IRA 4 Later life 5 Death 6 Notes 7 Writings 8 Sources

Childhood[edit] Although he used the Gaelicised version of name in later life, Mac Stíofáin was born John Edward Drayton Stephenson in Leytonstone, London, in 1928. An only child, his father was an English solicitor's clerk and his mother an Ulster Protestant from east Belfast.[1] He stated his mother had left an impression on him at the age of seven with her instruction:

"I'm Irish, therefore you're Irish… Don't forget it".[2]

His childhood was marred by his alcoholic father. His mother, who doted over her son, died when Mac Stíofáin was 10. Mac Stíofáin attended Catholic schools, where he came into contact with pro-Sinn Féin Irish students.[citation needed] He left school in 1944 at the age of 16 and worked in the building trade, before being conscripted into the Royal Air Force
Royal Air Force
in 1945 to do his national service. He attained the rank of corporal. After leaving the RAF, he returned to London
London
where he became increasingly involved with Irish organisations in Britain. He first joined Conradh na Gaeilge (Gaelic League), then the Irish Anti-Partition League, bought (and later sold) the United Irishman, joined Sinn Féin
Sinn Féin
in London
London
and eventually in 1949 helped to organise a unit of the IRA. He first met his wife, Máire, who was from Castletownroche, County Cork. Mac Stíofáin then began work for British Rail. Joining the IRA[edit] On 25 July 1953, Mac Stíofáin took part in an IRA arms raid on the armoury of the Officers' Training Corps
Officers' Training Corps
at Felsted School
Felsted School
in Essex. The IRA netted over 108 rifles, ten Bren and eight Sten guns, two mortars and dummy mortar bombs in the raid. The police seized the van carrying the stolen weapons some hours later, due to it being so overloaded that it was going at about 20 mph on the Braintree bypass with a queue of traffic behind it. On 19 August 1953, he was sentenced, along with Cathal Goulding and Manus Canning, to eight years' imprisonment by a court in Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire. It was in the run-up to the raid that Mac Stíofáin learned his first few words in Irish from Cathal Goulding. He later became fluent in the language, which he spoke with an English accent. While incarcerated in Wormwood Scrubs and Brixton prisons, he learned not only a smattering of Greek from the Cypriot EOKA
EOKA
prisoners (he befriended Nikos Sampson) but also "the realities of an anti-British rule guerrilla campaign".[3] Upon being granted parole in 1959, Mac Stíofáin went to the Republic of Ireland with his wife and young family and settled in Dublin, and later Navan, County Meath, and became known under the Irish version of his name. Contrary to a number of accounts, this was not his first visit to the country, and he had been to Ireland a month before the Felsted raid in 1953.[citation needed] He worked as a salesman for an Irish-language organisation. He remained active in the IRA and gave the Bodenstown
Bodenstown
oration in 1959. A staunch and lifelong Catholic, he was uneasy with the left-wing political direction – under way from 1964 – his erstwhile friend and IRA chief of staff, Cathal Goulding, was bringing to the IRA. Appointed IRA director of intelligence in 1966, Mac Stíofáin continued to voice his opposition to the Goulding line and was gaining support among members. Despite his hostility to the left-wing direction, he was prominent in agitations in Midleton against ground-rent landlordism, the Dublin Housing Action Committee and against foreign buy-outs of Irish farmland in County Meath, where he moved with his family in 1966. A tall, well-built man, Mac Stíofáin was regarded as a rather stoic personality who did not drink or smoke. He was a devout Catholic and was infuriated by an article in the United Irishman, by Roy Johnston, condemning the reciting of the Rosary
Rosary
at republican commemorations as "sectarian". For refusing to distribute the newspaper, he was suspended from the IRA for six months. Leading the Provisional IRA[edit] When an IRA special army convention voted to drop the principle of abstentionism in December 1969, a troika comprising Mac Stiofáin, Dáithí Ó Conaill
Dáithí Ó Conaill
and Seamus Twomey together with others established themselves as a "Provisional Army Council" in anticipation of a contentious 1970 Sinn Féin
Sinn Féin
Árd Fheis. At this, the Marxist leadership of Sinn Féin
Sinn Féin
failed to attain the prerequisite two-thirds majority necessary to overturn the party's constitutional opposition to "partitionist" assemblies. This was despite the disbandment of anti-abstentionist branches and district committees, such as the 1966 dissolution of the entire North Kerry Comhairle Ceantair of Sinn Féin, embracing 13 cumainn (branches) and 250 members and including three local councillors and expulsion of leading figures such as May Daly (sister of Charlie Daly, executed at Drumboe, Donegal, in 1923), John Joe Rice, Sinn Féin
Sinn Féin
TD from 1957–61 and John Joe Sheehy, veteran republican and Kerry footballer. Many others were similarly ousted from the organisation. The underlying issue was the uncompromising stand of Kerry in refusing recognition to Westminster, Leinster House and Stormont. Mac Stiofáin was subsequently appointed the chief of staff of the Provisional Army Council. At the Sinn Féin
Sinn Féin
Árd Fheis in Dublin on 10 January 1970, Mac Stíofáin declared from the podium that he pledged his "allegiance to the Provisional Army Council" before leading the walkout of disgruntled members to form what would become Provisional Sinn Féin. The split also ended Mac Stíofáin’s friendship with Cathal Goulding, who went on to serve as chief of staff of the rival Official IRA. Although both had been good personal friends before the split, Goulding was later scathing about "that English Irishman". The "Provisional Army Council" in the coming months would command the loyalty of the IRA national organisation, save for a few isolated instances (that of the IRA Company of the Lower Falls Road, Belfast, under the command of Billy McMillen, and other small units in Derry, Newry, Dublin and Wicklow). Mac Stiofáin's men soon came to be known as the Provisional IRA. There was a similar ideological split in Sinn Féin, whereby a majority of the remaining party under the leadership of Tomás Mac Giolla (which contested elections first as Official Sinn Féín, then Sinn Féin
Sinn Féin
The Workers Party) aligned itself to Cathal Goulding's Official IRA, as the Marxist rump came to be known. The party inherited the historic Sinn Féin
Sinn Féin
headquarters of Gardiner Street, thus giving legitimacy to it, in the eyes of some, to be the legitimate successor of that party and briefly known popularly as Sinn Féin Gardiner St. Those supportive of Mac Stiofáin's "Provisional Army Council" came to be known popularly as the Provisional IRA and Provisional Sinn Féin, or Sinn Féin
Sinn Féin
Kevin St. That party contested elections as "Sinn Féin". The Official IRA were known informally as the stickies, given the tradition to affix Easter lilies with sticky gum, rather than pins. According to Ruairí Ó Brádaigh, it was Mac Stíofáin, as chief of staff of the Provisionals, who invented the name "P. Ó Néill". P. O'Neill is the name appended to IRA declarations to show that the statement is genuine. Nicknamed 'Mac the Knife', Mac Stíofáin was a dedicated "physical-force" republican who believed that violence was the only means to bring about an end to Northern Ireland's status as part of the United Kingdom. In his autobiography, he set out the aims of the Provisional IRA as moving from "area defence" to "combined defence and retaliation" and then a "third phase of launching an all-out offensive action against the British occupation system". He also gave a detailed account of his development of the tactic of the "one-shot sniper". He is said to have taken part in an unsuccessful attack on Crossmaglen RUC station in August 1969. His military strategy was summed up in his own words by "escalate, escalate, escalate", and in 1972, by far the bloodiest year of the conflict, the IRA killed around 100 British soldiers and lost 90 of their own members. On 7 July 1972, Mac Stíofáin led an IRA delegation to a secret meeting with members of the British government, led by Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland
William Whitelaw, at Cheyne Walk
Cheyne Walk
in London. Other IRA leaders in attendance were Dáithí Ó Conaill, Martin McGuinness, Gerry Adams, Seamus Twomey and Ivor Bell. Leading the delegation, Mac Stíofáin spelled out the three basic demands of the Provisionals: (1) The future of Ireland to be decided by the people of Ireland acting as a unit; (2) a declaration of intent by the British government to withdraw from Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland
by January 1975; and (3) the unconditional release of all political prisoners. The British claimed this was impossible owing to the commitment it had given to unionists. The talks ended in failure, and as a briefing for prime minister Edward Heath
Edward Heath
later noted, Whitelaw "found the experience of meeting and talking to Mr Mac Stíofáin very unpleasant". Mac Stíofáin said that Whitelaw put up his bluff exterior at first, but after a couple of minutes let it drop and showed himself to be a shrewd political operator; he also noted that Whitelaw was one of the few Englishmen to pronounce his name correctly. Following the unsuccessful talks, Mac Stíofáin ordered an intensification of the IRA campaign which peaked on 21 July 1972, or Bloody Friday, when the IRA detonated 22 car bombs in less than two hours across Belfast, killing nine people and injuring 130. In his memoirs, Mac Stíofáin described the operation as "a concerted sabotage offensive" intended to demonstrate the IRA was capable of planting a large number of bombs at once. At a meeting between Heath and Irish taoiseach Jack Lynch
Jack Lynch
in Munich on 4 September 1972, the former asked the latter if Mac Stíofáin could be arrested. In reply, Lynch said that he couldn't as the evidence against him was flimsy and he had a high degree of public support. On 19 November 1972, a controversial interview with Mac Stíofáin was broadcast on the RTÉ
RTÉ
This Week radio programme. He was arrested on the same day and the interview was later used as evidence against him on a trial of IRA membership, and on 25 November he was sentenced to six months imprisonment by the Special Criminal Court
Special Criminal Court
in Dublin. Political fallout arising from the interview was considerable and some days later, Fianna Fáil
Fianna Fáil
minister Gerry Collins sacked the entire RTÉ authority. Jailed in the Curragh prison, Mac Stíofáin immediately embarked on a hunger and thirst strike. He was taken to the Dublin Mater Hospital, from where an IRA unit, including two members disguised as priests, unsuccessfully tried to free him on 26 November 1972. After this, he was transferred to the Military Hospital of the Curragh, in County Kildare. He ended his thirst strike on 28 November.[4] His hunger strike led to tumultuous scenes in Dublin and protests outside the Mater Hospital, where he was visited by the then Catholic archbishop of Dublin, Dermot Ryan, and his predecessor, John Charles McQuaid. After 57 days,[5] he was ordered off his protest by the IRA Army Council for "bringing the IRA into disrepute"[citation needed]. Some have reported that council members Ruairí Ó Brádaigh
Ruairí Ó Brádaigh
and Dáithí Ó Conaill ordered him off the strike. However, Ó Brádaigh, by this time, had also been arrested. In fact, when he was transferred into the Glasshouse of the Curragh, Ó Brádaigh welcomed him.[6][7][8] Following standard procedures, Mac Stíofáin lost his rank upon arrest and he never again regained his influence within the IRA after his release in April 1973. Later life[edit] Afterwards he was sidelined, and was given a job of distribution manager and part-time columnist with the Sinn Féin
Sinn Féin
newspaper, An Phoblacht, in the late 1970s. He resigned from the party in 1982 after a disagreement about strategy at the Ard Fheis, when a majority opposed the Éire Nua policy, which envisaged the setting up of regional governments in each of the traditional four provinces on the island. In the late 1970s he met with representatives from the Army Council of the Irish National Liberation Army
Irish National Liberation Army
who were interested in him becoming Chief of Staff of that movement, but nothing ever came from the meetings.[9] In March 1983 Mac Stíofáin appealed to the IRA to declare a ceasefire. In the 1980s and 1990s, Mac Stíofáin became active in the Irish-language organisation Conradh na Gaeilge. At that organisation’s centenary celebration held in Dublin’s O'Connell Street in 1993, he was a guest of honour on the platform. He remained a member of the standing committee (Coiste Gnó) of Conradh na Gaeilge until his death. He lived in the Meath Gaeltacht. Visitors to his home were greeted at the front door with a mat saying Labhair Gaeilge Anseo ('Speak Irish here'). Death[edit] In 1993, Mac Stíofáin suffered a stroke. On 18 May 2001, he died in Our Lady’s Hospital in Navan, County Meath, after a long illness at the age of 73. He is buried in St Mary's Cemetery, Navan. Despite his controversial career in the IRA, many of his former comrades (and rivals) paid tribute to him after his death. Ruairí Ó Brádaigh, who attended the funeral, issued a glowing tribute, referring to Mac Stíofáin as an "outstanding IRA leader during a crucial period in Irish history" and as the "man for the job" as first Provisional IRA chief of staff. Gerry Adams
Gerry Adams
and Martin McGuinness
Martin McGuinness
also attended. In her oration, Ita Ní Chionnaigh of Conradh na Gaeilge, whose flag draped the coffin, lambasted Mac Stíofáin’s "character assassination" by the "gutter press" and praised him as a man who had been "interested in the rights of men and women and people anywhere in the world who were oppressed, including Irish speakers in Ireland, who are also oppressed". Notes[edit]

^ Second- and third-generation Irish joining the republican movement is not uncommon – see the October 2004 Fortnight Magazine book review of "Choosing The Green? Second Generation Irish and the Cause of Ireland" by Brian Dooley here. ^ "Sean MacStiofain: Londoner who led the IRA". BBC News. 18 May 2001.  ^ "Outstanding IRA leader and giant of a man in the Republican Movement", in: Saoirse, June 2001 ^ Interim Report on the Report of the Independent Commission of Inquiry into the Dublin Bombings of 1972 and 1973, 2004 ^ There is a discrepancy in the sources concerning the duration of his hunger strike. In an interview, Mac Stíofáin claimed it lasted fifty-three days. ^ Robert W. White, Ruairí Ó Brádaigh, The Life and Politics of an Irish Revolutionary (Indiana University Press, 2006). ^ Ruth Dudley Edwards, "A funeral can't kill off Adams's hypocrisy", Sunday Independent, 27 May 2001. Archived 24 February 2006 at the Wayback Machine. ^ See "Outstanding IRA leader and giant of a man in the Republican Movement", Saoirse, June 2001. ^ Jack Holland & Henry McDonald - INLA: Deadly Divisions p.148

Writings[edit] Mac Stíofáin, Seán, Memoirs of a Revolutionary, London
London
(Gordon Cremonesi), 1975. Also published as Revolutionary in Ireland ISBN 0-86033-031-1 Sources[edit]

"Death of the Englishman who led the Provisionals", Observer, 20 May 2001 [1] "Sean MacStiofain dead, founded Provisional IRA", Irish Echo Online, 23–29 May 2001 [2] "Adams and IRA's secret Whitehall talks", BBC News, 1 January 2003, [3] RTÉ
RTÉ
This Week radio interview: [4] "Outstanding IRA leader and giant of a man in the Republican Movement", Saoirse, June 2001. Ruairí Ó Brádaigh, " Seán Mac Stíofáin -- a tribute", Saoirse, June 2001. Interview with Mac Stíofáin (likely taken from Peter Taylor's Provos series). Contains details on Cheyne Walk
Cheyne Walk
talks here. Hanley, Brian, and Millar, Scott (2009). The Lost Revolution: The Story of the Official IRA and the Workers' Party. Dublin: Penguin Ireland.

v t e

Irish Republican Army
Irish Republican Army
(1922–69)

General

Genealogy Irish Republican Army
Irish Republican Army
(1917–22) British Partition ( Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland
& Southern Ireland) Anglo-Irish Treaty
Anglo-Irish Treaty
(in relation to the IRA) Irish Civil War
Irish Civil War
(Timeline & Executions) Munster Republic Comhairle na dTeachtaí Irish republican legitimism Abstentionism Collaboration with the Abwehr The Emergency Plan Kathleen Haughey arms crisis Officials-Provisionals split

Organisation

IRA Army Council IRA Northern Command

Attacks

Battle of Dublin Battle of Kilmallock Anti-Treaty Guerilla Campaign Christmas Raid Sabotage Campaign Northern Campaign Border Campaign

Chiefs of Staff

Liam Lynch (1922) Joe McKelvey (1922) Liam Lynch (1922–23) Frank Aiken
Frank Aiken
(1923–25) Andrew Cooney (1925–26) Moss Twomey (1926–36) Seán MacBride
Seán MacBride
(1936) Tom Barry (1936–37) Mick Fitzpatrick (1937-38) Seán Russell
Seán Russell
(1938-40) Stephen Hayes (1940–41) Pearse Kelly (1941) Seán Harrington (1941–42) Seán McCool (1942) Eoin McNamee (1942) Hugh McAteer (1942) Charlie Kerins (1942–44) Harry White (1944–45) Patrick Fleming (1945–47) Willie McGuinness (1947–48) Tony Magan (1948-57) Richard Burke (1957) Tony Magan (1957) Seán Cronin (1957–58) John Joe McGirl (1958) Ruairí Ó Brádaigh
Ruairí Ó Brádaigh
(1958-59) Seán Cronin (1959–60) Ruairí Ó Brádaigh
Ruairí Ó Brádaigh
(1960-62) Cathal Goulding (1962–69)

Personalities

Cathal Brugha Liam Mellows Robert Erskine Childers Michael Carolan Richard Barrett Hugh Corvin Ernie O'Malley Tom Maguire Paddy McLogan Seamus O'Donovan Frank Ryan Máirtín Ó Cadhain Brendan Behan Dominic Behan Tomás Ó Dubhghaill Seán South Fergal O'Hanlon Manus Canning Seán Mac Stíofáin Joe Cahill Joe McCann Liam Kelly Tom Hales Peadar O'Donnell Éamonn O'Doherty Billy McKee

Associates

Cumann na mBan Fianna Éireann Sinn Féin
Sinn Féin
(1922–26 & 1938–69) Clan na Gael National Graves Association Comhairle na Poblachta (1929–31) Saor Éire (1931) Cumann Poblachta na hÉireann (1936–37) Córas na Poblachta Connolly Association (Communist Party of Great Britain) Wolfe Tone Societies Clann na hÉireann

Derivatives

Republican Congress Saor Uladh Provisional Irish Republican Army Official Irish Republican Army

v t e

Provisional Irish Republican Army

General

Anti-Treaty IRA Sinn Féin Republican News An Phoblacht The Green Book The Troubles
The Troubles
(Timeline) Haughey arms crisis Officials-Provisionals split Provisional IRA campaign Arms importation Disappeared Mountjoy Prison helicopter escape Blanket protest Dirty protest HM Prison Maze Anti H-Block 1981 Irish hunger strike Maze Prison escape Armalite and ballot box strategy Smithwick Tribunal Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland
peace process North American arrests Barrack buster Good Friday Agreement

Organisation

IRA Army Council Internal Security Unit Active Service Unit (ASU) Provisional IRA Belfast
Belfast
Brigade Provisional IRA Derry Brigade Provisional IRA South Armagh Brigade Provisional IRA East Tyrone Brigade Provisional IRA Balcombe Street Gang ASU

Attacks

Insurgency, 1969–1977

Battle of St Matthew's 1970 RUC booby-trap bombing Scottish soldiers' killings Balmoral showroom bombing Abercorn bombing Donegall St bombing Battle at Springmartin Bloody Friday Claudy bombing Coleraine bombings M62 coach bombing Guildford pub bombings Brook's Club bomb attack British Airways bombing attempt Birmingham pub bombings Bayardo Bar attack Caterham Arms pub bombing London
London
Hilton bombing Green Park tube station bombing Scott's Oyster Bar bombing Walton's Restaurant bombing Drummuckavall ambush Balcombe Street siege Kingsmill massacre

Long War, 1977–1988

1978 Lisnamuck shoot-out Jonesboro Gazelle downing La Mon restaurant bombing 1978 Crossmaglen
Crossmaglen
Ambush Warrenpoint ambush Dunmurry train explosion Lough Foyle attacks Chelsea Barracks bombing Hyde Park and Regent's Park bombings Harrods bombing Woolwich barracks Brighton hotel bombing Ballygawley land mine attack Newry mortar attack Ballygawley attack The Birches attack JHQ Rheindahlen bombing (Germany)

Peace Process, 1988–1998

Corporals killings Lisburn van bombing 1988 Netherlands Attacks Inglis Barracks Ballygawley bus bombing Jonesborough ambush Deal barracks bombing Derryard attack Derrygorry Gazelle downing RFA Fort Victoria bombing Proxy bombings Downing St mortar attack Mullacreevie ambush Glenanne barracks bombing Teebane bombing Cloghoge attack 1992 Manchester bombing South Armagh sniper campaign Warrington bomb attacks Cullaville occupation Bishopsgate bombing Battle of Newry Road Shankill Road bombing Crossmaglen
Crossmaglen
Lynx downing Drumcree conflict Docklands bombing 1996 Manchester bombing Osnabrück mortar attack Thiepval barracks bombing Coalisland attack July 1997 riots

Chiefs of Staff

Seán Mac Stíofáin (1969–72) Joe Cahill (1972–73) Seamus Twomey (1973) Éamonn O'Doherty (1973–74) Seamus Twomey (1974–77) Gerry Adams
Gerry Adams
(1977–78) Martin McGuinness
Martin McGuinness
(1978–82) Ivor Bell (1982–83) Kevin McKenna (1983–97) Thomas "Slab" Murphy (1997–2005)

Personalities (Volunteers)

Billy McKee Gerry Kelly Dolours Price Marian Price Roy Walsh John Joe McGirl Ruairí Ó Brádaigh Dáithí Ó Conaill George Harrison Billy Reid Michael Gaughan Pat Doherty Hugh Doherty Séanna Breathnach Proinsias MacAirt John Kelly Rose Dugdale John Francis Green Peter Cleary Kevin Coen Frank Stagg Kieran Nugent Francis Hughes Brendan Hughes Tommy McKearney Raymond McCartney Gerry McGeough Gerard Casey Thomas McMahon Eamon Collins Gerard Tuite Patrick Magee Bobby Sands Raymond McCreesh Joe McDonnell Martin Hurson Kieran Doherty Thomas McElwee Michael McKevitt Alex Maskey Fra McCann Owen Carron Paul Butler Dessie Ellis Angelo Fusco Breandán Mac Cionnaith Rita O'Hare Martin Meehan Arthur Morgan Danny Morrison Antoine Mac Giolla Bhrighde Kieran Fleming William Fleming Bernard Fox Paddy Quinn Laurence McKeown Pat McGeown Matt Devlin Pat Sheehan Siobhán O'Hanlon Jackie McMullan Patrick Joseph Kelly Larry Marley Jim Lynagh Pádraig McKearney Brendan McFarlane Charles Breslin Sean O'Callaghan Séamus McElwaine Gabriel Cleary Daniel McCann Seán Savage Mairéad Farrell Martin McCaughey Dessie Grew Fergal Caraher Patricia Black Malachy Carey Martin McGartland Joseph MacManus Paul Magee Pearse Jordan Thomas Begley Martin Doherty Ed O'Brien Diarmuid O'Neill Carál Ní Chuilín Ian Milne Conor Murphy Martina Anderson Jennifer McCann Liam Campbell Colin Duffy

Espionage & Supergrasses

Denis Donaldson Freddie Scappaticci (allegedly "Stakeknife") Martin McGartland Raymond Gilmour Kevin Fulton Joseph Fenton Eamon Collins

Associates

Cumann na mBan Fianna Éireann South Armagh Republican Action Force Direct Action Against Drugs NORAID Provisional Clan na Gael Friends of Sinn Féin Cairde na hÉireann Troops Out Movement

Derivatives

Continuity Irish Republican Army Real Irish Republican Army

Prominent killings

Michael Willetts Jean McConville Columba McVeigh Billy Fox Martin McBirney Steven Tibble Ross McWhirter Sammy Smyth Christopher Ewart-Biggs Jeffery Stanford Agate Robert Nairac Richard Sykes Gerard Evans Lord Mountbatten Baroness Brabourne Norman Stronge James Stronge Robert Bradford Lenny Murphy Kenneth Salvesen Anthony Berry Maurice Gibson Robert Seymour Heidi Hazell Joseph Fenton Nick Spanos Stephen Melrose Ian Gow Donald Kaberry Thomas Oliver Sammy Ward Tim Parry Jonathan Ball Ray Smallwoods Joe Bratty Raymond Elder Martin Cahill Jerry McCabe Andrew Kearney Eamon Collins Matthew Burns Robert McCartney (allegedly) James Curran Joseph Rafferty (allegedly

.