Remembering Terence MacSwiney
Born at 23 North Main Street, Cork, on March 28th 1879, MacSwiney was educated by the Christain brothers at the North Monastery school in Cork city but left at fifteen to become a clerk, to help support the family, as his father had emigrated to Austrailia.
MacSwiney continued in full-time employment while he studied at the Royal University (now University College Cork), graduating with a degree in Mental and Moral Science in 1907.
MacSwiney was a very keen and able writer, he help found the Celtic Literary Society in 1901, in 1906 he published at his own expense a long poetic political manifesto.
From 1908 Terence was active with the writer Daniel Corkery in the Cork Dramatic Society, which hoped to become a Cork counterpart of the Abbey; it staged four of his plays. In 1911-12 MacSwiney published a series of articles, later collected as The Principles of Freedom.
MacSwiney came from a very patriotic family, so it came as no surprise when he got involved in the Gaelic League and his writings in the newspaper 'Irish Freedom' brought him to the attention of the Irish Republican Brotherhood.
MacSwiney was one of the founders of the Cork Brigade of the Irish Volunteers in 1913, and was President of the Cork branch of Sinn Féin. He founded a newspaper, Fianna Fáil, in 1914, but it was suppressed after only 11 issues. In April 1916, he was intended to be second in command of the Easter Rising in Cork and Kerry, but stood down his forces on the orders of Eoin MacNeill.
Following the rising, he was interned under the Defence of the Realm Act in Reading and Wakefield Gaols until December 1916. In February 1917 he was deported from Ireland and interned in Shrewsbury and Bromyard internment camps until his release in June 1917.
It was during his exile in Bromyard that he married Muriel Murphy of the Cork distillery-owning family. In November 1917, he was arrested in Cork for wearing an Irish Republican Army uniform, and, inspired by the example of Thomas Ashe, went on a hunger strike for three days prior to his release.
In the 1918 general election, MacSwiney was returned unopposed to the first Dáil Éireann as Sinn Féin representative for Mid Cork. After the murder of his friend Tomás Mac Curtain, the Lord Mayor of Cork on March 20th 1920, MacSwiney was elected as Lord Mayor.
On August 12th 1920, he was arrested in Cork for possession of seditious articles and documents, and also possession of a cypher key. He was summarily tried by court-martial on August 16th and sentenced to two years' imprisonment in Brixton Gaol.
In Gaol he immediately started a hunger strike in protest at his internment and the fact that he was tried by a military court. Eleven Republican prisoners in Cork Jail went on hunger strike at the same time. On August 26th, the British cabinet stated that "the release of the Lord Mayor would have disastrous results in Ireland and would probably lead to a mutiny of both military and police in Ireland.
MacSwiney's hunger strike gained world attention, protests were held in countries around the world and he inspired Indian revolutionaries to challenge British rule in their country.
During his strike, food was often placed near him to try to persuade Macswiney to give up the hunger strike. Attempts at force-feeding MacSwiney were undertaken in the final days of his strike. On October 20th, 1920, MacSwiney fell into a coma and died five days later after 73 days on hunger strike.
MacSwineys body lay in St George's Cathedral, Southwark in London where 30,000 people filed past it. Fearing large-scale demonstrations in Dublin, the authorities diverted his coffin directly to Cork and his funeral there on 31st October 1920 attracted huge crowds of over 100,000 people.
Terence MacSwiney is buried in the Republican plot in Saint Finbarr's Cemetery in Cork.
“It is not those who can inflict the most, but those that can suffer the most who will conquer.”