Terence McSwiney: Patriotic Lord Mayor Of Cork Died On Hunger Strike
The legacy of Terence MacSwiney is duly imbedded in Ireland’s history books. An Irish playwright, author and politician, he was elected as Sinn Féin Lord Mayor of Cork during the Irish War of Independence in 1920.
With British rule all over Ireland the struggle for freedom had no boundaries and Terence MacSwiney, born at Kilmurray in the Muskerry region of Cork County, had political ambitions to see Ireland a free and solvent nation.
He was one of eight children born to John and Mary MacSwiney, and whilst still a young boy his family came to live in Cork city. His father took on the challenge of running a tobacco business and when the proceeds failed to support his young family, he made a great decision to leave his family in Cork and emigrate to Australia in 1885.
Life for the MacSwiney family was tough in difficult times and Terence had to leave the North Monastery School at fifteen to support his mother. A career in accountancy beckoned for Terence and to further his education, he went to night school and finally graduated. Despite working by day, the youthful Corkman continued further studies and took a degree in Mental and Moral Science in 1907 at U.C.C.
The call of literature was strong in his veins whilst he studied for many years and he played a key role in the establishment of the Celtic Literary Society and also the Cork Dramatic Society.
An accountant by profession, he devoted great time to writing and produced some notable plays.
Politically he was one of the founders of the Cork Brigade Of The Irish Volunteers in 1913 and became Sinn Féin Cork President. He had an inclination to publish a political newspaper - Fianna Fáil - which brought him to the attention of the British authorities and this publication was subsequently banned after a short lifespan. Terence was now a marked man in his own town and following the 1916 Easter Rising, in February 1917, he was taken prisoner to England and released in June 1917.
Back in Cork he continued his active political life and again found himself arrested for the wearing of his I.R.A. uniform in November 1917. He went on a three day hunger strike to protest before his release.
A travesty of immense injustice was inflicted on his great friend and comrade, Cork Lord Mayor, Tomás McCurtain, who was murdered at his Blackpool home by Black and Tans disguised as British troops. Terence was elected to succeed McCurtain on 20th March 1920 as Cork Lord Mayor. Whilst in Dublin on political business he was arrested and accused of possession of illegal documents, was summarily tried by court martial and sentenced to two years at Brixton Prison, England.
The Cork Lord Mayor again went on hunger strike to protest at his unfair and spurious trial. His protest made international press headlines and despite pleas by many foreign governments, the British government would not relent.
On the 25th October 1920 Terence MacSwiney finally succumbed to the torture of his hunger strike. His death resulted in one of the largest funerals ever held in Cork and he is buried at the Republican plot at St. Finbarr’s Cemetery, Cork