Today is the 93rd anniversary of two gallant Corkmen who perished on hunger strike on October 25th 1920- Joseph Murphy and Terence McSwiney.
Joseph Murphy was from Togher on the outskirts of Cork City. He was an avid sportsman who played hurling for the Plunkett’s club and enjoyed a game of road bowling on Sunday mornings. His life changed dramatically when he joined the local IRA company in the early stages of the Tan War. In July 1920, he was arrested after a raid on his home and imprisoned in Cork County Jail. The following month political status was revoked for Irish Republican prisoners, it had earlier been secured following the sacrifice of Thomas Ashe in 1917 and a mass hunger strike in Mountjoy in April 1920.
On August 11th, 60 IRA volunteers in Cork Jail embarked on a mass hunger strike, demanding political status. Rather than concede their demands the British Government were content to risk letting prisoners die. Over the following weeks many hunger strikers were released or transferred until only 11 remained of the original 60.
During September and October the conditions of the hunger strikers declined, and crowds gathered outside daily to sing and pray for them. Sadly Joseph Murphy was to die on his 76th day of hunger strike. His body was escorted through Cork City by IRA volunteers and Cumann na mBan. A strong British military presence on the day of his funeral didn’t stop his comrades giving him a fine send off. He was laid to rest in St.Finbarr’s Cemetery. The hunger strike ultimately ended on November 12th at the request of Arthur Griffith, acting president of the Irish Republic.
Terence McSwiney came from Cork City and attended the Royal University, where he studied accountancy and joined the Gaelic League. His revolutionary writings started between 1911 and 1912, during which time he authored many articles concerning the national struggle. In 1913 he was a founder of the Cork Brigade of the Irish Volunteers. He was interned from April to December 1916, at a time when he was President of Sinn Féin’s Cork Branch and leading the local Volunteer Brigade. He was deported in February 1917 and interned in England until June. That November he was arrested in Cork for wearing Republican attire and went on a brief hunger strike before being released. He also had spells imprisoned in Belfast, Dundalk and Lincoln. His imprisonment never shirked him from his important writings, in which he persevered.
After being released in March 1919 and following the murder of Tomás MacCurtain, Terence succeeded him as Lord Mayor of Cork. In August 1920 he was arrested yet again, this time charged with making a seditious speech, possessing a police code and passing a Cork Corporation resolution recognising Dáil Éireann. He was tried by court-martial, found guilty and sentenced to two years imprisonment in Brixton Prison in England. He immediately went on hunger strike, seeing it out for 74 days before he died. His death caused a huge outpouring of emotion in Ireland, and McSwiney was afforded legendary status. His funeral procession in Cork City was a momentous occasion. A collection of his writings- Principles of Freedom- were released in 1921.