Muriel Frances Murphy MacSwiney, Irish nationalist and left-wing activist, and the first woman to be given the Freedom of New York City, is born Muriel Frances Murphy into a wealthy family on June 8, 1892, in Cork, County Cork. She is the wife of Terence MacSwiney, mother of Máire MacSwiney Brugha and sister-in-law of Mary MacSwiney.
Murphy’s father is Nicholas Murphy and her mother Mary Gertrude Purcell of Carrigmore, in Montenotte, Cork. She is sent away to school, to a convent in Sussex, England.
At Christmas 1915 Murphy attends an evening at the Fleischmann home where she meets Terence MacSwiney. Her family does not want the couple involved and does not approve of her growing interest in nationalism and socialism. In 1917 she marries MacSwiney in St. Joseph’s Church, Bromyard, Herefordshire, while he is interned due to his involvement in the Easter Rising of 1916. Her bridesmaid is Geraldine O’Sullivan and his best man is Richard Mulcahy. The couple had waited until she had come of age at 25 so that she is financially independent of her parents. They have a daughter, Máire MacSwiney Brugha.
MacSwiney sees very little of her husband during their married life as he is often arrested. He dies due to his hunger strike on October 25, 1920 as Lord Mayor of Cork. Her husband’s death has a huge impact on her life, being a public event as well as a personal loss. She completes a lecture and interview tour of the United States, over nine months, with his sister Mary. She is the first woman to be given the Freedom of New York City, in 1922.
MacSwiney is part of a group posing as a Red Cross delegation who breaks Annie M. P. Smithson out of Mullingar prison with the help of Linda Kearns MacWhinney.
MacSwiney begins to suffer from depression and takes her daughter to Germany, leaving her there while she travels Europe. She eventually loses custody of her child and by 1934 she no longer has any involvement in her daughter’s life.
MacSwiney spends a lot of time in Paris, where she continues to be engaged with politics, typically those of left-wing, including communist, groups. She becomes involved with Pierre Kaan and they have a daughter, Alix, who is born on May 5, 1926 in Germany. Kaan is sent to a concentration camp by the Gestapo and dies on May 18, 1945, as a result of his treatment there.
MacSwiney is critical of American foreign policy on Vietnam, calling the United States a “world imperialist power.”
MacSwiney never resolves her relationships with either her own daughter or her family. She is paid a pension as the widow of Terence MacSwiney from 1950. She is living in Tonbridge in Kent with her daughter near the end of her life. She dies on October 26, 1982 at Oakwood Hospital in Barming Heath near Maidstone.