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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Éamon de Valera Visits Butte, Montana During His American Tour

President Éamon de Valera visits Butte, Montana, on July 25, 1919, during his American Tour of 1919-20. Montana Lieutenant Governor W. W. McDowell meets his train and rides with de Valera through the streets to where de Valera then addresses over 10,000 people who have come out to hear him. The next day, de Valera addresses a joint session of the Montana State Legislature.

De Valera’s eventful 1919 begins in Lincoln Jail and ends in New York City’s Waldorf Astoria, the largest and most luxurious hotel in the world. Smuggled aboard the SS Lapland in Liverpool in June, he sails for the United States during the closing stages of the Paris Peace Conference. As London’s Sunday Express complains in August 1919, “there is more Irish blood in America than in Ireland,” making the United States the obvious destination for a sustained propaganda and fundraising mission.

After his highly-publicised American debut at New York’s Waldorf Astoria, the self-styled “President of the Irish Republic” embarks on the first leg of what is to be an eighteen month tour of the United States. The purpose of his mission is twofold: to gain formal recognition of the Irish Republic and to raise funds via a bond issue to support the independence movement and the newly established Dáil Éireann.

Between July and August 1919, de Valera and his entourage travel over 6,000 miles from New York to San Francisco, addressing enormous crowds at dozens of venues. He fills Madison Square Garden to capacity and receives a thirty-minute standing ovation from 25,000 people in Chicago’s Wrigley Field. Twice as many people fill Boston’s Fenway Park on June 29, cheering the arrival of the “Irish Lincoln.” The Sinn Féin envoys also visit less obvious Irish communities of the period, such as Scranton, Savannah, New Orleans and Kansas City. For de Valera’s personal secretary, Seán Nunan, the public meeting in Butte, Montana is like “an election meeting at home – there were so many first-generation Irishmen working on the mines – mainly from around Allihies in West Cork.” In San Francisco de Valera dedicates a statue of Robert Emmet by Irish-born sculptor Jerome Connor in Golden Gate Park, a replica of which stands sentinel in St. Stephen’s Green in Dublin. This is one of many symbolic gestures linking the American and Irish struggles for independence played out before the flashing bulbs of the ubiquitous press photographers. On August 15 The Cork Examiner notes that the enthusiastic American exchanges “indicate that few public missionaries from other lands – possibly only Mr. Parnell – have ever had such receptions as were accorded to the Sinn Féin leader.”

De Valera’s team deserves credit for the incredible logistical triumph that is the U.S. tour. As chief organiser, Liam Mellows travels ahead to each city, ensuring a suitable reception is prepared and a venue secured for a mass meeting. Seán Nunan is de Valera’s fastidious personal secretary and Harry Boland, Sinn Féin TD for South Roscommon and Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) envoy, is at his side troubleshooting, speechmaking and shaking hands. As the tour progresses, de Valera’s supporting cast expands to include, Kerry-born Kathleen O’Connell who becomes de Valera’s full-time personal secretary from 1919.

The next stage of de Valera’s American odyssey begins on October 1, 1919 in Philadelphia, a city with a rich Irish heritage and rife with symbolism of America’s struggle for independence. Over the next three weeks, de Valera and his team travel from the Atlantic to the Pacific seaboard and back again, delivering seventeen major public speeches and a host of smaller ones to aggregate crowds of over half a million.

The pace is relentless as the Irish team makes its way through middle America. De Valera is received as a visiting dignitary at multiple state legislatures and presented with honorary degrees from six American universities. In line with his secondary objective to foster the interest of “wealthy men of the race in the industrial development of Ireland,” he addresses the Chambers of Commerce in a number of cities and arranges a personal meeting with Henry Ford, the son of an Irish emigrant, during his visit to Detroit in October. In the same month in Wisconsin, he is made a Chief of the Chippewa Nation, an honour he later says meant more to him than all the freedoms of all the cites he was ever given. It is not surprising that by the time they reach Denver on October 30, The Irish World reports that “the President looked tired.” Still, he musters the energy to make high profile visits to Portland, Los Angeles and San Diego before beginning the return journey to New York at the end of November.

After a short break for Christmas, the Irish team prepares for the launch of the Bond Certificate Drive. A week-long frenzy of publicity kicks off on January 17 at New York City Hall where Mayor John F. Hylan presents de Valera with the Freedom of the City. During the spring of 1920, de Valera addresses the Maryland General Assembly at Annapolis before making the swing through the southern states of America.

It is not all plain sailing for the Sinn Féin representatives in America. The tour of the west coast in late 1919 sees increasing tensions with American patriotic bodies who are critical of de Valera’s perceived pro-German stance during World War I. He is heckled during a speech in Seattle and a tricolour is ripped from his car in Portland by members of the American Legion. The trip through the southern states in the spring of 1920 coincides with rising American anti-immigration and anti-Catholic nativism. A small number of counter demonstrations are organised by right-wing Americans. Most notably, members of the Ku Klux Klan make unwelcome appearances at several rallies in the American south, making clear their opposition to de Valera’s presence.

The Irish envoys also contend with antagonism from the leaders of Friends of Irish Freedom (FOIF), the broad-based popular front of Clan na Gael headed by veteran Fenian John Devoy and Judge Daniel Cohalan. The FOIF uses its significant resources to finance de Valera’s tour and facilitate the Bond Certificate Drive, but behind the scenes there are significant personality clashes and tensions over tactics.

The increasingly public dispute comes to a head in a row over strategies at the Republican National Convention in Chicago in June 1920. Drawing on his influential political contacts, Cohalan persuades the Republican Party to include Irish self-determination in their election platform. However, much to Cohalan’s fury, de Valera leads a separate delegation to the Convention and insists on a resolution calling for recognition of the Irish Republic. The result is that two resolutions are submitted to the Platform Committee, which indicates dissension in the Irish ranks and gives the Committee the excuse to include neither in the final platform. After de Valera also fails to secure the endorsement of the Democratic convention in San Francisco in June, it is clear that the Irish question will not be a significant factor in the ensuing presidential election. Relations between the FOIF and de Valera reach a new low. In November 1920, de Valera makes the final break with the FOIF and sets up a new organisation, the American Association for the Recognition of the Irish Republic.

De Valera is in Washington, D.C. on October 25 when Terence MacSwiney dies after 74 days on hunger strike. Six days later, at the last great meeting of the American tour, 40,000 people fill New York’s Polo Grounds to commemorate MacSwiney’s death. By late November, de Valera knows that it is time to return to Ireland. Smuggled aboard SS Celtic in New York harbour on December 10, he prepares for the nine-day journey home. He had failed to obtain the recognition of the United States Government for the Republic, but his cross-continental tour and associated press coverage raised international awareness and over $5 million for the Irish cause.

(From: An article by Helene O’Keeffe that was first published in the Irish Examiner on March 24, 2020 | Photo: Eamon de Valera, center, president of the Provisional Government of the Irish Republic, in Butte, Montana, in 1919 to encourage support for Ireland’s fight for independence. Courtesy of Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives)


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Birth of Daniel Cohalan, Bishop of Cork

Daniel Cohalan, Irish Roman Catholic clergyman who serves as the Bishop of Cork from 1916 to 1952, is born on July 14, 1858, in Kilmichael, County Cork.

After graduating at St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth, Cohalan is ordained a priest at the Cathedral of St. Mary and St. Anne, Cork on July 25, 1882. His first pastoral appointment is a curate at Kilbrittain, County Cork, from October 1883 to January 1884. He briefly resumes his post-graduate studies at St. Finbarr’s Seminary (now College), Cork, from January to November 1884. His second curacy is at Tracton, County Cork, from November 1884 to September 1896. He returns to St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth, as a professor of Theology from September 7, 1896 to June 7, 1914.

Cohalan is appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Cork and Titular Bishop of Vaga on May 25, 1914. He is consecrated bishop at the Cathedral of St. Mary and St. Anne on June 7, 1914 by John Harty, Archbishop of Cashel and Emly. Two years later, he is appointed Diocesan Bishop of Cork on August 29, 1916.

Cohalan is an outspoken critic during the Irish War of Independence, condemning acts of violence on both sides. In particular, he denounces the policy of reprisals. In July 1920, he pronounces an interdict on the killers of a Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) sergeant, shot dead in the church porch in Bandon. He declares that anyone killing from ambush will be excommunicated. On December 12, 1920, Cohalan issues a decree saying that “anyone within the diocese of Cork who organises or takes part in ambushes or murder or attempted murder shall be excommunicated.” In turn, his life is threatened by the Irish Republican Army (IRA). In August 1928, he condemns the British government which had allowed Terence MacSwiney to die on hunger strike in 1920.

The Bessborough Home in Cork is run by the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary and when the department “sought a change of superior in Bessborough because of the appallingly high death rate, he [Catholic Bishop of Cork Dr. Daniel Cohalan] denounced the request. The replacement of the Bessborough superior was delayed for four years after the department requested it, and many infants died during that time. It seems probable that the bishop’s intervention was elicited by the congregation.” In general the report finds that the major causes of infant mortality in the homes were respiratory infections and gastroenteritis, while “public attention has focused on marasmus [malnutrition]” suggesting “willful neglect.” However, it says that “the term marasmus is best seen as indicating that a child was failing to thrive, but medical experts suggest that this was due to an underlying, undiagnosed medical condition.”

Cohalan dies in office at the age of 94 at Bon Secours Hospital, Cork, on August 24, 1952. A story, current at the time in Cork, refers to his antipathy towards bishops of the Church of Ireland who styled themselves “Bishop of Cork.” A month before his death, and on his death-bed, word is brought to him of the death of the Church of Ireland Bishop of Cork, Cloyne and Ross, Robert Hearn. The response of Cohalan, known “affectionately” as “Danny Boy”, is reputedly, “now he knows who’s Bishop of Cork.”

Originally buried at St. Finbarr’s College, Farranferris, Cohalan is reinterred in the grounds of St. Mary and St. Anne’s Cathedral, Cork, in 1996. His nephew of the same name, Daniel Cohalan, is Bishop of Waterford and Lismore from 1943 to 1965.


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Birth of Máire MacSwiney Brugha, Activist & Author

Máire MacSwiney Brugha, Irish activist who is the daughter of Terence MacSwiney and niece of Mary MacSwiney, is born in Cork, County Cork, on June 23, 1918. In addition to being an activist she is also an author and is now regarded as a person of historical importance.

MacSwiney Brugha is the daughter of the former Lord Mayor of Cork Terence MacSwiney and his wife Muriel Frances Murphy. Her father dies on hunger strike when she is two years old. Her father is in jail when she is born and does not see her until she is brought to see him when she is three months old. Her family’s republican and political activities leave a strong mark on her life.

Following the death of her father, her mother moves to Dublin. MacSwiney Brugha goes to live with Madame O’Rahilly, widow of The O’Rahilly, and sees her mother intermittently. Although as a child her parents decide she would speak the Irish language, her father’s death and her mother’s health results in her move to Germany in 1923 and there she is moved around a lot. She learns German and speaks no English and little or no Irish. In 1930 she is moved to Grainau in Bavaria, where she attends school. Her aunt, Mary MacSwiney, a legal guardian of hers, eventually comes to collect her and takes her back to Ireland. This causes a court case when it is claimed her aunt had kidnapped her. As a result of the court case her aunt is given custody, and she and her mother became estranged.

MacSwiney Brugha attends Scoil Íte and then St. Louis Secondary School in Monaghan where, in 1936, she completes her Leaving Certificate and gets a scholarship to University College Cork to study arts. In 1937 she plays the lead role in a play, The Revolutionist, published in 1914 and written by her father and produced by her aunt. She returns to Germany in 1938 to keep up her German and graduates with a first-class honours degree. She goes on to get her higher diploma and becomes a teacher. She spends some time teaching in Scoil Íte and then goes to Dublin in 1942 to get a master’s degree. She meets Ruairí Brugha while in Dublin. His father, Cathal Brugha, was killed in the Irish Civil War in 1922. They marry on July 10, 1945. The marriage produces four children: Deirdre, Cathal, Traolach and Ruairí.

MacSwiney Brugha’s husband has a strong political career with her support. He is a senator, a TD, and a member of the European Parliament. She leads her Fianna Fáil cumann and volunteers with the aid agency Gorta. With her husband as Official Opposition Spokesman on Northern Ireland from 1975 to 1977, the couple are very much involved in creating the policy of developing conciliation rather than aimed more at ending partition which they previously have been focused on.

At the age of 85 and after her sight has failed MacSwiney Brugha dictates her story to her daughter-in-law, Catherine Brugha. History’s Daughter: A Memoir from the Only Child of Terence MacSwiney is launched in 2005. Her own story is recorded in Irish Life and Lore. Her story is also the subject of a radio production. She dies unexpectedly at her home in Clonskeagh, County Dublin, at the age of 93 on May 20, 2012. She is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin describes her as having made a “strong and valued” contribution to the development of Fianna Fáil while Gerry Adams says she “made her mark” on Irish history.

(Pictured: Máire MacSwiney Brugha on her wedding day, July 10, 1945)


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Birth of Muriel Frances Murphy MacSwiney

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.


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Birth of Terence MacSwiney, Playwright, Author & Lord Mayor of Cork

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Terence James MacSwiney, Irish playwright, author, politician and Sinn Féin Lord Mayor of Cork during the Irish War of Independence, is born at 23 North Main Street, Cork, County Cork, on March 28, 1879.

MacSwiney is one of eight children of John and Mary MacSwiney. His father had volunteered in 1868 to fight as a papal guard against Giuseppe Garibaldi, had been a schoolteacher in London and later opened a tobacco factory in Cork. Following the failure of this business, John MacSwiney emigrates to Australia in 1885, leaving the children in the care of their mother and his eldest daughter.

MacSwiney is educated by the Christian Brothers at the North Monastery school in Cork, but leaves at fifteen to help support the family. He becomes an accountancy clerk but continues his studies and matriculates successfully. He continues in full-time employment while he studies at the Royal University (now University College Cork), graduating with a degree in Mental and Moral Science in 1907.

In 1901 MacSwiney helps to found the Celtic Literary Society, and in 1908 he founds the Cork Dramatic Society with Daniel Corkery and writes a number of plays for them. His first play, The Last Warriors of Coole, is produced in 1910. His fifth play, The Revolutionist (1915), takes the political stand made by a single man as its theme.

Described as a sensitive poet-intellectual, MacSwiney’s writings in the newspaper Irish Freedom bring him to the attention of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. He is one of the founders of the Cork Brigade of the Irish Volunteers in 1913, and is President of the Cork branch of Sinn Féin. He founds a newspaper, Fianna Fáil, in 1914, but it is suppressed after only eleven issues. In April 1916, he is intended to be second in command of the Easter Rising in counties Cork and Kerry, but stands down his forces on the order of Eoin MacNeill.

Following the rising, MacSwiney is imprisoned by the British Government under the Defence of the Realm Act 1914 in Reading and Wakefield Gaols until December 1916. In February 1917 he is deported from Ireland and imprisoned in Shrewsbury and Bromyard internment camps until his release in June 1917. It is during his exile in Bromyard that he marries Muriel Murphy of the Cork distillery-owning family. In November 1917, he is arrested in Cork for wearing an Irish Republican Army (IRA) uniform, and, inspired by the example of Thomas Ashe, goes on a hunger strike for three days prior to his release.

In the 1918 Irish general election, MacSwiney is returned unopposed to the first Dáil Éireann as Sinn Féin representative for Mid Cork, succeeding the Nationalist MP D. D. Sheehan. After the murder of his friend Tomás Mac Curtain, the Lord Mayor of Cork, on March 20, 1920, he is elected as Lord Mayor. On August 12, 1920, he is arrested in Cork for possession of “seditous articles and documents,” and also possession of a cipher key. He is summarily tried by a court on August 16 and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment at Brixton Prison in England.

In prison MacSwiney immediately starts a hunger strike in protest of his internment and the fact that he was tried by a military court. Eleven other Irish Republican prisoners in Cork Jail go on hunger strike at the same time. On August 26, the British Government states 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 south of Ireland.”

MacSwiney’s hunger strike gains world attention. The British Government is threatened with a boycott of British goods by Americans, while four countries in South America appeal to Pope Benedict XV to intervene. Protests are held in Germany and France as well. An Australian member of Parliament, Hugh Mahon, is expelled from the Parliament of Australia for “seditious and disloyal utterances at a public meeting,” after protesting against the actions of the British Government. Two weeks later, the Spanish Catalan organization Autonomous Center of Employees of Commerce and Industry (CADCI) sends a petition to British Prime Minister David Lloyd George calling for his release and the newspaper of the organization, Acció (Acción in Spanish), begins a campaign for MacSwiney.

Food is often placed near MacSwiney to persuade him to give up the hunger strike. Attempts at force-feeding are undertaken in the final days of his strike. On October 20, 1920 he slips into a coma and dies in London’s Brixton Prison on October 25, after 73 days on hunger strike. His body lay in St. George’s Cathedral, Southwark in London where 30,000 people file past it. Fearing large-scale demonstrations in Dublin, the authorities divert his coffin directly to Cork, and his funeral in the Cathedral of St. Mary and St. Anne on October 31 attracts huge crowds. He is buried in the Republican plot in St. Finbarr’s Cemetery in Cork. Arthur Griffith delivers the graveside oration. His death brings him and the Irish Republican campaign to international attention.


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The Hanging of IRA Soldier Kevin Barry

Kevin Gerard Barry, an 18-year-old Irish Republican Army (IRA) soldier, is executed by the British Government on November 1, 1920, during the Irish War of Independence. He is sentenced to death for his part in an attack upon a British Army supply lorry which results in the deaths of three British soldiers.

Barry’s execution inflames nationalist public opinion in Ireland, largely because of his age. The timing of the execution, only seven days after the death by hunger strike of Terence MacSwiney, the republican Lord Mayor of Cork, brings public opinion to a fever-pitch. His pending death sentence attracts international attention, and attempts are made by United States and Vatican officials to secure a reprieve. His execution and MacSwiney’s death precipitate an escalation in violence as the Irish War of Independence enters its bloodiest phase, and Barry becomes an Irish republican martyr.

Barry is born on January 20, 1902, at 8 Fleet Street, Dublin, to Thomas and Mary (née Dowling) Barry. The fourth of seven children, two boys and five sisters, he is baptised in St. Andrew’s Church, Westland Row. As a child he attends the National School in Rathvilly, County Carlow, and the O’Connell Schools in Dublin, before enrolling in the Preparatory Grade at St. Mary’s College, Dublin, in September 1915. He remains at that school until May 31, 1916 when it is closed by its clerical sponsors. With the closure of St. Mary’s College, he transfers to Belvedere College, a Jesuit school in Dublin.

In October 1917, during his second year at Belvedere, Barry joins Company C, 1st Battalion of the Dublin Brigade of the Irish Volunteers. When Company C is later reorganized he is reassigned to the newly formed Company H, under the command of Captain Seamus Kavanagh. The following year he is introduced by Seán O’Neill and Bob O’Flanagan to the Clarke Luby Club of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), and at some point in time he is sworn as a member of this secret society which is led by Michael Collins.

Two Dublin Volunteers notice that a British army lorry guarded by an armed party of soldiers makes twice weekly trips to Monk’s Bakery on Church Street to obtain bread. Based on these observations, John Joe Carroll of Company H conducts a reconnaissance of the bakery. In addition to its main entrance on Church Street, he observes that the bakery yard is also accessible by a corridor leading from a shop on North King Street. He concludes that this makes the bakery an attractive site for an ambush.

On the morning of September 20, 1920, Barry goes to Mass, then joins a party of IRA volunteers on Bolton Street in Dublin. Their orders are to ambush a British army lorry as it picks up a delivery of bread from the bakery, and capture their weapons. The ambush is scheduled for 11:00 AM, which gives him enough time to take part in the operation and return to class in time for an examination he has at 2:00 PM. The truck arrives late, and is under the command of Sergeant Banks.

Armed with a .38 Mauser Parabellum, Barry and members of C Company are to surround the lorry, disarm the soldiers, take the weapons and escape. He covers the back of the vehicle and, when challenged, the five soldiers comply with the order to lay down their weapons. A shot is then fired, possibly a warning shot from an uncovered soldier in the front. Barry and the rest of the ambush party then open fire. His gun jams twice and he dives for cover under the vehicle. His comrades flee and he is left behind. He is then spotted and arrested by the soldiers. One soldier is killed and two other later die of their wounds.

The War Office orders that Barry be tried by court-martial under the Restoration of Order in Ireland Act 1920, which received royal assent on August 9, 1920. Barry is charged on three counts of the murder of Private Marshall Whitehead. In accordance with military procedure the verdict is not announced in court. He is returned to Mountjoy Prison. Later that night the district court-martial officer enters his cell and reads out the sentence: death by hanging. The public learns on October 28 that the date of execution has been fixed for November 1.

Barry is hanged on November 1, 1920, after hearing two Masses in his cell. Canon Waters, who walks with him to the scaffold, writes to Barry’s mother later, “You are the mother, my dear Mrs. Barry, of one of the bravest and best boys I have ever known. His death was one of the most holy, and your dear boy is waiting for you now, beyond the reach of sorrow or trial.”

Barry’s body is buried at 1:30 PM, in a plot near the women’s prison. His comrade and fellow-student Frank Flood is buried alongside him four months later. A plain cross marks their graves and those of Patrick Moran, Thomas Whelan, Thomas Traynor, Patrick Doyle, Thomas Bryan, Bernard Ryan, Edmond Foley and Patrick Maher who are hanged in the same prison before the Anglo-Irish Treaty of July 1921 which ends hostilities between Irish republicans and the British. The men are buried in unconsecrated ground on the jail property and their graves are unidentified until 1934. They become known as the Forgotten Ten by republicans campaigning for the bodies to be reburied with honour and proper rites. On October 14, 2001, the remains of these ten men are given a state funeral and moved from Mountjoy Prison to be re-interred at Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.


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IRA Volunteer Mick Fitzgerald Dies on Hunger Strike

Michael Fitzgerald also known as Mick Fitzgerald, dies on hunger strike in Cork County Gaol on October 17, 1920. He is among the first members of the Irish Republican Army and plays an important role in organizing it. His death is credited with bringing world-wide attention to the Irish cause for independence.

Born in December 1881 in Ballyoran, Fermoy, County Cork, Fitzgerald is educated at the Christian Brothers School in the town and subsequently finds work as a mill worker in the locality. He joins the Irish Volunteers in 1914 and plays an important role in building the local organisation which is soon to become the Irish Republican Army (IRA). He soon rises to the rank of Battalion Commandant, 1st Battalion, Cork No.2 Brigade.

On Easter Sunday, April 20, 1919, Fitzgerald leads a small group of IRA volunteers who capture Araglin, Cork Royal Irish Constabulary Barracks located on the border with County Tipperary. He is subsequently arrested and sentenced to three months imprisonment at Cork County Gaol. He is released from prison in August 1919 and immediately returns to active IRA duty. He is involved in the holding up of a party of British Army troops at the Wesleyan Church in Fermoy. The troops are disarmed although one of them is killed. Arrested and held on remand, Fitzgerald feels that the only chance he has for release is via a hunger strike.

Fitzgerald, along with Terence MacSwiney and nine other IRA volunteers, are arrested on August 8, 1920. On August 11, MacSwiney begins a hunger strike in Brixton Gaol. Fitzgerald and the other nine volunteers at Cork County Gaol join in. At the age of 24, he is the first to die on October 17, 1920 as a result of his sixty-seven day fast. His death is followed by the deaths of Joe Murphy and Terence MacSwiney. Their deaths are credited with bringing world-wide attention to the Irish cause for independence.

Fitzgerald is buried at Kilcrumper Cemetery, on the outskirts of Fermoy, County Cork. In addition, a road is named after him in Togher, Cork.

During a November 2008 visit to Fermoy, Sinn Féin Vice-President Pat Doherty lays a wreath at Fitzgerald’s grave. Doherty says Fitzgerald’s sacrifice was like that of the hunger strikers in 1981. He says it is a great honour for him to pay homage to a man “to whom we owe so much.” Also buried in the Republican Plot in Fermoy is General Liam Lynch, who was Chief of Staff of the IRA when he was shot dead by Irish Free State troops in the Knockmealdown Mountains on April 12, 1923. His last wish was to be buried with his great friend and comrade, Mick Fitzgerald.


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The 1923 Mountjoy Prison Hunger Strike

On October 13, 1923, following the end of the Irish Civil War, Michael Kilroy, O/C of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoners in Mountjoy Prison, announces a mass hunger strike by 300 prisoners. It soon spreads to other jails and within days 7,033 republicans are on hunger strike.

On the same day, the prisoners in Kilmainham Gaol go on hunger strike, and Ernie O’Malley writes eloquently of it in his book on the Civil War, The Singing Flame. He notes that “practically all volunteered; some were exempted, including myself, but I refused this concession.”

Previously, the Irish Free State government had passed a motion outlawing the release of prisoners on hunger strike. Dan Downey had died in the Curragh on June 10, and Joseph Witty, only 19 years old, also died in the Curragh on September 2. However, because of the large numbers of Republicans on strike, at the end of October the Government sends a delegation to Newbridge Camp to speak with IRA leaders there.

It soon becomes apparent that they are not there to negotiate the strikers’ demands, but rather to give the prisoners the Government’s message: “we are not going to force-feed you, but if you die we won’t waste coffins on you; you will be put in orange boxes and you will be buried in unconsecrated ground.”

O’Malley writes, “Any action was good, it seemed, and everyone was more cheerful when the hunger strike began. We listened to the tales of men who had undergone previous strikes and we, who were novices, wondered what it would be like. We laughed and talked, but in the privacy of our cells, some, like myself, must have thought what fools we were, and have doubted our tenacity and strength of will. I looked into the future of hunger and I quailed.”

All negotiations to curtail the strike are abandoned and the strike goes forward. Poorly planned, within weeks many are going off strike, but by the end of October, there are still 5,000 on strike. O’Malley does not know what effect the strike will have, but he feels he cannot ‘let the side down.’ “Hunger striking was an unknown quantity for me. I did not approve of it. I was frankly afraid, but I could not see boys of sixteen and eighteen take their chance whilst I could eat and be excused. Now, even though one thought one’s death could be of use, there was no passive acceptance. It was a challenge, a fight, and again resistance was built up……The mind would suffer more than the body. The struggle in the end would be between body and spirit.”

On November 20, Denis “Denny” Barry dies in the Newbridge Camp, and Andrew Sullivan dies in Mountjoy on November 22.

When Barry dies, the Bishop of Cork, Daniel Cohalan, refuses to let his body lie in a Cork church. When Terence MacSwiney died on hunger strike in 1921, Bishop Cohalan had written in The Cork Examiner, “I ask the favour of a little space to welcome home to the city he laboured for so zealously the hallowed remains of Lord Mayor Terence MacSwiney. For the moment, it might appear that he has died in defeat. Was Robert Emmet’s death in vain? Did Pearse and the other martyrs for the cause of Irish freedom die in vain? We bow in respect before his heroic sacrifice. We pray the Lord may have mercy on his soul.”

At the death of Denis Barry two years later, the very same Bishop Cohalan writes, “Republicanism in Ireland for the last twelve months has been a wicked and insidious attack on the Church and on the souls of the faithful committed to the Church by the law of the Catholic Church.” Denis Barry is not afforded a Catholic burial.

With the deaths of Barry and Sullivan drawing no positive response or concessions from the Free State government, the IRA command orders the strikes ended on November 23.

O’Malley writes that the strike ended with no promises of release, “we had been defeated again.” While the strike itself fails to win releases, it does begin a slow start of a programme of release of prisoners, the State being worried about the political impact of more deaths, though some prisoners remain in jail until as late as 1932.

O’Malley, writing of Tom Derrig who is in Mountjoy, relates that one of the strikers there, on the last day of the strike, had asked a doctor, “What day of the strike is this?” The doctor replies, “The forty-first.” The striker says, “Be cripes! We bate Christ by a day!”

(From: Stair na hÉireann | History of Ireland, http://www.stairnaheireann.net)


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Death of Kieran Doherty, Irish Republican Hunger Striker

Kieran Doherty, Irish republican hunger striker and politician who serves as a Teachta Dála (TD) for the Cavan–Monaghan constituency from June 1981 to August 1981, dies on August 2, 1981 in HM Prison Maze (known to republicans as Long Kesh) on the 73rd day of his hunger strike. He is a volunteer in the Belfast Brigade of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA).

Doherty is the third son in a family of six. He is born on October 16, 1955 in the Andersonstown area of Belfast and is educated at St. Theresa’s Primary School and Glen Road Christian Brothers School (CBS). The Doherty brothers are known cyclists and sportsmen in the Andersontown area. He wins an Antrim Gaelic football medal at minor level in 1971.

Doherty joins Fianna Éireann in 1971 and is interned by the British Government between February 1973 and November 1975. His brothers Michael and Terence are interned between 1972 and 1974.

Doherty works as an apprentice heating engineer. His girlfriend is Geraldine Scheiss and, although they never become formally engaged, they become very close toward the end of his life. Before his arrest, she had not known that he is in the IRA.

In August 1976, while he is out to set a bomb, the van in which he is riding is chased by the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). During the chase Doherty manages to leave the van and hijack a car. He later ditches the car and is found one mile away from the car. He is convicted and sentenced to 18 years for possession of firearms and explosives, with another four years for the hijack.

Doherty starts his hunger strike on May 22, 1981. While on hunger strike he is elected as an Anti H-Block TD for the Cavan–Monaghan constituency at the 1981 Irish general election, which is held on June 11. He receives 9,121 (15.1%) first preference votes and is elected on the fourth count. The two seats gained by Anti H-Block candidates denies Taoiseach Charles Haughey the chance to form a government, and the 22nd Dáil Éireann sees a Fine GaelLabour Party coalition government come to office, with Garret FitzGerald as Taoiseach.

Doherty dies at the age of 25 on August 2, 1981. He lasts 73 days on hunger strike, the longest of the 1981 hunger strikers, and only one day short of Terence MacSwiney. He is the shortest-serving Dáil deputy ever, serving as a TD for only two months.

Doherty is commemorated on the Irish Martyrs Memorial at Waverley Cemetery in Sydney, Australia. In October 2016, a painting of him is unveiled in Leinster House by Sinn Féin.


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Republican Prisoner Denny Barry Dies on Hunger Strike

Irish Republican prisoner Denis “Denny” Barry dies on hunger strike in Newbridge internment camp on November 20, 1923, shortly after the Irish Civil War.

Barry is born into a farming family in Riverstick, ten miles south of Cork city, on July 15, 1883. He enjoys Gaelic culture and sport and is a prominent member of the Ballymartle hurling club. He later joins the famous Blackrock National Hurling Club where he wins four senior county championships in a row during the years of 1910 to 1913.

In 1913, Barry joins the newly formed Irish Volunteers. He is a member of the first Cork brigade and has been politically active in Sinn Féin. In 1915, he moves to Kilkenny to take up employment there, where he continues his volunteer activities. Shortly after the Easter Rising in 1916, he is arrested in Kilkenny in a British Government crackdown, and sent to Frongoch internment camp in North Wales. In 1917 he becomes election agent for W. T. Cosgrave in the Kilkenny by-election, one in which Cosgrave is successfully elected. However, just six years later he finds himself imprisoned by Cosgrave’s own government.

In 1922 Barry is imprisoned in Newbridge camp in Kildare and takes part in the hunger strike of 1923. On November 20, 1923, after 34 days protesting against the harsh regime and undignified conditions, he dies but even in death he is still refused dignity.

Barry’s body is not released to his family and is instead, on the orders of Minister of Defence, Richard Mulcahy, buried in the grounds of Newbridge internment camp. The Barry family takes legal action against this and eventually receives the body, but this is not the last of their troubles.

Upon their arrival in Cork with Barry’s body, the Bishop of Cork, Daniel Cohalan, instructs his priests not to allow Barry’s funeral in any church. Ironically just a few short years before, Bishop Cohalan had been a strong vocal supporter of Terence MacSwiney, Sinn Féin Lord Mayor of Cork, who died on hunger strike in Brixton Prison.

Shortly after MacSwiney’s death, Bishop Cohalan’s attitude towards the Irish Republican Army (IRA) changes and he issues a decree condemning the IRA in which he states, “Anyone who shall within the diocese of Cork organise or take part in an ambush or in kidnapping or otherwise, shall be guilty of murder or attempted murder and shall incur by the very fact the censure of excommunication.”

On December 10, 1922, Bishop Cohalan preaches publicly his support for the Anglo-Irish Treaty which establishes the Irish Free State and he urges his flock to do the same. This leads to an even greater wedge between the Catholic Church and many IRA members, yet it is the incident with Barry that seriously taints the Bishop of Cork and the Catholic Church in republican eyes.

Because of Bishop Cohalan’s stern objection to Barry’s body being permitted into a Catholic church, his body has to lay in state in the Cork Sinn Féin headquarters on the Grand Parade in Cork city. He is then taken in a funeral procession to St. Finbarr’s Cemetery where he is buried in the Republican plot next to Terence MacSwiney, whose funeral Bishop Cohalan had presided over three years previously. In place of a priest is David Kent, Sinn Féin Teachta Dála for Cork and brother of Thomas Kent, who was executed for his part in the 1916 Rising. Kent gives an oration, recites the Rosary and sprinkles holy water on the grave.

On November 28, 1923, the day Barry is buried, Bishop Cohalan sends an open letter to The Cork Examiner publicly denying a Christian burial for Barry and urging all men of the cloth to stay away from any such attempts for such a funeral. He goes so far as to write to the Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, Dr. Patrick Foley, to enquire about Barry getting the last sacraments. Barry did indeed receive the last rites from a Fr. Doyle who was serving as prison chaplain and this does not impress the Bishop of Cork.

Barry’s funeral precession through Cork City draws massive crowds with people from all walks of Cork’s political, social and sporting life attending to pay their respects to this man who had been at the heart of the revolution in Cork during the last decade of his life. The IRA, Cumann na mBan and Na Fíanna Éireann march in military formations with the funeral party.

Two days after Barry’s death another IRA prisoner, Andrew O’Sullivan, from Cork dies and the strike is called off the following day. Women prisoners are then released while men remain in prison until the following year.

A memorial to Barry is unveiled in Riverstick in 1966.