Famous Fasts in History Terence Macswiney

About the famous faster Terence Macswiney, history and biography of the Irish mayor.



On Aug. 12, 1920, Terence MacSwiney, lord mayor of Cork, Ireland, and commandant of the First Cork Brigade of the Irish Republican Army, was arrested by British authorities for carrying secret IRA codes on his person. He was charged with sedition and put in Brixton Prison, London, where, four days later, he joined nine other inmates in what was to become the longest hunger strike in recorded history. A relatively young, thickly built man, MacSwiney began the fast in good health and spirits, but steadily weakened as it continued. Pleas for his release and that of the others poured in from notables around the world, including the pope and the mayor of New York. British officials, however, refused to be swayed, and, like the prisoners, would not give in. Michael Fitzgerald was the first of the hunger strikers to die, on Oct. 17. Joseph Murray succumbed a few hours later. MacSwiney died on Oct. 28, the 74th day of the fast. Parades in MacSwiney's honor were held in several U.S. cities; memorial services were conducted in Paris, Montreal, and Belfast. The other seven fasting inmates managed to continue the hunger strike for 20 days after MacSwiney's death. When they finally ended their fasts after 94 days, at the request of acting president of the republic Arthur Griffith, they were so weakened that only expert medical attention saved their lives. In 1921, the following year, Irish independence--the goal which led MacSwiney and the other two hunger strikers to their deaths--was achieved.

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