Earlier history of hungerstriking as a tool for bringing about justice
The years between 1917 and 1920 involved a number of different hungerstrikes in various prisons both in Britain and in Ireland. It began with the death fast of Thomas Ashe
in September of 1917. Ashe's hungerstrike was completely effective and the prisoners were granted political status. But common to British vindictiveness regarding Republicans, the prisoners' status was revoked and they were all transferred to Dundalk Jail.
Early in 1918, prominent Republican Austin Stack
and a number of other prisoners in Dundalk began a second strike which was soon intensified when the POWs of Cork Jail joined the protest. Their mission was to win back their rightful political status; the reason which Ashe had died in order to bring about.
was a part of this 1918 protest in Cork Jail and was steadfast in his strike. He is quoted as saying, "This may be a fight to the death. And we must stick to it as long as possible." Their protests were successful when prisoners began to fall ill. This shook the British establishment who wanted nothing to do with another fiasco like Ashe's death. The prisoners were all granted one month releases from prison. Their return of course never happened.
Two prisoners fell ill enough that they died soon after being released. Their names were Seamus Courtney and Aidan Gleeson.
In 1920 the Black and Tans'
scourge of the countryside was raging and Republicans found themselves in prisons in great numbers. Lacking their rightful political status, they decided again to strike for their rights by refusing food. Sixty POWs
took part in this strike and it drew much public attention. After a week of the strike, a general labour strike was called amongst the unions in support of the prisoners demands. This strike had the desired effect. By the 10th day of the hungerstrike the Brits and their lackies gave in and granted the hungerstrikers a general amnesty
!! This date was April 20th, 1920.
Two more men died as a result of the effects of the strike. These men were Patrick Fogarty and Francis Gleeson; both of Dublin.
On August 11th, 1920, a hungerstrike began in Cork Jail which would soon be joined by Cork's Lord Mayor Terence MacSwiney.
After five days in Cork Jail, the O/C of the IRA's Cork No. 1 Brigade was transferred to the British prison, Brixton. He died seventy-five days later on October 25, 1920. His funeral brought the largest crowd in the history of Ireland until Bobby Sands
eclipsed it more than 60 years later.
What is nearly forgotten is that two other men also starved themselves to death for justice on that strike. They were Michael Fitzgerald and Joseph Murphy, striking in Cork Jail for 67 and 76 days respectively.
A very large hungerstrike began in Mountjoy Jail
in October of 1923. It involved an unknown number of Republican prisoners but the number is thought to have been well over 700 POWs
. There were massive protests in support of the strike and support spread to prisons throughout the island. Men and women's prisons alike struck for better conditions and political status.
Two men died on this strike; they were Dennis Barry and Andrew Sullivan
. A number of people also died much later from the long term effects of the hungerstrike, namely Joseph Lacey of Waterford who died only three weeks after ending the strike.
The results of this strike were that all female prisoners were released and a large number of males as well. Conditions were improved to an extent that made them tolerable and livable.
In a separate strike that same year, John Oliver
died in Maidstone Prison in England. He was being imprisoned for his part in the Connaught Rangers mutiny
(To be continued...)