Born on this day in 1879 Terence MacSwiney was one of two Cork Lord Mayors who had a significant impact on the struggle for Irish Independence. His death was a triumph for the Irish Cause and a complete Political and Propaganda failure by the British Government.
McSwiney was an IRA volunteer, a soldier prepared to die for the cause. But he was presented to the world by Sinn Féin as a “sensitive poet intellectual”. That is a brilliant piece of spin. In Catholic communites he was presented as a modern day martyr.
MacSwiney was an early adopter of hunger strike, following the lead of Thomas Ashe in November 1917 going on hunger strike 3 days prior to his release after his arrest for wearing an IRA uniform.
In the 1918 General Election he won the Mid Cork seat. In 1920 the Lord Mayor of Cork, Tomás Mac Curtain, was assassinated by a Royal Irish Constabulary murder squad. This was a symptom of the collapse of the British civil administration in Ireland. When the police become murderers you know things have gone wrong.
MacSwiney was elected Lord Mayor of Cork. Five months later he was arrested and imprisoned in Brixton Prison in England, after a trial in a military, not a civil court. In protest MacSwiney immediatly went on hunger strike. In response the Sinn Féin publicity machinery went into overdrive and made MacSwiney a cause célèbre on the international stage.
For the 73 days to his death his case played out in the USA, on the continent and in the British Colonies. A small determined man in India in particular was paying close attention. In London a Vietnamese independence campaigner named Ho Chi Minh said “A nation that has such citizens will never surrender.”
The greatest empire in the history of the world was unable to retain control of it’s closest possession in such circumstances. Within a year the British agreed to Irish Independence.
Dig No Grave Deep; by Terence MacSwiney
Lay not the axe to earth;
love does not sleep.
If yet thy thought esteemeth mine of worth,
for it dig no grave deep.
Let it put forth its power,
aside the surface sweep;
then will leap forth the long-desired flower
which thou mayst reap.