Family of martyred Cork lord mayor welcome conference to mark centenary

UCC and Cork City Council host online event discussing impact of Terence MacSwiney’s death on hunger strike in 1920

The family of Cork's martyred lord mayor, Terence Mac Swiney have welcomed an initiative by University College Cork and Cork City Council to mark the centenary of his death with an international conference.

MacSwiney's grandson, Cathal MacSwiney Brugha said he was delighted that UCC and Cork City Council had come together to organise the online conference with support from the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

"I'm delighted with the decision to go ahead with the conference using Zoom because it means that the conference will get to parts of the world where Terence MacSwiney had a huge impact like India, Vietnam and South America.

“His whole idea was that he wanted his hunger strike to have an impact on the British empire generally and we know his death had a huge impact in India where Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore were influenced by him.”


Equally, MacSwiney's death on October 25th, 1920 on the 74th day of his hunger strike in Brixton Prison also influenced independence leaders such as Ho Chi Minh as well as people in Catalonia and across the United States, he said.

According to Dr John Borgonovo of the school of history at UCC, 30 historians from Ireland, the UK, the US and India will discuss the impact of MacSwiney's hunger strike and that of 11 other republicans in 1920.

He explained that the death of MacSwiney along with the deaths of Michael Fitzgerald and Joe Murphy in Cork had a significant impact, as had the actions of nine other men in Cork Gaol who remained on hunger strike until ending it after 94 days.

“While the hunger strike tactic had been deployed prior to 1920, the Cork/Brixton strike was distinctive for lasting three months and the ultimate death of three prisoners, including lord mayor of Cork, Terence MacSwiney”.

“Drawing intense public interest, the strike created a political crisis in Britain and Ireland, and made Terence MacSwiney into a global figure,” added Dr Borgonovo who has written extensively on the independence struggle in Cork.

The conference will explore various aspects of the 1920 Cork/Brixton hunger strike including the perils of force-feeding, the medical and legal ethics of hunger strikes and the various international responses to the strike, he said.

Lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr Joe Kavanagh said the three-day event, which begins on Thursday and continues on Friday and Saturday, is part of Cork City Council's commemorations programme.

“This is a great opportunity for people in Cork and the rest of the country to gain a fascinating insight into events of 100 years ago and how the Cork hunger strikers played a pivotal role in influencing thinking about Irish nationalism.

“Many of us regularly walk, drive or cycle past Gaol’s Cross in UCC where the Cork hunger strike took place, not fully realising what a key historical site it is in terms of the struggle for Irish independence.

“Because, as Dr Borgonovo has illustrated in his work, the Cork Men’s Gaol, hunger strike was a critical precursor to the drama played out by Terence MacSwiney in London which had such a global impact.”

Anyone wishing to view the online conference can do so by logging on here.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times