King appealed for clemency for hunger-striker MacSwiney

 

King George V appealed to the British government to grant clemency to Terence MacSwiney, the lord mayor of Cork, as he was dying on hunger strike in Brixton Prison 83 years ago, but his plea was rejected.

He was told the police and army in "Southern Ireland" might mutiny if this happened.

This is one of the items revealed in the British files on the death of MacSwiney after 74 days of hunger strike on October 25th, 1920. The files, consisting of over 1,000 pages, were originally closed for 100 years and in some cases longer, but were released earlier this year.

The decision came after pressure from members of the Irish community in Britain.

The files will be handed over this Wednesday to the University College Dublin Archives and another copy to the Cork Museum at a later date. MacSwiney's only child, Máire , will be present. She is married to Mr Ruairí Brugha, son of Cahal Brugha, who was killed during the Civil War fighting on the Republican side.

The daily medical reports on MacSwiney's condition are among the papers now available. They make harrowing reading as the doctors report on his last days, when they tried to feed him as he lapsed in and out of consciousness. The doctors insisted this was not "forcible feeding" but MacSwiney's wife Muriel and sisters, Mary and Annie, accused the authorities of "prolonging his agony".

There was worldwide interest in MacSwiney's prolonged hunger strike, which won favourable publicity for the Irish struggle for independence. He had been sentenced to two years with hard labour for possession of "seditious documents".

He was also a commandant in the Cork IRA at the time of his arrest. He told his court-martial he would be "free, alive or dead, within a month" as he had already begun his hunger strike.

There was widespread medical interest in his ability to stay alive without solid food for such a long period as 74 days.

The British government refused requests to release clinical records to aid medical research on the effects of prolonged deprivation of food.

The Home Office told one doctor in 1929: "The time has not yet come when the case of MacSwiney, which aroused intense feeling only eight years ago, can be regarded as a mere matter of history." That time seems to have now arrived.