The hunger strike is part of a very ancient Irish tradition, although it seems that James Connolly was the first to use it in 1913 as tool of political protest in 20th century Ireland.
From 20 September 1917, Irish internees used the hunger strike as a means of trying to secure their rights from an implacable enemy. Thomas Ashe, former principal of Corduff National School,was the first to die after an attempted force-feeding.
Fasting as a means of asserting one’s rights when faced with no other means of obtaining redress is something that has been embedded in Irish culture from ancient times. Even when the ancient Irish law system, the Laws of the Fénechus, which we popularly called the Brehon Laws from the word breitheamh, a judge, were first codified in AD 438, the law relating to the troscad, or hunger strike, was ancient.
The hunger striker gave notice of their intent and, according to the law tract Di Chetharslicht Athgabhála, if the person who is being fasted against does not come to arbitration, and actually allows the protester to die, then the moral judgement went against them and they endured shame and contempt until they made recompense to the family of the dead person. If they failed to make such amends, they were not only damned by society but damned in the next world. They were held to be without honour and without morality.
The ancient Irish texts are full of examples of people fasting to assert their rights and shame powerful enemies into accepting their moral obligations. St Patrick is recorded to have done so according to the Tripartite Life of St Patrick. And, in the Life of St Ailbe, we found St Lugid and St Salchin, carrying out ritual fasts to protest.
Even King Conall Dearg of Connacht fasted when he found his rights infringed. And the entire population of Leinster fasted against St Colmcille when he rode roughshod over their rights. The poet Mairgen mac Amalgado mac Mael Ruain of the Deisi fasted against another poet Finguine over an act of perceived injustice.
The troscad continued in Irish law throughout the centuries until the English conquests proscribed the native law system and foisted English law on Ireland through a series of Acts between 1587 and 1613.
Nevertheless, individual fasts against the cruelties of the English colonial administration are recorded several times over the subsequent years….
On Saturday , 8th May 2010 , a ballad session featuring The Beermats , Pato Cullen and Paddy Sweeney will be held in the 79’r pub in Ballyfermot ,Dublin, to remember the 22 Irish men who have died on hunger-strike since 1917. Doors open at 8.30pm , admission per person is Five Euro and a raffle for POW craft and other prizes will be held on the night.
– a picket in support of political status for Irish Republican prisoners will be held on Saturday 24th April 2010 outside the British Embassy , 29 Merrion Road,
Ballsbridge , Dublin , from 1pm to 3pm. If you support Republican prisoners , and that which they are incaracted for , please be there , if you can make it….
– a fund-raiser for Cumann na mBan , featuring ‘The Druids’, will be held on Friday 18th June 2010 , in the 79’r Pub in Ballyfermot , Dublin. Doors open at 8.30pm , admission is five euro per person , and a Republican raffle will be held on the night. Hope to see you there….