ON THIS DATE (22ND NOVEMBER) 94 YEARS AGO : DEATH OF AN IRA HUNGER-STRIKER.
Andrew Sullivan (aka Andy O’Sullivan, pictured, left), 5th Battalion, Cork 4th Brigade, was one of three IRA men to die on hunger-strike in 1923 – he was 41 years of age at the time (the other two men were Joe Witty, 19 years young, and Dennis Barry, 40 years of age ; Joe died on the 2nd September that year, and Dennis died on the 20th November).
‘Captain Andrew Sullivan was born in Denbawn, County Cavan in 1882, the oldest of eight children born to Michael Sorahan and Mary Smith…he eventually became the agricultural inspector for the Mallow area, County Cork and held that position for many years. During the War of Independence Sullivan was the Commanding Officer for Civil Administration in the North Cork area and later in the 1st Southern Cork division…a supporter of the anti-Treaty side during the Irish Civil War, he was arrested and interred on July 5, 1923. Between 1922 and 1923, hundreds of others in all parts of Ireland were arrested by the (*) British controlled Irish police force (*), without any charge, and were kept in the prisons and internment camps without trial…in the Autumn of 1923 the conditions in the prisons grew worse and the men and women were being treated as convicts rather than political prisoners. To protest their imprisonment and bring public attention to the cruelty they were receiving, the only ‘tool’ they felt they had at their disposal was a hunger strike…’ (from here).
(*)– an accurate description, in our opinion, but the timeline would show that, ‘officially’, at least, the then existing ‘police force’ would be acting under instruction from the then ‘new’ Free State administration in Leinster House rather than ‘officially’ taking orders from Westminster. However, as republicans know (and history has since attested to) that ‘police force’ was a proxy force for Westminster – as, indeed, was the Leinster House ‘parliament’ that established that ‘police force’- so the description ‘British controlled Irish police force’ is, as we said, accurate. Also, as regards the POW’s being treated as convicts, one of the prisoners, Alfred McLoughlin, who was interned for a year without being told why, managed to get a letter published in ‘The Irish Times’ newspaper in which he wrote – “I slept on bare boards in the Curragh military prison for five nights..I was handcuffed night and day..I was threatened, with a gun, several times, that I would be shot…”. W.B. Yeats, Lord Granard and Sir Bryan Mahon campaigned for proper treatment for the prisoners and, in April 1923, the ‘International Committee of the Red Cross’ carried out an ‘investigation’ into the conditions in the prisons, reporting (in keeping with those who had facilitated their visit ie the Staters) that “the prisoners were treated like prisoners of war”. However, it later emerged that their report was flawed as not one prisoner was interviewed during their ‘investigation’!
Anyway – in that particular year (1923), there were about 12,000 Irish republicans interned by the Free Staters and, as stated, above, those men and women “were being treated as convicts rather than political prisoners”, and a decision was made, by both the POW’s themselves and the leadership outside, to go on hunger strike and, on the 13th October 1923, Michael Kilroy (a respected republican, at the time) OC of the IRA POW’s in Mountjoy Jail, announced that 300 republicans in that prison/internment camp (including ten men who had been elected to a 32-County Dáil Éireann) had voted to go on hunger strike (those 300 men were soon joined by 162 more of their comrades in that institution) and, within days, thousands more imprisoned republicans joined the protest – 70 in Cork Jail, 350 in Kilkenny Jail, 200 in Dundalk Jail, 711 in Gormanstown Prison Camp, 1,700 in Newbridge, 123 in ‘Tintown’, 3,390 in the Curragh Camp, 100 in Harepark Camp and 50 women in the North Dublin Union prison (good condensed background piece here about that period in our history).
While on hunger strike, Andrew wrote to his brother Michael on the 7th November, 1923 – the 25th day of the protest ;
“Dearest Br. Miceal,
Thanks ever so much. I really can’t find words to explain adequately my gratitude for your prompt response to my appeal for some cash. I have been very hard up for many things especially smokes and of course I would not ask anyone – besides, I could never bring myself to beg. I am much cheered by the news that Cork is now with us in the fight. I always expected that and should it be a fight to a finish I shall die happy in the thought that my bones will moulder in its confines.
I asked you for to arrange that I should be buried by my old chief’s side in Fermoy. My heart is so set on the freedom (of my people) that my spare moments are always devoted to devising ways and means to expedite that Glorious Dawn. With that object in view I have decided that if Mallow Republicans provide a Republican Plot in the new Cemetery near the Railway…I shall order my interment there instead of at Fermoy, as the latter place has enough in L. Lynch’s and Fitz Gerald’s graves to keep aflame the burning torch of Freedom. Matter wants something in its midst to counter the awful shoneenism that permeates its walls and I came to the conclusion that if I can no longer alive take the same active part in the battle I may at least in my mouldering grave do still some little to help those who come after me with that object in view.
I ordered that nothing should be inscribed besides my name etc by way of epitaph. Over my remains but the simple motto of my late life work…when the Republic so estated functioning and duly recognised then, but not till then, let men dare to eulogise my name in cold press over my grave. Then too will Lynch’s and Emmet’s blazon forth. This is rather gruesome but one so often thinks of the apparent inevitable in this struggle that it becomes quite secondary, thoughts of the spiritual world.
In the latter line I am quite at peace, prepared and content. There will be no swerving from the straight rugged path to the goal. I set the motto for the strike, ‘Freedom or Death’. I am Prison Adjutant now and by long ways the strongest man on the strike even though judging by the looseness of my clothes I must have dropped at least 3 stone weight. There are 124 of us on strike now.
A large number were shifted to the various camps and many of the leaders were taken from here to Kilmainham. It is all alike to us, we carry on. Of course some weak ones have given in. About 60 out of the total here have gone off and taken food on a promise of release. Immediately they were strong enough in hospital they were thrown back into C wing just as they were before the strike and told they could not be released until a big batch was ready.
Fr. James McCabe came up when they heard of my being on Hunger Strike and with his friend went to G.H.L and found they have me held on suspicion only but have no evidence and would release me if I went off strike and signed the usual form. Of course Fr. James asked me to do this and I sent him out the definite reply NEVER! At the same time my profuse thanks for his trouble in my behalf. Well, I must close this long winded letter. Remember the change, Mallow instead of Fermoy, in case I do. Undying Love,
Your Aff Br. Andy.”
Finally – from ‘The Scotsman’ newspaper, 26th November 1923 (page 10) – ‘Death of Irish Hunger-Striker : At the inquest on Saturday on Andrew Sullivan, a hunger-striker, who after removal from Mountjoy Prison, Dublin, died on Friday afternoon in a military hospital, a doctor stated that Sullivan went on hunger-strike on October 14, and about a week ago he lost his sight. The jury found that death was due to pneumonia.’ We mention that because the Friday in question would have been the 23rd November, 1923 and, on researching the inconsistency, we found the following : ‘Many of the newspapers of the time reported Captain Andrew O’Sullivan died on November 22, 1923. That may have been the date he was removed from Mountjoy Prison and brought to St. Bricin’s Military Hospital where he was pronounced dead on November 23, 1923…he died on 23 November 1923 at St. Bricin Military Hospital, Dublin City, County Dublin, Ireland, at age 41.5…the information on the death record was provided by Louis A. Burns, coroner for the City of Dublin. Inquest held 24 November 1923…(and) at the inquest on Saturday on Andrew Sullivan, a hunger-striker, who after removal from Mountjoy Prison, Dublin, died on Friday afternoon in a military hospital, a doctor stated that Sullivan went on hunger-strike on October 14, and about a week ago he lost his sight…’ (from here). However, the majority opinion is that the man died on the 22nd November 1923, and we, ourselves, believe that to be the correct date.
IRA Captain Andy O’ Sullivan, from Cork, died after 40 days on hunger-strike, on the 22nd November 1923, at 41 years of age, 94 years ago on this date.
From ‘The United Irishman’ newspaper, October 1954.
One danger is the attempts of Free State politicians to divert this (republican) revival to their party advantage. Just as the nation-wide resentment at the passing of the ‘Ireland Bill’ ***LINK*** was successfully controlled and canalised by those politicians until it became a campaign of futile verbal abuse, with the squandering of the £50,000 subscribed as a protest fund, so there is the danger that the present revival may be diverted, controlled and stifled by the same politicians, with the connivance of Stormont. Republicans must be alive to that danger and should expose it at every opportunity.
THE LATE ALICE FRENCH…
Appropriately entitled ‘In Ireland’s Cause’, it expresses the ever urgent desire to help in every way within her power in the cause of Ireland’s freedom. This was the message which inspired all her work, this was the lesson she earnestly sought to impress on our young people today. As far back as July 1949 she wrote –
I would that I’d an arm, Oh! a strong stout arm
to wield in a splendid cause!
With a nerve of steel, and a heart to feel
that the strife must know no pause.
While the foe is there, in his trenched lair –
our land in his trenchant claws!
No talk there about bargaining or compromise. The issue is clear and unambiguous – either Ireland is a Nation, entitled to her freedom, or else we are a land of slaves. Every generation has demonstrated our will to be free and like Pearse, Alice French maintained that until our freedom has been obtained there could be and should be no peace in Ireland.
“I sigh for a place in the striving race –
it matters not great or small,
if the foe is hit, even one small bit
by my hand, before its fall.
Whatever the weal,or the woe to come,
Oh! that would repay for all!” (MORE LATER).
“AFTER 32 YEARS – AN OPEN LETTER,” by POW Philip Clarke. From ‘The United Irishman’ newspaper, February 1955.
‘Under the title ‘After 32 Years – an open letter’, the following article was written for ‘THE UNITED IRISHMAN’ newspaper by Philip Clarke (pictured, right), shortly before his arrest in connection with the Omagh Raid on October 17 last (1954). The circumstances surrounding the arrest and trial of Phil Clarke and his comrades are ample proof that there are young men in Ireland today who have taken the words of Pearse to heart : “It is not enough to say merely ‘I believe’, one must also say ‘I serve’ “.
THE ONLY WEAPON.
Our means to attain our ends will be similar to the means you use to maintain your ends. The pike and the gun which you use to subject us has proven itself to be the only eloquent weapon by which the voice of resurgent Ireland has ever made itself heard.
You adhere to the traditional policy of preserving your colonies at any price, but we hearken to the voice of the great Irish separatist, Theobald Wolfe Tone, and adopt the means he advocated and employed to obtain our sovereign independence. (Next, from the same source – ‘THE STRUGGLE IS COMING’.)
GROWING UP IN LONG KESH…
SIN SCÉAL EILE.
By Jim McCann (Jean’s son). For Alex Crowe, RIP – “No Probablum”. Glandore Publishing, 1999.
Biographical Note : Jim McCann is a community worker from the Upper Springfield area in West Belfast. Although born in the Short Strand, he was reared in the Loney area of the Falls Road. He comes from a large family (average weight about 22 stone!). He works with Tús Nua (a support group for republican ex-prisoners in the Upper Springfield), part of the Upper Springfield Development Trust. He is also a committee member of the ‘Frank Cahill Resource Centre’, one of the founders of ‘Bunscoil an tSléibhe Dhuibh’, the local Irish language primary school and Naiscoil Bharr A’Chluanaí, one of the local Irish language nursery schools.
His first publication last year by Glandore was ‘And the Gates Flew Open : the Burning of Long Kesh’. He hopes to retire on the profits of his books. Fat chance!
We were joined in the ‘tunnel’ by the Escape Committee OC ; “I know this looks a bit big but we wanted to give ourselves plenty of room to work in before we start digging out..” but the Cage OC, shrugging his shoulders, said “Right, everyone, get your arses up into the Middle Hut until we sort this out.” It was decided to stop any further digging until the next day but, unfortunately, fate was just about ready to deal the tunnel a fatal blow…
The footballers were playing in the yard when suddenly the ball hit the outside of the shower hut where the pressure of the hidden earth was at its most critical – the hut literally exploded with the impact. It was constructed from sheets of aluminium and came apart like a house of cards, with the tunnel earth covering the ground all round the base of the remains of the hut.
The screws in the Observation Post between Cage 10 and 11 saw what happened and the sirens went off, one after another. Luckily enough, because of the earlier decision to suspend the digging, the tunnel diggers had already left the tunnel and were cleaned and changed. The cage was invaded by screws looking for the tunnel, and it took them about ten minutes to find it. The lads were depressed that their work had been uncovered – the screws were enjoying one of their rare successes.
They were gloating about it and giving us a hard time about how they knew for weeks that we were digging a tunnel, rubbing their hands gleefully. They were insulting us about wasting our time digging tunnels while they were on the job. This was bad enough, but one of them who had actually been inside the study hut and had been inside the tunnel said, after winking at his mate, “Tunnel? What tunnel? Did someone dig a tunnel…?”, and laughed. “The Assistant Governor and the Chief Officer are considering charging Junior (the cage OC) with digging a wine cellar without planning permission…”
The screws were all laughing their heads off at our expense. That wasn’t one of my happier memories of the Kesh but there you have it. (Next – “Send Out The Horse.”)
41ST ON THE 25TH…
‘1169 Towers’ got a phone call the other day from the Cabhair office, requesting that we mention a ‘gig’ coming up in December, which has a distinctive December-type tinge to it but…OMG!!..don’t they realise it’s still only November and not yet time for the ‘C’ word and as a mother of three girls I just want to stay away from that ‘merriment’ cascade for as long as I can so NO! Cabhair – NO! (Maybe later…!)
Thanks for reading,