ON THIS DATE (7TH NOVEMBER) 95 YEARS AGO – LAST LETTER FROM AN IRA HUNGER-STRIKER.
“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 FitzGerald’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 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.”
– the last letter (above) that Cavan-born IRA hunger-striker Andrew Sullivan (pictured, above) sent to his brother, Miceal (Michael) : it was sent on the 7th November 1923, 95 years ago on this date. Andrew Sullivan (aka Andy O’Sullivan), 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 (pictured ; 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.
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 this genealogy site). However, the majority opinion is that the man died on the 22nd November 1923, and we, ourselves, believe that to be the correct date, and he wrote his last letter to his brother on the 7th November, 1923 – 95 years ago on this date.
‘THE CALL’, by Seamus MacManus (the Donegal poet and shanachaí).
From ‘The United Irishman’ newspaper, October 1954.
In a recent letter to us, Seamus MacManus very kindly gave us his permission to use any of Eithne Carbery’s or, to to quote himself, “..my own poor stuff..”! We have great pleasure in republishing a poem of his which was published in the early 1900’s and is still as true (unfortunately) as the day it was first written –
Sons of Banba, WAKE! ‘Tis day-break! All the stars are off the sky,
And the world’s awake and striving,
While in torpor still ye lie!
Heard ye not reveille playing,
Voices calling, watchdogs baying,
Quick feet trampling, horses neighing,
Songsters choiring in the blue:
Sons of Banba, ROUSE YE! Rise ye!
There is work for MEN to do.
Sons of Banba, WAKE! ‘Tis morning!
Long the bell for work has pealed,
All around ye droops the harvest,
Lone the steward waits in the field,
Oft his call – nor were ye hearing,
Men are needed for the shearing,
Men toil – loving, men unfearing,
Brave of heart, and hard of thew,
Sons of Banba, ROUSE YE! Rise ye!
There is work for MEN to do. (MORE LATER).
MY FIGHT FOR IRISH FREEDOM ; FEBRUARY 1954 – JANUARY 1955.
From ‘The United Irishman’ newspaper, February 1955.
In the April issue of ‘Resurgent Ulster’ the following article appeared :
DAN BREEN UPHOLDS POLICY OF IRA TODAY.
In the ‘Sunday Postbag’ of the ‘Sunday Press’ newspaper of the 7th February 1954, we read with interest and, I’m afraid, amazement, a letter penned by Dan Breen, Fianna Fáil ‘TD’ for Tipperary. He was defending, quite rightly, both his own and his comrades actions in the Soloheadbeg Ambush on January 21st, 1919, when two members of the RIC were killed by them. It was the concluding paragraph of his letter which interested us and made us wonder if Dan Breen was contemplating returning to his old allegiance. Read these words of his :
“I still believe it is the duty of every man and woman whose country is held in subjection, like mine was and still is in part, to use every means within reason to rid their land of the invader. You can’t free a country held in subjection with kid glove methods. Well, then, use the weapons best at hand, and if you need better weapons and the garrison have them, it is your duty to take them and, in doing so, if you kill as we did in Soloheadbeg, you are still only doing your duty.”
Is Dan Breen prepared to preach this same Gospel in opposition to the policy of the government of which he is a member? That government is opposed to those beliefs, as expounded in the quoted extract. Not only are they totally opposed to the use of force in our struggle for freedom but they have imprisoned, shot, hanged and allowed men to die on hunger strike who spoke those same sentiments as Dan Breen, and unfortunately Dan Breen had a share in the responsibilities of those imprisonments and deaths, being a member of that government. Can we be blamed then if we question the sincerity of the statement made by Dan Breen? It was certainly the voice of Dan Breen of the 1918-1921 period that was speaking. Incidentally, that 7th February letter to the editor only appeared in the 26-county edition of the newspaper.
(END of that ‘Letter to the Editor’ : next, from the same source ; “I would not attack under any circumstances” – Dan Breen.)
‘BUYCOTTS’ AND BEANS….
Ethical buying : is there any point? It would be a pity if the focus on the difficulties with boycotts led people to conclude that the answer to the wider question is ‘No’.
By Oisín Coghlan. From ‘Magill’ magazine, July 2002.
Gerardo de Leon is the marketing manager for a co-operative in Guatemala that sells ‘Fairtrade’ coffee to Bewleys : speaking on a recent visit to Ireland he said – “Fairtrade is a seed in the ground, and we hope for more in the future. Right now the small coffee farmers need to get the money in their pocket to survive.” Ireland has responded well to this challenge – more and more cafes and restaurants now offer ‘Fairtrade’ coffee. You can enjoy your morning boost while also giving the producers a boost in places such as ‘Nude’, ‘Busyfeet & Co’ and ‘Havana’ in Dublin, the ‘Qusay Coop’ in Cork, ‘Clements’ coffee shops in Belfast, ‘Bia’ in Waterford and ‘An Gabhann Org’ in Galway. Indeed, many of us can make a difference without even leaving our desk.
More and more workplaces now serve ‘Fairtrade’ coffee and, overall, ‘Fairtrade’ has four per cent of the catering coffee market and it is also available in many supermarkets so we can take the experience home, too, and it offers producers practical help as well. ‘Fairtrade’ is most powerful as a demonstration of what is possible when the will is there. (MORE LATER).
ON THIS DAY NEXT WEEK (WEDNESDAY 14TH NOVEMBER 2018)…
..we should be just about finished our multitasking job – this Sunday coming (the 11th November) will find myself and the raffle team in our usual monthly venue on the Dublin/Kildare border, running a 650-ticket raffle for the Dublin Comhairle of RSF : the work for this event began yesterday, Tuesday 6th November, when the five of us started to track down the ticket sellers and arrange for the delivery/collection of their ticket stubs, cash and unsold tickets (…as if!) and, even though the raffle itself is, as stated, to be held on Sunday 11th November, the ‘job’ is not complete until the following night, when the usual ‘raffle autopsy’ is held, although that ‘autopsy’ may well have to be held over cyberspace : RSF are holding their 114th Ard Fheis in Dublin on Saturday and Sunday, 10th and 11th November, meaning that some or other of us may just be too busy for that usual Monday night meeting.
Anyway – the time constraints imposed by the Ard Fheis and the monthly raffle will mean that our normal Wednesday post will more than likely not be collated in time for next Wednesday (14th) and it’s looking like it will be between that date and the Wednesday following same (the 21st November) before we get the time to put a post together – but do check back over that time period as something or other might catch out attention between now and then…!
WE STILL THINK IT’S TOO EARLY TO MENTION THIS…
…it is only November..
..but what the heck!
In a couple of days time they’ll be advertising Easter Eggs (!) so we might as well get our spoke in now (again..)!
So we’ll do it. Sort of – a link rather than a graphic and a write-up :
And here it is. Sorry about that. But we always knew we were ahead of our time on this blog…!
Thanks for reading, Sharon.