ON THIS DATE (13TH OCTOBER) 98 YEARS AGO : MASS HUNGER STRIKE BY IRISH REPUBLICANS.
On the 13th October, 1923 – 98 years ago on this date – a mass hunger-strike began by 424 Irish republican prisoners in Mountjoy Gaol in protest at their continued detention. The hunger-strike was soon joined by up to 8,000 republican prisoners in prisons and camps around the State.
There were about 12,000 Irish republicans interned by the Free Staters at that time and 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.
On the 13th October 1923, Michael Kilroy (a respected republican, at the time, pictured), 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 and those 300 men were soon joined by 162 more of their comrades in that institution.
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).
Among those hunger-strikers was a Cavan man, IRA Captain Andy O’Sullivan (aka Andrew Sullivan, pictured) ; this brave man was born in Denbawn, in County Cavan, in 1882, the oldest of eight children born to Michael Sorahan and Mary Smith.
While on hunger strike, he 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 a flame 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.
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 this 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.
IRA Captain Andy O’Sullivan, from Cavan, died after 40 days on hunger-strike, on the 22nd November 1923, at 41 years of age, 98 years ago on this date.
From ‘The United Irishman’ newspaper, July, 1954.
“These IRA men are enemies of the people..”, wrote ‘The Belfast Telegraph’ newspaper, “..and vigilance against them and any who assist them, should be a common concern. As for the War Office, the circumstances of this raid are a telling reminder that Northern Ireland (sic) is in a special position which justifies special security precautions.”
The following appeared in the editorial column of the official Unionist ‘Belfast News Letter’ on Monday : “The account of the IRA raid on Gough Barracks in Armagh will give an unpleasant jolt to public opinion in Northern Ireland (sic) and elsewhere. For a long time now the IRA has not been taken too seriously, but clearly we must do some hard thinking about it and suitable action must follow.
The critical remarks of Dr. Nixon MP will be echoed by many, and we must hope that the lesson of this affair will mean the immediate institution of a sharper security system at Ulster (sic) military establishments. We have already had the warning of arms raids in England, and the Armagh episode suggests to us now that the piblic, and possibly the authorities, did not pay sufficient attention to them..” (MORE LATER.)
ON THIS DATE (13TH OCTOBER) 146 YEARS AGO : IRISH NATIVE-AMERICAN KILLER ‘HONOURED’.
John Francis O’Suillivan was born in County Kerry in 1850 and, at twenty years young, he emigrated to America and enlisted in the US Army in New York, joining the First Company of the 4th Cavalry, which was dispatched to Texas and was involved in the blood-letting of the so-called ‘Texas-Indian Wars’ of the 1870’s.
On the 8th of December, 1874, he was part of a cavalry detachment that was pursuing about one dozen Natives through the Muchague Valley, in Texas, during which the Natives dismounted and took up positions to defend themselves.
Private O’Suillivan and Private Frederick Bergendahl are said to have “distinguished themselves” in that fight, killing nearly all of “the renegades”, but at least one of the defenders managed to make a break for it.
Private O’Sullivan gave chase and, even though he was unable to catch his quarry, both he and Bergendahl, and a Lieutenant, Lewis Warrington, were granted the ‘Medal of Honour For Heroism’ – on the 13th October 1875, 146 years ago on this date – for ‘gallantry’ there and at the Staked Plains, in eastern New Mexico and northwest Texas, near Lubbock.
After leaving the military, the ‘hero’ O’Sullivan returned to New York where he died on the 19th May, 1907, at the age of 57, and is buried in New York. A memorial marker was erected in his memory at Fort Concho National Historic Landmark in San Angelo, Texas.
His Citation reads : ‘The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Private John Francis O’Sullivan, United States Army, for gallantry in a long chase after Indians on 8 December 1874, while serving with Company I, 4th U.S. Cavalry, in action at Staked Plains, Texas.’
Soldier Blue, Soldier Blue, Soldier Blue
Can’t you see that there’s another way to love her
This is my country
And I sprang from her
And I’m learning how to count upon her
Tall trees and the corn is high country
I guess I love her
And I’m learning how to take care of her..’ (from here.)
‘WHAT IS TO BE DONE? THE STRUGGLE IN THE 26 COUNTIES…’
The following article was solicited by ‘IRIS’ from a political observer in the 26 Counties. The article – whose author, John Ward, is not a member of the Republican Movement – is aimed at provoking discussion within (P)Sinn Féin.
From ‘IRIS’ magazine, October 1987.
(‘1169’ comment – please note that ‘IRIS’ magazine had, at that time, recently morphed from a republican-minded publication into a Trot-type mouthpiece for a Leinster House-registered political party.)
The way forward for Sinn Féin in the South at the moment lies in continuing the long and sometimes painfully slow effort of involving itself in working-class and community struggles – and in building alliances with all the many organisations that have developed out of popular struggles.
Viewed singly, none of these is strong enough to hit back against the new brutalism of the right but, following the example of the right and taken all together, they have the strength to turn the tide. Electoral politics will be only one aspect* of the coming struggle and change is much more likely to be won on the streets than in Leinster House.
But if a real coalition of the Left can be built its strength may be reflected at the ballot box as well. It is not necessary to dissolve the people***, only to win their confidence and work out with them the way forward.
( No mention there of the first objective for Irish republicans – to remove the unwanted British military and political claim of jurisdictional control over six of our counties. But, then again, there wouldn’t be – that particular objective is a ‘living-in-the-past’ side-issue for trendy ‘Left’ Trot types //
* Electoral politics has, since 1986 – for (P)SF – become the only ‘aspect of the struggle’ for them, and ‘the struggle’ has, again since 1986, become a ‘struggle’ to obtain seats in a partitionist political institution at any price ; for them, the ‘National Question’ has morphed into the ‘Seat Question’//
*** The “dissolve the people” parts of Mr Ward’s piece is a strawman argument – no one suggested doing that, but that’s how Trot’s operate ; argue against a position that no one has taken and, of course, there’s no one to argue back in favour of it, making you the ‘winner’ as far as gullible people are concerned!)
(END of ‘What Is To Be Done – The Struggle In The 26 Counties’ ; NEXT – ‘THE NOT SO IRISH NEWS’, from the same source.)
‘LETTERS FROM OUR READERS…’
From ‘The United Irishman’ newspaper, March, 1955.
(The writer of the following letter has requested that it be published in ‘The United Irishman’ ; it was sent to ‘The Irish Weekly Independent’ but was refused publication…)
‘To the Editor,
..it is because such is not the case that so many patriotic men and women believe that this carefully organised and woefully protocol ridden force, which Mr. MacEoin refers to, can never be expected to play any forward role in ridding the country of foreign occupation forces, however sincerely its individual members may desire such a result.
Is it really necessary to point out that the word ‘country’ means ‘Ireland’ and the word ‘Ireland’ means what it has always meant, no more and no less.
Dr. A.F. Cooney,
112 West 72nd Street, New York,
Feb. 12th, 1955.’
(MORE ‘Letters From Our Readers’ LATER.)
ON THIS DATE (13TH OCTOBER) IN…
..1922 : A Free State soldier (name unknown) is killed in an ambush of a State troop lorry at Ulverton Road, Dalkey, in County Dublin.
..Two Free State soldiers are killed in kerry, one in Rathmore, the other in Abbeydorney – it was on the 13th of October in 1922 that a Dublin-born officer in the State Army died as a result of wounds he received when he was shot in an ambush on the Killarney-Rathmore road in Kerry. He was Captain John Young of the Dublin Guard.
And, on that same date (Friday, 13th October 1922) a State trooper was shot dead by an Anti-Treaty sniper while on sentry duty at Abbeydorney, in County Kerry. He was Timothy Goggin, aged 22, from Abbeydorney in County Kerry.
Also, again on that same date, Free State Army Sergeant John Browne was shot dead while clearing a roadblock from the road at Duagh Village, County Kerry. John Browne was 28 years old and from Effin in County Limerick. In that same IRA attack, State Private James Byrne of the 2nd Battalion, Dublin Brigade, was shot dead. He was 20 years old and, before converting to Statism, he had been a member of Na Fianna Éireann and the IRA. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, where his remains were placed on the 21st of October 1922.
And, finally, on the same date* in 1922, State cop (‘Civic Guard’) Henry Phelan (Number 1347) who was stationed at Callan, County Kilkenny, was shot dead in Mollinahone in County Tipperary.
He had stopped off, with two other Free State ‘cops’, at Mollinahone, to buy a hurley ball and, afterwards, they went in to Miss Mulhall’s Public House for some ‘refreshments’.
They were there less than an hour when a group of armed IRA men entered the premises shouting “Hands Up!” ; a shot was fired and Phelan fell mortally wounded, the bullet having entered the lower part of his left jaw and exited through the back of his neck. His spinal cord had been severed. The State ‘cops’ were not aware that the pub they were in was a well know anti-treaty establishment, and the owners were Irish republicans. Phelan was a native of Mountrath, County Laois, and he is buried there.
(*’1169′ comment : two other dates have been given for the shooting of Henry Phelan – October 28th 1922 and November 14th 1922. What is not disputed is that he was the first State ‘cop’ to be shot by the IRA.)
Thanks for the visit, and for reading,