Terence MacSwiney

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Terence MacSwiney
Teachta Dála
In office
December 1918 – October 1920
Constituency Mid Cork
Lord Mayor of Cork
In office
March 1920 – October 1920
Constituency Cork County Council
Personal details
Born (1879-03-28)28 March 1879
County Cork, Ireland
Died 25 October 1920(1920-10-25) (aged 41)
Brixton Prison, England
Resting place Saint Finbarr's Cemetery, Cork
Nationality Irish
Spouse(s) Muriel Murphy
Relations Mary MacSwiney (sister)
Annie MacSwiney (sister)
Seán MacSwiney (brother)
Ruairí Brugha (son-in-law)
Children Máire MacSwiney
Religion Roman Catholicism

Terence James MacSwiney (/məkˈswni/; Irish: Toirdhealbhach Mac Suibhne; 28 March 1879 – 25 October 1920) was an Irish playwright, author and politician. He was elected as Sinn Féin Lord Mayor of Cork during the Irish War of Independence in 1920.[1] He was arrested by the British on charges of sedition and imprisoned in Brixton Prison in England. His death there in October 1920 after 74 days on hunger strike brought him and the Irish struggle to international attention.


MacSwiney was one of eight children. His father, John MacSwiney, of Cork, had volunteered in 1868 to fight as a papal guard against Garibaldi, had been a schoolteacher in London and later opened a tobacco factory in Cork. Following the failure of this business, he emigrated to Australia in 1885 leaving Terence and the other children in the care of their mother and his eldest daughter.[2] MacSwiney's mother, Mary Wilkinson, was an English Catholic with strong Irish nationalist opinions. He was born at 23 North Main Street, Cork. He was educated by the Christian Brothers at the North Monastery school in Cork city, but left at fifteen to help support the family.[3] He became an accountancy clerk but continued his studies and matriculated successfully. He continued in full-time employment while he studied at the Royal University (now University College Cork), graduating with a degree in Mental and Moral Science in 1907.[4]

In 1901 he helped to found the Celtic Literary Society, and in 1908 he founded the Cork Dramatic Society with Daniel Corkery and wrote a number of plays for them.[4] He was educated as an accountant and also was a playwright, poet, and writer of pamphlets on Irish history. His first play The Last Warriors of Coole was produced in 1910.[5] His fifth play The Revolutionist (1915) took the political stand made by a single man as its theme.[3]

Political activity

File:Terrence mac swiney.jpg
Bust of Terence MacSwiney in Cork City Hall

Described as a sensitive poet-intellectual,[6] MacSwiney's writings in the newspaper Irish Freedom brought him to the attention of the Irish Republican Brotherhood.[5] He was one of the founders of the Cork Brigade of the Irish Volunteers in 1913, and was President of the Cork branch of Sinn Féin. He founded a newspaper, Fianna Fáil, in 1914, but it was suppressed after only 11 issues. In April 1916, he was intended to be second in command of the Easter Rising in Cork and Kerry, but stood down his forces on the order of Eoin MacNeill. Following the rising, he was interned under the Defence of the Realm Act in Reading and Wakefield Gaols until December 1916. In February 1917 he was deported from Ireland and interned in Shrewsbury and Bromyard internment camps until his release in June 1917. It was during his exile in Bromyard that he married Muriel Murphy of the Cork distillery-owning family.[7] In November 1917, he was arrested in Cork for wearing an Irish Republican Army (IRA) uniform, and, inspired by the example of Thomas Ashe, went on a hunger strike for three days prior to his release.[8]

In the 1918 general election, MacSwiney was returned unopposed to the first Dáil Éireann as Sinn Féin representative for Mid Cork,[9] succeeding the Nationalist MP D. D. Sheehan. After the murder of his friend Tomás Mac Curtain, the Lord Mayor of Cork on 20 March 1920, MacSwiney was elected as Lord Mayor. On 12 August 1920, he was arrested in Cork for possession of seditious articles and documents, and also possession of a cipher key. He was summarily tried by court martial on 16 August and sentenced to two years' imprisonment in Brixton Prison.[4]

Hunger strike

In prison he immediately started a hunger strike in protest at his internment and the fact that he was tried by a military court.[8] Eleven republican prisoners in Cork Jail went on hunger strike at the same time.[8] On 26 August, the British cabinet stated that "the release of the Lord Mayor would have disastrous results in Ireland and would probably lead to a mutiny of both military and police in south of Ireland."[8] MacSwiney's hunger strike gained world attention. The British government was threatened with a boycott of British goods by Americans[citation needed], while four countries in South America appealed to the Pope to intervene. Protests were held in Germany and France as well. An Australian member of Parliament, Hugh Mahon, was expelled from the Australian parliament for "seditious and disloyal utterances at a public meeting" after protesting against the actions of the British Government.

Attempts at force-feeding MacSwiney were undertaken in the final days of his strike.[8] On 20 October 1920, he fell into a coma and died five days later after 74 days on hunger strike. His body lay in St George's Cathedral, Southwark in London where 30,000 people filed past it.[8] Fearing large-scale demonstrations in Dublin, the authorities diverted his coffin directly to Cork and his funeral there on 31 October attracted huge crowds. Terence MacSwiney is buried in the Republican plot in Saint Finbarr's Cemetery in Cork. Arthur Griffith delivered the graveside oration.[8]

Aftermath and legacy

A collection of his writings, entitled Principles of Freedom, was published posthumously in 1921. It was based upon articles MacSwiney contributed to Irish Freedom during 1911–1912. MacSwiney's life and work had a particular impact in India. Jawaharlal Nehru took inspiration from MacSwiney's example and writings, and Mahatma Gandhi counted him among his influences.[3][10] Principles of Freedom was translated into various Indian languages including Telugu.[3] Another Indian revolutionary Bhagat Singh was an admirer of Terence MacSwiney and wrote about him in his memoirs. While in prison during his trial he went on hunger strike to protest the conditions in which Indian revolutionaries were being kept. Bhagat Singh, in his interview with the Tribune newspaper mentioned MacSwiney as one of his inspirations. When Bhagat Singh's father petitioned the British government to pardon his son, Bhagat Singh quoted Terence MacSwiney and said "I am confident that my death will do more to smash the British Empire than my release" and told his father to withdraw the petition. He was executed on 23 March 1931, with two of his comrades, Rajguru and Sukhdev, for killing a British officer. Other figures beyond India who counted MacSwiney as an influence include Ho Chi Minh who was working in London at the time of MacSwiney's death and said of him, "A nation that has such citizens will never surrender".[11]

In Ireland, Terence MacSwiney's sister Mary MacSwiney took on his seat in the Dáil and spoke against the Anglo-Irish Treaty in January 1922. His brother Seán MacSwiney was also elected in the 1921 elections for another Cork constituency. Seán also opposed the Treaty.

In 1945 his only child, Máire MacSwiney, married Ruairí Brugha, son of the anti-Treaty Teachta Dála Cathal Brugha, and later a TD, Member of the European Parliament, and Senator. Máire MacSwiney is the author of a memoir History's Daughter: A Memoir from the Only Child of Terence MacSwiney (2006). She died in May 2012.[12]

A collection relating to Terence MacSwiney exists in Cork Public Museum. His portrait, and a painting of his funeral mass, by Sir John Lavery are exhibited in Cork's Crawford Municipal Art Gallery.

There is also a secondary school named after him in the north side of Cork City, with a room dedicated to his memory.

On 28 October 2012, there was a friendship tree planting in memory of MacSwiney in Southwark.[13]


  • The Music of Freedom by 'Cuireadóir'. (Poems, The Risen Gaedheal Press, Cork 1907)
  • Fianna Fáil : the Irish army : a journal for militant Ireland weekly publication edited and mainly written by MacSwiney; Cork, 11 issues, (September to December 1914)
  • The Revolutionist; a play in five acts (Dublin, London: Maunsel and Company, 1914). Internet Archive.
  • The Ethics of Revolt: a discussion from a Catholic point of view as to when it becomes lawful to rise in revolt against the Civil Power by Toirdhealbhach Mac Suibhne (pamphlet, 1918)
  • Battle-cries (Poems, 1918)
  • Principles of Freedom (Dublin: The Talbot Press, 1921)
  • Despite Fools' Laughter; poems by Terence MacSwiney. Edited by B. G. MacCarthy (Dublin: M. H. Gill and Son, 1944)


  • "It is not those who can inflict the most, but those that can suffer the most who will conquer." (Some sources replace "conquer" with "prevail")
  • "I am confident that my death will do more to smash the British Empire than my release." (On his hunger strike)
  • "I want you to bear witness that I die as a Soldier of the Irish Republic." His last words to a visiting priest.

See also


  1. "Mr. Terence MacSwiney". Oireachtas Members Database. Retrieved 9 June 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Sam Davies. "MacSwiney, Terence James (1879–1920)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Retrieved 17 February 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 MacSwiney Brugha, Máire (2006). History's daughter: a memoir from the only child of Terence MacSwiney. Dublin: O'Brien Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> ISBN 9780862789862.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 "MacSwiney, Terence". UCD Archives.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. 5.0 5.1 "Terence MacSwiney and Joseph Murphy Die". Irish History.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. p361 Roy Jenkins, Churchill, Macmillan 2001
  7. Journal of Bromyard and District LHS, no. 19, 1996/7
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 8.6 Jason Perlman. "Terence MacSwiney: The Triumph and Tragedy of the Hunger Strike". The New York State Historical Association.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. "Terence MacSwiney". ElectionsIreland.org. Retrieved 9 June 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Thapar-Björkert, Suruchi; Ryan, Louise (May–June 2002). "Mother India/mother Ireland: Comparative gendered dialogues of colonialism and nationalism in the early 20th century". Women's Studies International Forum. ScienceDirect. 25 (3): 301–313. doi:10.1016/S0277-5395(02)00257-1.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Berresford Ellis, Peter (1996). A history of the Irish working class (new ed.). London: Pluto Press. p. 254. ISBN 0-7453-1103-2.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. "Máire MacSwiney Brugha dies aged 94". RTÉ News. 21 May 2012. Retrieved 26 August 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. "CRAIC - Fighting the Cuts (blog)". 26 October 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  • Francis J Costello, Enduring the Most: The Biography of Terence McSwiney. Dingle: Brandon Books, 1996.
  • Robert Welch (ed), The Oxford Companion to Irish Literature. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996.
  • Máire MacSwiney Brugha History's Daughter: a Memoir from the Only Child of Terence MacSwiney. Dublin: O'Brien Press, 2006.

Terence Mac Swiney's private papers are held in the University College Dublin Archives (IE UCDA P48b, P48c). There are also manuscript papers and copies of his published writings in the National Library of Ireland (MSS 35029–35035).

External links

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
D. D. Sheehan
Member of Parliament for Mid Cork
Succeeded by
Seat vacant until
constituency abolished in 1922
New office Teachta Dála for Mid Cork
Succeeded by
Seat vacant until
constituency abolished in 1922
Civic offices
Preceded by
Tomás Mac Curtain
Lord Mayor of Cork
Succeeded by
Donal O'Callaghan