The Funeral of Terence MacSwiney and the Aftermath

Terence MacSwiney and his wife Muriel

MacSwiney’s 74-day hunger strike captured the attention of the international press and raised the profile of calls for an independent Ireland. It also kicked off protests in cities around the world such as New York. At the time Eamon de Valera was on an eighteen month tour of America on a mission to establish the Ireland as a Republic and to help raise finance for the independence movement. The event of the Lord Mayor’s death garnered a lot of support from the American’s. He was the second Lord Mayor of Cork to die in the dark days of the War of Independence. In March On 20 March 1920, his was shot dead Thomas Curtain by the RIC, (Royal Irish Constabulary) in front of his wife and child. It was his thirty-sixth birthday.

His death, the second death of a Cork mayor that year, made headlines around the world and brought international attention to the campaign for Irish freedom.

After his death further his family suffered the further fear that his body would be, like most prisoners interred in the grounds of Brixton Prison, as his funeral would certainly be a huge political affair. The British Home Office allowed his body to be put on board a ship and be sailed directly to his hometown Cork, bypassing Dublin completely. If it were to go to the Irish capital MacSwiney would certainly be given a state funeral, which would only turn up the heat on the political situation. His family won out in the end and they were granted permission to bring his coffin to St. George’s Church in London. It was the first of three funerals for the patriotic Lord Mayor. Thousands, many British filed by his remains before being removed to an awaiting ship to make his final journey home to the country he gave his life for.

His body was brought from the Cathedral in London, put on a train, accompanied by a large group of mourners, it was also accompanied by police, which arrived at Hollyhead early. The ship, which his family, mourners and Nationalists hoped would dock in Dublin for a funeral there, but it was not to be. His body was taken directly to Cork, vetoed by the authorities, to avoid large demonstrations in Dublin. Incensed Nationalists were not deterred from giving MacSwiney the funeral he deserved. A day of mourning and funeral procession went ahead even without a body. A Requiem Mass was said at the Pro-Catherdral attended by a crowd that spilled out onto Marlborough Street.

An hearse, without a coffin followed by thousands of mourners, made its way along the lined streets of Dublin to Kingsbridge Station, the same route that would have been followed if a real funeral was permitted. All the same it was followed lorries of British soldiers and met at the station by an armored car.

Terence McSwiney’s body arrived in Cork city. His family with guard of Irish Volunteers brought the body to Cork City Hall, where it lay in state for the citizens to pay their respects. His funeral at the Cathedral of St Mary and St Anne on October 31 attracted enormous crowds. He was buried in the Republican Plot of St Finbarr’s Cemetery, where Arthur Griffith gave the oration.

MacSwiney’s hunger strike instead had an international effect. The British Government was threatened with a boycott of goods by Americans, countries in South America pleaded with the Pope to intervene, while protests took place in Germany and France.

Terence McSwiney’ death was a source of inspiration to freedom fighters such as Gandhi, who also used hunger strike as a quiet power against the British government. he also inspired writers and poets such as Lousiene Murphy below:

His writing was published after his death such as the poem below.

The death of Terence MacSwiney was one of a myriad of events that lead to the burning of Cork, a pivotal event in the War of Independence a little over a month later.


Freeman’s Journal 26 October 1920