Clare’s Republican hunger Strikers
Mountjoy and Dundalk Prisons 1917
The knock on effect of De Valera’s successful East Clare election campaign in 1917 was an upsurge of support for Sinn Féin and the Irish Volunteers. This was especially so in the ranks of the Volunteers with recruiting, parading and also structural reorganisation occurring. Open defiance became a policy of the Volunteer executive with regular drilling and parading in public taking place, which was regarded by the authorities as an illegal and seditious act.
During August and September 1917 a number of officers of the Irish Volunteers were arrested across Ireland for the offence of openly drilling members of the Volunteers. In Clare the police reacted by arresting three Clare brothers, Paddy, Michael and Austin Brennan of Meelick and Peadar O’Loughlin of Liscannor, quickly followed by the arrests of sixteen others in different parts of the county.
They were all brought to Victoria Barracks, Cork, where they were tried by General Court Martial and sentenced to between six months and two years’ imprisonment, some with hard labour. Following their conviction they were held in Mountjoy prison, Dublin, and comprised of about forty in total, half of whom were from Co. Clare.
In Mountjoy, in pursuit of prisoner of war and political prisoner status, they engaged in a campaign of non-cooperation with the prison authorities. This culminated in all furniture, bedding and clothing being removed from their cells. In an escalation of their action, the prisoners began a hunger strike on the 20th September and the prison authorities responded by a brutal process of force feeding. On the 25th September, Thomas Ashe, the President of the Supreme Council of the I.R.B., from Lispole Co. Kerry, died as a direct result of being force fed. The hunger Strike continued until the 30th September, ending when the authorities conceded the prisoners demands for political status.
On the 13th November the prisoners were relocated to Dundalk gaol. They resumed their hunger strike immediately upon arrival when it was clear that the prison regime at Dundalk were reneging on the concessions already made in Mountjoy by the British authorities. Ultimately the response of the authorities was to release all the republican prisoners under the infamous “Prisoners (Temporary Discharge for ill Health) Act 1913”. This legislation, more commonly known as the “Cat and Mouse Act”, allowed the authorities to re-arrest the prisoners once they had regained their health. The last prisoners left Dundalk on the 17th November 1917.
The Mountjoy and Dundalk hunger strikes and the death of Thomas Ashe were pivotal moments in Irish history. The death of Ashe and the gruesome nature of it gave rise to widespread revulsion both in Ireland and abroad. These events were crucial in galvanising Irish public support for Sinn Féin, the Irish Volunteers and the aspirations of the Easter Rising of the previous year. Most of those involved played continuing prominent roles in the War of Independence. Moreover, the hunger strikes and accompanying force feeding took a heavy toll on the health of many of them for the reminder of their lives.
The nineteen Clare men who took part in the hunger strikes were: Joseph Breen, Tiernaglohane, Cooraclare; Austin Brennan, Meelick; Michael Brennan, Meelick; Patrick Brennan, Meelick; Thomas Browne, Bank Place, Ennis; Frank Gallagher, Knockalisheen; James Griffey, Cabey’s Lane, Ennis; Hubert J. Hunt, Corofin; John Liddy, Danganelly, Cooraclare; James Madigan, Arthur’s Row, Ennis; Thomas Marrinan, Ballyduffbeg, Inagh; William McNamara, Cathedral Place Ennis; John Minihan, Corofin; Seán (John) Murnane, Lisconnor, Newmarket on Fergus; Michael Murray, Newmarket on Fergus; Michael O’Brien, Kilkee, Ruan; Arthur O’Donnell, Tullycrine, Labasheeda; Peter O’Loughlin, Glebe Lodge, Loughaloon, Liscannor; Francis Shinnors, Market Place, Ennis.
Another Clare prisoner at the time was Thomas Callaghan of Kilfenora. Because of his age, 17, the I.R.A. leadership in the prisons would not allow him to participate in the hunger strike action.
“Commemorating County Clare’s Republican Hunger Strikers Mountjoy and Dundalk Prisons 1917”
- Pat Kirby 2017.