#OTD in 1920 – Court-martial of Terence MacSwiney, Lord Mayor of Cork for possession of seditious articles and documents.

'One armed man cannot resist a multitude, nor one army conquer countless legions; but not all the armies of all the empires of earth can crush the spirit of one true man. And that one man will prevail'. –Terence MacSwiney

Lord Mayor, Terence MacSwiney is under court-martial over which Colonel James, Staffordshire Regiment, presided, assembled at Victoria Barracks, Cork, under the following charges:

1. Without lawful Authority or excuse being in possession of a cypher, on 12 August, which cypher was the numerical Cypher issued to the RIC
2. Having this under his control
3. Being in possession of documents, the publication of which would be likely to cause disaffection to his Majesty (this was the resolution passed by the Corporation, acknowledging the Authority of and pledging allegiance to Dáil Éireann)
4. Copy of speech the Lord Mayor made when elected successor to Lord Mayor MacCurtain

When asked if represented by Counsel, the Lord Mayor replied: "I would like to say a word about your proceedings here. The position is that I am the Lord Mayor of Cork, and Chief Magistrate of this city, and I declare this court illegal, and those who take part in it are liable to arrest under the laws of the Irish Republic."

The Lord Mayor had not taken any food since his arrest. From the day before his arrest, between fifty and sixty prisoners went on hunger strike, which lasted from 11th August to 17th November. The court-martial sentenced him to two years imprisonment.

Before sentence the Lord Mayor addressed the court: "I wish to state that I will put a limit to any term of imprisonment you may impose, because of the action I will take. I have taken no food since Thursday, therefore I will be free in a month." On the 18 August, Terence MacSwiney was taken on board a British naval sloop, and transferred to Brixton Prison where he was detained until his death on the 25th October 1920, the 74th day of his hunger strike. The people of Ireland were enraged at the treatment of MacSwiney by the British, and each day of hunger strike that passed, helped to turn the attention of the world to the plight of the Irish Cause and soon brought about the end of the War of Independence.

Painting by John Berkeley (1916 leaders edition)

Photo: Irish children praying for Cork Lord Mayor Terence McSwiney, who died on hunger strike in Brixton Prison, 1920

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