Papers shed light on MacSwiney’s final days

HARROWING medical records detailing the last days of former Lord Mayor of Cork, Terence MacSwiney, are included in a vast collection of British government papers which will be handed over the people of Cork today.

The 1,000-plus British Home Office files show the global interest in MacSwiney's hunger strike which resulted in his death in Brixton Prison, London, on October 25, 1920.

Newspaper clippings in the files also show how MacSwiney's death won favourable publicity for the Irish struggle for independence.

MacSwiney, the Lord Mayor of Cork and Commandant of the Cork IRA, was given a two-year sentence at his court martial in Cork on August 16, 1920, for having "seditious" documents.

He died that October after 75 days without food.

Stella Cherry, curator of Cork Public Museum, said the presentation of the papers to the people of Cork later today is very significant.

"It is tremendous the papers are coming to Cork. I myself didn't realise the focus of the world was on Terence MacSwiney. We here in Ireland seem to have forgotten him it's as if he has slipped through the floorboards of history. But these papers shed new light on his final days and truly augment our existing Terence McSwiney collection," she said.

MacSwiney's medical records make for disturbing reading.

"This prisoner is now becoming progressively weaker. He was restless again during the night and did not get any sleep till 3am. He states that he feels "getting dried up". Temperature 97.4, Pulse Rate 60, Cardiac action weaker with an occasional dropped beat. I explained to the prisoner this morning, in the presence of his priest, Fr Dominic, that after his physical resistance to taking food broke down, I should have to make every effort to introduce nutrients into his system for the purpose of prolonging, if not saving, his life," medical officer WD Higson wrote on August 23.

The papers also detail doctors' efforts to feed MacSwiney as he lapsed in and out of consciousness during his final days.

The doctors insisted this was not "forcible feeding" but MacSwiney's wife Muriel and sisters, Mary and Annie, accused the authorities of "prolonging his agony".

London-based librarian Frank Small was instrumental in securing these Home Office papers for Cork Public Museum.

He is expected in Cork later today, as is MacSwiney's only child, 86-year-old Máire MacSwiney-Brugha, for the handover. She is married to Ruairí Brugha, son of Cathal Brugha, who was killed during the Civil War fighting on the Republican side.

A choir from the North Monastery, where MacSwiney went to school, will sing the school's anthem at the ceremony.

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