Lord Mayor Terence MacSwiney eventually succumbed to a hunger strike after 74 days on October 25, 1920, and his legacy as a martyr for Irish independence, and as an icon, was sealed.
As Cork and Ireland prepares to mark the centenary of one of the pivotal moments of the War of Independence, the documentary 74 Days: The Hunger Strike Of Terence MacSwiney on RTÉ1 on Wednesday at 9.35pm will revisit that troubled time.
Presented by historian, Sarah-Anne Buckley, the programme uses contemporary science insights alongside the original medical notes recorded during the Lord Mayor’s hunger strike to recreate the story of the last 74 days of his life.
His hunger strike is one of the longest on record, and his actions subsequently inspired similar acts worldwide, most notably by Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.
MacSwiney’s hunger strike was also a catalyst for the intensification of Ireland’s War of Independence. After his death, and the publicity garnered across the world by the circumstances in which he died, the British government returned to the negotiating table, the eventual outcome of which was the establishment, in 1922, of the Irish Free State.
Buckley argues that MacSwiney’s hunger strike is one of the great, marginal stories from modern Irish history: he is arguably better known internationally — in places like Vietnam and Catalonia — than he is at home, and she says his story needs to be told at home.
In the documentary, she builds a thesis using the personal letters, diaries and witness statements of three extraordinary women central to the hunger strike and who were by MacSwiney’s bedside throughout it: his wife Muriel and his sisters Annie and Mary.
These three women were witnesses to history, as well as active participants and victims of it.
Elsewhere, presenter Buckley works closely with Dr Phil Kieran and Clinical Psychologist Eddie Murphy to shed contemporary medical insight onto the impact of hunger striking.
Combining first-person, eye-witness testimony from the period with high-end digital technology, they re-create a contemporary medical model that captures MacSwiney’s hunger strike on a day-by-day basis.
Marcus Lamb plays MacSwiney in dramatised scenes (pictured on the cover of TV Week).
Contributors include John Borgonovo, Ciara Breathnach, Daniel Breen, Linda Hogan, and Anne Twomey.