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Mary MacSwiney

Mary MacSwiney (1872-1942)

Mary MacSwiney, sister of Terence MacSwiney, was born in London. She was educated in the Ursuline Convent, Cork before training as a teacher at Cambridge University. She taught in Cork where she became a founder member of the Munster Women's Franchise League and a member of the Gaelic League in 1904. In 1914 MacSwiney was a founder member of Cumann na mBan and President of the Cork Branch for which she was interned after the 1916 Rising. As a result of her imprisonment MacSwiney lost her job as a teacher and in 1917 she and her sister Annie founded St. Ita's School for girls in Cork City where all subjects were taught through the medium of Irish.

MacSwiney joined Sinn Féin in 1917 and in 1918 she was elected to the First Dáil for Cork. In December, 1920 she gave evidence to the American Commission of Inquiry on Conditions in Ireland in Washington, DC. MacSwiney was Vice-President of Cumann na mBan when that organisation voted 419 to 63 against supporting the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty. MacSwiney was appointed to the Cabinet of the Second Dáil in 1922 and was twice imprisoned during the Civil War, undergoing a twenty-one day hunger-strike in Mountjoy Gaol and a twenty-four day hunger-strike in Kilmainham Gaol.

After the Civil War MacSwiney remained active in Cumann na mBan and in republican politics. In 1933 she, together with Albinia Broderick, founded Mna Poblachta in opposition to Cumann na mBan which MacSwiney believed was moving too far to the left. In 1934 she was a member of the short lived Republican Congress.

This extract is from MacSwiney's evidence to the American Commission of Inquiry on Conditions in Ireland (1921) in which she describes the removal of her brother Terence's remains from London to Cork after he died on hunger-strike on October 25th, 1920.

At Crewe we were told that when we got to Holyhead we were to go on a boat and go straight to Cork. My brother was sent for by the police inspector. I do not know that you are aware that a large body of police travelled on the train from Euston to Holyhead. They tried to play a trick on us, tried to send the train off without the friends knowing it. And then my sister and myself went into the van where my brother's remains were, and said we would not go away. Then they started the train and sent us away to get us out of London. We were then informed by the police that the remains would be put on the steamship Rathmore and taken to Dublin, and that not more than twenty of my brother's friends were to be allowed to travel with my brother's remains.

A consultation was held with my sister, and we decided unanimously that we would not one of us go on that ship. If they took my brother's remains away from us by force, and then we went on the ship, it would be a tacit consent to their action. Some people have seemed to think that we were very hard-hearted to let my brother's remains travel like that without any of his friends. We did what we knew he would have liked us to do - what would be for Ireland's good first.

When Holyhead was reached we went and stood by the van where my brother's remains were. My younger brother went and interviewed the station master and we were told finally that the body was to be taken by force, and they came into the van to take it.

I asked the station master if he were not going to fulfil the contract for which he was paid - the contract to deliver my brother's remains in Dublin. He said no; that he had government orders, and they must be obeyed. And I said that no man had the right to obey an order like that. Then we were asked to go outside and we refused. We decided that this time technical arrest, like the laying of an officer's hand on your shoulder, was not sufficient, and that this time we ought to resent by bodily resistance the second arrest of the body of a dead man. I might add that when we got to the platform at Holyhead there was about one hundred fifty Black and Tans there, and their faces as they sneered and jeered through the window at my brother's body was the most evil thing I believe that I have ever seen.

Finally all the friends gathered round the coffin, and they refused to move. I would rather be spared the details of what followed. There were some men first; I can only say that I was the first woman to be picked up like a bale of goods and thrown out - thrown out literally - onto the platform. My brother jumped to try to save me, and he was nearly choked by four policemen. And a military officer jumped over a wagon - a small cart - and took him by the back of the neck and tried to choke him. He had his arms around me, and I threw my arms around him to try to save him from being choked to death. The incident was a very painful one. And I thought every instant that my younger brother would drop dead before my eyes, because the treatment he received by the Canadian authorities in a Canadian prison during the war has injured his heart; and a doctor in America has told him that any excitment is apt to make him drop dead. And I was afraid that he was going to drop dead that night...

They took the body and increased the number that could travel with it from twenty to seventy-five; and when we refused to go, the police inspector asked Mr O'Brien to point out to the relatives the sacredness of th remains and what respect was due them. As if we needed to be pointed out the sacredness of his body!

The body was taken by the Rathmore to Dublin. We proceeded to Dublin, where the funeral was carried out, and then we went onto Cork by special train.

In the evening I got a letter that my brother's body was at the customs house and we might have it. It was a quarter past nine when I got that word. They tried to get everybody in the city to take that body before they communicated with us. I am glad to say that the citizens of Cork did exactly what we would have had them do, and refused to touch his remains because they had no authority.

Printed by permission from Searc's Web Guide Index

Thanks to George Beckett.

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