I was looking at an obituary of my grandmother’s cousin in the Irish Press. One of the nine survivors of the Cork Prison hunger strike in 1920, he died in 1965 at the age of sixty-eight. The hunger strike of Terence McSwiney, in particular, was watched with interest by the world’s media, as it was not known at the time how long a person could survive without food. McSwiney, Mick Fitzgerald and Joseph Murphy all died on the strike. The Press clipping says that the survivors lasted 94 days on hungerstrike, and incidentally that figure was also given in the Guinness Book of Records. Of course this figure is absolute nonsense. While the hunger strike itself lasted for that length of time it is impossible that any single one of them went without food for the entire length of the hunger strike, let alone all nine. For comparison, Terenece McSwiney died after 74 days and in 1981 Bobby Sands died after 66 days. (By “hunger strike” in this instance, I mean a successful refusal of food. A woman has maintained her hunger strike for several years, but she is force fed.)
I recall my mother saying something about 78 days in relation to her mother’s cousin, who she describes as cranky and obsessed with greyhounds. There’s also a mention by someone in Uinseann MacEoin’s Survivors who was in Cork Prison at the time that he knew someone there who had survived nearly 80 days. These are more realistic figures, I think. This is something I’ve intended to look into for some time, and I’m hopeful someone from the Cork perspective can point me in the right direction. Though Limerick and national newspapers haven’t yielded any useful results, family histories and local historians may help. Like three of the other hunger strikers, my grandmother’s cousin was from the Ballylanders area.
Incidentally, his uncle, my great-grandfather, was born 147 years ago yesterday.