NUI Galway Contribute to RTÉ Documentary ‘74 Days: The Hunger Strike of Terence MacSwiney’

Pictured l-r: Dr Sarah-Anne Buckley, Discipline of History, NUI Galway and documentary presenter with contributors Dr Phil Kieran and Dr Eddie Murphy from the RTÉ One documentary ‘74 Days: The Hunger Strike of Terence MacSwiney’. Photo: Forefront Productions
Oct 20 2020 Posted: 14:36 IST

NUI Galway has contributed to a documentary about the death by hunger strike, one hundred years ago, of Terence MacSwiney, who is regarded as one of the most important events in the history of the Irish revolutionary period. 74 Days: The Hunger Strike of Terence MacSwiney will broadcast on Wednesday, 21 October on RTÉ One at 9.30pm.

Presented by NUI Galway historian, Dr Sarah-Anne Buckley, ’74 Days’ uses contemporary science insights alongside the original medical notes recorded during MacSwiney’s hunger strike to recreate the story of the last 74 days of his life, and to shine fresh perspective onto a pivotal moment in recent history.

Terence MacSwiney’s 74-day hunger strike is one of the longest on record. His actions subsequently inspired similar acts worldwide, most notably by Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.

Born in Cork in 1879, Terence James MacSwiney was an Irish playwright, author and politician. He was elected as Sinn Féin Lord Mayor of Cork during the Irish War of Independence in 1920. He was arrested by the British Government on charges of sedition and imprisoned in Brixton Prison where he died by hunger strike on October 1920.

MacSwiney’s hunger strike was a catalyst for the intensification of Ireland’s War of Independence. Following his death, and the publicity garnered across the world by the circumstances in which he died, the British government returned to the negotiating table in respect of Ireland. The eventual outcome of which was the establishment, in 1922, of the Irish Free State.

Dr Sarah-Anne Buckley, Discipline of History, NUI Galway, said: “Terence MacSwiney’s hunger strike is not only a pivotal moment in the history of the Irish revolution, but in the history of resistance and activism globally. Central to this story are the women in MacSwiney’s life, his sisters Mary and Annie and his wife Muriel and their treatment both during the strike and after his death. For me, the programme reveals much about how this strike felt and was experienced, while also exploring MacSwiney the individual, his life, his family, and his legacy.”

Terence 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. Dr Sarah-Anne Buckley argues that his story needs to now be told at home. 

In this documentary, Dr Buckley 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, Sarah-Anne 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. 

Contributors include John Borgonovo, Ciara Breathnach, Daniel Breen, Linda Hogan, Tomás MacConmara, Laurence McKeown, William Murphy, Niall Murray, Helene O’Keeffe, and Anne Twomey.

74 Days: The Hunger Strike of Terence MacSwiney was directed by Ciara Hyland of ForeFront Productions for RTÉ and funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland with the Television Licence fee.


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