The Avondhu - By The Fireside
THE BALLYLANDERS FOUR
en’t going to bring charges, including most of those arrested in City Hall. Other prisoners, including the Lord Mayor, were immediately moved to prisons in England; with the exception of McSwiney they all came off the hunger strike.
After a few days the number whittled down to 11. Joe Kenny, Grenagh; Joe Murphy, Togher and Mick Fitzgerald, Fermoy were all from Cork; Michael Bourke and John Power were from Tipperary, Thomas Donovan came from Emly. But the largest number came from County Limerick; Sean Hennessy was from Limerick City, although arrested in Ballingeary, where he was attending the Irish College. The largest single contingent came from the small village of Ballylanders, County Limerick - Michael Reilly, Christopher Upton, and the brothers John and Peter Crowley. What united them was their dedication to the cause of Ireland and Irish freedom; all were active IRA members, some of whom had been captured following direct engagements with British forces. Sean Hennessy wanted to teach the Irish language; John Crowley played football with Ballylanders Shamrocks and was on the team that won the county junior championship in 1911.
Their ages ranged from the youngest, Peter Crowley, 18, Sean Hennessy and John Power, 19, mere boys who today would be probably enjoying Freshers week in College; to Michael Fitzgerald and Joe Kenny, the only one married with a young family.
They included labourers, a creamery worker, shopkeepers, a carpenter ordinary people who were embarking on an extraordinary course of action, which would rewrite history.
Already some were showing signs of distress. Michael Burke, who had been severely beaten in Limerick before being transferred to Cork, suffered from ulcers. Within a fortnight some were on the point of death. As the public became aware of the deteriorating condition of the prisoners, prayer meetings were held outside the prison. As the crowds increased, they were moved to the expanses of the Grand Parade. Local communities, trade unions and societies organised masses. Major events like the Munster hurling final, Blarney and Rathduff Sports were cancelled. Cork City and the nation held its breath.
Public bodies, councils and corporations, political parties in Britain, petitioned the government and the Prime Minister, Lloyd George, for the release of the prisoners. The full machinery of government swung into action to blacken the names of the prisoners, labelling them as murderers and terrorists. Grenagh has always been blessed with the quality and character of its clergy and the then curate, Fr. Carroll sprang to their defence through the pages of the Examiner, focusing on the case of Joe Kenny. He referred to his good character, that he served as the priest’s coachman, that he had an alibi for the attack on the police, having attended a meeting of the Rural District Council, and of Mrs Kenny’s sworn statement of the evidence being planted.
Throughout this public controversy, the condition of the hunger strikers continued to deteriorate. For the families of the eleven, the pain and suffering of watching their loved ones wasting away must have been intense. They witnessed daily the hunger pangs, the loss of strength, deteriorating eyesight, nausea and delirium, the lapses into unconsciousness, over the course of weeks and months. They conveyed the news not only to their family and friends at home, but to the representatives of the world press gathered outside the jail. Most of the families lived a distance away and had to move home to stay with friends and relatives close to the jail.
In addition to her two sons in Cork Gaol, Mrs Crowley had another son interned in England and her husband had been held under arrest for three weeks or more. All the relatives waited patiently outside the grim prison gates for their turn to visit.
They were unstinting in their support for their family members on hunger strike, who in their turn, were determined never to yield until they were given their freedom. They were tended by two chaplains and four sisters of the Bon Secours order, who took turns attending to their needs. They supported the Lord Mayor in Brixton and he in turn encouraged them.
FITZGERALD - FIRST
Michael Fitzgerald of Fermoy was the first to die after 67 days. His funeral was an immense outpouring of public grief and support. On the seventy-fourth day, the Lord Mayor passed away in Brixton Prison. On the same day, Joe Murphy breathed his last in Cork.
There followed a week of mourning in which the funeral of Joe Murphy took place and the remains of the Lord Mayor were brought home to Cork. A national day of mourning was proclaimed for the funeral.
And still the hunger strike continued. An intervention was made by the Acting President of Dáil Eireann, Arthur Griffith, who stated that having been prepared to die for Ireland, they should now prepare to live for her. This led to a discussion and ballot among them following which the decision to come off the hunger strike was made. It had lasted for 94 days.
There followed a long and slow recovery, where with careful nutrition and skilled nursing and medical care, they recovered their strength. But they remained prisoners. Some faced court-martial when they were declared fit. All were shipped to Spike Island where they endured confinement. It took the Treaty to finally secure their release to their families, their friends, their communities.
And even then their ordeal was far from over. The hardships of imprisonment and the physical strain of the hunger strike brought enduring health problems for some. Some died well before their time, premature deaths brought on by what they had endured.
Over time, the memory of the hunger strike faded away and when death eventually claimed them, many of their funerals took place without any public reference to what they had endured. This was certainly the case of Joe Kenny.
It is to the credit of the Kenny family, and in particular Claire and Conor, that this wrong has been rectified. The Kenny family has been part of the fabric of this community, giving silent service but also acting as public ambassadors promoting Grenagh through the playing fields of the GAA and other public bodies. It is fitting that this commemorative plaque is erected next to the church; Joe Kenny acknowledged that it was the power of prayer and particularly the Rosary that sustained them throughout their ordeal.
It is also fitting that it is located on the site of Kenny’s shop, which served Grenagh for so many decades. Most of all, it puts names on those who survived that hunger strike of one-hundred-andtwo years ago, and the good people of Grenagh who pass by on their way to worship may read them and say a prayer for their souls; not forgetting that it’s through their suffering and through their sacrifice that we live in a free Ireland today.’
Ar deis Dé go raib a n-anamaca
Following the speeches, Fr Micheál Ó Lóinsigh blessed the plaque and remembered the men with three Hail Mary’s.
Organisers Clare Cronin and Conor Kenny offered their condolences to Peter Crowley on the death of his wife Mary, and mother to Ann, and all the Crowley family. Best of health also to Mossie and Malachy Donovan, nephews of Thomas Donovan (hunger striker).
Seán Murphy, on his bagpipes, then played the National Anthem to bring a magical memorial day to a conclusion. Special thanks to all the people who attended on the day.
‘THE NINE SURVIVORS’
The book ‘The Nine Survivors’, written by Conor Kenny and Clare Cronin, a story of the record 94-day hunger strike, is available to purchase locally in Ballylanders from Jimmy Ryan. It’s also available from cityhall.ie (no postal charge) or from Moynihan’s at Rathduff.
The inscription on the plaque in Grenagh reads as follows
Remembering The Nine Survivors of the 94 day hunger strike in Cork Gaol 11th August 1920 - 12th November 1920
Joseph Kenny lived on this site when it was his son Thomas and Mairead’s General Stores
Joseph Kenny, Grenagh, Co. Cork
John Crowley, Ballylanders, Co. Limerick Peter Crowley, Ballylanders
Christopher Upton, Ballylanders
Michael O’Reilly, Ballylanders
Sean Hennessy, Carey’s Road, Limerick Michael Burke, Foulkstown, Co. Tipperary John Power, Rosegreen, Co. Tipperary Thomas Donovan, Emly, Co. Tipperary
Also remembering the men who passed away Michael Fitzgerald, Fermoy 1881-1920
Joseph Murphy, Pouladuff Road, Cork 1895-1920