Frank Moss and the 1913 Lockout

Published in Issue 1 (January/February 2014), Letters, Volume 22

Sir,—The recent letter regarding James Byrne (HI 21.5, Sept./Oct. 2013) prompted me to write concerning Frank Moss, another forgotten figure of 1913, who was the ITGWU organiser for the Swords district farm labourers. Throughout September and October 1913, the Swords farm labourers, under Moss’s leadership, engaged in violent clashes with police in Swords and took part in a major riot in Dublin. Moss’s aggressive tactics culminated in the Swords riot on the night of Wednesday 9 October 1913, when around 100 strikers stoned the police barracks and smashed the windows of shops that supported the farmers. The police ended the riot with baton charges, leaving many strikers and police seriously injured, including Moss.

On 24 October Moss was found guilty of intimidation and sentenced to three months in prison. He immediately began a hunger strike, but instead of being released, as James Byrne and James Connolly had been, after only two days he was moved to the prison hospital and force-fed. It is possible that Byrne’s pneumonia and consequent death prompted the prison authorities to force-feed Moss. Francis Sheehy-Skeffington and James Connolly condemned what they saw as torture, and spoke of Moss being dragged to the feeding chair, strapped down, head held by brutal prison guards, a tube forced up his nose or his jaws pried open, his throat held until blood came from his eyes, of vomiting and coughing up blood.

Force-feeding continued until 3 November, when Moss resumed eating. He was sent back to his cell on 8 November but recommenced a hunger strike on 10 November. He was force-fed until 27 November, when he again resumed eating and was allowed to serve the remainder of his sentence in the prison hospital. Moss was released from Mountjoy on 14 January 1914, and returned to Swords to resume leadership of the strikers. However, a month later he was charged with smashing a window during the Swords riot and was sentenced to fourteen days’ imprisonment. Back in Mountjoy, Moss went on hunger strike again but on 20 February a feeding tube was brutally forced up his nose, causing internal damage and agonising pain for hours afterwards.

Following this Moss went off his hunger strike but took only bread and tea for the remainder of his sentence. With his health declining rapidly, having lost 15kg in eleven days, he was released three days early on 25 February 1914 and returned to Swords.

Moss was also involved in the formation of the Irish Citizen Army. In March 1914 he was elected to its governing committee and used his popularity with the farm labourers to recruit throughout north County Dublin. However, after 1914 Moss disappears from history. He died of tuberculosis at the Alan Ryan Hospital, Pigeon House Road, Ringsend, on 9 April 1925, aged 55. His last address was 31 Marlborough Street, Dublin, the location of James Larkin’s Workers’ Union of Ireland, later known as ‘Unity Hall’. It is not known whether Moss was working for the union or whether Larkin was letting an old comrade stay there because he was perhaps too ill to work and had nowhere else to go. Neither is it known where Frank Moss is buried, but perhaps with the assistance of interested readers we might locate the final resting place of this forgotten figure from 1913.—Yours etc.,



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