Women’s suffrage, hunger strikes and Irish republicans

Published in Issue 2 (March/April 2018), Letters, Volume 26

Sir,—I wish to comment on Joseph E.A. Connell Jr’s ‘Force-feeding of prisoners and hunger strikes’ (HI 26.1, Jan./Feb. 2018). Of course, the article represents another fine contribution from Dr Connell, which now collectively represents an impressive body of work during this decade of centennials.

It is stated in the article: ‘What is certain is that Irish republicans borrowed the technique of hunger-striking—in prison—from the women’s suffrage movement’. While this is true, important transition steps have been left out. During the 1913 Dublin Lockout, specifically in September, James Connolly commenced a hunger strike while imprisoned in Mountjoy Prison for delivering a speech judged inflammatory by the Dublin Metropolitan Police, one day before the police baton-violence over the weekend of 30–31 August. Connolly’s hunger strike was first publicised by Francis Sheehy-Skeffington in mid-September.

Sheehy-Skeffington would himself use the hunger-strike tactic in June 1915, after being arrested on 29 May for making an anti-recruiting speech outside Liberty Hall. Of course, Sheehy-Skeffington and Connolly were strong advocates for women’s suffrage and rights, and the former’s partner, Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington, had used the hunger strike while imprisoned for pursuing a suffrage action (also in Mountjoy) in 1912. The 1915 imprisonment resulted in a public letter from another Irish pro-women’s suffrage proponent, George Bernard Shaw, that was published in the Freeman’s Journal—as well as in a Liberty Hall pamphlet printed by Connolly on the recently acquired but antiquated printing press in Liberty Hall, which eleven months later would print the Easter Proclamation.

The hunger-strike transition from women’s suffrage to Irish republicans involved a few important steps from, arguably, Irish giants who knew how to use the press. And hunger strikes, above all else, command press attention—as in 1981.—Yours etc.,

NELSON Ó CEALLAIGH RITSCHEL

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