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Terence McSwiney was the Lord Mayor of Cork in 1920 when he was arrested by British crown forces on charges of sidition. 74 Days: Terence MacSwiney, shown recently on RTÉ1 to mark one hundred years since his death explores not only the reasons and background behind his subsequent hunger strike, but using modenr day graphics and science seeks to show just exactly how such an act would affect his body with each passing day. The programme is ably presented by Dr. Sarah-Anne Buckley from the Department of History at NUI Galway with contributions from Tomás Mac Conmara, a historian and writer and John Borgonovo of UCC.

Terence McSwiney in 1920 replaced Tomás McCurtan who was shot dead by the Royal Irish Constabulary, McSwiney becoming Mayor of Cork eight days later. The narrative is interspersed with a mixture of reconstruction in a drama documentary style, old photographs and video and last but certainly not least up to date video graphics of the internal workings of the human body as the effects of hunger strike take their tole on the body of McSwiney. Terence McSwiney became a Sinn Fein TD during the landmark general election of 1918 in which Sinn Fein won a majority of Irish seats but sat in the newly convened Dail as apposed to the House of Commons in London. These events in the documentary are illustrated by juxtaposing historical footage of the 1918 general election in Ireland.

The narrative goes on from here to state that a hunger strike began among prisoners two days before McSwiney’s arrest. At this point Daniel Breen, curator of Cork Public Museum explains how they have collected a series of records which go from McSwiney’s arrest until his eventual death seventy four days later. At this point modern day doctors including Doctor Eddie Murphy, most well known for Operation Transformation. They state that the first difference that people will notice in McSwiney is memory loss and a lack of concentration. Yet another contribution from William Murphy of DCU who states that previously when Republicans had gone on hunger strike and the government had previously backed down and given into their demands. As a result they were determined not to give in so easily this time.

On day three of McSwiney’s hunger strike he is forced to stand for his court martial, a situation which has come about because of the charges which he faces. As the days go on McSwiney becomes irritable and his liver begins to lose it’s ability to function properly. At 4 o’clock on the morning of September 18th McSwiney is stolen away under cover of darkness to Brixton prison. Even after he is taken by boat to England however, the issue is not eased for the government in London as eleven other people remained on hunger strike in Cork jail. McSwiney’s wife and sisters, who until now have been visiting him regularly while he is in prison go to Brixton so they can be as near him as possible. a

At this point in the programme the history of hunger strikes are explored with it being stated that the first people to go on hunger strike were suffragettes and that since this time on Republican prisoners have also adopted the tactic as a political tool. It is stated tht even as far back as the Brehon Laws people were using the refusal of food at a political tactic, therefore it is well used in Ireland to help people draw attention to their cause.

It is not only in Britain and Ireland where McSwiney and the other hunger strikers are being noticed however. Media in parts of the world such as Catalonia and the Basque Country report on the plight of McSwiney. In New York the Longshore Men refuse to unload goods from British ships. Even as far away as Brazil people are noticing what is happening. All of this is making life very uncomfortable for the British government.

Returning to the scientific element of the programme it is stated that by day twenty four of his hunger strike Terence McSwiney is becoming listless and his body is beginning to lack essential minerals such as Potassium. As the authorities become increasingly desperate they try to put pressure on McSwiney’s wife and sisters to encourage him to end his hunger strike but this does not work. Despite this they are seen as the weak link in McSwiney’s cause. Preassure is also put on McSwiney himself with food being left in his cell, providing temptation for him to break his self imposed fast.

The programme states that by day forty the media are trying to paint McSwiney’s hunger strike as blasphemous on the grounds that suicide is seen by the catholic church as a mortal sin; this however is refuted by members of the clergy because of the fact that dying is not Terence McSwiney’s intended outcome. This is further backed up by the fact that Trence McSwiney’s cause is backed by priests and bishops.

By day forty Terence McSwiney is only accepting water and salt solutions in terms of nutrients in his body. At this point it is stated that he is seriously lacking in vitamins B and C and by day sixty seven he is suffering from scurvy. This does not however stop rumours of food being smuggled into McSwiney, rumours which are perpetuated to try to discredit his cause. At this state into his hunger strike McSwiney also risks the potential of contracting TB.

McSwiney’s medical team is drawn mostly from the military and therefore seen as having vested interests. There is talk of force feeding McSwiney with a feeding tube. The issue is quickly becoming a battle between the rights of the individual and the rights of the state. Mc Swinney is steadily succumbing to delirium, not helped by rumours that if he slips into unconsciousness he is going to be force fed. This fear becomes fact by day seventy as Trence McSwiney is force fed for the first time. At this point his family are understandably becoming increasingly distressed and begin to argue with the hospital staff. As a result their visits are restricted. By day seventy one things are made all the more difficult as Terence McSwiney slips inevitably into unconsciousness, meaning that; even with limited visits, his family are having to make decisions for him.

By day seventy four, the day of Terence McSwiney’s death, his family are again denied admission to his bedside. At 5.30 a.m. on Monday 25th October Terence McSwiney dies. Another hunger striker, Joseph Murphy dies on the same day. The death of Terence McSwiney draws international attention and his family receive telegrams from all over the world from a number of sources including numerous trade unions.

In the end Terence McSwiney is given three funerals, in part because of the fact that the British authorities; fearing unrest, deny the family a funeral in Dublin, resulting in the body having to be shipped straight to Cork. This results in a mass gathering in Dublin for the bizarre occasion of a funeral taking place without a body.

At the funeral which takes in Cork events take place with RIC guns trained on the cortege. On the night of 31st October fifty two RIC members are attacked, resulting in eight being wounded, six being killed and five being taken prisoner.

Almost as a direct result of these events numerous others take place within a matter of weeks. First is the execution of Kevin Barry, then the massacre at Croke Park; which would become known as Bloody Sunday (not to be confused with events in Derry fifty one years later). All this two and a half years before the civil war. The actions of Terence McSwiney would later influence international anti-colonialists such as Gandhi and Mandela.

On the whole 74 Days: Terence McSwiney is an excellent blend of historical docu-drama, and technological prowess which results in an unmissable of accounts of the past brought to life most vividly.

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