Wife of hunger striker Terence MacSwiney was ‘no passive bystander’ to campaign for Irish independence

Wife of hunger striker Terence MacSwiney was ‘no passive bystander’ to campaign for Irish independence

THE wife of republican hunger striker Terence MacSwiney was no ‘passive bystander’ to the campaign for Irish independence according to a London-based writer.

Muriel Murphy, who was born into wealth and privilege in Cork in 1892, went on to reject her privileged background to support the cause for Irish self-rule.

She would later meet and marry the republican poet and playwright Terence MacSwiney, who was elected MP for Mid-Cork in 1918 and would later become the Lord Mayor of Cork.

Their marriage was cut short however with MacSwiney’s death in London on October 25, 1920.

At a meeting of the Irish Volunteers at Cork City Hall in August 1920, MacSwiney was arrested by British authorities for “possession of seditious materials” and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment in Brixton Prison.

Former Mayor of Cork, Terence MacSwiney

Upon his arrival at the prison, he began a hunger strike which led to his death 74 days later.

MacSwiney’s campaign brought the issue of Irish self-rule into the global spotlight – but his wife’s name was largely forgotten in all subsequent media coverage.

A new play hopes to address that, with Green Curtain Theatre’s production The Legacy of Loss devoted to Muriel’s story.

“Until recently, I lived just across the road from Brixton Prison and used the same bus stop that Muriel would have used when visiting Terence,” Green Curtain Theatre director Anne Curtis, who hails from Co. Cork, told The Irish Post.

“I knew from my family that a Lord Mayor of Cork had died in the prison during the Irish War of Independence,” she explained.

“After extensive research into Lord Mayor Terence MacSwiney's turbulent life in Cork and tragic death in Brixton Prison, I was struck by the hidden voice of his wife Muriel,” she added.

“Most historical accounts portray her as a passive bystander. She was anything but, as I hope this play demonstrates.”

Pearse O'Donoghue as Terence MacSwiney and Mia Christinis as Muriel Murphy in The Legacy of Loss

Curtis has used her historical research findings to dramatise the life of Muriel in her production, which runs at the Blue Elephant Theatre in Camberwell, South London from May 7 to 11.

In it we meet Muriel, who is living in England and aged in her 60s, as she reflects on those turbulent years from 1915-1923 and the impact they had on her family.

Curtis, whose family had close connections to Cork City Council during Ireland’s War of Independence, is hopeful she can bring a new dimension to public understanding of the MacSwiney household and provide Muriel with “a voice” .

“I hope that people will come and support the play,” the playwright said this week.

“The Blue Elephant Theatre is a perfect, intimate fringe theatre to showcase Muriel MacSwiney's love and loss," she added.

“Jimmy Chamberlain and Niamh de Valera, who run the theatre, have been a great help to me in staging the play giving Muriel MacSwiney substance and voice.”

The Legacy of Loss runs at the Blue Elephant Theatre from May 7-11. For tickets click here.