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Hunger striking prisoners released under Cat and Mouse Act
The Cat and Mouse Act gained notoriety amongst women's suffrage organisations in the UK in the early 1910s Photo: Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America

Hunger striking prisoners released under Cat and Mouse Act

Dundalk, 19 November 1917 - 73 prisoners involved in hunger strikes at jails around Ireland have been released by prison authorities in recent days.

65 of these prisoners, arrested mostly on charges relating to military drilling, were released from Dundalk Gaol, with a further eight from Mountjoy. All were released under the Cat and Mouse Act, originally enacted in 1913 to allow for the temporary release due to ill health of hunger striking suffragists.

On their release from Dundalk, the ex-prisoners were treated to light refreshments in a local hotel before being taken by car to the train station for return to Dublin. Crowds gathered outside the hotel and cheered and sang for the prisoners as they were leaving.

Letter from the Irish Women’s Franchise League to Dublin Castle and resolution on the 30 October 1917 condemning the ‘murderous cruelty of forcible feeding through which, Thomas Ashe, an Irish political prisoner, was done to death in Mountjoy Prison...' (Image: National Archives of Ireland, CSO RP 1917 26933)

A particular favourite of the crowd was Austin Stack, who played a leading role in representing the prisoners’ interests in a dispute, which arose after they were moved from Mountjoy to Dundalk Gaol on 14 November. On arrival at Dundalk, the prisoners went on hunger strike, stating that the food offered to them was given to untried prisoners, demanding instead food similar to that supplied in Mountjoy.

Stack subsequently put the prisoners’ claims in writing, and, speaking on his release stated that all of the prisoners pledged that, in the event of their rearrest, they would again go on hunger strike unless new rules relating to political prisoners were implemented.

The Freeman’s Journal, in an editorial published today, commended the wisdom of the government in releasing the prisoners. The men themselves, the article stated, had not asked to be released, only that they not be treated as common criminals. Historically, this has been a standard Irish demand. It was made by John Mitchel in 1843, by O’Donovan Rossa, Michael Davitt and other Fenians in 1867, and subsequently by members of the Land League during the days of the Plan of Campaign.

The claims of the Irish prisoners were therefore consistent with established tradition, and are, the Freeman’s Journal insists, ‘just’.

[Editor's note: This is an article from Century Ireland, a fortnightly online newspaper, written from the perspective of a journalist 100 years ago, based on news reports of the time.]

RTÉ

Century Ireland

The Century Ireland project is an online historical newspaper that tells the story of the events of Irish life a century ago.