After Sinn Féin’s sweeping victory in the November 1918 general election and the setting up of the First Dáil in 1919 it was clear that the British government and the Republicans were on a collision course. The War of Independence began with the Soloheadbeg ambush on the same day that the First Dáil met.
Tomás MacCurtáin took an active role in the War of Independence. Originally from Ballyknockane in County Cork, he became involved with the Gaelic League, the Irish Republican Brotherhood and the Irish Volunteers. He was in command of the Irish Volunteers in Cork during the 1916 Rising in Dublin. Although no struggle took place in Cork during the Rising, MacCurtáin was subsequently arrested and imprisoned.
Following Sinn Fein’s victory in the local elections of January 1920 Tomás MacCurtáin was elected Lord Mayor of Cork on 31 January 1920, the first Republican to hold the office. His term as Lord Mayor was brutally cut short. In the early hours of the morning of 20 March 1920, members of the R.I.C. burst into his house and shot him dead. After the killing they ransacked the house. The shocking murder outraged public opinion and brought near universal condemnation. Cork went into mourning for its murdered first citizen. A massive crowd attended his funeral. At the coroner’s inquest into the killing the jury passed a verdict of willful murder against Lloyd George and certain inspectors of the R.I.C. One of the named inspectors, Oswald Swanzy, was shot dead in Lisburn on 22 August 1920.
The Death of Lord Mayor Terence (Mac Suibhne) MacSwiney
On MacCurtain's death Terence MacSwiney was elected Lord Mayor of Cork. Like Mac Curtáin, he had been a member of the Irish Volunteers and an enthusiast for the Irish language. He had also been imprisoned following the Easter Rising. A talented writer, he wrote a drama entitled ‘The Revolutionist’, several volumes of poetry and a political tract entitled ‘The Principles of Freedom’. As well as being Lord Mayor of Cork he was the Commandant of the First Cork Brigade of the I.R.A.
On 12 August 1920 he was arrested for possession of seditious documents and of a cipher key to coded messages used by the R.I.C. He was tried by court martial on 16 August 1920 and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment. After his arrest he immediately went on hunger strike. He was imprisoned in Brixton Prison where his continuing hunger strike attracted world-wide attention. He died on 25 October 1920 and his body was brought home for burial. He lies beside MacCurtain in the Republican plot in Saint Finbarr’s Cemetery in Cork. His funeral on the 1 November 1920 attracted huge crowds. Cork City was plunged into mourning once again.