Eyewitness Statement

Art O Donnell Witness Statement – pdf of Art O’ Donnell Witness Statement


The authorities retaliated by visiting each cell in force, removing our boots and beds and bedding. This was the 20th September, 1917, and was, I believe, on a Thursday. I succeeded in wrenching off the bell, which was a solid horn-shaped piece of iron about 2 lbs in weight, and with it there came attached about 14 inches or so of round iron which went through the cell wall and was connected with other bell fittings on the outside. This could be used like a hammer and I was soon able to bore through my cell wall to my next door neighbour, who was Micheál Trayers of Gort. Seán Treacy, who was on the other side of me, had in the meantime bored into mine, so that now we were able to see each other and talk freely. The openings were now, however, large enough to permit us to visit each other. A general call then went round for a hunger-strike, and thus was started what has since been called the “Tom Ashe Hunger-strike” on Thursday, 20th September, 1917. We were left in the cells without bed, bedding or boots for the next two nights. There was no glass in the windows; the floors were strewn with mortar, broken bricks and glass, and looking back I believe that these two nights were the toughest I ever experienced. The food was taken round as usual but nobody touched it and it remained outside the door. The only thing the men took was water. On Saturday the Chief Warder and Governor visited the cells and said the beds would be given back if we gave an undertaking that we wouldn’t break or tear them up. No undertaking was given, but the beds were brought back to the cells on that Saturday evening. On that evening, too, forcible feeding was commenced and the hunger-strikers were fed for the first time with milk and eggs pumped through rubber tubing into the stomach. The operation was repeated on Sunday, twice on Monday and once on Tuesday morning. I was taken to be forcibly fed on this Tuesday morning. A new doctor named Dr. Lowe was in the cell where the food was forcibly administered and he proceeded to insert the tube, which I thought hurt more than usual, and on the first stroke of the pump I coughed violently. Dr. Lowe withdrew the tube, re-inserted it after the fit of coughing had ceased and then completed the operation. I was on the ground floor and after I was taken back to the cell I saw Tom Ashe going to be forcibly fed. After a short while I saw a warder go to his cell, which was placed on the next floor over mine and opposite to me, (the number of his cell was 34) and I then saw the warder return with his overcoat. I wondered, and on that night I heard he had collapsed when being forcibly fed by Dr. Lowe and was taken out to the Mater Hospital, where he died that evening, the 25th September, 1917. On that day we were forcibly fed once only, but on the next day, Wednesday, we were forcibly fed twice, twice again on Thursday, on Friday and on Saturday. On Saturday night, the 29th September, Austin Stack had a visit from the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Ald. Laurence O’Neill, who informed him that the authorities had agreed to treat us as prisoners of war. The strike was accordingly declared off and we had our first meal for 10 days on the following Sunday morning. Our cell doors were thrown open all day and on that Sunday, 30th September, 1917, we were able to catch an occasional glimpse of the funeral of Tomás Ághas as it went on to Glasnevin, where he was laid to rest in the Republic Plot. Tom Ashe’s death swept over the country like wildfire and by now all support for the constitutional methods of the Irish Parliamentary Party had ceased to exist. We had self-government within the prison and everything went on grand. We were allowed visitors, our menu was alright, we had concerts, debating societies, classes on military matters, tactics, morse code and general training.