Nineteen-year-old Irish republican Joe Whitty died on hunger-strike on the 2nd September 1923, 98 years ago this week.
Joseph Whitty came from Connolly Street in Wexford town. He was a volunteer in the IRA’s South Wexford Brigade and was arrested and imprisoned in late 1922, after the counter-revolution had begun. Prior to his imprisonment, he was among the many Republicans in County Wexford to suffer at the hands of Britain’s occupation forces and later at the hands of the Free State traitors.
In February 1923, members of Cumann na mBan had gone on hunger strike in protest against ongoing internment and successfully secured their release. By May the Civil War had officially ended, but thousands of republicans remained imprisoned, often in very poor conditions. This resulted in further hunger strikes during 1923. The Free State government had since passed a motion outlawing the release of prisoners on hunger strike, and this was to have dire consequences for Joseph Whitty and others.
The following is from a contemporaneous news report:
“At a public meeting held in New Ross on Sunday July 22nd 1923, Miss Dorothy MacArdle read a letter from Newbridge prison camp. She did not think it had passed through the hands of the censor. The letter referred to the condition of 19 year old Óglach Joseph Whitty, William Street, Wexford. She asserted that he was not in the organisation at all and that he was being punished as revenge for the activities of his brothers. He signed the undertaking reluctantly on the advice of a friend but despite the boasting of the government that signing meant release, he was still in gaol and dying.
“The first time his mother went to visit him the authorities refused to allow to do so. The second time when they allowed her to see her son he was unable to recognise her.
“The meeting should demand that he be released before he died, said Miss MacArdle. Professor Caffery proposed a resolution demanding the immediate release of Joseph Whitty and the other prisoners in Ireland and Britain and suggested that a telegram should be sent to the pope. Miss Nellie O’Ryan seconded the resolution which was put to the meeting. All present signified assent by raising their right hands.”
Unfortunately, the Free State government failed to release Joseph Whitty. He died in Newbridge Internment Camp, on September 2nd, 1923, at the age of 19. He was the fifth Republican to die on hunger strike since 1917, and was laid to rest in Ballymore Cemetery, Killinick with full military honours.