In April 1966, the Irish state marked the fiftieth anniversary of the Easter Rising in spectacular fashion. The state laid claim to the legacy of the Easter Rising, while Republicans fought for a voice within the year of commemoration. One unusual group who protested during the commemorations were Misneach, an Irish language activist group, who voiced their anger at the “non-achievement of the aims of the signatories of the Proclamation” by going on hunger strike for a week, frequently picketing the front of the General Post Office. Their strike began, as the Easter Rising itself had, on Easter Monday. They attracted considerable media attention worldwide, with the New York Times and others covering the protest.
In March 1966, the group Misneach used a press conference in the Clarence Hotel to outline their planned hunger strike, and noted that during Easter week they would picket the G.P.O, the newly constructed Garden of Remembrance, Liberty Hall and other sites associated with the rebellion. Their statement, which was issued in the Irish language, was signed by Micheál Mac Aonghusa (the secretary of Misneach), Eoin O Murchú, Deasún Breathnach and others. In total twelve men and one woman were committed to the April hunger strike in Dublin, with others pledging similar action in Belfast.
Micheál Mac Aonghusa told The Irish Times that Misneach did not believe “those who died in that Easter Week died to have their deaths celebrated, but rather their aims be achieved.” He asked just what the Ireland of 1966 had to celebrate. “The death of the Gaeltacht, economic independence on Britain, partition or emigration?” The protest by Misneach members enjoyed support (in the form of resolutions) from a wide variety of groups, including branches of Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Éireann and the Celtic Youth Congress.
For the duration of the hunger strike, the members of Misneach slept in a small tenement room just off Parnell Street, and their protest attracted plenty of media coverage at home and abroad. Several men in Belfast staged a similar protest in Hawthorn Street, and pledged to “think, speak, write and read only Gaelic during the strike period.”
Those on hunger strike were described in the national media as “mostly people in their twenties, mild spoken. They use no English.” Many were students, primarily from University College Dublin and Trinity College Dublin. Pronsais Nic Uait was the only female hunger striker, and hailed originally from Boyle in Roscommon. She was a student of Trinity College Dublin, studying English. The car of one hunger striker, Deasún Breathnach, was stolen from the north inner-city during the hunger strike, but found undamaged by Gardaí soon after and returned.
While picketing the General Post Office, the Misneach members carried placards which were primarily but not exclusively in the Irish language. Some of the slogans quoted in the media included ‘Celebrating what?’, ‘Éire 1966: Not Tone’s, Not Connolly’s, Not Pearse’s’.
The hunger strikers enjoyed the support of some veterans of the 1916 rebellion, including Joseph Clarke, who fought in the Battle of Mount Street Bridge. They also enjoyed the support of the hugely influential Irish language author and Socialist-Republican Máirtín Ó Cadhain. Press coverage was followed up with television interviews with ITV, CBC and Italian television networks.
At 3.45pm on Saturday, having begun their protest on Easter Monday, the Misneach members ended their protest. By this stage they were weak, but they managed to speak to the media briefly at the Gresham Hotel to outline their thoughts and feelings on their unusual protest. They initially refused to answer English language questions at this press conference according to media reports, and the writer Máirtín Ó Cadhain noted that during the strike “detectives followed them all over the city as though they were intent on breaking windows or burgling houses.”