First-hand account By Patrick Tunney The Western People
In the throes of fear, terror and anxiety, the year 1920 dawned throughout Ireland, with the death of Terence MacSwiney, the burning of the Loughnane Brothers, Galway, and the assassination of Mayor O’Callaghan, Limerick; Canon Magner, Cork; Peadar Clancy and Dick McKee at Dublin Castle; Tom Ashe at Mountjoy Jail, Seán Corcoran at Crossard, and countless other horrifying crimes all tended to spread a feeling of unrest over this struggling nation, gloom reigned in many areas where the wily Tans, the blood-saturated Auxiliaries, the treacherous R.I.C. and England’s wicked soldiers exercised the most barbarous perpetration’s conceivable – the sacking of many provincial towns, the wanton burnings, looting and pillaging to which the Crown forces had recourse, was designed by, and carried the free approval of the British Government.
Towards the close of that memorable year it was not safe for any man, who was suspected or marked by the felon-setters, to stay in his own home or in its vicinity, as all movements were, as far as possible, shadowed by the enemy though I.R.A. activities were moving fastest at that time in Dublin, Cork and Kerry. To a lesser degree and numerically smaller, other centres were forming “flying columns,” equipping and arming for the fray – or perhaps awaiting “orders” for the most opportune moment to strike in action; here and there throughout the country were others, less organised, ill-equipped and perhaps not fully organised, such men were forced to go “on their keeping,” but were also on constant vigil.
IN 1920 – To elaborate on the feats, fate, or victories achieved by other brave men in other countries is not within my domain, and not being a position to give a descriptive account of their achievements or ordeals I will merely venture to describe briefly the less harrowing events with which I am conversant. To begin: Early in December, 1920, Michael Tunney, Cushlough, got word to leave home forthwith or face results. He immediately acted and towards mid-December whilst harboured in the home of a trusted family named Kelly, Tawnygry, Killawalla, he later found it necessary to call to Cushlough, by night. On his journey he was sighted by Sergeant___________ R.I.C., who was then stationed at Ayle Barracks or attached to that district. On reaching home at midnight; he was informed that the entire place was raided about 8p.m., that night, so after consultation with volunteers Owen O’Malley, John Hastings, P. Hoban and Patrick Heraty, it was agreed that everything would be safe enough that night, and all retired as the volunteers started their onward journey. About 4 o’clock a.m. the terrible banging re-echoed on the front and rear doors of our cottage – and led by Constable – some twenty “Tans” entered; a diligent search of the cottage ensued, and amongst the pages of a book which an Irish teacher, Seán Seoighe gave me were found the names of Colm O’Gara, Connemara; Phillip Waldron, Ballyhaunis and Anita McMahon, Achill, all three were well known Gaelic enthusiasts. Immediately myself and Michael were placed under arrest in a winter’s night. We were marched to Carrowkennedy where three army lorries were stationed on the side of the road – and there a prisoner in the biting cold stood Peter McLoughin of Oughty, Drummin. Peter was one of the most energetic workers – one of the most trusted Republicans in Drummin area – full of determination – without a murmur the lorries began to buzz, all hands were ordered to “climb on” and the journey to Westport was begun. We arrived at our destination long before dawn, and as we moved forward through that neat little town a dreaded fear prevailed – lurking at all crossings and corners were hordes of armed Tans and soldiers in a fashion which might signify the approach of rival legions, as the flaming lights of the lorries shone and dimmed. Our journey’s end was the R.I.C. Barracks, James Street, where Constable Cregan took us over from our captors and after a brief interrogation, the three of us were escorted to an unlighted cell which was without any form of accommodation. There we remained in deep silence until evening when we were brought to the guard-room, where we got a plentiful supply of food and teas which were supplied by the Gavin family, High Street.
WESTPORT’S REPUBLICANISM – During the intervening years from 1916 to 1920 the enemy authorities were under no delusions of the fact that the town of Westport was a living hive of Republicanism where the lofty ideals of Tone were nurtured with devotion – where the older generation reverentially handed down to their families the unsullied spirit of Fenianism, and gave inspiration, light and encouragement to the rising enthusiasts. There the youth was tutored by men of truth, honour and righteousness, aye, by men endowed with zeal and devotion to God and Ireland.
Amongst those trusted men of the old school were William Malone, Thomas Gavin, James Gavin, John McDonagh, High Street; Richard Gibbons, Quay Road; Thomas Ruddy, Church Lane; John Gibbons, Mill Street; Owen Sweeney, the Cross Roads; Mark Moane, Carrabawn; Michael Malone, the Fair Green; Park. J. Doris, James Street, all of whom are sleeping their last long sleep in eternity, which leaves poor Banba poorer. Men of such prowess can never be replaced. May they enjoy eternal peace and hallowed be their names. Of the older school so very few still remain to guard the fort. Thank God Charles Hughes, Harry Blayney and Tom Gavin, Mill Street, dared the tempests blast and may continue to safeguard our destiny. Harry Blayney was an outstanding figure, teeming with devotion, whilst Tom Gavin was really one of the most surprising men within the folds of republicanism, always unassuming, yet his obligations were never unfulfilled – a man amongst men.
VALIANT SOLDIERS – Full of animation from the fountain head of Fenianism sprang forth valiant I.R.A. soldiers like Tom Ketterick, William Malone, John James Gavin, Tom Heavey, Edward Sammon, Joe Ruddy, John R. and John Gibbons, N. Ainsworth, Patrick Blayney, Dan and Charles Gavin, John Malone. B. Malone, John Berry, who worked at McGing’s Stores, High Street; John Finnerty, who worked at Gibbons’ shop; with his entire staff; Joe Baker of Bridge Street – those were amongst the most daring and fearless men, any contact or association with either of them always attracted R.I.C. vigilance, those men were outstanding in Ireland’s hour of peril and it would be safe to say that they achieved more for Banba’s emancipation than the elected representative who chose the paths to serfdom in 1922.
Whilst we were detained in the guard room of the R.I.C. Barracks a Constable would rather carelessly ask, “When did you see Josie Ruddy?” “I don’t think he is in town.” “Did you hear anything about John Dick Gibbons, or was Joe Ring out your way lately?” Those questions elicited no information, and thus we were again ushered to our cell. At dawn the following morning we were brought to the guard room, where Sergeant Garvey said to me, “Your brother and Peter McLoughlin are to be held in custody whilst this trouble continues, but you are to be released today if you just sign an undertaking as to your future good behaviour. Just put your name on this,” said he, as he placed before me a tiny typed slip. I replied: “Sergeant Garvey. I never gave an undertaking to the British Authorities, and I never will – that is not my principle.” “Then,” said he, “get on this coat,” a constable’s great frieze coat. I had to obey, and as soon as I had that buttoned on, they placed on my head a peelers helmet, so I looked a real limb of the law. All three of us were led out to a waiting military lorry – in full uniform. I was seated beside the driver, the other two prisoners were seated in the body of the lorry with two constables and two Tans – all in plain clothes – apparently sniping was gnawing the mind of the Crown Forces – and in a moment we were speeding towards Castlebar Street on our way to the County Jail, at the gates of which we halted, then entered and on the square in a lorry were Patrick J. Ruttledge, Ballina; John Kilroy, Newport; and a young chap named Patrick O’Malley, Rossinrubble. Our sojourn in Castlebar was brief and soon we were moving along towards Ballinrobe en route for the City of Galway, where we arrived at about 4.30p.m. The lorries drove directly to Eglington Barracks which was filled with Auxiliaries, criminals from English jails, the assassinators of Tom Walsh, Galway, Fr. Griffin, whom they buried in a bog, and poor Darcy who met his fate in Merlin Park, Tuam.
During all my experiences in custody I can say with truth, the barbarities, the blasphemous language, the filth and beatings which I witnessed in Eglington Barracks were the most appalling. One poor prisoner remarked, “It’s terrible cold.” “You’ll be colder before you leave here,” yelled an Auxiliary.
The Agonies Which Irishmen Bore
(Second instalment) To fully describe the galling conditions which existed in Eglington Barracks, Galway, during the Anglo-Irish struggle would be quite impossible. The building was full of drunk, burly auxiliaries collected from the prison cells of the Robber Empire; the cells allotted to Irish prisoners were unlighted, and in a terrible dirty, filthy condition, and were used by the British as a living Limbo where Republican soldiers were persecuted for a time before they were sent to jail. I have read about the butcheries of Khartoum under Kitchener’s orders, and the tortures which England exercise in the South African Concentration Camps, but the agonies which Irishmen bore in Eglington Barracks were equally torturesome, and agonising. We were ushered to a dismal, wet cell, and after three hours suspense suddenly the door opened and ten or twelve Auxiliaries – some with flash lamps and others with lethal weapons or knuckledusters – entered, and one by one my fellow prisoners were dragged from the cell; they were savagely beaten, kicked and dragged on to the square – unable to stand. Luckily for me, I was the only one who escaped the harrowing ordeal. Scores of other prisoners from other cells underwent the same gruelling treatment. All that long winter’s night, in fear, I listened to the terrible moans on that dreaded square. The lorries came and went, the Crown forces cheered, while the defenceless prisoners were moaning and sighing and enduring that painful torture. Each hour appeared like a week. I was in fearful dread as I silently moved in my cell or stood to listen, until finally I thanked God that I saw the faint glimmer of another dawn.
Traitorous sons now tell us to forget the past, that Mother England is our nearest neighbour. Oh, how I would like to answer such dupes and tell them England is our arch enemy. To think of Eglington Barracks still makes me shudder. About ten o’clock that morning some of the prisoners were conveyed to Renmore Military Hospital for treatment. Michael Tunney was a patient in that hospital.
After some weeks, all prisoners in Galway Jail were transferred to Galway Town Hall, which was taken over by the British authorities as a concentration camp or “sorting station” for prisoners. During that day and later I met I.R.A men from various parts from Mayo and Galway. Amongst them was Willie Fergus, Patrick Needham, Culleen; Peter O’Connor, Loughloon; John Finn, Knock; Paddy Farragher, Loughmask; Louis Cleary, Ballycroy; Laurence Moran, Knappagh; Joe Fergus, Tom Sammon, James Salmon, Louisburgh; Tom McMahon, Manulla; the Kitterick brothers, Castlebar; Tom Burke, Doon; John Daly and Tom Newcombe, Ballycastle; Henry Burke, Claremorris; Maurice Mullins, Crossard; Tom Collins, Hollymount; Tom Flynn and Michael Murphy, Ballinrobe; Éamon Waldron, Corrigarre; Hubert Reid, Aughagower; Michael McNulty, Glenhest, Newport district; and James Clinton, Willie Joyce, Clogher; Pat Maloney, Shrule; John Griffin, Paddy Waldron, Tom Melee, Billy Comber, Hubert Lyons, and P. Cloonan, Ballyhaunis; Michael Gallagher and Anthony McNamara, Achill; Anthony Gallaghan, Tom McLoughlin, Sheeane; Michael McHugh, Castlebar; and Tom Derrig, Westport.
FROM BALLINROBE – There were, then, in the Town Hall one hundred and four men. Each day some went and others came. The first two to arrive were Mark Fox and Peter Foy, from Ballinrobe area. On arrest, both were questioned regarding their officers and movements. As neither would divulge any information both were thrown into the River Robe, and on being rescued they were placed, wet, in an open lorry, the night was freezing hard, and on arrival at the Town Hall icicles were hanging from their coats. That night both were conveyed to Renmore Military Hospital, suffering from pneumonia. All prisoners interned in Galway Town Hall slept on the boarded floor of the building, and with two bags each we considered it fair enough. We had, for exercise, the open square which lay between the halls. The place was rendered secure with tons of barbed wire entanglement, through which the civil population of the city often gleeked derisively and as scornfully as if we were caged monkeys from a zoo. Being a garrison city, the majority of the residents of Galway at that time were rather hostile to all Republican elements, but when I got a blossom on my “forty-three”, I did not worry a whole lot about the hostility displayed in the City of the Tribes.
A somewhat contagious fever left its hallmark amongst the prisoners. When two sudden deaths, occurred both bodies turned completely black. Medical experts were immediately summoned and inoculation of all prisoners followed for three consecutive weeks. All were individually inoculated and held in complete isolation. The disease had no further effects and ordinary routine was resurrected.
In the course of ten days a prominent I.R.A. officer approached me and asked if we could devise a means of having an important dispatch delivered in Westport. We thought and planned, and planned and thought, for obvious reasons, he said least suspicion would shadow me. Finally, we conceived a very unique device. That was visiting evening, and a Cumann na mBan member, Miss McHugh, whose brother administered in Aughagower, had sent a note that she was calling to see the men from the parish. She called, and I confided in her secrecy and devotion. I asked Miss McHugh to have a letter posted from Westport to me asking, if I could possibly come home “on parole” as the business was very urgent and necessary. Instinctively, she understood, saying, “That will be all right.”In the course of a few days the letter arrived, bearing a Westport postmark, stating a member of the family was dangerously ill, and I was urged to come for the settlement of private affairs; the name of the sender is yet unborn. On receipt of the document I instantly had my request for parole transmitted to Capt. Cox, Military OC., asking for ten days. About 10a.m. I was ordered to Capt. Cox’s office. On entering he said: “Are you Tunney?” I said, “Yes, sir.” He inquired as to my reason for applying for parole. I handed him the letter as I received it. He read it, studied a few moments, and said, “I will grant you seven days on three conditions: 1st, that you will not associate with illegal organisations; 2nd, that you will disclose no information regarding conditions in the Town Hall; and 3rd, that you will report each day in the nearest R.I.C. barracks.” Answering, I said, “I would certainly abide by conditions one and two, but I have neither bicycle nor a car, a donkey.”
ANSWERING QUESTIONS – All those questions and others were fired at me far quicker than I could explain. He then roared: “This is a suspect, in for observation. Confine him to his cell for 24 hours until these papers are verified.” On hearing his pronouncement I was as intoxicated as the sergeant. I was brought to the dungeon and locked securely. As the long, cold weary hours passed on a thousand strange reflections fleshed before my gaze. I was thinking if the barrack was attacked and burned, what would be my fate? I thought of the chivalry which prompted our Fenian dead who gave their lives for my dear country; I thought of the men who formed the flying columns, and the difference between an Irish soldier dying in action and the torture endured by a person in custody or in slavedom. I was enmeshed in contemplation. About 9 o’clock the following evening I was again in the guard-room, where a rather courteous constable said: “Everything has been verified. You may go now.” I was glad to share the free air of James Street once more, as I wended my way to Mrs. Gannon’s boarding-house, High Street, for the night. Mrs. Gannon was a truly Gaelic person. She now reaps the reward of her kindly Republican activities – her mortal remains sleep in the hallowed cemetery of Cushlough. I delivered my message before I retired that night, and had the pleasure of seeing John Duffy and his brother Paddy of Aughagower; Paddy Kelly, Louisburgh; John James Gavin, Liam Malone, etc., all fully armed for the fray. I could hurrah for “Rory Of The Hills” ‘til my thoughts brought me back to my state of semi-subjugation in Galway Town Hall, sharing the humiliation which was meted out to me, John Kilroy, Newport; P.J. Ruttledge, Ballina and Tom Derrig, Westport.
Marks And Wounds
(3rd instalment) Towards the expiration of my parole, with my bundle on my shoulder and musing to myself, I wended my way to the railway station. I did not report in the R.I.C. barracks, because I dreaded twenty hours more in a clink, I arrived in Galway early that evening and surrendered my parole papers to the Military O/O, Capt. Cox. As I was parting with him I thanked him, and I returned once more to my bunk in the Town Hall, which was still empty, and my paltry belongings safe in the custody of Willie Fergus and Peter McLoughlin. All the internees were in a gladsome mood as they sang and chorused many of the Rebel ballads, which often gave inspiration to Banba’s valiant soldiers. Really I was then, and am still inclined to believe that if our young manhood had more recourse to the marching war songs of Ireland, it would give renewed vigour and help revive the dormant spirit which today is tending to submerge the spirit of our illustrious dead, and thus permitting our manhood to follow the politicians who never were aroused by the martial strains of our countries rallying war-songs or ballads who today yearn for “O’Donnell Abu,” “God, Save Ireland”, “A Nation Once Again” or “The Battle Cry Of Freedom.” Internment in Galway Town Hall was squalid and weary generally, though parcels from friends and newspapers were lavishly supplied.
The month of March ‘21 was a period of much I.R.A. activities throughout Ireland, and as we read of ambushes, encounters with British armed forces, attacks on fortified military strongholds, deaths and victories, we were moved in meditation as to whether we should offer any resistance to our subdued conditions, or were our places elsewhere? Would our arrest and captivity lead to distinctions or dissension on a coming day? Thus the hard March days faded into the dim past.
UNKNOWN DESTINATION – On the night of April 3rd we were ordered to be ready for an unknown destination on the following morning. We hailed the announcement. Some sang, others surmised. “Is it Spike Island or Ballykiniar?” as we packed our chattels. Rest or sleep was very little to 3 o’clock when the hooter sounded “Ready for Parade.” We faced a hurried breakfast, and at four o’clock under command, we were “to attention” in single file. We were led from the body of the hall between fully armed cordons of Black and Tans on to the public street, unseen, unheard. There twelve large, uncovered lorries were queued up, and, mingled with military, ten or twelve prisoners were allotted to each lorry. Then a huge armoured car was driven up in front, whilst another brought up the rear. In the darkness of the morning our procession got on the move. Slowly we drove along, and with all the outward appearance of war, day was brightly dawning as we passed the rebel quarters of beloved Athenry, where all seemed solemn quietness. On we pushed our way ‘til the lorries halted in Ballinasloe, where the captors were anxious to show the captures.
Ballinasloe, like the City of Galway, showed no regard for Republican sentiments at that time. Refuelled and ready after half-an-hour, we headed on towards Athlone, and on reaching there the lorries were driven to the open square of Costume Barracks. It was then half-past-twelve. The escort was provided with dinner, beer and refreshments, whilst we shared the free fresh air from the ebbing flow of the lordly Shannon.
On leaving Athlone our course headed on the Kilbeggan route. Then the difficulties of travel were made manifest. Every mile of that road was trenched deeply or blockaded, with felled trees. Each trench was filled in with stone by the prisoners in the leading lorries. The delays made the journey fatiguing, but after hours we were on the eastern side of Kilbeggan, and about 6p.m. reached Portarlington. It was at points impossible to know whether we were travelling by road or boreen as we left Portarlington behind us, and to fully explain the trail of us would be beyond comprehension in cold print. At several bends the lorries dragged through fields, over hedges and through breaches. Yet, non-stop, though much astray. We again entered Portarlington at nine p.m., winding on new routes somewhere in Clara area about midnight. The lorries suddenly halted. The alarm given by the armoured car driver that the bridge was completely blown up. To proceed was impossible; no houses were near, and it appeared to be a very low lying or boggy district; no stonewalls, no trees: then no solution for our predicament but wait. We sat and rested and threw ourselves about in a lorry. We had no rugs to wind around us; we had no food, no heat of any kind, but there to face the inclemency of a hard night, and the sky, with its glistening stars was our canopy.
COLDER – The night froze a little, which left us colder. Day dawned, our plight was unchanged, the morning’s sun shone, all was silent, but not an omen of hope gleamed until the mid-day sun shone down on the lovely town of Clara, where the Brusna’s waters glide. Then lorries started to arrive on the opposite side of the water, all conveying long girders, scores of girders were delivered and broad steel plates. With care and strenuous work the soldiers and engineers had the mighty steel girders thrown across from bank to bank; the steel plates were screwed on to the girders, and thus an extremely wide and strong though unique, bridge was rendered safe for heavy traffic. It took many hours of laborious work, but withal successful. Our convoy got over the difficulties to safety, and continued our wearisome journey until at five o’clock we arrived at Rath Camp, Co. Kildare. On arrival events moved slowly. We were all searched lest we should carry dangerous weapons, arms or gelignite, and went through all the usual formula which awaited all prisoners who became viewings of British routine in all her camps, and about 6p.m. we were all in our new concentration quarters, allotted to huts, each of which contained thirty men. The huts were in order such as A, B, C and D line, ten huts in each line, making a total of forty, and supposed to accommodate 1,200 men. I was allotted to hut No. 10, A line.
John Griffin, Ballyhaunis, who is now deceased, was appointed leader by his fellow internees. Rath Camp was erected during the 1914-18 war for the training of what was known as “Kitchener’s army.” And in Rath Camp, too, were trained some of the misguided dupes who were led to believe, by treacherous politicians, what could be won was in a paupers’ grave on the plains of Alsace Lorraine. All internees in Rath Camp, 1921, reported all grievances to the internees’ O/O, and he in turn had same placed before the British O/O.
Facing the monotonous suspense of internment inside steel, guarded fortifications was not a new feature of life to me or too many others of my fellow internees in Rath Camp. Batches of prisoners arrived daily, and when all huts were “full up” tents were erected anywhere and everywhere space was available until the total roll call numbered fifteen hundred men, all from areas as far apart as Valentia and the Walls of Derry. Many prisoners arrived, clearly indication the harrowing ordeals which they underwent following arrest.
INJURIES – John Monaghan, Galway, had both arms broken, Maurice Mullins, Mayo, now deceased, bore marks and wounds which left him in an advanced state of acute nervousness. Jim Hunt came next. His features were beyond ordinary recognition. Every inch of his face and body bore marks. He was the sole survivor of Seán Connolly’s small, but active, flying column. Seán Connolly was the leader of the Longford and South Cavan men. Connolly and eight of his comrades were harboured near Ballinamore, Co. Leitrim, when they were surrounded by Crown forces from Carrick-on-Shannon and Ballinamore. Connolly and seven of his companions died fighting. Hunt, alone, was captured alive, and lived to tell the true story of the heroic dead, who are today sleeping their last long sleep beneath the green mounds of hallowed Clonbroney, Co. Longford.
Following the battle of Ballinamore, Longford Republicans answered the tocsin’s call, enmeshed, the young men rallied when Seán MacEoin was appointed leader, and other encounters followed. The sacking of Granard and the battle of Ballinalee came in quick succession. The I.R.A. fought valiantly at Ballinalee, and defeated a numerically greater number of armed Crown forces. It was of the Ballinalee victory that the rustic poet sang:
The foe burned down that neat little town,
Now few of its homes we’d trace,
I’d rather have its ashes still.
Than a city in its place,
For the sake of those who made the foes,
And held the town for six long days,
The town of Ballinalee.
ROUND-UP – A general round-up of Co. Longford ensued, and following the usual torture-some procedure all the prisoners arrived in the camp, amongst whom were the Mulervys of Ballinalee, the Donohues of Castlebrack, and the heroic Jim Killane. It was a treat to listen to Paddy Mulervy as he narrated his stories of adventure, encounter, valour, endurance, and vigilance and victory then arrest. The foregoing I just offer as examples of the type of men who by force had to undergo the subjection of internment in Rath Camp. The camp grounds for exercises were spacious enough; the dining hall and cook-house were very large. The dining hall was often used for other purposes, too, by the prisoners. Facilities for Divine Service were also provided. The food supplied was very moderate, good at times and varied from conger eel to plum-duff. The military supplied the goods, the internees had their own “cook staff,” and roll-call took place each morning and night. General inspection was about mid-day.
ESCAPE – To a casual observer conditions within Rath Camp seemed fully developed in an atmosphere of ordinary discipline, yet some wary minds were conceiving plans for an escape. To gain such end it would first be essential to violate British regulations, and for that purpose it was agreed that no internee would answer roll-call. The arrangement was put in operation, confusion reigned, disorder replaced order, and thus Tony O’Connor, Charles Gavin, Westport; Joe McKelvey, Belfast; Frank Lawless, Swords; Joe Brady, Arigna; Paddy and Mike Fleming, Clarenbridge; Michael Carolan, Belfast; Henry Burke, Claremorris and scores of others got safely away to take a fight place for Banba, under the command of “Captain Moonlight.”
The authorities seemed to be aware of the fact that prisoners were escaping. But how? At that early stage there was no recourse to unchilling, as sentries were posted, fully armed, by day and night all around the enclosure. Then, in panic, the British O/O informed Com. P. McMahon, the I.R.A. commanding officer, that he caused an order to be issued to the effect that all correspondence to or from the camp should cease, no incoming parcels would be delivered, and that all food supplies would cease to be delivered until discipline was restored.
The prisoners did not seem terrorised, nor did they surrender, they faced the ordeal for a period of six days, many men remained in bed all day, others basked in the sunshine, as the summer at that time was real fine. Tobacco supplies “run out” and the used tea-leaved were gathered and dried for smoking purposes. On the 7th day a “truce” was agreed.
The escapees were gone. What was the remedy? “Carry on.” And next day the rallying, marching song of the camp, to the air of the “Rising Of The Moon” rang from a hundred cheering voices.
Would They Divide Or Take Sides?
The Aftermath. On Dec 8th 1921, Rath Camp was completely evacuated, all internees were unconditionally released, and nowhere was a body of ex-prisoners hailed with more enthusiasm than we were in the garrison town of Kildare. On perusing over the different opinions expressed in the contentions to which we listened in the camp the previous night myself and Paddy Mulervy, Ballinalee, decided that we would first travel to Dublin, and there try to gather some conclusive tidings about the reception which Lloyd George’s war threat Treaty was receiving in the city from people who we thought were capable of offering keen judgment; so we joined the Dublin crowd of men on entraining, and as the train steamed in to Kingsbridge station the strains of a popular camp ballad re-echoed the platform.
IN DUBLIN – On arrival in Dublin we found the outlook exactly in agreement with the findings which were foreseen and anticipated by the men in the camp. Disappointment flared in some quarters, whilst satisfaction commanded the views of others. Everywhere we could hear: “A split in the Cabinet,” “Another Betrayal,” “A Surrender,” “Back Dev” and “What’s good enough for Collin’s is good enough for me.” Such were the expressions that range from every corner where crowds were congregated. Anxiety seemed to hover at all junctures as the people awaited the next big move, and even then there were glaring omens that a bombshell would explode in the near future. Everybody we contacted agreed that Banba had not achieved the aim for which so many of her chivalrous sons had fought and sacrificed their lives. Every Irish man and woman knows how the split developed as the elected leaders reached the parting of the ways, and my aching Banba shed tears of blood as she witnessed a once trusted section of her children mobilising a majority within the walls of a legislative meeting place to accept England’s Treaty of duress, being designed by the satellites of the Robber Empire to deprive Banba of full fiscal freedom, and the God-given rights of framing our own destiny or legislating for every subject within our shores. Yes, the 1921 Treaty was the foundation of Partition, although it was accepted by a majority of our Twenty-Six County representatives and a huge majority in Ulster. Our elected representatives should at least admit facts and tell the world how they helped to build Partition, and that Ireland’s junta are tenaciously clinging on to John Bull’s apron strings. Unborn historians will chronicle the surrender of Jan 1922, as the darkest chapter in Ireland’s history, whereas the persons who assembled to vote for or against England’s 1921 Treaty had no mandate from the electorate of Ireland to accept or reject any measure of self-determination for Ireland less than a 32 county Republic, one and unfettered. Have I strayed from our brief sojourn in Dublin? When myself and Paddy Mulervy gleaned all the tidings we possibly could we wandered homewards, and for days I mused and surmised and wondered to myself if it were possible that Ireland would be divided, her sons in different camps, and her Cabinet split. A call seemed to echo amongst the hills of Mayo. Was it possible that England’s intriguing would divide the men of the West? Would they divide or take sides. Such reflections were an enigma to me, because I knew of many westerners who had pledged their lives for the complete emancipation of my dear country, thereby redeeming her from the throes of serfdom. Prior to Jan 1922, the late Joseph MacBride, The Quay, Westport, devoted all his days and nights working and organising for the noble cause. Joe Ring was a fearless fighter and did powerful organising work. Further in the field of enthusiasts with Joseph MacBride and Charles Hughes were the McDonnell family, Cross, Louisburgh; Edward O’Malley, Furmoyle: Joseph Gill, The Quay, Westport; Michael Staunton, Islandeady; Seán Kelly and Michael Gavin, Kilmeena; John King, Shraheen; Seán Langan, Ml. McHugh, Castlebar; Thomas O’Brien, Moyhastin; the Walshes, Balla; the Nallys, Balla; the exiled Fenian, Lyons, Westport; Edward and Own O’Malley, Cushlough; the illustrious historian, Pat O’Donnell, Newport, and the brave, uncompromising men of Aughagower, who rallied under the able leadership of Pat Duffy, Eoin Hughes, Harry Hughes, John and Hubert Reid, and the veteran hero, Manus Keane, who faced ordeals in Castlebar Jail, Richmond Barracks, Wandsworth Jail, Wormwood Scrubbs Jail, and Frongoch Camp, North Wales, where the threat of England’s cold steel failed to conquer the spirit of Manus or his deceased compatriot, Owen Hughes. I know other places such as Ballyhaunis, Cong, Ballina, Lahardane, Straide, Kiltimagh and Claremorris produced soldiers of outstanding valour, but I was not so familiar with the names of the heroic men from such areas, though I am aware of the fact that “Captain Moonlight” full often marshalled his members in the heart of Glenamoy, on the sides of Nephin, in the fields of Drumawn, at the bye-roads of Lecanvey, on the bridge of Cloonlee or in Hoban’s forge, Castlebar, where true men met and important conclusions were decided – all striving to resurrect Banba’s fallen throne and re-entorch her animation. It is painful to visualise Banba calling, unheeded, to-day amongst the depopulated vales of the west, where there is hardly a soul to raise her urn. Any true Gael must breathe the air of sadness when he realises the fact that fifty per cent of the men who endured agonies for Ireland’s sake – 1916-1921 – are now gone to their reward and thirty per cent are exile-driven by the force of prevailing conditions in the land they served. Therefore, it rests with the faithful few who still live on to keep the spirit of Fenianism inflamed that one day in the distant future he may burst into a living reality – a coming effort may redeem my dear land from the wicked conqueror. We know England’s power, territory and avarice is crumbling, and crumble it must because it was not built on the foundation of righteousness – conquer lust was its aim. The just God decreed that the home of the Gael belongs to the Gael alone; therefore the slaveling, the serf, the jobocrat or the traitor who barters the sovereign rights of this nation is trifling with justice. To-day, in Ireland, justice and equality are outraged. With our legislators enjoying lucrative positions, pay and pensions, there is not a “moana fona” about the banishment of the Gael from the home of his adoption. No matter what price England pays us for all the prime food which we export for British consumption it would not compensate Banba for one single Gael from the heart of Tourmakeady. Let us cease boosting ourselves about objects our juntas will never reach. We may hail foreign princes, coloured dukes, earth-bound kings or rulers, but all that is merely a passing display. Millions of tourists may land at our airports, and all the jibes of prominence within this country may be tripping each other as to who will be first to greet “the distinguished visitor.” All the capers and frolics which are rehearsed in Ireland to-day are miles away from the regions of nation-building. Our children are nation-building in foreign lands. Or thus, have we trudged through “provisional” legislation or junta decrees from Jan 1922 to 1949, and yet we have established neither a thirty-two nor twenty-six county Republic, as utterances at Strasbourg and elsewhere make it manifest that at the behest of our ruling powers we are buried head, neck and heels in alien subjugation and British currency. No wonder poor Banba weeps in chasms of treachery. Banba, dear, awake, arise Ireland is and must be yours. The sun of freedom will, please God, shine from a heavenly canopy on the lands of St. Patrick, St. Bridget, St. Columbcille and immortal Tone. Ireland’s hopes rest with the faithful few, its history repeats itself.
Escape From The Curragh Camp
The Leinster Leader, September 17, 1921
The huts in the Rath Camp, Curragh, Co. Kildare held approx 1,500 prisoners were raised a few feet from the ground. It was felt that there was not the remotest possibility of escape from the place. The camp was surrounded by entanglement barbed wire, with interior patrols and look-out posts that were manned 24 hours a day. Powerful searchlights continuously scanned the camp during the hours of darkness. All previous attempts had ended in failure. A prisoner attempting to escape under a laundry van was discovered at the main gate. An escape attempt in April 1921 was discovered because spies (under the guise of prisoners) tipped off the authorities. But, in July 1921 another attempt was made. Two tunnels were started, one by Dublin men and the second by men mostly from Mayo, Galway and Tullamore. The men burrowed down ten or twelve feet, using table knives, spoons and screwdrivers, which they had taken from the canteen. The digging was planned and carried out in a most scientific manner. They patiently burrowed time after time when they got the opportunity. The soil from the tunnel was taken out in pillowcases and scattered from pockets into the soil of the camp itself. Then things came to an unexpected conclusion when it was learned that the prison authorities had delivered timber and barbed wire to strengthen the perimeter fence. They hadn’t the time to complete both tunnels, so the Tullamore tunnel was chosen as it was more advanced. With the tunnel complete it was necessary to await the most favourable opportunity to commence the escape. While a concert was in progress inside the camp, seventy men made their escape. All got away with the exception of one young man who got caught in the wire entanglement and who lost an amount of blood. When he realised that his injury would hamper the escape of his comrades he crept back to his hut again where he was found in the early hours of the morning badly wounded in the foot. Outside the camp the first group had to remain in quietness until they were joined by their comrades and then they escaped quietly. The night was a very foggy one, and this very much facilitated the men in their escape. Once away from the camp the men dispersed in directions. The men knowing the lie of the country and with the aid of waiting motor cars quickly left the Curragh Camp far behind. The military and police carried out searches in Newbridge and Kildare railway stations, but all the escapees were away to freedom and safety.