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My ancestors - Humphrys - Contents


  Early Days [P106/976]

Dick's diary, Jan-May 1912

St.Enda's letter, Sept 1912 [P106/527]

St.Enda's letter, Jan 1913 [P106/519]

1916 Rising [P106/384]

1922 raid [P106/978(1)]

1922 raid [P106/1991]

1922 raid (Aodogán)

Ailesbury Rd [P102/543]

Sighle in prison, 1922-23 [P106/979(1)]

Prison letters, 1922-23

Irish Freedom, June 1928

  


Sighle Humphreys - Transcripts of papers

Transcripts of papers related to the revolutionary Sighle Humphreys.
Mostly from P106 - Sighle Humphreys papers in UCDA.
Transcribed by Sighle's grandson Manchán Magan.






Early Days [P106/976]

This is P106/976 in Sighle Humphreys papers. Written in 1970s.

P106/976 UCD ARCHIVE

SIGHLE HUMPHREYS MEMOIRE – EARLY DAYS, written in 1970s

 

A question I am very often asked is what brought me into the Republican movement. The answer is that I could have scarcely avoided  becoming involved.

One of the first nursery rhymes I was taught by my mother’s sister, as a very small girl was ‘Be there a man with soul so dead who never yet to himself has said, ‘this is my nation land!’

After the death of my father in 1903 this aunt, Anno, came to live with us, us being a brother 3 years older than me, Dick,  and a baby brother, Emmet.

We lived in a country house near Parteen where I spent the first nine years of my life in blissful happiness. Psychologists would probably describe it as a particularly ‘sheltered’ life which would produce many problems later. And undoubtedly the happy carefree life I led was anything but a preparation for the . . .

Our mother was a very devout person with an extraordinary love of daily mass. This meant quite a good walk every morning to Parteen church. She taught us piano and for a bedtime story told us some Bible story every night from the Old Testament.

When I was about nine my mother and aunt decided to move to Dublin.

My aunt (taught us Irish from O’Growney’s books) who, before  she had left her own home in Ballylongford had become very interested in Irish and had found an old native Irish speaker with whom she tried out her slender knowledge from O’Growney No 1 and 2. Neither our teacher nor ourselves got very far in the spoken language.

  . . .while I hated Dublin and its crowded streets and city life after the bud-filled (?) fields and woods, the friendship of three lovely cousins made up greatly for the loss (referring to The O’Rahilly’s children).

Strange enough my mother’s only brother Michael decided at the very same time to come back to Ireland from America. He had been living in Philadelphia from the time of his marriage to an American in 190?

 

In 1914

From now on our two families were very close. My aunt Áine and her brother Michael joined Craobh na Cúig gCúige even before we came to Dublin and we were enrolled  in the junior league and dancing classes. Long before we came to Dublin my aunt had been subscribing to Arthur Griffith’s paper. And so naturally she contacted him shortly after our arrival in the city. I must admit that whenever he came to our house I made a hasty exit, as apart from looking on him with much awe I never could think of anything to say to him. He certainly did not feel at ease with children. Later when my brother went to school in St Enda’s I naturally met Pádraig Mac Piarais very often. He also was a very shy man but covered his  by inviting me to some forthcoming event in his school. As far as I can remember there was always some function  coming off, either a concert, a play, lecture or aeridheact. In contrast  to Pádraig, Willie was in his element with children and young people. He had a great interest in tree and birds and  . .

The first time we were raided was in ___. My uncle Michael O’Rahilly  used our house as a covering address for his volunteer correspondence and indeed also kept supply rifles from time to time. One night I remember a number of men coming to our house in Northumberland Rd and leaving with violin cases and bulky parcels all containing rifles.

 

Ceann Trágha

 

 

Easter Week

On Easter Monday morning I went fairly early over to my uncle’s house in Herbert Park. As usual he gave me a warm welcome. His heart must have been as heavy as lead. The strong spring sun was shining in on a happy family of four young sons, the youngest under three years old. My uncle was in the act of putting on his putties, and graciously declined an offer of help from my aunt who knew he was suffering from a pretty sore septic finger.

A great wish came over me to say how proud I was  of being his niece and of being alive to see such a day, but any display of feeling was absolutely taboo in our family. Indeed later that day when I said I just couldn’t/didn’t feel I could eat lunch, my mother rebuked me strongly for as she put it  ‘giving in to myself.’

So, knowing how an announcement of my feelings would be frowned on I scarcely said, ‘Slán Leat’ to Michael although in my heart I knew I never would see him again.

As I felt they would like to be left alone together I proposed taking little MaoilMhuire out for a walk to Sandymount strand. On our way I heard the sound of a  horn and on looking up I saw Michael driving the De Dion on its last journey. He waived gaily at us and I stood and watched it until it went out of sight. We had only got as far as the strand when we heard the first explosion of that memorable week. It was the blowing up of the magazine fort in Phoenix park.

Later that evening my mother announced that she was going to go down to the GPO   to try to persuade Pearse to give up his protest and leave the GPO! When my aunt asked her what reasons she’d give him she said  she’d tell him that all the people were against him! As if he didn’t know this himself! I felt utterly miserable and ashamed but didn’t dare interfere as I knew I’d be snubbed and told to mind my own business if I said anything. Now, in all fairness to my mother at that stage of the fight, we did not know that any building except the GPO had been taken over by the Volunteers. My mother had no way of knowing  how many volunteers had ignored McNeill’s order and turned up on Easter Monday Morning

How eagerly we awaited her return, It must have been some hours before she returned solemn and weary, as she had to walk both ways. Slowly and sadly she told of her talk with Pearse. She said she failed utterly in the purpose of her visit. There was such a wonderful atmosphere of hope and exaltation that she couldn’t bear to introduce . . . She had brought a supply of blessed medals of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, together with a small leaflet containing a special prayer to Our L. of P.S. for Volunteers. These she gave to Pearse to distribute to the men in the Post Office. But not a word did she say of her secret thoughts (misgivings) on his . ..

Next day all her fears and anxieties returned and once again she decided she’d go down to the GPO and this time concentrate on bringing Dick home. When she explained to Pearse how if anything happened to Michael and Dick, the two families would be left with no man, Pearse readily saw her point and advised Dick to accompany her home. He very kindly added that he had shown/proved himself willing to fight and die for Ireland, but that he should now make the sacrifice of going home to help both his families. Being thus ordered by Pearse to go home he said good bye to his Commander in General and to Michael to whom he whispered, ‘I’ll be back.’

The journey back to Northumberland Rd proved  a pretty dangerous one while passing Boland’s Mills they were called to ‘Halt’. They promptly did so but it didn’t prevent the sentry firing one shot at them. Luckily he missed them but as Dick said later he was much safer in the P.O. than on that journey home.

The following morning Dick arose very early went to  7 o’clock mass in Haddington rd and after breakfast announced that he was returning to the GPO. This time my mother did not try to stop him.

At about 1 o’clock that day, Wednesday, we heard the tramp of marching men and looking out the window saw lines and lines of soldiers with full military kit marching towards the city.  Suddenly a volley rang out from No.25 and all threw themselves on the ground. Many never rose again. Michael Malone and Jim Grace, the two volunteers who had taken over No. 25 Northumberland Rd did not open fire until the soldiers had arrived at the Haddington Rd junction. The soldiers had no idea from whence the firing was coming. This attack on the soldiers threw them into great confusion and we could see a group of officials, bunched together at the corner of St Mary’s Rd evidently planning their next move.  To give the officers their due they didn’t order their men to do anything they were not prepared to do  themselves. At one state later in the day an officer with a bandaged arm in a sling led his men. During a lull in the firing we saw the soldiers, suddenly turn completely around and start firing up at the houses on our side of the road. As we heard the noise of shattered glass we instinctively moved back from the windows and went down to the kitchen. In a few moments a small band of soldiers with rifles at the ready rushed  into the kitchen but on finding only the cook, my young brother and myself, they lowered their rifles. We must have said something to each other because one exclaimed to the other, ‘Blimey, they are speaking English.’ I then asked them, ‘why where do you think you are?’

They were little more than school boys and they told us they thought they were in Flanders!

Such is the life of a rank and file. Just cannon fodder for their imperial masters.

Eventually the British officials realised that the firing was coming from No 25 and repeated efforts were made to silence the barrage coming from chiefly one window opening onto Haddington Road. But it was not until around 6.30pm that those two brave young volunteers were ___ having kept the British army at bay for over five hours.

 

. . . . rush up the steps of No. 25 and then heard an explosion. He had thrown a bomb at the front door.

At about 7pm we heard a loud explosion and we saw a sort of cloud of dust at the top of the step of 25. Evidently the door had been blown in after that we heard no more shot from no 25.

But . .

(THE ACCOUNT ENDS HERE)

 

 

 





Dick's diary, Jan-May 1912


Extract from Dick’s diary at age 15/16 -

18 Jan. 1912 ‘Nearly all the boys went out to the Panto. I went down to the Lady of the Lake, had a good time, came up and read at the fire in the linen room ‘till eleven o’clock.

21 Jan. Had no out match, played hurling with Bulfin.

23 Jan. Was stopped by a bobby coming home for having no lamp, name and address taken, but nothing happened.

25 Jan. Mr Pearse told some of the boys to get rifles.

27 Jan. Had a hurling match, rode home in the evening, took a dive from the cycle in the mud. Got the rifle with Michael at Truelocks.

28 Jan. Played a hurling match in Ringsend against Fontenoys; was late for the first half. Won by 7-2 to nil.

29 Jan. Tried the rifle. Mr Pearse cleaned it afterwards.

1 Feb. Went down to Confession after tea, walked back slowly as it was a lovely night and as I didn’t know my Euclid.

23 Feb. Michael O’Rahilly came out here and gave a lecture on ’98 in the study hall.

1 March. Had a lecture on poetry by Pádraic Colum

22nd March Pearse nearly went mad about things broken; said he would stop all half-days if culprits were not found. We had a lecture here in the evening by Mr Mopson on patriotism.

7th April. Easter Sunday, fine day. Looked for our Easter eggs in the garden, got a grand big one. Drove the motor out to Kingston.

3rd May. Had a lecture by Madame Markievicz on the Rebellion of Ireland.






St.Enda's letter, Sept 1912 [P106/527]

Letter from Dick Humphreys to his mother Nell, having run away from Clongowes back to Patrick Pearse's school St. Enda's.

P106/527

Extract from Letter from Dick Humphreys to his Mother, Nell – 2 Sept 1912

Dear Mama

Did you really think that I was going to Clongowes like that, no I couldn’t do it not if you offered me a motor cycle. I was out with Mr Pearse today and I told him why you were afraid to send me back and he told me that it was all right he has bought the place back again from the company he made in April and he expects to have the same number of boys as last year.

You need not think that I made this up in the last few days. I have been thinking of it since before going to Lisdoonvarna and I went on from day to day hating the thought of Clongowes more and more till the last week passed like a nightmare to me.

You talk about my going to Clongowes and starting a Gaelic League and a hurling team that may be alright in theory but not in practice ...





St.Enda's letter, Jan 1913 [P106/519]

Letter from Patrick Pearse at St. Enda's school to Nell Humphreys about the old account for her son Dick.
Pearse writes looking for more money from Nell for Dick, who has by now left the school and been paid up in full.

P106/519

From SCOIL EANNA Jan 1913

....

But between 3/2/12 and the date of his leaving Dick got several small items, including some books and a cap, and boots were also repaired for him (soled, heeled and patched) during March, then with the medical attendance make up the items up to the finish 29-6-12.

Mr O’Connor tells me you seem to question the medical attendance, saying that Dick was taken home the day he got the measles. But he was with Dr Kelly four or five times earlier in the year, when his head had to be stitched and dressed after a hurt in the football field and kept bandaged for over a week. Dr O Kelly’s actual charge to me for him was £1, 10 shilling and the extra half–crown replacement bandages etc,

I need hardly say that if the matter rested with me I should not bother you about this, remembering your great generosity to St Enda’s three years ago. But the a/c is due not to me, but to the company of which Mr O Connor is liquidator, and it is Mr O Connor's duty to realise all the debts which accounting to the books, were due to the company on 30th June last . .. Forgive my troubling you in the matter.

With kindest regards to all

Sincerely yours.

PH Pearse






1916 Rising [P106/384]

Letter from Nell to Dr.David's sister, Nora Humphrys the nun, May 1916, giving account of the 1916 Rising.
Letter and typed transcript in [P106/384].
Appendix in [O'Rahilly, 1991].
Extracts also in [P102/611].

NELL’S ACCOUNT OF 1916

P106/384

Extract from Letter from Nell Humphreys to her sister-in-law (not her cousin), a nun, in Australia:

Here in our own road two men held a house and there were over ninety soldiers killed or wounded. Anna and Sighle saw nearly all who fell.

I find I cannot write this, there is too much to tell. I will get Dick to describe the PO events and will keep it to our own family.

We had to think of Nannie before anything as you know the state she was in at the time, so I went over to her house, not seven minutes walk, and remained with her. We bore up wonderfully, but the nights were terrible, rifle firing and machine guns and the sounds of burning houses. (I cannot describe so you must imagine what occurred, and know that everything was far worse than your wildest imaginings.) Anyhow Nannie was not able to endure it longer and she sent me looking for a house in the country. On Friday morning I cycled out to Dundrum and found an empty house and she and I and the maid and the youngest boy went out there in the afternoon. That saved her, we were not continually looking at millions of soldiers, as we thought, and wagon loads of ammunition passing into the town against our handful of men.

Anna and Sighle were left alone here with our maid (who was a regular Ann Devlin) when she (Anna) could get a pass (under pretence of going to buy milk, she used a cycle out to see us, but she had no news, only wild rumours, till Tuesday morning, a week and a day after the rising began. She came out to tell us Michael had fallen. In the afternoon I came in to town. (I will never forget the way I left poor Nannie sitting in a strange bare bedroom, her head bowed down on a shabby dressing table, such a forlorn little figure.) Well I cycled into town with my cousin, the Carmelite Rector in Clarendon St, and after passing numerous sentries and riding over heaps of broken glass we got to the Morgue. There was Michael stretched out on a stand. He was even honoured there, all the others were lying on the ground and he did look fine, Nora. His head thrown back, he had a very high forehead and he looked as brave and peaceful as ever a warrior sculpted in marble on a tomb. Nobody but myself saw him, and tis a pity. If Nannie could only have had that impression for her life, it would have made up for much.

By the great kindness of an undertaker whose own two sons were out as we now say, we were able to get a plain coffin, and even buried him in Glasnevin, temporarily on Thursday.

We were only . ..

All this time our worst trouble was that we had no idea of where Dick was. On Wed morning I heard he was killed and had a very bad hour or two looking for him at all the hospitals, etc. My cousin still with me, a placid priest who gave me a good laugh all to myself, even then fancy, as he would insist on ordering a hearse and everything to take two coffins and seemed a bit put out when Dick’s body could not be found.

When I had been in prison a few days Anna came to see me indeed she came every day, in fact spent her time going around looking for us, as I always was . . . .

We have met so many of every sort and they are all proud of being Irish, of having lived and suffered for this, so anxious to do anything for the men who were out, for the wives and families of those who have fallen. It is again an exquisite charitable world as it must have been at the time of the early Christians, it is great to be alive now and to feel your heart warm as mine does over the goodness of man. You will say I am heroic and absurd, but it is what I feel, Nora. Trouble has drawn us all together as we were originally meant to be.

Did you hear at all of the part women took in the Rising? I used to feel ashamed of Sighle, as being unwomanly when Anna told me that at times it was difficult to keep her from taking a shot herself, that the way she gloried when the enemy fell was actually inhuman, and her nerve during the whole thing was wonderful.






1922 raid [P106/978(1)]

This is P106/978(1) in Sighle Humphreys papers.
Written while she was in prison in Mountjoy, either in 1928 or more likely in 1931.
Part published in [O'Malley, 2007].

UCD ARCHIVES. P106/978 (1)

 

SÍGHLE’S ACCOUNT OF THE AILESBURY ROAD RAID NOV 1922, AND HER FIRST TIME IN PRISON

(this was written either in 1928 or more likely in 1931 )

 

As I’m continually being told that I should write an account of the women prisoners experiences in jail 1922-23, and as there are certainly many interesting things to tell, and as I shall probably never again have as much time (being again in Mountjoy) I’m going to amuse myself going back on the past. I’m afraid it will be more an account about myself  than the women prisoners, all I hope is that I wont be as bad as Benjamin Franklin.

As far as I remember the first girl to be arrested by the Free State army was a university student named – who was caught  with a party of volunteers going down the country with arms. She was brought to Mountjoy and kept there for I think about 4 weeks. This was some time about the middle of September 1922.

Then about the middle of October there was a raid on the printing works of   - - and Commer (?) and Honour Murphy  were arrested. She was also sent to Mountjoy. When we heard of this arrest we had a momentary pang of fear in case it meant the commencement of the arrest of women, but our fears were unnecessary. Although our Headquarters were raided very often, our papers and letters torn or removed, and parts of the office itself broken, we ourselves were not arrested.

One day in October four of us thought our last hour of freedom had come, but the Free State Executive had not yet decided to arrest women – we were on one of our ‘painting’ expeditions when we used to use the walls as newspapers, we were just ‘decorating’ the old Parliament House when two armoured cars dashed down the street from the Castle and pulled up beside us. It was only about 7 o’clock in the morning and there was no chance of ‘melting away in the crowd.’ as there was practically no one else out in the streets – whenever there was time the workmen and anyone out at that hour of the morning always warned us of the enemies approach.

This time however we were caught red handed the soldiers swarmed all around us grabbed our paint pots and threw the paint all over us – they held  up a woman who was passing and ordered her to search us there and then. One woman against four! We told her that if she dared a lay a hand on us we would have her shot! She decided that her life was worth a little more than that and refused to search us. Before we could realise what was happening we were taken bodily and thrown into the armoured cars, two in each, Fanny O’Dolan and myself in one, and Mrs Stack and Mary Coyle in the other.

We went as a terrific rate through the streets and although we were sitting on tins and ammunition boxes we got no jolting, I was seldom in a car which went so smoothly. It seems they are all Rolls Royces. Our first stop was Oriel House. The men in civilian clothes came out and had a look at us but said nothing. Off we went again at breakneck speed to Portobello Barracks. Evidently no one wanted us, as after a short delay here we drove again to Wellington Barracks. On the way we held long arguments with the soldiers. Three of them were actually British Tommies, one had been a Truce Volunteer and was – or pretended he was – greatly impressed by our appeals. We thought he would be throwing off his green uniform before we arrived at our destination!

There were so many machine guns drums and ammunition lying about the car that I couldn’t resist filling pockets with it – a silly thing to have done, but fortunately I got away with it, gave the bullets to the Volunteers but never told them of the foolish way I got them.

In Wellington Barracks we were put in a cell beyond the Day room just beside the main gate on the right. There was a hole into the cell beside us and it was not long before we discovered that there were Volunteer prisoners there. One was Sean Beaumont and he gave us a message for . . .

We had somehow kept a pot of paint and a brush between us and we decorated the cell with ‘suitable’ inscriptions. The soldiers amused themselves looking through the ‘Judas’ hole of the cell and making remarks to each other about us. One remark made us laugh as it was  so true, looking long and solemnly at us he turned to another soldier and said, ‘Ah sure they are only four ragbags.’ That’s just what we were, and in spite of all our efforts we could not make ourselves respectable. On painting expeditions one wears one’s oldest clothes. And the splashes of white and black paint didn’t add to our appearance.

After a good number of hours we heard commotion in the passage and the noise of soldiers jumping to attention. Our cell was thrown open and a wee little officer, more like a child playing at soldiers than a real man, walked into the cell. Evidently the soldiers hadn’t told him to expect us as the expression on his face when he saw us was a study. For a minute or so he was speechless, needless to say we didn’t help him to make conversation, so we just stared at each other in silence.

Then turning to Mrs Stack, he said, ‘What are you here for?’

‘For painting,’ said she quietly.

‘For painting?’ said he absolutely puzzled. ‘For painting what?’

‘Up the Republic!’ said we all in a chorus.

He didn’t know from Adam what to make of us. He seemed never to have heard of our street painting and though we were only making a short answer when we said ‘Up the Republic.’

He asked us who arrested us and who brought us here, rather extraordinary queries to ask prisoners. However we gave him as much information as we could, giving the impression that we were four quiet inoffensive women who had been kidnapped by wicked soldiers for no reason at all. He then asked us if we had had breakfast and said he must see about getting us something  to eat.

Soon after this the doors of the other cells on the passage were opened and the men were allowed out for exercise. They gathered around the little hole in our door and eagerly asked for news of the outside world. One man, either Sean or Liam Forde – I never  since discovered which – gave us a big bag of chocolates. They were most welcome although  we did our best to refuse them as the men needed them more than we did.

After a few more hours an orderly came along and told us to follow him. He brought us through two or three courtyards to I think the officers mess. Anyhow we were guided into a room with table set for dinner. We were given a very  good dinner, the only drawback being that mess(?)-detectives, it seems – were looking in through the window and from their remarks we gathered that they recognised Mrs Stack and Mary Coyle. We had refused to give our names, for many reasons. The chief one being that the houses were being used by the Volunteers.  A funny thing  happened at the end of dinner as the orderly was bringing in tea – ma’s é do thoil é – he slipped and down came tray cups  and saucers and all almost all were broken. We were very sorry for him and hoped he wouldn’t get into trouble.

After dinner our little officer came around and said the lorry for Mountjoy would soon arrive. At this announcement our hearts nearly stopped beating! We had taken the whole thing as a joke up till then as we all felt that  we would not be kept. The thought of being sent to Mountjoy – out of which it was so hard to get – for the silly act of painting was maddening. But in all our worry we had to laugh at Mrs Stack as she sat on an old barrel composing a letter to a new maid who had only come the night before, trying the explain why she would not be home ‘for the present.’ She tore up dozens of attempts, and I’m afraid we were more of a nuisance than a help to her, tho’ she enjoyed the situation nearly as much as we did. Before she had her letter finished, our little  tormentor arrived once more and being petrified with fear I could hardly believe my ears when he said we could go home.

He accompanied us to the gate and acting like an old man gave us a lecture on the dangerous game we were playing and warned us that we wouldn’t get a second chance. He was a funny little individual, and took life very seriously. He was a brother of Eimar (?) O Duffy but not a bit like what he seems to be in his books.

I shall never forget the joy of walking along the St Circular Rd – a road I always hated – and the extraordinary happiness in getting on an old tram. Our exuberance of spirits must have puzzled everyone on the tram, but we couldn’t suppress it and felt like telling everyone of the escape we had. Having experienced this same feeling  every time I got out I always  wonder how on earth I ever let myself run the risk again; and I expect if one was arrested often enough one would give up the game in the end.

A week or so later two members of Cumann na mBan the Merrigans were arrested and were sentenced in the Police Courts to, I think, a month.

On Saturday 25th October (1922) our home was raided  by the Free Staters – this being the first raid by Staters. I cannot remember anything about it except that there was no volunteer there at the time so we had no need of anxiety. Unfortunately this raid gave us a false sense of security as they didn’t find the secret room, nor did they seem to have any knowledge whatever of it. So we foolishly allowed the Volunteers to continue coming to the house where the A.A. D.C. had his office.

On the following Saturday morning at about  seven thirty or eight o’clock a gentle knock at the front door awoke me, half asleep I jumped out of bed and looked out the window where I saw three men in civilian clothes, two held revolvers, otherwise there was nothing to show who they were as there wasn’t a sign of a motor or soldiers or other reinforcements. Rushing to the door of the secret room I told E.O.M. that there were three C.I.D. men at the door but that he ought to have a good chance of escaping as they seemed to be only the three of them. Terribly wrong information which nearly cost him his life.

They certainly had information that morning about the secret room as they went practically straight to it. They opened the front of the cupboard and pushed the back of it. For a moment they seemed taken  aback as nothing happened. Again they tried the inside of the cupboard and evidently it must have moved this time as one of them rushed to the front of the house and gave three or four hectic blasts of a whistle. At the sound men in uniforms and in civilian clothes seemed to run from all directions towards the house. The detectives who had already been in the house took rifles from the soldiers and commenced to batter down the back of the wardrobe. The blows seemed to continue for an eternity although it cannot have been for more than  a minute or so. Then there was the noise of a panel being shattered followed by the report of a bullet. It’s impossible to describe the scene which followed, men and soldiers just dived head foremost down the stairs even around the corner. Rifles and revolvers were lying around the landing and down the first steps of the stairs – the brave staters must have thought that there was a regiment after them instead of one man defending his life. Taking this as a sample of the Staters fighting, I often wonder how on earth they succeeded in defeating the Republicans.

A horrible silence followed then hectic rush downstairs, and it was a great relief to see Ernie O’Malley coming along the passage safe and sound. But his expression told me something awful had happened even before he had time to say that Anno was shot. Strange to say I don’t remember feeling either surprised or horrified. I seemed to feel that I had always and always – for hundreds of years – known that his would happen, that it was a perfectly natural occurance and that all that mattered at the moment was to put the enemy out of the house as quickly as possible and keep them out.

Just like Anno, she had got a towel and was trying to stop the bleeding herself, even before Mam had time to get to her. She had been shot right through her head, the bullet had passed through her mouth and out of the back of her head. Some white sort of matter – which I thought was brain but have never liked to ask about since had come out from the wound. I thought she was done for until she began to speak, then I felt that she was as full of life, no matter how badly she was hit she would not die. ‘I knew,’ said she, ‘that something like this would happen as I saw one magpie on my way to mass.’

Two guns, a rifle and revolver which had been dropped by the Staters were lying on the landing, outside the door of my room. Ernie took up the rifle. His only wish now was to get out of the house as fast as he could before, he said, ‘he’d bring any more trouble on the house.’ But this was not so easy. After their wild retreat downstairs, the Staters had pulled themselves together and were now all in a bunch at the foot of the stairs, their rifles pointed upwards ready for their prey. TO go down that stairs meant certain death. Foolishly I thought it might be possible to get out a window but looking out we saw a number of soldiers outside their rifles levelled on the house. There was no escape.

Suddenly a voice called out from downstairs, “you, up there will you surrender, in the name of the State.’ And as quickly Ernie answered, ‘Never!’ No surrender here.’ And like a flash he was down the stairs. Reports rang out, perhaps three or four. I was ready to see Ernie stagger and fall but he was at the foot of the stairs, alone in the hall with no sight of the enemy anywhere.

Now, if only there was a tunnel out of the house! Leaving Ernie putting on boots I went out to the back garden to reconnoitre. At the side of the house crouching under the drawing room window were two soldiers with their rifles pointed towards where I was standing. Those, unfortunately and stupidly were all I noticed. Outside the front door there was a poor soldier lying apparently quite dead. Behind the front door, which was open there was a C.I.D hiding though we didn’t know this until afterwards. There was also one under Dick’s bed all the time, known only to Dick.

As far as I remember Ernie left the captured rifle saying it would be too heavy to carry over garden walls, but taking his own revolver he went out the side door turning quickly to the left he had the two crouching soldiers under cover before they were ready to fire. Anxious only to escape, and not for victims he ordered the soldiers to ‘run’ and they ran. Meanly enough I’m ashamed to say I was waiting at the front door to have a shot at them, but when I saw them running away with their backs to me, I hadn’t the heart to fire, until they or others, I’m not sure which turned at the gate to come in again. I didn’t hit anyone but they didn’t come all the same.

I thought that by this time Ernie was well away when I heard a faint call and running to the back I found him lying terribly wounded just inside the door. There had been two or three Free State soldiers stationed behind the wall next door, they had had a perfect view of everything and were only waiting to shoot him as he left the house.

Later when re-enforcements came they rushed the house and unfortunately met with no resistance this time.

SO many things happened within the following half an hour that it would be quite impossible to remember them all. It was a long time afterwards that Dick told us how he had been taken down by the C.I.D. men to  the foot of the garden put against a tree and told that he was going to be shot, whether as de Valera or himself I don’t know. When they first found him in the house they thought he was de Valera.

As soon as Anno and Ernie had been taken away the C.I.D and soldiers started to search the house for papers and guns. It was only then I thought of the papers and tried to hide a note book which  I knew was of some importance, but I was late. It was then they found all Liam Mellows  letters which he had sent out of prison  on matters of the future – most interesting and of value even if he had lived. As it is, I’d given anything to get those letters back, I believe  Dick Mulcahy got them, and there are times when I think of pocketting all my pride and asking him for them. I wonder would he give them if I asked, and I wonder shall I ever ask? Probably not – on this side of the grave, and I won’t want them on the other!

I had hidden Ernie’s and the C.I.D. man’s revolvers forgetting that the CID man couldn’t possibly go back to barracks without his gun. They first begged and implored of me to give it back, saying if he went back without it, he’d be shot, then they bullied and threatened and one man with hair which stood straight up in front, called as far as I remember, Sergeant Doddy put his revolver up to my mouth and actually  got the barrel between my teeth. He said something about the throat being a nice place to be shot in. Even though he had worked himself up into an awful rage, I felt he wouldn’t shoot deliberately but I was afraid of my life that the trigger would go as he had  it cocked all the time, and I’m sure my hair was beginning to stand up as straight as his own.

In the middle of this disagreeable episode – as they’d say in a book – Annie (the Maid) knocked  at my door to come in, and Doddy quickly  put his gun where it belonged!

Annie like a real marvel had got us breakfast and as Mam always insists on eating during the very worst time, down she made us come to breakfast which we all enjoyed as we knew that time we were going to be arrested. It was during breakfast that Mam thought of phoning for Nannie to come up so that there would be some one in the house when we’d leave. She got permission to phone and rang up Hayes, Cunningham Robinson in Ballsbridge and asked them to send a message down to 40 Herbert Park to  ask Mrs O’Rahily to come up to 36 Ailesbury Rd. They hailed a passing boy, gave him the message, and he very kindly and obligingly went off gaily to 40. Little he knew what was before him. The house was occupied by the F.S. Soldiers who arrested him and kept him in the Wellington for ten days or a fortnight! I’m sure he has been slow to go on messages again!

 

Well anyhow they allowed him deliver his message and up came Nannie as  fast as she could to be arrested on her arrival  at our house. In spite of all our troubles we had a great laugh when the soldier or C.I.D. told her she would have to ‘come along also.’

Nannie gallantly refused to go in the lorry, so they had to stop a private car which was passing, belonging to a man down the road, and make him drive us to Wellington.

On arriving at Wellington they brought us into a large room with a fire in it, and a number of men working at desks. The most important of them – a man with a large hook nose – was given all the captured papers. It was damnable to have to look on helplessly while he went through them one by one, putting  the more important aside to examine more  thorough later. There was that black note book of E.’s (Ernie O’Malley), he didn’t seem to notice its importance and threw it carelessly among the less important group. I thought of making a dash for it and throwing it into the fire but felt I wouldn’t succeed and would only look foolish.

After about half an hour or so we were brought out again and invited into a  Ford Car. As we were going out the gate of Wellington Barracks a man passed in – Batt O’Connor. It was he who had built the secret room and meeting him there, so early and on such a morning suggested the suspicion that he was the informer. Personally I don’t believe he was, as he had been too good  a man, too short a time before that.

The drive through town was uneventful as has been ever drive to prison since. Sensations, on these occasions, follow each other with such rapidity that one’s brain seems to set/get . . .

‘Hope springs eternal,’ and until the prison gate is finally closed behind one, one never despairs. Though indeed my   wish to escape that morning was not as keen as on other prison rides, as curiosity to see what Mountjoy was really like had shut out all other feelings.

Usually one almost prays for an accident or break-down or any miracle which might offer some means of escape. One envies the passers-by and wonders at the many who look so gloomy, one feels like asking them what they are so sad about when they have the most precious thing in the world – freedom.

But then again have they freedom? Under this rotten government and rotten social system, who has freedom? A handful of capitalists!

It was some time before  midday when we arrived at Mountjoy. We were only kept a few minutes in a little room near the gate while they sent for a wardress. When she arrived she seemed far more  nervous and embarrassed  than we were. She was wearing a bonnet – the like of which no one off a stage ever wore – blue  straw with long blue ribbons tied in a large bow almost at her waist.

She escorted us to a basement of one of the wings called, ‘The Reception’ from the fact that all new comers are first brought to this basement, where they are searched given a bath, prison clothes and sheets and pillow slips, before being brought up to whatever division or class they belong to. In the men’s prison I believe they remain the first night in a cell in the Reception.

Now all the prisons I had read of were grey grim dark buildings of stone with heavy iron doors full of mystery and dignity, and in my youthful pride and folly I had pictured myself pining away ‘for my country’ in these terrible surroundings. My day dreams had  a rude awakening in this Reception wing painted all over in white and, what Dick calls, Holy Mary Blue, with cream coloured doors and almost lady like looking  locks and bolts.. At the sight of that pale blue paint vanished  all the glory and heroism of prison. This was no prison but a penitentiary – that dreadful named institution – and a dirty penitentiary at that. I shall never forget the oppressive atmosphere, the unappealing odours and smells of that place. How any one came out of it alive is a miracle. And thereby hangs a tale of how one poor girl did not come out alive. She was slowly murdered by the Free State government, a nameless victim of their brutality.

When the Free State Authorities started to arrest Republicans on a large scale sometime after the capture of the Four Courts they had no internment camps ready and had  therefore to bring all prisoners to the ordinary prisons. To make room for the political prisoners in Mountjoy, they removed all the ordinary (or ‘criminal’) men prisoners from the male prison over to the female prison. At the same time a large number of the women prisoners were released and the rest were put down in the Basement or reception wing. This wing was partly underground and prisoners were only supposed to be left at most one night in it.  Now among these prisoners put into that basement were two young girls from South County Dublin. They had been on a raid with men- whether IRA men or merely escapaders I know not – for arms and in the course of the raid finding the house empty the girls took away some blouses frocks, etc. Undoubtedly it was a shabby, mean – and if they were Republican, disgraceful – thing to do, as it brought such dishonour on the IRA, but the sentence they got was out of all proportion to the crime. Either three, or five years penal servitude.

Now from the day of their sentence these girls refused to go out on exercise, as for lack of space all the women prisoners exercised together around a small patch of grass opposite the front gate. A soldier sentry patrolled one boundary of their exercise ground and a few military police usually congregated to watch the slow procession of women so repulsively dressed in their badly made dirty drab grey frieze uniforms, white aprons and absurd little white caps, perched at all angles on their untidy looking heads. Naturally enough the sight of these men looking at them as if they were wild animals in a zoo roused the pride and anger of all whose spirits were not crushed. So they cursed  and swore and sometimes shrieked and yelled and called the soldiers names that are not to be found in any dictionary. Now and then the soldiers would answer back, and frequently the battle of words came to such a pass that the women were taken in from exercise altogether. Needless to say practically all the women prisoners possessed strong Republican views!

It  was no wonder that the two shy new ‘convicts’ shrunk from such publicity and decided to remain in their cell. Both, as ‘Stars’ (first offenders) or as convicts they were entitled under the prison rules to exercise apart from the local habitués, and nothing can excuse the prison officials for neglecting to provide a separate exercise ground or hour for them. They were allowed to remain from one end of the week to the other in a stuffy cell – built to hold only one - In that foul evil smelling unhealthy basement. It must have  been evident, at least to the doctors, what would happen. They both got some fever, were both brought to Cork Street Hospital, but only one returned. The other died. The ghost of that girl should haunt not only Cosgrave and his ministers but the officials of Mountjoy Jail who allowed such terrible overcrowding and barbarous conditions among the ordinary civil prisoners, in order that the jails would be free to house the patriot soldiers of Ireland.

Well to return to my first few minutes in this seat of misery, a wardress – nowadays called matron – called Miss Maloney who was in charge of the ‘committals’  welcome us stiffly and producing a large book asked us our names and addresses ‘and where’ and when we were born. She began with Mam who told her to look up the files of Easter 1916 and she’d find all the information she was likely to get. At that she seemed rather taken aback and said nicely enough to Mam, ‘I should have remembered you.’ She next turned to Nannie who curtly told her she was an American citizen. That finished Miss Maloney who closed her book and asked us no more.

We were next asked to go into a room partitioned into a number of little places like bathing boxes. Each of us was allotted a ‘bathing box’ and told we were to be searched. My courage went down to zero. I wondered what the deuce I was to do as how could I put up any sort of a fight with Mam and Nannie standing by. However I was needlessly alarmed. All Miss Maloney said or did was to ask me if I had ‘anything’  - in a mysterious tone- ‘on me’.

‘Yes’ said I. ‘A machine gun.’

Fortunately she thought this feeble joke funny, and laughing passed on leaving me in possession of some 8 or 10 rifle and revolver bullets. These blessed bullets gave me an awful lot of trouble and worry during the following year or so, and if I had any sense I’d have buried them in some deep hole in the exercise ground. But some spirit of stupid cussedness, and I’m ashamed to say bravado made me want to keep these bullets as sort of mascots of good luck.

However silly as I was when I discovered I had brought them in with me, I must clear myself of the charge of having them brought them in deliberately. I never remembered having put them into my pockets, but as they were plenty lying about all over the house after the fight, very probably I acted on the natural instinct to pocket them.

The wardress now told us to follow her, and dangling the keys she led the way down. through the wing. I was expecting every second that she’d stop at one of those cream coloured doors and my ‘innards’ were falling lower and lower until we suddenly came to a door or iron gate, on the left leading into the open air.  ‘Never will I forget’ the relief it was to think that at any rate this smelly inferno was not to be  our home. I guessed that no place else could be as bad. We were brought along a gravel path beside the Boundary wall to another white door, the door of the hospital where we were met by a charming figure in a white nurse’s uniform. Her kind, genial and sympathetic face was the last thing I expected  to find in such surroundings. A book could be written on this nurse, nurse Dunne’s life. She was one of the kindest souls I ever met, and it was not only to us she was kind. Many of the ordinary prisoners told me that they often sent for her when there was nothing the matter with them but the very sight of her did them good, she was the only person . . . .

(THE ACCOUNT ENDS THERE)

 





1922 raid [P106/1991]

Sighle's account of the 1922 raid, written 1970s.


P106/1991

Sighle’s Account of the Raid from the 1970s

On the following Sat morning at about 7.30 am or so a gentle knock on the front door awakened me. I jumped out of bed and looked out the window which was directly over the front door – where I saw three men in civilian clothes, two of them held revolvers at the ready, otherwise there was nothing to show who they were as there wasn't a sign of a motor or lorry of soldiers or other reinforcements.

Rushing to the door of the secret room I called Ernie and told him that there were three CID men with revolvers at the front door, but that he ought to have a good chance of escaping as there didn’t seem to be any more than the three of them. Terribly wrong information which nearly cost him his life.

They certainly had information that morning about the secret room as they went practically straight to it. They opened the door of the dummy cupboard and pushed the back of it. For a moment they seemed taken aback as it did not move. They paused for a few minutes. Again they pushed with great force, the inside of the cupboard, evidently this time it must have moved as one of them rushed to the front of the house and gave three or four hectic shrill blasts of a whistle. Within seconds men in uniform and others in civilian clothes rushed through the gate towards the house, in the door, and up the stairs. The three CID men took rifles from the soldiers and commenced to batter down the back of the cupboard, The blows seemed to continue for an eternity, although really it cannot have been for more than a minute or so. Then there was the noise of a panel being shattered followed by what seemed to be only one shot from a gun.

It is impossible to describe the scene which followed. Men and soldiers just dived head foremost down the stairs. One CID actually rolled down the stairs even around the corner of the bend. Rifles and revolvers were lying around the landing and on the first few steps of the stairs.

The brave Staters must have thought that there was a regiment after them instead of one man defending his life.

An eerie silence followed their hectic rush down stairs, and it was a great relief to see Ernie coming along the passage safe and sound. But his expressions told me something awful had happened even before he had time to tell me that Anno was shot. I rushed into her room, and with that wonderful courage and composure of hers she had already got a towel and was trying to stop the bleeding herself, even before my mother had got to her. She had been shot right through her head, the bullet had passed through her mouth and out the back of her head. Some whitish, greyish sort of matter like a honey comb was lying on the pillow having come out from the wound. I though it was part of her brain and that she was finished. Then suddenly she spoke in quite a strong voice and said, “I knew something like this would happen when I saw one magpie on my way to mass.’

Ernie’s only wish now was to get out of the house before as he said, I’d bring any more trouble on you; But this was not so easy.

After their wild retreat downstairs, the Staters had now pulled themselves together and were now all in a bunch at the foot of the stairs, their rifles pointing upwards, ready for their prey. To go down that stairs meant certain death. Foolishly I suggested getting out a window but looking out we saw a number of soldiers outside, their rifles levelled on the house. There was no escape.

Suddenly a sharp voice called out from downstairs, ‘You up there, will you surrender in the name of the state,’ and as quickly Ernie answered ‘Never, no surrender here.’ And like a flash, he rushed down the stairs. There was a volley of firing and I was ready to see Ernie stagger and fall but there he was at the foot of the stairs alone in the hall with no sight of the enemy anywhere. Now if only there was a tunnel out of the house!

Leaving Ernie putting on his boots I went out the side door to reconnoitre. At the side of the house crouching under the drawing room window were two soldiers with their rifles pointed where I was standing, ready to cover anyone coming out of that door. Unfortunately they were the only ones I noticed. Outside the front door there was a poor soldier lying apparently dead. Behind the front door, which was open, there was a CID man hiding, though we didn’t know this until later. There was also a CID man hiding under Dick’s bed, known only to Dick.

Ernie then decided to escape out the back garden. He left the captured rifle behind him saying it would be too heavy to carry climbing over the walls, taking his own revolver he went out the side door and turning quickly to the left he had the two crouching soldiers under cover they were ready to fire. Anxious only to escape and not victims he ordered the soldiers to ‘run’ and they ran!

I was waiting at the front door to have a shot at them but I’m glad to say when I saw them running like rabbits I hadn’t the heart to fire until some other soldiers started to come in the gate. I didn’t hit anyone but they stopped.

I thought that by this time Ernie was well away, when I heard a faint call and running to the back I found him lying terribly wounded just inside the door.

There had been two or three Free State soldiers stationed behind the wall next door from where they had had a perfect view of everything and were only waiting to shoot him as he left the house.

Later when reinforcements came they rushed into the house and this time met with no resistance.

So many things happened within the next half an hour it would be quite impossible to remember them all. Dick was taken down to the bottom of the garden by the CID men, put against a tree and told he was going to be shot, whether as De Valera or himself, I don’t know as when they first found him in the house they thought he was de Valera.






1922 raid (Aodogán)

Aodogán O'Rahilly wrote an account of the 1922 raid. (His house was raided the same day and his mother arrested.)
This is an extract from his account written in the 1970s.
Courtesy of Manchán Magan.

Ernie was now lying wounded and helpless in the downstairs hall. Anno was lying wounded on her bed upstairs. The dead soldier was lying outside the front door. Most of the soldiers were outside the front gate, but they probably realised by now that resistance was over and that they could safely return. But Ernie was still hoping to escape. Dick Humphreys, the eldest son, was in the house. The younger son, Emmet, was in jail. Although Dick had been in the G.P.O. in 1916, he had ceased to take any part in politics [thereafter], but he was a motor-cycling enthusiast and always had a motor cycle in the garage.

Ernie wanted to know if Dick could not put him on the back of the motor-cycle and bring him to safety in this way. But even if Ernie had been capable of holding on to the rider of the motor cycle while riding on the pillion, which of course, he was not, all the soldiers were outside the front gate so this idea was a non-starter. But the fact that Ernie even contemplated it will give a notion of the indomitable courage of the man. As he was lying on the floor all that those around him could think of giving him was a glass of whiskey, but he refused to touch it saying "I do not take any alcoholic liquor".

The soldiers finding that all was now quiet cautiously approached the house, from which they had beaten such a hasty and inglorious retreat, and met with no further resistance. The ambulances arrived to take away the dead soldier and the two wounded people.





Ailesbury Rd [P102/543]

History of 36 Ailesbury Rd, including the 1922 raid. From [P102/543].

The O'Rahilly Papers P102/543

SIGHLE’S SUMMARY OF HISTORY OF AILESBURY ROAD HOUSE

At the time the house was being built the Black and Tan war was at its height and houses of Republicans were being continually raided. Consequently many houses had secret hide outs constructed.

The builder of this house Batt O Connor was an ex-Fenian and IRA man and a very close friend of Micahel Collins. He built a secret room which in spite of many intensive raids by British Army Auxillary Forces and Units of the Black and Tans was never discovered during the Anglo-Irish war.

On one occasion, two young volunteers, member of the Dublin Active Service unit of the IRA successfully evaded capture by hiding in the room during a three hour raid.

The house also contained several under floor secret drawers which were never discovered by either British or Free State forces.

During alterations carried out by the French Authorities one of these was discovered under the floor of the Ambassadors office and when opened was found to contain a bayonet – of French make and documents.

During the years 1920-21 the house was frequently used as a meeting place for Dail Eireann Cabinet, IRA Headquarters staff and Republican Courts. Among those who attended these meetings were Pres. De Valera, Cathal Brugha, Michael Collins, Richard Mulcahy, Arthur Griffith, Harry Boland.

Cathal Brugha who as Minister of Defence was eagerly sought after by the British lived in this house for long periods when ‘on the run.’ At night he slept in the secret room.

Subsequently in 1922 when the Civil War broke out between the Republican and the Free State forces, the house was used as headquarters of what today would be called the ‘Resistance.’ The assistant Chief of Staff of the Irish Republican Army, Ernie O Malley lived here until his capture.

On the morning in November 4th 1922 the house was . . . .

In the Spring of 1923 an attempt was made by Free State soldiers to blow up the house. A mine was placed in the hall but fortunately only the staircase and some of the furniture were damaged.






Sighle in prison, 1922-23 [P106/979(1)]

This is P106/979(1) in Sighle Humphreys papers.
Written either in 1928 or more likely in 1931.
Covers from her arrival in Mountjoy in Nov 1922 to the failed escape in Mar 1923.

 

 

UCD ARCHIVES. P106/979 (1)

 

SíGHLE’S ACCOUNT OF HER FIRST YEARS IN PRISON 1922-23

(this was written either in 1928 or more likely in 1931 )

continued from her previous prison and raid account.                      

 

(THE ACCOUNT BEGINS HERE  . .  .)

Official I have known who when humanity conflicted with prison rules always put humanity first.

            After showing us upstairs into a large airy room with two large windows not a bit like a cell, she left us saying she would see about dinner.   In less than half an hour she returned to tell us that dinner was ready in what was called ‘The Surgery’.   You can imagine our surprise to see an ordinary dinner, - meat, vegetables, ordinary plates, knives etc. and tablecloth.   It was all magnificent but it wasn’t prison!  

Seeing our surprise Nurse Dunne told us it was the Officer’s Mess, ordered especially by Deputy Governor O’Keefe.   And we had only barely finished our repast when his Lordship, the brave Páidín arrived in person.   Of all the funny sights I had ever imagined he beat them.   In spite of the terrible tragedy of the civil war, there was a funny side, a grotesque side and Páidín was one of the funniest figures.  

He was small, very small and used to poke his head ‘forward and to the right’ or ‘left’ as occasion demanded.   He sometimes carried two revolvers, one in the ordinary place, off the belt, the other in a holster strapped to his thigh.   His complexion was as fresh as a baby’s, his eyes twinkled and seemed full of fun.   In short it was difficult to take him seriously at all.   As a matter of fact I couldn’t speak solemnly to him and would have loved to laugh and joke with him all the time.   But I had to ‘uphold the dignity of the cause’ and refuse to recognise himself or his jokes.  

When he appeared I tried to remember what John Mitchel or O’Donovan Rossa did on their first meeting with the governor, and I had faint recollections of dignified bows on such occasions.   I knew that where a gentleman bows a lady curtseys …but how would a curtsey coincide with non-recognition … I was in a bit of a dilemma …I could have saved my brain its workings.  Páidín never noticed me, never spoke to me, hardly realised I was there.   He expressed his sincere sympathy – I mean it he was sincere – with Mama over Anna, with      O’Rahilly in being where she was and said that he’d do all he could to make it as little like prison as possible.  

He told Nurse Dunne he would order the Officer’s Mess, cups and saucers etc. and told her to leave us at the fire in the Surgery until as late as possible.   He brought with him copies of all the Daily Papers – including a Stop Press about the fight – and a big box of cigarettes.   On leaving he said he’d ring up the hospital and let us know later how Anna was.  

When one is feeling miserable a fire is a great comfort and we almost forgot our troubles as we huddled around that fire.   It was some hours before we thought of Mary McSwiney.   She had been arrested the same morning in Nannie’s house and was as a matter of fact locked into a cell beside our room.   We held a conversation with her through a fairly good sized hole in the wall.   Naturally she was astounded to see Nannie.

Páidín’s invitation to sit at the fire was not extended to Mary McSwiney, though she being on hunger strike since that morning needed a fire certainly more than I did but according to Páidín she was acting in direct defiance of the prison rules in refusing to eat.   It seemed a bit thick to have her all alone locked in so on giving some excuse to get her door open we walked downstairs to the fire.   This was my first experience of disobeying prison rules and if the wardress who was on duty at the top to the stairs only knew how my knees were quaking, she would never have let me pass so easily.  

However she never even attempted to stop us and all went well until Páidín and the real governor arrived.   If Páidín lacked dignity Phil Cosgrave made up for it.   He was dignity personified, so dignified that he hardly stooped to speak.   When he did speak it was always to say something kind.   It was a shame to have him in that position.   He had lovely white hair and looked as if butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth.   Well he only muttered something about how sorry he was to see us in jail – or words to that effect!   He evidently didn’t share his brother’s maledictions who would like to see us rot there.   But Páidín called Ms Rahilly out and said that we, or I think he said “that hussy,” had broken prison rules in bringing “one Mary McSwiney” down from her cell and that he’d have to change all his tactics towards us.   So our royal treatment came to an abrupt end.

Next day being Sunday we went to Mass together meeting Honour Murphy for the first time.   She had already been in Mountjoy for some weeks all alone.   She must have been lonely tho’ she said every one was very nice to her, and no wonder as she herself was so sweet.    She was the sort of girl that one imagines only exists in happy novels.   She was lovely to look at.   As fresh as a May morning.   Her hair was an exquisite shade of brown (I wonder would it be called nut brown or auburn), all wavy.   Her eyes were real hazel, deep and luscious;  (is this a correct adjective to use here?); her complexion pink and white and she had two dimples.   Altogether she looked more suited to Manor Parks than the sordid surroundings of Mountjoy Jail.

She held very fine ideals and was in the movement because she thought it stood for everything noble.   The movement did and does stand for everything ideal but its followers are only human.   Unfortunately we must all have shown our feet of clay very clearly as Honour had little joy little lost faith in the movement and eventually transferred her allegiance from her country to God.   Or who knows but she entered to pray for Ireland.   However this is wandering from the first day in Mountjoy.

After Mass we were locked up until the breakfasts were handed in and doors locked again.   Some time around 11.00 a.m. doors were opened and we were told we could go to Exercise for an hour, after which we were again locked until near 3.00 p.m.   Dinner of course having been handed in.

Now I knew that this locking every minute was imposing criminal status, that the men were open all day long and I felt that to submit to it for another minute would be a complete surrender of our principles.   I mentioned something of these feelings to Mama who told me not to be silly. (Mama can say this word Silly in a way that would have dampened even ODonovan Rossa’s enthusiasm)

At 3.00p.m. we were allowed another hour’s exercise and by the time 4.00 p.m. came and the wardresses waited to lock us in I had worked myself up to the belief that if I allowed myself be locked in I could never call myself an Republican again.

Through the Judas Hole of Mary McSwiney’s cell I told her my troubles and how I thought I ought to refuse to go in “By all means” said she “do so if you feel you ought to”.   Wasn’t she a brick.   That of course decided me and in I refused to go.   At first the wardress thought I only meant it as a joke and spent a good hour or more putting up arguments that I have long since grown to know by heart.   How prison rules couldn’t be changed, how neither, they, nor the Governor, was the Board nor the Home Office (as they called the "F.S“ Ministry for Justice) had power to alter the Rules, how I was only giving trouble to the wardresses and not to the people I wished to and how the correct way to go about getting any privileges and ameliorations (Lord how those words sting) was to make applications for them.

At that time I thought that writing to the Ministry was completely against our principles, as it was an acknowledgement of the very position we wanted to overthrow.   I still believe this but I have learned to quote plausible reasons for surrendering this principle.

However at that time I was young and very anxious to be “agin the powers that were”, so I ignored their arguments and remained out on the landing.   After a few hours the chaplain came and repeated the same old story adding that force would have to be used, perhaps by soldiers, a position he was sure I’d never allow.  

As a matter of fact I hadn’t thought of that and a sudden fear struck me that I might be doing more harm than good to the cause if I allowed such a thing happen.   But it was too late then to think of such things.   Anyhow while I was thinking what I ought to do, Páidín arrived on the scene like a little fighting cock.   He was bubbling over with authority “What do you want” says he, “To be treated as a political prisoner,” says I.   “Political Prisoner how are you”, says he, “You’re no political prisoner, you’re a military captive, and I can do what I like with ye”

Well now to be a political prisoner was until then my ambition but on hearing that a “military captive” I nearly “burst” with pride.   After adding a few threats of the dire consequences of refusing to go into my cell, Páidín stalked off.   But he had ruined his own case whatever about a political prisoner submitting to be locked in, it was out of the question for a “military captive” to allow it.   And anyhow the effect Páidín always had was to strengthen one’s fighting spirit.

After a few more hours of suspense about 8.00 p.m. there was a sound of heavy footsteps on the stairs and four or five – what they called military policemen, appeared along the corridor.   Instead of being hurled headlong into my cell as I was half expecting, the leader of them said in the gentlest voice possible "no“ Sigle, do you think Emmet would like this?   Needless to say I was flabbergasted.   I forgot all my principles about not talking to the enemy in my eagerness to find out who he was and how he knew us.   Paddy Burke was his name and he had been in the same Company and Section I think as Emmet.   He had often been in our house.   No wonder people say Civil War is such a terrible thing.   I suppose it’s the same in every country but certainly here it was the best of the country who fought on both sides.   Of course, there were exceptions of people who had been on our side, and who not approving of civil war refused to fight on either side.   But the vast majority of the people who didn’t take either side were just wasters with no public spirit.   I know it has been said that it was better to be neutral than a traitor, but very few of them were conscious traitors

The whole of them couldn’t have lost all their idealism and patriotism (which the neutrals never had) in such a short time.

            I don’t know what Paddy Burke thought he was serving, King, Country or Cosgrave, in putting me into my cell (or what I thought I was serving in staying out of it, for that matter!) but in, he eventually put me.   Needless to say I didn’t get much of a reception from Maire and Nannie and I must admit I felt that I wasn’t doing much credit to the care given to my upbringing (as Jane Austin would say).   In the lectures on deportment and the proper way of entering a room I don’t remember Mother Bodkin recommending this particular way.   However it was lounges and drawing rooms she was talking about, and she grossly neglected her duty in not informing us how not to enter a cell in which you are going to be locked into for 22 hours!

            Having once decided on an active resistance policy there was no going back of it, so next day I had to refuse to come in from the exercise ground.   In due course Páidín arrived, grinned, raged, and provided great amusement until eventually he sent for a great crowd of Matrons who carried me all the way back to the cell.

            After the evening exercise Honour Murphy insisted on taking part in the protest, though I begged her not to, as she didn’t approve of it and it was much harder for her to it having been on good terms with everyone.   She was a real brick, as I know it was the hardest thing she could have been asked to do.

            We were now beginning to be worried about Mary McSwiney, it may seem foolish to a person who was either never on strike or never watched a hunger striker, but especially to those who watch, every hour seems a week.   It is hard to describe it but I really believe that the greatest torture one can undergo is to watch ones relations on hunger strike.   How Mary and Annie McSwiney preserved their senses was I believe a miracle.   I often think that there is some ‘gadget’ missing in my mental machinery since Anno’s hunger strike.   Thinking at that time used to be so terrible that I discovered (or thought I discovered) a way of sort of putting your brain into “free wheel”, but I don’t think I ever got rightly back into top gear!

When one’s friends are on hunger strike you feel you must do something and there is usually nothing to do.   We talked and talked and finally decided that the only thing was a sympathetic hunger strike.   Nannie argued that she didn’t feel conscientiously justified in going on as felt her duty was to her boys and she had no intention of dying.   "Neither have I" ”said Mam “but if we are all on, they cannot let us die, and your name would get publicity in America”.  “Well” said Nannie  “if you think I must, I will but it will only be for forty eight hours”.   Maim entered into the sport of the situation and told her not to tell the authorities that anyhow and that when she’d be two days on, she might be persuaded to stay on a few more.

            By this time breakfast had arrived and as we gently pushed them from us, Nannie said with a laugh “Well here’s to my hunger strike!” and thereupon took a bite out of an orange.

            Such was the manner in which we embarked on our “hunger strike” no wonder it met with such a disgraceful ending.   Instead of helping Mary McSwiney, we simply made her desolate.   She said she felt responsible now for the sufferings of four extra people.   And that the thought of Nannie and Mam killed her altogether.

            On Thursday in the middle of the night that is Friday morning when we had been three days fasting (oh mighty hunger strike!) I was suddenly awakened by the voice of the Doctor talking to Mam.   I caught the word “dying” which immediately made me wide awake.   He was telling her that Honour Murphy was in a very weak state, owing to her heart and that he wouldn’t take any further responsibility for her life, if she persisted in the hunger strike.   The reason he was telling Mam all this, was that Honour said she’d take brandy and come off if Mrs Humphreys did also.   Did anyone ever hear such a thing?

            Indeed this idea of the Doctors trying to get you off it when they think it's getting dangerous, always amuses me.   What do they think we go on for.   Fun?   Though’ in this particular strike I wouldn’t blame Dr O’Connor for anything he might think.   Another thing which amuses me, is the effort the Doctors make to get people with weak hearts to remain off it.   Every strike I was ever on the doctors came to me and asked me to use my influence with so-and-so not to go on, or to come off.   At first those people with weak hearts used to have my sympathy, but the last time I felt like saying well “D- it all must we of the strong hearts suffer alone – not likely”.   It’s a swing brick I must have, as May Jones used to say.

            I believe Dr O’Connor was a scrupulously honourable man, but I wonder could Honour have been as bad as that; anyhow as M. didn’t want to have H’s death on her conscience, after much parlaying she promised Dr O’Connor she’d come off it.

            Nannie now got a “fluttering” of the; or is it “in the” heart and the Dr begged her to come off it.   Thinking I had the field clear to myself, I fell into a lovely deep sleep.   But it seems Mam was only biding her time when breakfast came she announced that she hadn’t come off at all and wouldn’t unless I did!!   Some hours passed, Honour heard of M’s apostasy went on herself again and when Dr O’Connor came he found all his work undone.   He now turned all his heavy artillery on me, and – I surrendered.   Such was the humiliating end of our first hunger strike.   I’ll never forget what I felt like; I yet cannot hear Dr O’Connor’s name without a feeling of shame.   I felt that “my honour was taken from me and my life was done” (with apologies to Billy).

            Mary McSwiney was overjoyed –

 

Arrest of Suffolk Street

            However we hadn’t much time to brood on our defeat as many guests had arrived during the night and were lodged in the big cell on the second landing, henceforward known as “Suffolk Street”.

            23 Suffolk Street  S. Fein H.Q. had been raided the night before and everyone who had been in it or who entered while the raid was on had been arrested.   These included Lili O’Brennan, Mrs Gallagher, Madame Cogley, Tessie O’Connell, Miss Birmingham, Davy Devany, Rita Farrelly and Cathleen O’Carrol.   The two last had met each other by chance in Grafton Street, and having heard rumours of a raid on “23” decided to see for themselves whether it were true or not.   Their curiosity caused them eleven and 9 months respectively imprisonment.

            When they discovered the treatment we were getting they one and all decided it was wrong, but they also decided almost one and all that my form of protest was wrong or at least futile.   They agreed that the sensible thing would be to write and demand the sort of treatment we considered our right, and that if it were refused we could then decide on an active resistance policy.   I felt that they were right, though’ I should have loved them all just to refuse to go in as we were by then a goodly number and would have taken some putting in.

            We elected our first Council or representatives, Lili ní  Braonáin  and Brígid Ní Mhaoláin. Yes, I forgot to say Brigid had also been arrested the night before with Maíre McKee in the Publicity secret office.   As I knew her better than the others she and I having been on the Ex. and not a few “stunts” together we asked her to come into our cell which was supposed to accommodate four.   In that cell we got to know each other as we never would have outside.   Bríghid    is one in a thousand.   She used to call herself “the devil-may care” and to a certain extend, this sums her up accurately; but it describes her mind better than her actions.   Her brain was as reckless as any of Bret Harte’s characters, but it hadn’t the same power over her actions as is usual with such minds.   As a matter of fact if left to herself she would be quite happy reading all day.   A strange combination.

            I think it was two days we had to wait for an answer to our application, which was granted, a clear victory for constitutional means!

            On Saturday the 11th November while we were in the Prison Chapel awaiting a “shot at absolution” Nannie was called out and we saw her no more.   We were kept in the chapel until she was safely outside the gates.   I can’t describe what a terrible disappointment this was to me.   I had hoped against hope that she and Mam would be released together.   It seemed a bad omen for Nannie to go alone.   I thought every day Mam was in was like a year, and now I knew she’d be in until Monday anyhow.   Little I knew what was before her!   I thought it could only be some mistake, or some delay until Dick Mulcahy would order her release.   Where would he be only for Mam?   Well he realised how hard it had been for her to ask certain people to keep him in the bad times.   And he seemed to appreciate it.   Certainly he never hesitated to ask her again and again, until he possessed all the “safest” houses in Dublin.   I must be a hopeless judge of character because I swore to myself that he’d have Mam free within a few weeks.   Could I foresee that within a few months he’d have shot in cold blood the nearest and dearest of his former comrades.   God help you Dick Mulcahy with the conscience you must possess to-day!

            Well I said above “a shot at absolution” which is a most disrespectful way of referring to Confession; but it is expressive and there was no harm meant.   You see it was this way, you could go to confession alright, that is you could confess what you considered sins, but you only had a sporting chance of receiving absolution.   When you had told all your sins, the priest asked you what you were in jail for?   An odd person gave such a good answer to this question that the Priest gave absolution without more ado.   But in nearly every case a long discussion followed and ended by the Priest saying that unless you were willing to obey the Bishops ruling – through their Pastoral – he couldn’t give absolution.   I argued with one priest who finally told me he was as sorry as I was he couldn’t give it but he felt conscience bound to obey the Bishops whether they were right or wrong.   I saw this point and didn’t try any more as I did not see how a priest who looked on it that way could give me absolution, so I only prayed that I wouldn’t die until I could go to Confession.   I never could feel antagonistic towards the priests for their action that time, as they had to obey the Bishops.   God saw our difficulty and took good care to keep us alive until we got the chance of going; and I think it was desperately wrong and wicked, besides being extremely illogical for people to have refused to go to Confession since.   It's God and themselves they are hurting not the Priests.   Of course I do think there was no need for the priests to ask a person what they were in jail for; if they mentioned something political, then they brought it on themselves, and if they considered it a sin well then, they shouldn’t be in the movement and should give it up.   But if I sent all the F.S. Cabinet to glory during hostilities, I believe it would be a meritorious action.   One day I decided that if I could go into the confessional immediately after the ordinary prisoners, particularly those awaiting trial who were dressed in their own clothes, the Priest wouldn’t recognise me as a political and would give me absolution without questioning.   As soon therefore as the last “ordinary” prisoner came out of the Confessional I walked quickly towards it, ending up in a trot as I heard the fast footsteps of a wardress trying to get “in” before me.   I go into the penitent’s part first, but didn’t she open his door, put her head in and I suppose announced “a croppy”!   So my plan failed.

 

Mary McSwiney’s Hunger Strike – Mary McSwiney was now a week on hunger strike and no sign of her release.   Needless to say Mam had us all praying so hard that Bridie used to say she’d rather be on strike herself.   Each evening we used to assemble on the stairs outside her door and sing hymns (it’s a wonder this didn’t kill her).   Madame Cogley, who has one of the most pleasing voices in the world, used to give Ave Maria and other solos.   Kathleen who also had a nice voice would contribute to the “concert”.   Kathleen’s Aghadoe and “She is Calling”, were our favorites.

            I had only met Mary McSwiney a few times outside, and of course knowing her worth, stood in the most awful awe of her.   I thought that in speaking to her one would have to be continually quoting Tone and Mitchel and high follutin aphorisms   on principles.  Often two days I talked to her as I’d talk to Bridin!  I know it is fatal to worship leaders, that “every time in history they have let us down” (not true) etc. etc. but one cannot help judging causes by its defenders, and I often think that if the general public only knew Mary McSwiney they would be forced to recognise the justice of our cause.   Good and Honour and Suffering must and do appeal to people.   Dev’s imprisonment followed by his manly and honorable announcement that a Republic was our aim helped by his stopping a run away horse, made him the hero that led us almost to the promised land.   If at present people only knew how sincere and how human McSwiney is they would know we are right.   But instead of that nothing is bad enough to say about all of us but especially Mary Mac.   Of course one does find bad people serving good causes and good men serving bad ones, for example, I believe Cosgrave goes to daily Mass.   Well now in the name of fortune what does he be saying in his thanksgiving.   Or how does God allow him to go back and do such harm? 

            Well I’m wandering from Mary’s hunger strike.   Her sense of humour was much in evidence all through the strike and it was often amusing to see some one noiselessly open the door and poke a melancholy long face around the corner to be met with a bright grin from Mary.

            She wrote some magnificent letters to Dick Mulcahy during that strike which I hope are not lost.   If she only knew all I went through writing those letters.   She seemed to consider her life or death as events quite apart from herself, just episodes in the struggle between Ireland and England; and in a completely impersonal manner, she pointed out to Dick Mulcahy how her death would be a logical conclusion to his infamy etc. etc.   Now everything she said was true; but in writing them I used to feel as if I were nailing her coffin.   If I had had my way the letter I’d have written would have been “Dear Dick, I know you have been guilty of a terrible indiscretion, but I suppose every one is entitled to their opinions.   However, I am now giving you an opportunity of showing your appreciation of Terence’s affection for you in that glorious past.   One good act wipes out many bad ones –       Mise Máire    Nic Suibhne16 or 17 days on hunger strike”!!   I only wish I had a copy of the letter she did write.

            After a certain number of days I can’t remember exactly Mam. started vigils day and night at the altar on the top landing.   We used to take it in turn two at a time for two hours.   It was hard enough at any time, but the two vigils from 3 till 5 and 5-7 were the limit.   Of course at the time we wouldn’t pretend to find them hard as it would be a bit thick to grumble at praying for two hours with well filled stomachs for our comrade who had been over two weeks on hunger strike.   I suppose I must tell the truth here.   Bridie and I did one midnight vigil together during which we laughed most of the time and had a cup of tea in the middle of it!

            The attitude of the doctors during hunger strikes always amused me.   As soon as a prisoner goes on hunger strike, she becomes a patient about whom the doctor is most solicitous.   He calls every day and asks how you are? As if you could be anything but worse!   Admittedly a sympathetic doctor can do a lot for the comfort of a striker, and Dr O’Connor was exceptionally kind.   After I think about 13 or 14 days he ordered a water bed, which was of course a great boon to Mary McSwiney; but put the heart across me as I took it to be a sign that she wouldn’t be released.   This of course was silly as the medical authorities from whom the bed was got had nothing to do with the people who had the ordering of her release.   But in cases like these you don’t know how one looks for good and bad “signs”.   Mary herself seemed the most unconcerned of all, until Annie went on hunger strike outside the gate.

            On the 2nd November when she had been     days on hunger strike, in the evening about 7.0 o’clock Phil Cosgrave arrived unexpectedly.   I knew by his expression that he must have good news and within a few moments the glorious fact of her release was broadcast throughout the hospital.   I really believe we were happier than she was.   Again she was the coolest of us all, the doctor warned us that any excitement might prove fatal, so we had to contain ourselves until the stretcher disappeared out into the darkness.   We were just going to let ourselves go then, when out came Mam with a suggestion of a Rosary in thanksgiving.   We raced through this and at last gave vent to our feelings in singing and shouting till poor Bob Barton who was very ill at the other side of the partition sent in a request to be a little less noisy.    This was a pretty state of affairs, the men having to ask us to make less noise.   Ah well sure weren’t we suffering from hysteria and neurasthenia!

 

The Kerry Prisoners.     About this time our numbers became greatly enlarged by the arrival from Kerry of over a dozen girls nearly all from around Tralee.   The fight had been so hot in Kerry that the Staters arrested the girls as quickly as the men.   They had been kept a few weeks in Tralee barracks and then had been brought by boat to Dublin.   Words fail to describe what they suffered on the journey, but if it was inflicted and with the intention of breaking their spirit, it failed completely, as though they were dead tired physically, their Kerry spirit was ready for anything.   Of course I’ll be accused of prejudice when I say that fine as all the girls were, the Kerry prisoners were the finest of all.   They were of all ages from Katie Daly who though’ young could not be described as being in the movement for the “excitement of the thing”, to May Nagle and Annette Tyndall who were under fourteen.   Surely dangerous enemies of the British Empire.   May’s sister Sheila was also among them and it seems a third sister the most ‘wanted’ of all had evaded arrest.   Aggie Sheehy the famous footballer and volunteer sister was everywhere to be seen, tall, handsome with wonderful hair and a Malodeon!    Later in the Union Aggie was discovered to be as brilliant at rounders as her brother is in the field.   I often think what embryo golf and tennis champions are lost to the country.   Annette Tyndall was also a wonderful player.   And another, Dorothy Hannifin (whom I wonder where she is) excelled any one I ever say in catching out.   I never knew her to miss a catch within any possible distance of her.   She could also bat wonderfully, but took her time at running.   Gentle Hannah Foley must not be forgotten, nor Mary McSwiney who was told by Paídín to “stop that codding” when he asked her her name. 

Things went smoothly enough until Paídín started to “look for trouble”.   Our meals used to be brought to us by the women local prisoners who also swept the landing, and from time to time washed out the cells.   Paídín now announced that these women would be withdrawn and that we were to do everything for ourselves.   A meeting was called and many and varied were the views put forward.   When closely examined these views could be divided mainly into two opposing ideas, which were continually clashing.   One viewpoint was that we should avail of our imprisonment to improve and educate ourselves in every way.   Thus we should welcome the opportunity of doing our own cooking, washing, all sorts of housework and carry on at the same time classes in languages etc..

The other idea was that as we were being kept prisoners against our will, we should force the enemy to provide us with food (even though it be coarser and inferior to that which we might provide for ourselves) and insist on having the heavier domestic necessities like washing floors (beds, sweeping etc. of course we’d do ourselves) laundering of clothes etc. done for us.

Looking back on it now I can see there is much to be said for both ideas, but at the time I couldn’t see anything in favour of the first point of view.   It may be thought that they could have been combined, at least the classes part, but that was where the real difficulty came in.   To carry on classes successfully and make any real progress, a certain amount of peace and quiet was necessary.   Now peace was impossible unless one obeyed every whim of Paídín and his successors, because as soon as classes were in full swing, the authorities always introduced some new cause for trouble.   (The one exception was under Corry’s regime in B Wing Kilmainham).   Well now of course if we made up our minds to obey with contempt every order, for the sake of peace and improvement, it might have been a good policy, and we might have sent out of jail hundreds of Irish speakers, cooks etc. etc. but I couldn’t bring myself to look at it in that light.   I felt that we should carry on as strong an opposition to the usurping Free State authorities inside the jail as outside; and that we should use the time and opportunity to strengthen our spirit of Resistance.   I felt that if you once began to acquiesce and take the line of least resistance you were undone.   It’s a very interesting question about which I could write pages and pages and be still as muddled as when I began.   Compare for instance Tom Clarke who outwardly submitted to every rule and degradation British brutal officials could devise, while all the time he possessed and preserved the most indomitable spirit ever known in the history of the world.   Terence McSwiney who resisted the right of the prisoner to make him a prisoner and succeeded.   The natural result of the training he had given his spirit of  revolt and  resistance.

Well to get back to Paídín’s antics.   The meeting was held and it was decided that if the food was brought to each landing, we’d distribute it ourselves.   As it was, it was being left just inside the Hospital door in such heavy tins and vessels that no girl could really carry it around to distribute.   So for a few days we lived on most recherché meals, chiefly apples and sweet cake, and the much appreciated butter from a big keg which the Kerry girls had with them on the boat from Tralee.   After I think two days, we decided that as we had no “meals” to get we might as well stay outside on exercise during the meal hours.   Accordingly a good crowd of us remained out from 1.00 till 2.00 o’clock for which no one said ‘boo’ to us.   When 5.00 o’clock came it happened to be drizzling and I suppose it really looked foolish to stay out in the rain, but four of us who happened to be out decided to remain there.   It was good fun until it got pitch dark about 7.00 p.m. and the Matrons being withdrawn begged us for God’s sake to go in, as their being withdrawn meant that the military were going to do “something desperate”.   “Let them do their worst” said Eithne Coyle, in her crisp Donegal accent, and she meant it.   With that a Corporal or Sergeant or something arrived with four soldiers and gave us “ten minutes to go in or take the consequences”.   If we had had even apologies for voices, we’d have “struck up the marching tune” but as it was we had only to try to show how unconcerned we felt by our “general appearance”, in the pitch dark mark you!   I don’t care what anyone says but it’s really during moments like these that life is worth living.   Of course if we knew nothing was going to happen it would have spoilt all, but we didn’t.   We really thought they’d fire, and the funny things the three others kept saying I fear kept all thoughts of prayer from us.   When the ten minutes were up, the Corporal solemnly placed a soldier at each of the four corners and each as noisily and ostentatiously as possible put a bullet up the spout and pretended to take aim.   Sure it was all only bluff, but I wonder what they thought we’d do.   Of course, with such paraphernalia we had to put our best foot foremost and “suibhal suibhal suibhal a ghrádh “ until we were more dead than alive.   We were also wet through and longed for the dry cells, but how were we to go in now, that was the question.   We just couldn’t ring and ask to go in, so we decided to wait until Paídín came over on his usual visit so that he’d see us out and then go in.   But we forgot that Paídín could always “go one better”.    Paídín arrived with an escort and when we tried to get in, we were stopped and told we could now stay out for the night.

However it was Eithne and Maíre Deegan who went “one better” this time.   When the door was open they charged and got through.   Rita O’Farrelly and I failed, but were allowed in.

Paídín assumed a very important air, and sending for the Council told them that he’d give all the prisoners five minute to go to their cells and be locked in until further instructions.   The Council told him they'd do no such thing until the usual hour for locking up.   With that Paídín ordered his policeman to do their work, and after a quarter of an hour’s chaos and confusion, the victory was with the enemy and we were all locked up mostly in the wrong cells.

Next day the cells were opened at the usual hour and breakfasts were brought up in three divisions, one to each landing, so that little trouble was settled.

 

Classes

Our members had now grown “to something around 30, and for a week or two we had succeeded in carrying on classes.   We had one perfect Irish speaker Eithne Coyle who had been for two months a prisoner in Donegal under very hard conditions.   Her treatment had been so severe – and Eithne is not an exaggerator or a whiner – that she was forced to go on hunger strike against it.   As a result she was moved to Mountjoy.   It was not her first time as she had done           months of a sentence of       years in 1921.   She now took charge of the most advanced class while Lili O’Brennan and myself had two others.

Madam Cogley organised a choir, with seconds and thirds, but our singing was not appreciated by the priests.   One Sunday Father Fennelly actually called on Madam Cogley who was singing the Ave Maria to “Cease, cease, I call on you to cease”.   It was most dramatic and we all enjoyed his anger so much that we closed around Madame Cogley at the Organ so that she wouldn’t see or hear him.   It was really a shame for us, as she was blamed and she would never have gone through with it if she knew he was calling on her to stop.   We thought it was pure anger and spite on his part, but it seems it wasn’t as only under special circumstances is singing allowed at that particular part of Mass -–after the Communion.

About this time one of the prisoners got very sick, as she’ll never see this I’ll put down her name, Sadie Dowling.   She and Esther Davis had been arrested for hitting a policeman who had struck a volunteer at a proclaimed meeting.   Indeed as they were unknown to all of us, it used sometimes to be wondered were they Republicans at all; but the fact that they never signed the form ought to be proof enough for the most doubting Thomases.   Anyhow Sadie got ill and took to her bed, we took little notice of her until one day the priest was suddenly sent for; after that I needn’t say, we all went around with long faces, in slippers and on tip toe.   When we asked what was the matter with her no one could tell us, and when I asked her in the middle of the most awful moans where the pain was worst, she just rolled her eyes and said she was dying.   This on for a few days until one night the gas in her cell happened to flicker as gas often does.   The sentry however decided that those dangerous women were sending Morse messages to the enemy and conceived it his duty to empty his rifle through the cell window.   The first bullet struck the ceiling, the cell got the gas, the fittings and a large piece of mortar which all fell down on the patient’s bed.   Sadie didn’t wait to see where the other bullets would go, but jumped out of bed for the first time for two weeks and ran into the surgery.   She never went back except during the national hours for sleep, and was as well as myself from that moment on.   Unfortunately people like that give us all the name of being hysterical and neurotic.   And still I believe it is an ordinary disease, and a person can suffer as much with it, as with anything else, so I suppose I should not blame them but I used to.

 

The 8th December

On the evening of the 7th December it happened that Bridie O’Mullane had been instructed to ask Paídín when he came on his usual visit, for a certain number of pairs of boots for some of our girls.   Knowing nothing of what had happened “outside” that day she cheerfully informed him of our “request”.   Quite sure that Paídín’s answer would be original we were listening from our cells.   After Brighid had said her say Paídín cocked his head on one side and looked at her for fully one minute in silence.   Then in an inimitable tone of voice “Boots, boots, boooots is it ye want.   Tisn’t boots ye’ll be wanting from this out but Boxes”.   “Boxes”? said        in her grandest accent, “What sort of boxes”?  “Ah – Coffins” said he, “Did ye not hear what yer people did to-day, murder, cold blooded murder of an innocent man in Rathmines but I’m telling ye, ye’ll all pay for it”.

With that he stalked off, leaving an uncomfortable feeling of powerlessness behind him.   That night we prayed hard that the men who had done that hard work – just as hard to them as it would be to any one of us – would escape the terrible fate that would be theirs if caught.   “Lights out” at 10.00 p.m. found us in bed but far from sleep, for an hour Rita and Brighíd and I chattered and giggled in low tones not to disturb Mam, but she for some strange reason seemed not to think of sleep.   At about 11.15 or 11.30 p.m. a whole farmyard of cocks began to crow as I never heard cocks crow before.   About the same time we heard the humming and purring of a very high power car, seemingly quite near us.   There was an uncanny feeling about the night.   We stopped talking and after a time pretended to sleep.   Brid, Rita and I did eventually sleep, but I don’t think Mam, slept at all.   At about half past six I was awakened by an audible sigh from Mam, the only time in my life I ever heard her sigh.   I asked her what was the matter and she said “Oh, they’ve shot Liam Mellowes, they are digging his grave all the morning”

Now of all people in the world M. is the least imaginative or neurotic; so I was speechless when she said this.   I asked her what on earth she was talking about, and she repeated again that she heard graves being dug.    Now the most extraordinary is that the graves had not been dug as early as that, but she plainly heard the sound of spades and shovels feverishly digging in the hard ground.

We had to get up about 7.00 o’clock as Mass was about 7.20 a.m.   ‘Twas cold, dark and gloomy, and needless to say I didn’t say anything to anyone about M’s fears.

The priest didn’t ask our prayers at all, as was done over in the men’s side.

On our way back from Mass, as it was just getting bright, we thought we’d have a few songs partly to keep up our spirits, partly to break the hard and fast rule of dead silence which was so much insisted upon.   “The Soldiers Song” and “The Bells of Hell” (the latter within earshot of the priest) were special favourites for these occasions.

When we were passing the windows of the cells of D.I. we saw a man trying to call out something to us.   It was the ordinary local prisoners who were here, not politicals.   We stopped “singing” and he hurriedly called to us “They’ve shot four of your men, across the way”   With that he disappeared, I suppose he had been caught, and I hope he wasn’t punished for it.   I wonder who he was?   Some one with courage anyhow.

I couldn’t describe the effect it had on us; I’ve no intention even of trying, as I’d be sure unconsciously to copy Frank Gallagher’s masterpiece of description of that morning.

Undoubtedly it must have been worse on the men, to lose their comrades of a few hours before; but the very feeling that any one of them might be called upon to follow them, must have given them consolation.   Whereas our utter powerlessness and safety made it all the harder for us.

When we reached the hospital Rita and I climbed up on the windows, which overlooked the men’s exercise grounds and soldiers quarters.   There were many soldiers moving around rather excitedly.   One caught sight of us and called on us to get down and leveled his rifle, we ducked for a moment, looked up again just in time to see nearly a dozen soldiers running out from their building and around towards the side gate.   Again the sentry leveled his rifle at us and fired in the air.   We got down, and were down perhaps ten minutes when we heard that fatal volley, followed by 3 or 4 revolver shots.   We got up again to the window to see the soldiers returning.   Their work was done!  

For a few hours we couldn’t know what to think, we didn’t know how many had been shot as the strange thing was each time we heard about the thing before it had happened.   The prisoner who had spoken to us must have been over digging the graves before they were shot.

I understand the soldiers who did that awful work were not stationed in Mountjoy and to give those who were, credit, every sentry we saw that morning was weeping.

And no wonder they’d weep.   God only knows when Ireland shall wipe out the result of that tragedy.   It was the work of a Devil or a madman.   Surely the stupidest Free State must have realised the effect such a thing would have.   By a miserable majority of five, a treaty was approved of, a treaty that wasn’t worth one bitter word between comrades who had been through such glorious times. 

 Even from their own point of view the Stators should have realized that peaceful persuasion would be the best way to bring those that disagreed with them “into the fold”.   That is of course crediting them with honesty in their statements that Ireland was tired of war and needed peace to establish industries etc. build up its population, and then “step off” the Treaty on to a Republic for all Ireland.   This mind you was the only argument which led to a majority of five.   How did they carry out their programme?   By appealing to England to send over more eighteen pounders to start a war on their comrades who had remained faithful.   By starting a civil war at 25 minutes notice.   By ordering every gun not in the hands of their own soldiers to be given up by a certain date.   These same men had been for the previous ten years been preaching that a man without arms to enforce his demands was no man!   By shooting four quiet unassuming volunteers, “for the fun of the thing” to prepare the way to shoot Erskine Childers, a man from another country who had offered all, to Ireland'’ service.   These traitors knew Childers worth, they had had too much experience of his wonderful brains compared with their own, they knew they were no match for him, so they decided to kill him, yes to kill him in Ireland's name for his service to Ireland.   But this didn’t satisfy their lust for their former comrade’s blood.   Dick Mulcahy was not satisfied until he murdered his greatest friend who had been best man at his marriage, and the man I heard him myself praising as a lucky day for Ireland that Liam Mellowes wasn’t shot after 1916.   But why am I raking up these bitter memories?   On every side we are told to forgive and forget.   I wonder what on earth these people mean?   It might be possible to forget the act itself, but not while the fruits of the act remain.   And well those madmen must have known what the fruits would be.   It might be possible to forget that Eve eat the forbidden fruit but bedad its not easy to forget the results!   I’ve long ago forgiven Cosgrave and Co. for all their murders (I’m sure they appreciate my forgiveness!!) I might be able to make myself forget that 8th December morning; but is one expected to forget that “Ireland” no longer exists, we are now a Dominion styled “Irish Free State”, forget that Ulster, with its Benburb, its Cave Hill is no longer ours; forget that the Gaeltacht is all but dead; that the youth of the country have become wild geese, that – and exaggerated as this may seem its true – outside a very small band of Republicans who are living rebels to the existing ruling government (the I.R. Government exists but chiefly in our hearts) there is no one left in the country except those who are dependent in some way on the F.S. Government, the aged, and the very young.

Are we honestly expected to forget these things?   The F.S. had better find out if its possible to remove the memory and if so operate on all Republicans.   And then Ireland would be conquered, perhaps!   Or perhaps the little children of these generation might begin to ask questions when they grown up?   And will it then be too late to become Irish as well as free; ah that’s the burning question!

Glory! Where I’ve wandered to, how will I get back to Mountjoy in 1922.   Easily known I’m in Mountjoy now as where else would I have such time?

Well, the 8th being a holiday of obligation, under ordinary circumstances the men would have had a concert, the choruses of which we used to hear every Sunday; but from that day on we heard no more singing.

 

Christmas

Scarcely a day now passed without some tragic news.   Just a day or two before Christmas, Annie Moore from Kildare arrived a prisoner.   Her story was I think the saddest of all.   In one day she lost her brother and Fiancé.   Six men were caught in her house and all executed.   If any one ever got sympathy she certainly got ours, but I wonder did it give her any comfort.   Needless to say, in face of her sorrow, any little sympathy we might have been thinking of having for ourselves disappeared.   Especially for her sake, as also indeed for the sake of those far away from their Kerry homes, we determined to have a right merry Christmas.

I believe most of us thought the best we could achieve would be a bright and merry Xmas, but I must honestly confess, I spent one of the happiest Christmases of my life.   “Suffolk Street” invited us all to tea and entertainment, and they certainly succeeded in amusing us.   Madam Cogley sang her charming Spanish songs, Lili O’Brennan told her quaint, if sometimes wistful stories, Mrs Gallagher organised consequences and other games, but it wasn’t so much what individuals did as the delightful atmosphere of real comradeship, everyone determined to forget herself and make everyone else happy.   Pity people aren’t always like that.   Cosgrave had given doors open until 11.30 p.m. and light till 12.00 a.m. but even with those “privileges” the night seemed all too short.   Of course many toasts were drunk, - of tea! – pretty speeches made of which Cathleen Ní hUallacháin   was the chief subject.

In the early hours of next morning as we were dozing off to sleep, we heard that dread noise of keys and footsteps, which announced a new prisoner.   As she was put into a cell on the lower landing, we had to possess our souls in patience until the morning.   In the morning when the doors were opened Margaret Skinneder walked into us, taken on Christmas night.   I call that hitting below the belt, to arrest a person on Christmas night.   Even in the world war the Germans and English used to keep a truce on that day. – not indeed that saved Henry Wilson, or Fosche or any of those approved, but the men who did the fighting asserted themselves just once a year.   Margaret wore her Cumann na mBan Uniform, one of the few people who saved the uniform from the C.T.D.   In her case they had already taken it out to the lorry, when she refused to go with them in any other suit, saying her Uniform was the warmest.   They brought it back to her.

           

Overcrowding

Almost every day now brought new prisoners.   A few evenings before Christmas a Friday, Madam MacBride and Effie Taaffe were brought in.   We immediately made plans for holding a “Public Meeting” on the Sunday following at exercise hour, when Madam would address all the male prisoners and warders who exercised just beside us.   It would have been great fun and would have led to pandemonium among the ordinary prisoners.   However it never came to pass as Madame MacBride was released, either late the same night or early next morning.   She was arrested again some months later and was only released after a long hunger strike.   Mrs Desgand (?)   having gone on a sympathetic hunger strike outside the gates of Kilmainham.

 The prisoners arrived; accommodation was made for them in the cells, regardless of previous prison rules as to the number of prisoners to each cell.   The cells were of various sizes; ours was a room large enough to accommodate four conveniently, but not more.   This at any rate was our opinion but not that of the authorities.   They held that five could be put in it, and Miss Higgins, chief matron, proceeded to argue with points which would flabbergast the greatest lawyer that ever lived.   When Miss Higgins starts to argue, it’s as well to surrender straightaway, as you’d never get the better of her.   One of her chief points was that it would do no good and would only make things very uncomfortable for the new comer, for ourselves, and would probably mean removal to Kilmainham.   This last was certainly a Bogey man to us, as we were very well off where we were; but our answer was, let them get sufficient accommodation for us if they insisted on arresting us.

Needless to say the authorities didn’t listen to us, and one fine Monday morning in January Miss Higgins appeared and told us to get ready to receive a prisoner from Wexford.   We promptly told her we’d not have her in, and then with our hearts in our boots went out to meet the Wexford prisoner to try and explain the very embarrassing fact of our refusal to welcome her.   Who did we meet but Mary Comerford.   Of all the people in Ireland she was the one we’d have chosen to arrive at that very time.   We couldn’t help embracing her and giving her the warmest of receptions.   She thought we were all mad.   And indeed our mirth was misplaced; we should have been heart broken to see our best worker in.   She was worth a dozen outside, just shows how selfish we were, but at the moment it was “inside” and not “outside” that was worrying me.

We overwhelmed poor Mary with so many questions about her arrest etc. that it was quite a good while until she launched her bombshell amongst us.   She was on hunger strike!!   Terrible news!   Would spoil all!   Couldn’t refuse to have her in our cell if she were on hunger strike!   Just wanted her to be the test case, and now if we took her in, they would throw more and more prisoners in, until the place would be like the African concentration camps!

Hunger strike for release in Mary’s case where she had been taken with a gun, was illogical, unsoldierly etc. etc.!!   All and every argument I could think of I used to make her come off the hunger strike, but for a long time it seemed hopeless.   She watched us eating our breakfast, and took a drink of water.   Downstairs Lily O'Brennan, and the others begged of her not to go on hunger strike, as they all had had a sufficient experience of watching a hunger striker from Mary McSwiney’s awful agony.

While we were at exercise, a bed for Mary was put up in our cell, Rita who was the first to see it, wasn’t long in summoning Brighid and myself and we even went to hold a Council of War.   Our idea was to throw the bed down the stairs, but the thought of where Mary would spend the night on hunger strike, worried us.   Once again we appealed to her, begged and implored her and put a glass of milk and some bread and butter before her.   Brick that she was, she decided not to spoil our fight, but to throw her whole energy into it.   She had only taken two sips of the milk when we had the bed turning head over heels down the stairs.

It was the declaration of War!   We went back to the cell to await developments.   We knew Paídín would never resist coming up to tell us what he thought of us.   We were right.   We hadn’t long to wait.   Up he came, wagging his revolver and asked what was the meaning of it.   We told him we’d only have four in that cell.   “Ye’ll have five,” says he.   “Four we are, and four we’ll remain” say we.   “Four ye are, and five ye’ll be or my name is not Paídín”, says he.   After a few more “witticisms” between Bridie and himself, and with a parting shot “Remember whatever y do, I can always go one better”.   Paídín departed.

After finding out from Miss Higgins that he left orders that Mary was to be put into our cell, we decided to barricade it, rather Mary suggested that we could barricade it.   I wouldn’t have thought it possible to successfully barricade, but Mary showed us how to make everything act as wedges.   We spent most of the day and afternoon planning, and not knowing what time the enemy might attack we took up our positions about 5.00 p.m., the four of us inside, Mary outside.   From that until 9.00 p.m. we continued to “fortify our position”.

 

The Siege

At 9.30 p.m. the matrons locked all the cells and spent a half an hour trying to persuade Mary to come into our cell.   She jokingly telling them we wouldn’t let her in.   Indeed we’d have given anything to have had her in with us, it was awful to see her out in the cold dark landing alone, not knowing what was going to happen.

Well about 10.00 p.m. there was a sound of heavy footsteps up the stairs followed by Paídín’s voice calling on us to open the door.   When we refused he ordered whoever was with him to force it open.   The next ten minutes was a most awful time of suspense.   We could hear men puffing and panting, like porpoises but not an inch did the door give.   Of course the position of the place favoured us, as on account of the wire netting opposite the door  the “attackers” could only take up a very awkward position for pushing.   After about fifteen minutes there was a bell followed by the noise of scrummage and then complete silence.

For a while we suffered great anxiety as to Mary’s fate.   We were afraid they might have taken out their revenge on Mary and brought her over to the male prisoners, or God know what.    To our great comfort we got a message on the pipes to say that she had been put into K. the cell beside ours, a small cell in which already were Kattie Cantillon from Kerry and two others.   Needless to say no bed or bed clothes were put in with her, but her hosts did everything to make her very comfortable for the night.

Now, about this time Mam. had been suffering very much from her throat and her own doctor Dr Kennedy having been in to see her decided he would operate on her.   Of all days, he chose the second day of our Siege to carry out the operation.   The state of the cell can be imagined, also Mam’s feelings.   Now that I look back on it, I realise that I must be the most heartless, selfish brute that ever lived.   I enjoyed every instant of that “siege”, but what must it have been to Mam?   Would anyone else in the world have allowed their mother to go through such a thing?   But I really don’t think I realised what it was going to be like, because when I did and when I saw how M. took it I was ready to worship her.   Not once did she complain, or reproach us as she could so justly have done.   She just sewed, and read, prayed and meditated as if she were at home; while we carried on the most silly and outlandish conversations, which fortunately for her patience I don’t think she listened to.

Just imagine our consternation when we heard the Doctor had arrived for the operation.   (I believe he gives a very funny account himself of the bed across the stairway and general conditions)   We asked to see the Nurse and Doctor O’Connor and got a promise for them, that if we opened the door and allowed M. out no advantage would be taken of it to further “the enemy”.   It was a medical matter and Paídín and his brave men were not near, so we took down the barricades.

But as soon as M. was gone out we put them up again, and spent the next half hour in prayer.   Fortunately it was not a very serious operation, the removal of the Uvula, but under the circumstances it seemed bad enough for anything.   It was performed in the Nurse’s room, just two calls away from ours.   We hoped it could be arranged that she would stay in that room for the night, as our cell was in no fit state for a person after an operation, but I forget whether it couldn’t be managed or whether M. herself preferred to come back to us, but anyway back she came after a few hours.   However the Doctor had told Paídín that there mustn’t be any trouble that evening, so we were allowed sleep in peace, and Mary was allowed sleep undisturbed out on the landing where we had made up a bed for her.

Next day Wednesday was rather a quiet day.   M. was making a rapid recovery under such extraordinary conditions.   The night before a batch of prisoners from Dundalk had arrived and we made their acquaintance through the spy hole.   We must have presented queer spectacles, as our toilet had to be of the speediest nature, done as it was in quiet moments when it was considered safe to open the door and sally forth to the bathroom.   Even at such times, one watched and listened in case the Matrons would phone over to Paídín.   But we needn’t have worried we were left in undisputed possession of our castle.   If we had only known Paídín was contemplating a night attack!

About 10.00 p.m. once again we heard heavy footsteps on the stairs, once again we heard Paídín’s sweet voice at the door.   “Open the door”, says he “I mean work to night, so will ye open”.   “We wont”, said we, in our best imitation of the Cork accent.   “Ye won’t, won’t ye!” and a long ominous pause.   Fortunately we had all taken up our position against the inside wall, or wall on landing side, Rita and I were leaning on the barricades when we suddenly heard Mary’s warning cry, “Look out, he’s going to fire.”   We ducked down squatting on the floor and it was well we did, as the next second Paídín’s hand grasping a revolver, appeared in the hole, and smashed the gas mantle in smitherines.   We were now in darkness, and evidently Paídín thought we were real babies and called on us again to open.   When he got no answer, he started again, “Ye won’t, won’t ye”, and after repeating this three times he added “Well take that,” and gave us a live bullet!   I can tell you we got a fright, as we thought he’ll keep on until he emptied the chamber, though I had to laugh when Mam. turned and said to me, “I suppose you are happy now”.   I wasn’t quite but nearer than I generally am!!   And Bridie began to giggle, and Mam. in an earnest reproachful voice said to her, “Oh Bridie, could you not be serious even now and make an act of contrition.”   “Ah, Mrs Humphreys” in a tone of voice equal to Sybil Thorndyke’s best, “‘Tis too late, ‘as man liveth, so shall he dyeth’.”  

How Wolfe Tone and Liam Mellows must have laughed at the spectacle we presented for the next half hour, we had pulled two mattresses over us to protect us from a ’45 bullet fixed from a range of a foot or less!   I wonder how many prison mattresses would be necessary?   However our ‘armour’ hadn’t to stand the test, so we are here to tell the tale.   It would have been nicer of Paídín to inform us of his retreat, and so save us a humiliating and windy half hour under the mattress.   As it was, only for Nurse Dunne coming to ask us if we were alive and whole, we’d have been in that ‘uncomfortable position till morning.   The little wretch had stolen silently away!

Now to give little Paídín his due, I don’t believe he meant to make martyrs of us that night.   Before firing into the cell, he opened his revolver, emptied it of whatever bullets were in it, took other bullets out of his pocket and put them into the Revolver.   I imagine he meant to put blank, just to frighten us, and in some way the bullets got mixed.   It was certainly not a blank, the shot he fired, it was embedded in the wall opposite the door.   We all had bits of it for ages and I think Rita still has hers.   Fortunately it didn’t ricochet.   A nice experience for Man. the day after her operation!   A new method of recuperating!!   However she was a wonderful brick.

 

Capture of the Fort through carelessness

We should have known that Paídín would be determined on “revenge be japers”! and should have been particularly vigilant on the following day.   But we were depending on being left alone in the day, and awaited a night attack.   Still it was inexcusable for us to have had all the barricades down while we were taking in our dinner.   We must have been mighty hungry and mighty busy, as we actually heard nothing till we saw fifteen military policemen rushing like wild Indians into the cell.   Before we could realise what they intended to do, they had our four beds torn asunder and thrown out the door.   They left the mattresses and bedclothes but proceeded to throw every – what’s called – ‘stick’ of furniture out the door and down the stairs.

Rita with her usual quickness very cleverly managed to hide one table under the mattresses and bedclothes which had been thrown in a corner.   Mam. happened to be sitting on an old chair;  (without a back ‘tis true, but still a chair and therefore a treasure) remained seated and wild as the men were, they didn’t pull it from under her.   They pulled the stools from the three of us and the tables from which we were eating.   The noise was simply deafening as a similar eviction was taking place in each of the other cells.   I don’t know why the removal of the beds and furniture was carried out in such an extravagantly wild western manner, unless it were an effort to frighten us by showing they would stop at nothing.   For instance all the beds and tables were pitched down the stairs, in most cases arriving in smithereens at the bottom.   But if this were the idea it was a silly one, as such an outburst only has the effect of making the “other fella” as careless as the attacker.   If the authorities cared so little for their own beds and tables, why on earth should we?

It was really mean of Paidine though to treat every prisoner in the building alike.   He knew the second landing had not taken part in the fight but he took out his “ravings”on them as well as on us of the top landing.   I expect he did it to make us feel badly, and he succeeded in this, as I for one had an unrestful mind for weeks and weeks until the beds were restored to the second landing.

Well, pandemonium reigned for over three hours, and when finally all was quiet and we tried to get out to chat with the others we were told we were to remain locked up until further notice.   This surely was the last limit, the tables had been turned and instead of our keeping the enemy out, they were going to keep us locked up, in a bare cell without even beds or stools.   The cell at the time was like nothing on earth and we rang and asked that the door might be opened just to allow us get a sweeping brush and tidy the place.   We were told the order was that we were only to be unlocked three times a day to take our meals in.   We were not however lonely as we had all the top “landingers” entertaining us through the spy hole with stories of the evictions.

Tea came along at 4.45 p.m. and the door was opened.   We had decided that we would spare them the trouble of opening us for each meal; we intended to test the power of the Bible, so often told us by ex-prisoners of the Black and Tan period.   Quick as lightening we placed the Holy Book in the correct spot, gave a big swing and crash, off came the huge door; it very nearly fell on us.  Mam. was in the bathroom during the operation, but she only shook her head when she saw the open gap!

We breathed easier now as it was we who had gone the ‘one better’ and for the moment ‘victory’ was with us.   By a little manipulation we made a luxuriously comfortable couch out of the four mattresses, prepared a great tea on Rita’s trophy table and persuaded Mam. to give us the end of a Xmas cake she had kept for the lean times.   I don’t think I ever enjoyed any meal as much as that tea, with the view of the broken door to add zest to our appetites.

Poor Miss Higgins came along to see for herself the amount of damage done, shook her head, and immediately afterwards we heard the phone ringing as she reported progress to the ‘powers that were’.   We chuckled with delight as we thought of Paídín’s rage.

We spent the time discussing what the enemy’s next move might be and arranging counter moves, our general opinion being that nothing further would happen that evening anyhow.

Just as we got to the sweet cake stage of our tea, Annette Tyndall came rushing in to tell us that there was a great crowd of military policemen running up the stairs.  I tried to gobble up my lovely slice of Xmas cake, and had almost got to the almond and icing part when the military policeman Cosgrove rushed in an shouting out that he, “want you and you” pointing to Maire and myself.   He caught our wrists, and didn’t I have to leave my bit of icing after me.   Maire was quicker than me and managed to save her piece of icing.   Moral – never leave your bit of sweet cake until the end!

Just before this rude intrusion took place, Brid O’Mullane had been expressing her views on the attitude we should adopt in dealing with the military police.   She disapproved heartily of a policy of resistance and fixing her eyes on Rita and myself said that in allowing a policeman put his hand on us we were demoralising ourselves and our whole cause.   As soon as the opportunity arose she didn’t give us a very practical demonstration of her principles, as before I had time or wit to protest against being roughly handed I saw Brid springing like a cat at the policeman Cosgrove.   In a thousand years I’d never have had the courage to jump on him as she did.   He struck back at Brid with his clenched fist and broke two of her teeth.   I suppose I should have resisted, but I didn’t and I was actually glad to be hurried out of the cell and down the stairs before more teeth were broken.  

As we were being rushed away, the Kerry girls gathered from their cells and barred the way of some of the policemen, a scuffle on the landing took place and after a few seconds a shot rang out followed by a dreadful silence.   My heart nearly stopped as I was afraid it might be Mam.   A group of new prisoners from Dundalk had arrived the night before and were now gathered around us.   Seeing the Fainne on one of them I asked her in Irish would she go upstairs and find out what had happened.   Like a brick she was up and down again in a few seconds with the good news that no one was hurt.   The bullet had gone through the floor.   I found out later that my trusty messenger was Evelyn Garvey (?), one of our best.

We hadn’t had time to get hats or coats but those we left behind were quicker witted than we were and threw our coats down to us.   I gasped when I saw my coat floating upside down through the air and wondered what would happen when the bullets would start falling out of the pockets.   But to my amazement not one fell out, so there and then I decided to show my gratitude to them for staying where they were by never parting with them! (A mighty silly resolution)

They gave us time to put on our coats and off we went into the night with our escort of ‘fifteen brave men’ as they called themselves, who kept jeering us, saying we ‘hadn’t enough courage now to try any of our tricks’.   I hadn’t any tricks to try then or any other time, but they probably meant Maire’s trick of escaping.   She had very nearly escaped the day she was arrested.   We were both dying to know where we were going, but wouldn’t give them the satisfaction of asking.   We hadn’t long to wait in suspense however, as in a few seconds we were being hurried down the steep steps leading to D. Wing Basement.

A moment’s pause after which a strange forbidding looking Wardress arrived and sullenly opened the gate.   We were back in that awful evil smelling basement which housed all the women criminal prisoners, and out of which I had been so delighted to get the first day.   It was now only dimly lit and the smells and the atmosphere were even worse than on the previous occasion.

The Wardress opened the door of a cell on the right, and as I happened to be the nearest to it, I was pushed in and the door was locked behind me.   Straining my ears I heard the footsteps for about 30 or 40 yards, more clanging of keys and then silence.   I was relieved to feel that Maire had also only been locked into a cell, as I was worried all the week for her safety on account of her being caught with a revolver.

It was pitch dark in the cell, but before the door had been shut I had had time to see that it was absolutely bare of all furniture except one small article.   In spite of its emptiness it was terribly stuffy and there was a strong smell of snuff.   I discovered later that two of the women prisoners had been removed from the cell just before I arrived and one of them had been a snuff fiend!

When I had time to think I became very amused at the abrupt ending to our grand party, and I was forced to admit that Paídín had gone his ‘one better’.   I was smiling broadly to myself when suddenly a light flashed through the little ‘Judas’ hole in the door.   The military police were evidently outside still and were going to amuse themselves jeering at me.   I walked up and down trying to give the impression that I was enjoying myself immensely.  They soon got tired and went away.   Everything in this life is relative and I was actually as happy as anything when I found myself really alone.   It was grand and warm, I wasn’t a bit sleepy and as I hadn’t had any exercise for days I decided I’d walk up and down for hours, until I’d be so sleepy, I wouldn’t mind lying on the bare floor.   I was sure we’d get no mattress or bedclothes.

But in about a half an hour’s time the novelty was gone and I was beginning to feel very sorry for myself when I heard the footsteps of a great number of men coming up to the door.   Once again the light was flashed through, the keys jangled in the lock, the door was opened and a mattress and bedclothes were flung in.   The door was hurriedly shut, the footsteps moved on to Maires again and died away in the distance.   Everything was dead silent.   I groped about and recognised by the feeling that they were the same bedclothes and mattress that I had in the hospital.   I was now perfectly happy.   It was a funny experience trying to make the bed in the black darkness.   I thought it was a great success but discovered in the morning that I had put the mattress diagonally across the cell.

I was awakened the following morning by a noise like thunder, which turned out to be only the men criminal prisoners marching over our heads, to exercise.   This noise used to be repeated six times a day, that is every time they entered and left their cells.   Between the noise of their feet, the shouting of the warders and the jangling of their keys there was absolute pandemonium followed by eerie silences.

I had my first introduction to that weird and monotonous custom of double locking.   It’s an aggravating practice.   It is hardest when the doors of the cells are locked after tea every evening before 5.00 p.m.   One would think that was enough.   But later on at 7.30 or so another official comes around with another key and gives each lock a further turn.   On Sundays this further turn is given before 6.00 p.m. which gives one a terrible feeling of isolation.

Each morning two officials have to go around and with different keys open each cell door.   Our doors, with all the others got the first turn of the lock, but when immediately afterwards the second wardress comes along to open each door she passed ours in silence.   Although curious I was very glad my door wasn’t opened as the less I saw of my neighbours the more it pleased me.

By 7.00 a.m. the life in the jail was in full swing.   8.20 a.m. came and with it the bustle and excitement of breakfasts.   Again my door was passed and I began to think we must be on ‘bread and water’ and I as hungry as a hawk!   It must have been 9.30 a.m. when I heard the door we had been brought in through, opening and some one stopping outside my cell.   The door was opened and in came my old friend Miss Higgins with a grand tray of ‘good things’ as they were in books.   A plate of porridge, a mug of tea and a good number of slices of bread and butter.   All mighty welcome!

I wanted to keep Miss Higgins for a ‘chat’ as even abuse was better than nothing; but she seemed in a dreadful hurry to go and all she would say, wagging her head was, “Now look what you have brought on yourself”.   I tried to tell her that we would yet go ‘one better’ but she didn’t give me time.

After breakfast I made a grand couch of the mattress by rolling it up with all the bedclothes inside it.   It was now high time to have made my toilet but having no water, no basin, no brush or comb and deciding that things did not come to those who wait, I pulled the bell.   A wardress came and told me she was very sorry but she couldn’t open the door as no one had the key except Miss Higgins.   I knew this was a lie as the same key opens all the doors; but arguing with prison officials is sheer waste of time.          

When Miss Higgins came with dinner about 12.30 p.m. I asked for water, brush and comb and a book – with which one could get on quite nicely.   But poor Miss Higgins halting and stuttering told me that her orders were to give us nothing except our meals.   I tried to convince her that Paídín never meant to leave us with dirty faces and in the end she agreed to let me down to the taps and to give me a basin.   The brush she also promised but the book she couldn’t give.   On the way to the bathroom I had no difficulty in recognising the door of Maire’s cell as there was a bevy of wardresses standing with their backs to the door of her cell to prevent my going near her.   I could only ‘hallo’ her and received the same in return.   On the doors of both our cells there was a notice ‘not to be opened’.   One would imagine we were wild animals.

I was luckier than Maire as I happened to have in my coat pocket a nice book, which Mae had sent me for Christmas, “The sayings of Plato”.   I read them and analysed them and pondered long on each of his thoughts, for which I deserve little credit, circumstances leaving no alternative!

It was a very long day and the early darkness was very welcome.   I made my bed about 5.30 p.m. and got into it as not being made like a cat, there didn’t seem to be anything more exciting to do

Next day was an exact repetition of the first one except that another wardress brought dinner and before leaving the cell she hurriedly drew a book from under her cloak and thrusting it into my hands said “On your life, don’t let that be caught”.   She was gone so quickly that I hadn’t even time to thank her, and I’m afraid she never knew how really thankful I was.   The book was “The Scarlet Pimpernel” which I had been in the middle of.   I certainly did enjoy it that day, all the more so because it was read under such difficulties.   I had to keep my ears cocked all the time for footsteps, as the wardresses had an annoying way of looking through the Judas Hole at every half an hour or so.   But I was glad to have to stop so often as it made the book last longer.

The following morning was Sunday and I awoke all excited over the prospect of seeing and meeting the others at Mass.   I felt they couldn't keep us separated even if they tried.   Mass hour came and I heard all the other political prisoners coming over from the hospital, and the other ordinary women prisoners being brought from the cells beside us.   No one came near us.   Everything was silent.   Surely I thought, we’d be late for Mass if they don’t hurry up.   Still no one came.

Evidently we were not going to get any Mass.   But then they couldn’t leave us without Mass!   What would they do?   Honour Murphy had told us that Paídín had brought her over once to the Men Political Prisoners Mass and that she actually had been speaking to some of them.   Perhaps that was what they would do with us.   And wouldn’t we just have fun?

What a hope I had??

After a while I heard the sound of footsteps returning and waiting until they got near.   I shouted to Bridie and Rita.   They heard and came over.   I couldn’t see them as the window was too high up and I had no table or stool.   But it was just great to have even a few shouts with them.   As always happens under such circumstances, we couldn’t think of anything worth while to say.   They told me three times that they had brought over my hat as if I couldn’t go to Mass without it!   After less than a minute the soldiers moved them on.

Again all was silent and I was beginning to think that we weren’t going to any Mass when I heard footsteps coming up the long wing and stopping outside the door.   The door was opened by one of the chief wardresses who gruffly muttered “Come on to Mass”.   I was very anxious to ask for water to wash my face as it felt almost wrong to go to Mass without washing, but I remembered that after all that was only a habit.   When we got down to Maire’s door to my astonishment the wardress opened it without a word.   Out came Maire and we both went off together.   

At the top of the first flight of steps in what is known as “The Circle”, there were two military policemen waiting to escort us up to the Chapel.   Mary took this as quite an ordinary thing but I grew two inches taller with pride, and when the deputy Governor himself met us at the door of the Chapel and led us up a little stairs to a pew overlooking the Church my cup of vanity was full.   The church was a sea of faces gazing up at us.   It was the ordinary men's Mass and needless to say it was an unprecedented event to have women present.   There is a prison rule which orders that on the very rare occasion when a woman appears on the horizon, all the prisoners are ordered a right about face until the woman is safely out of sight.   This order used to make me so mad that I felt like going up and speaking to the men, but I knew that that would only embarrass them, and perhaps get them into trouble.   But as a matter of fact before our time in the criminal prison was up, this silly and humiliating order was abandoned.

To be quite candid I fear I said very few prayers at Mass that day.   But the distractions were overwhelming.   Practically every single man in the congregation spent his time looking around up at us and nudging his neighbour.   I spent my time examining the different prison uniforms, the colour of the stripes the stars and the shapes of the men’s heads.   They struck me as being a gathering of exceptionally keen, intelligent alert and perhaps overdeveloped men not at all answering to the description of degenerate, half wits etc. as the story books make them out.

As well as Maire and I there were two wardresses, so we must have presented a funny quartette.

After Mass there was Benediction sung by the prison choir led by an Italian who played the organ and sang like an operatic singer.   It may have been the surroundings but I thought it was the most devotional Benediction I was ever present at.   It was good to get Benediction, especially when we could not go to Communion.  

In the interval between Mass and Benediction Maire and I had a chat, both talking at the same time we had so much to say and plan.   What was to be our future plan?   How long would we put up with “solitary confinement”?   Would we send a demand to Paídín to be sent back to the others?   We couldn’t decide on anything definite, but we both agreed that we’d make no complaint for the present, as it would appear like whining.   We did consider refusing to go back into our cells after Mass, but with two soldiers waiting for work, we decided it would be quite futile.   So again accompanied by our escort we returned to our cells.

That Sunday was the dreariest and longest day I ever spent.   I had finished the Scarlet Pimpernel, and the very sight of Plato, not to mention his aggravatingly soothing philosophy drove me distracted.   To add to the dreariness my neighbour overhead kept humming in a quiet monotonous hopeless tone Peggy O’Neill.   He kept time with his feet, the tune was sung at least 10 degrees slower than any human beings had ever attempted it; and with the exception of a short lull for breakfast, dinner, and about an hour’s exercise, he kept that same tune going all day long.   Fortunately he went to bed very early almost immediately after tea at 4.30 p.m.  I hoped for his peace of mind that he slept soundly and dreamt some cheerful dreams far away from here.?

It seemed that Sunday that every chine in Dublin made their way up to serenade Mountjoy.   I swore that in a free Ireland there would be no chimes, as even if there were no poor prisoners to listen to them, there would always be hospital patients and other sick people doomed to listen hour after hour to their maddening tunes.

Miss Higgins, with her good-natured flushed face, was a great break in the monotony at “dinner hour”.   From her more than usual embarrassed expression, I knew she had something on her mind, and after much hemming hawing she managed to stutter an inquiry as to whether I would like to return to the hospital.   I told her I naturally would and then with twice as much stammering and stuttering she said that she was sure that if I apologised to Paídín promised that I would “behave” in future he would let us both back.   Poor Miss Higgins I was really sorry for her, as she seemed to be thinking our punishment much more than we did ourselves.   So as politely as possible I told her I’d see myself d – n first, or words to that effect.   She sighed, deposited my dinner on the floor and retired.   Dinner hour every day was quiet, but dinner hour on a Sunday was as quiet as the grave.  

After dinner hour at 2.00 o’clock the cell doors above and beside us were all opened to allow each prisoner put out his mug, plate and tin, and after about 5 minutes were locked again for another few hours of silence.   Only prisoners who have served a certain term of their sentence are allowed to have exercise on a Sunday afternoon.   The great majority are locked in their cells and generally retire to bed.   Although according to the letter of the prison rules they are not supposed to make up their beds until 7.30 p.m.

As I hadn’t then, nor unfortunately ever since, acquired the prison habit of taking to my bed in the middle of the day, I just sat on my ‘couch’ and thought and part of the time ‘just sat’.   Every time I heard a step coming stealing up to look through the Judas Hole, I started to walk up and down as I couldn’t bear to think of them looking in pityingly at the “poor devil with nothing to do”!  It used to amuse me to hear them creeping away on tiptoe thinking I didn’t know they were spying.   I doubt if they ever were there unbeknownst (first time I even saw that word written -) to me.   I think every prisoner gets this sixth sense - they have to in self-defense.

The hours passed slowly and it was getting near teatime when I heard the sound of many heavy footsteps coming down the wing and stopping at Maire’s door.   I heard the lock being opened, a pause, and the door pulled to again.   Then the footsteps started again and came nearer and nearer till they stopped outside my own door.   A fumbling of keys followed and the door was thrown wide open and Miss Barrett announced in a voice of thunder “Some military officers to see you”!   Needless to say I was already walking up and down all in a doo-da of excitement trying to time my pace so that I’d be at the upper end of the cell away from the door when it would be opened.  

I managed it fairly well but curiosity got the better of me, and instead of pretending there was no one there I glanced up and saw my ‘old love’ Paídín and two other men in officers clothes.   Paídín wore his usual grin and perching his head on one side he said “Any complaints, any requests?”   With what I hoped was a haughty and scornful glance I continued to ‘pace’ up and down in true Marie Antoinette style!   Of course the truth is that I couldn’t think of anything to say that Paídín wouldn’t go one better than me in.

After a minute or two they turned away and Miss Barrett banged the door turned the key, shot the bolt and left me alone to make up grand imaginary speeches to answer Paídín with.

That night when I got out to go to the bathroom, I tried to have a word with Maire to find out what she had said to our little tormentor, but the wardresses were before me.   So I had to possess my soul in patience for another day when I heard that she had treated him in the very same way.

By next day I had decided that we were going to be left in solitary confinement as long as we’d stand it, but I didn’t like to do anything without consulting Maire.   But by Tuesday I realised that I’d get no chance of ever seeing her unless I did something “desperate”.   So after much thought I decided that when Miss Higgins brought in dinner I’d walk out and refuse to come in.   There was certainly nothing very desperate about that, but if I had decided to shoot the poor lady and all the other wardresses I wouldn’t have been more excited.  

By the time dinner arrived I was a bundle of nerves, and more like an automatron than myself.   I walked past Miss Higgins, out into the middle of the wing and seeing Maire’s door clear, I rushed down to her.   I told her what I had done and she approved heartily.   In a few moments Miss Higgins sailed down to us and tried all her powers of oratory on us.   Her chief argument was that Maire would get no dinner until I went back to my cell.   But Maire told her that she didn’t care if she never saw her dinner.   So after about a quarter of an hour’s arguing poor Miss Higgins withdrew more in sorrow than in anger to have to report the affair to Paídín.

For the next hour and a half or so I was left in peace, until Paídín arrived, walked up the whole wing but never said aye or nay until he got to the top of the wing where all the wardresses were gathered before going on duty.   He remained speaking to Miss Malin the head matron for about 10 minutes and then went away.

It was many weeks before we heard what took place at that interview.   It seems he gave orders to Miss Malin to have me put forcibly back in my cell; and Miss Malin refused to give the order saying that she could not take orders from him, outside the hospital where the political prisoners were lodged; that his jurisdiction ended outside the hospital and that he had no authority whatever over the ordinary prison.   This red tape saved us some discomfort at the moment but was to bring us far more trouble in the future.   As what did Paídín do to have his revenge but go off to the Castle or somewhere and get us transferred over to the ordinary prison as criminal prisoners.   He must have done it in record time too. 

When tea came along Maire’s door was opened without a murmur and I was allowed to bring my mug along and go into her cell.   The door was banged behind us leaving the two most amazed individuals in Dublin.   We enjoyed a period of perfect contentment until we began to wonder what would happen next.   We knew Paídín too well to think that we were going to get our way so easily.   But how was he going to ‘go one better’, that was the question.

It must have been about 7.30 p.m. when Miss Barrett unlocked the door and announced the Deputy Governor.   A strange squat small black very unprepossessing creature shambled into the cell.   Needless to say we said nothing and he said nothing too.   We were in a most undignified position sitting on the mattress flat on the floor, a position not very conducive to ‘speaking up’.   Miss Barrett broke the awkward silence by asking us if we hadn’t some request to make from the Deputy Governor.   I very foolishly, gave him the very opening he wanted by saying that any dealings we wished to have with the authorities, would be had with Paídín O’Keefe.   (And we after ignoring his very existence almost the day before) “Oh,” said the black looking creature, “that’s where you’re mistaken you have no longer anything to do with Mr O’Keefe or Mr Cosgrave, you are now under my charge”.   I was so flabbergasted that I don’t remember what either of us said to this, if indeed we said anything.   But I remember him going on to say how now we would see what real prison was like: that he would stand no highfalutin nonsense like what went on over at the hospital: that we’d conform to all the prison rules: wear the prison dress and behave like the rest of the prisoners with whom we would now associate, or he’d see the reason why.

When he had gone we both agreed that Paídín had indeed gone one better.   Maire was much more philosophical than I was, and I tried to pretend to be cheerful until locking up time came and I went back to my own cell.

In the secret darkness of my own cell I gave up pretending and indulged in the luxury of a good cry.   I had a good precedent in Mitchel, though the parallel is lacking, as he had plenty of reason and I had none.   However, I didn’t reason like this at the time.  All I thought was that there was an end to the grand important position of being a “military captive” “a prisoner-of-war” and all the other names with which Paídín flattered my pride; an end to all the rows and battles with Paídín, and end to all our classes, debates and meetings, to our rounders matches, to the company of Bridie and Rita, to our association with the outside world.   That instead we were doomed to pass perhaps the next 10 years (that time I thought the war would last for years and years) as ordinary criminal prisoners, in that evil smelling hell of a place, broken by the force of the prison machinery under that brute of a man.  

For a long time I could see no hope of two lone isolated individuals fighting successfully some 30 wardresses determined to enforce prison rules.

Then suddenly I thought of the weapon of the hunger strike, and everything became brighter.   Gradually I realised what a childish thing it was to want to be ‘under the military authorities’ and what a terrible thing it would be if it were found out.   After all, civil or military, they were all the same and the only thing that mattered was to insist on getting political treatment.   And there was no reason why we shouldn’t demand political treatment from the civil authorities, and if they refuse go on hunger strike.   The most serious results of a hunger strike would be welcome to 10 years of a life in that hell.

So having found a way out I went peacefully to sleep and as long as I was in was never again half as unhappy as I was for a few hours that night.

Next morning things didn’t look half as black, although breakfast coming at a little after 8.00 a.m. instead of after 9.00 a.m. proved that the criminal era had commenced.   At about 10.00 a.m. our cell doors were opened and we were told that the Governor was about to come around and that we could see him together if we wished.   We had only barely time to draw up our demands when the jingling keys announced the arrival of Major Monroe the civil Governor.   He greeted us politely a pleasant contrast to his subordinate of the night before.

When we had said our say – and our demands were not very modest – he replied that he considered we were political prisoners and that unless he heard to the contrary he intended to allow us the same treatment as had been given to the women political prisoners under the British.   And then becoming quite friendly he said he had been given very little information as to how we were to be treated, and taking a sheet of paper from his pocket he read the instructions he had received about us.   The paper simply said that we had both been found guilty of destroying prison property that we had been sentenced to three months hard labour, and that for classification and treatment the Governor was to consult the military governor.   So, the Governor added that until he heard from the military Governor we could have all we asked for.

Monroe’s attitude to us made a great impression on the wardresses, who immediately began to bustle around, telling us that now we would be given fresh cells, beds, tables and stools, and the greatest luxury of all, baths.   We badly needed one, and accepted them on the spot.   But we got more than a bath!  

I had often heard of bugs and vermin but I never knew what they meant until I went for that bath.   The bath, floor and wooden partitions were literally “alive”.   There wasn’t an inch of ground or wall where one could put one’s clothes.   The floor and insides of the bath was all that was clear, and the bath I had that day was unique as I kept all my clothes, including my shoes in one hand high above the water while carrying out my ablutions.   It was a bath under difficulties but it served its purpose!

We made such a fuss that from that on we were given chairs to take in for our clothes.   That was the best they could do!   The enemy was far too powerful and too numerous to exterminate.

We were told we would be given two cells beside each other, but actually the worst convict they could find was put between us.   But instead of proving a nuisance, she turned out the best friend we had in the place.   Poor girl such a life as she has had in trouble all her time, and she doesn’t even get on well with the wardresses.   She “saw better days” too, which makes things harder for her now.

The first morning I awoke in the new cell I heard a conversation being carried on right outside the window between a girl with a very refined voice and a man.   They were talking about seaside places and the scenery of Wexford.   It was a strange sensation to hear them so distinctly with no chance of seeing them.

Now and then the gruff voice of the warder would tell the man to hurry on, but it evidently had no effect.   This touching scene was repeated about three times a week or as often as the man convict got the chance of sweeping the gutter outside under our next door neighbour’s cell.   Their feeling for each other must have been strong indeed, when it survived the cold dark damp of 7.00 o’clock on a January morning.

Many strange friendships grew up while the women occupied the cells underneath those of the men.   And after locking up hour at 5.00 o’clock in the evening, many a lover’s note was passed up and down, and even along from one end of the wing to the other and then down to the woman’s cell.   At times the conversation through the windows was anything but whispered.

One day a terrible tragedy occurred.   A young prisoner in one of the upper storeys was carrying on a conversation with our next door neighbour – she was one of the most popular, or at any rate, one of the gayest and talkative – when a sentry shouted out to stop that talking.   It was none of his business as they were not military prisoners and not under his control.   Evidently the boy either didn’t realist he was shouting to him or else ignored his warning, anyway he continued to talk.   A shot rang out followed by a sound of heavy falling.   The boy had been shot through the eye.   He was taken to the Mater; he didn’t die but of course lost his eye.   After the bustle and excitement there was in removing him, no one took any notice of the thing, and I believe he was brought back again to finish his sentence.   I wonder what happened to him afterwards.   Surely he was entitled to compensation.

When exercise hour arrived on the first day under our new conditions, one of the head wardresses came along and said that the Governor found it very difficult to arrange suitable hours and ground for our exercise.  He wished to know if we would agree to give our word of honour, that we would remain in one particular place and not make any effort to go back to our comrades.

After his being so nice to us, it was hard to refuse point blank the very first thing he asked – but this was always happening and was one of the reasons why it was much easier to be on bad terms than good ones with the authorities.

Now we mightn’t ever want to go back to the others, but if we once promised not to leave the exercise ground, it would mean that even if the gates were open and nothing between us and liberty, we would have to continue walking around our patch like good little asses.   So, as politely as we could, we said we couldn’t give any guarantee or promises.

Off she went with our answer and later returned to tell us that we couldn’t have any exercise that morning as arrangements for an escort could not be made for some hours.

However, even in prison everything comes eventually, and after dinner when our cells were opened we were told to come out on exercise.   It was quite an adventure to get out in the air again, as between the “siege” and all it was over a fortnight since we had been out.   A military policeman met us at the top of the steps so between him and the wardress we were well chaperoned.   We were brought to a green grassy patch enclosed on two sides by a trelliswork, the third by a patch and the fourth by the old disused A Wing.   It was the same ground as the women convicts and locals used in the mornings.

From one corner we could see the top windows of the hospital and we had been walking around for about an hour when happening to look over at the hospital what did we see but two figures at the window waving over to us.   We stopped and taking out handkerchiefs waved back.   The military policeman who in the meantime had been joined by three or four others, who evidently had nothing to do but keep their pal company shouted to us to stop waving.

He was standing about 18 feet away from us and he also could see the others waving to us, and must have realised that we were not sending any “important messages” to each other!   He repeated the order perhaps twice or three times and then fired.   I thought he was only trying to frighten us, until Maire said, “I’m hit”, she said it so quietly that I thought she was joking.   When she saw I didn’t believe her she stooped down towards her leg and said, “Look”.   She was wearing homemade dark green woolen stockings, down which was running a fast stream of vivid red blood.   Already a little pool had gathered on the green grass.   My first feeling was that she would bleed to death on the spot, and I urged her to put any old handkerchief or anything around it to stop the bleeding.    But her first impulse was not to let the soldier know he had hit her.   After a moment however, she agreed to tie her own handkerchief around it.   (She’d let me do nothing which would look like making a fuss, and the wardress was like a pillar of stone with fear).

When passing the military policeman who had fired Maire turned towards him and said, “Well, you haven’t such a bad shot after all.”   He and the others who were with him seemed rather ashamed of themselves.

In spite of the handkerchief we left a trail of blood behind us along the concrete path and down the steps.   Maire was so quiet and reticent that it was quite a while before we could impress on them that she really had been shot, but when they did eventually realise what had happened they all lost their heads with excitement.

Miss Malin was the only one who remained collected and she sent for the doctor.   He came fairly quickly, and on his way over saw the trail of blood and consequently expected to see the patient in a prostrate condition.   He had quite a job to make her take the thing seriously and allow him examine it.   After a short examination he said that she had had a very lucky escape, that the bullet passed right through the fleshy part of her leg, and missed all the bones.   But, he said, there was danger of, I think he said, gangrene – and that she was not at any account to put her leg under her.   Also he was not sure whether the dye on the stocking itself had gone into the leg.

When he had gone, Miss Malin arrived with afternoon tea on a lovely little tray, with cloth, two dainty little cups and saucers, thin bread and butter and ten? slices of sweet cake.   If I weren’t the lucky devil?   Maire must have been too shaken up to enjoy it as much as I did, but we both “partook” of it with gusto and relish.

Our door or rather Maire’s cell door was not locked at 5.00 p.m. and I was allowed remain with her.  When it came to final locking up time at 8.00 p.m. I was allowed take my mattress in and put it down on the floor in Maire’s cell, and even then the door was not locked.   They were evidently afraid of her taking a bad turn and the doctor must have told them to keep an eye on her; and of course I saved them from getting a special nurse.   But whatever the reason of it, I enjoyed the novelty immensely.

Maire couldn’t sleep at all, and I either couldn’t or didn’t sleep either.   There was an eerie feeling In the middle of the night, when all was dark except for a flickering gas jet at the end of the wing.   Nothing broke the dead silence except the step of the night guard who walked about mysteriously in slippers and once every hour went to the end of the wing to peg the clock.

Coming back from one of these journeys I called the dignified figure, in the hope of whiling away some time with idle chatter.   She came to the door and for the first time I got a view of her face.   She had one of the loveliest expressions I ever saw, beautiful – I think brown eyes, full of sympathy and friendliness.   I thought at the time that she was completely out of harmony with her surroundings, but I’ve discovered since that there is more kindness and christianity to be found in here, among prisoners and wardresses than you’d come across in a 10 mile radius outside.

She told us her life story, and a tragic one it was.   She had been married to a warder, and had three little sons.   One Sunday morning eight years before as she was preparing breakfast for the return of her husband, who was on duty at Mass in the male prison, there was a knock on the door of her little house.  On opening it, she was confronted with the lifeless body of her husband.   They carried him home, thinking that he might not be quite dead.

He had been a long time in the prison service, 25 years I think, but was not entitled to a pension.   She was taken on as night Guard (I heard since for a miserable salary) and ever since she has spent 5 out of the 7 nights tramping those dismal dark and eerie wings, while the greater part of the day was spent in looking after her sons.   Though indeed the description she gave of her sons, was like the description of the heroes in fairy tales.   “No mother was ever blessed with better sons”, she said.   They could cook their own meals, make fires, mend their clothes and their one aim since their father died was to lighten the burden for their mother, to save her trouble and not to awaken her while she slept in the day.

When the time came to peg the clock again she left us, and did not return any more that night, but she had told us enough to keep us awake for the rest of the night.

Next day when exercise hour came along I was rather lazy to face walking around alone before an audience but Maire insisted on my going out.   There were a few military policemen standing in the same place as the day before, but the one who had shot Maire was not there.   As I passed them one said, “How is Mary Comerford today?   Pity we fired so low yesterday.   Better not try any tricks today, as we shall aim at your head next time!”   And his colleagues encouraged him by giving a loud guffaw.

As I walked around I was consumed with embarrassment, and enraged with myself for taking such notice of them.   By some misfortune I looked up at the window of the hospital and there saw or imagined I saw either Rita or Bridie.   The policemen saw me looking and tauntingly shouted, “Oh, you won’t wave today”.   I passed on out of sight of the window and went through agonies wondering would I or wouldn’t I wave.   My cheap vanity won and as I passed next time I stopped for a few seconds and waved.   The policemen shouted, “Stop that waving or we’ll put one through your head”.   And one of them cocked his revolver.   I was speechless with terror, but had got myself into a hole I couldn’t get out of.   But the bullet didn’t come, and though mighty relieved I felt mortified at not being shot!   I knew I had made a real fool of myself.   And after that I took good care not to look up at the Hospital windows at all.

 

Hunger Strike

Now in spite of all the promises the Governor had given us about the grand treatment we were to get, actually we were not receiving any of the usual political rights.   For instance we were not allowed to receive or to write any letters, or papers or parcels; officially our cell doors were only opened at exercise hour, that is for 2 hours every afternoon.   So we had given an ultimatum to the Governor to the effect that if we did not receive political treatment by the following day, Friday January     we would go on hunger strike.

Friday came and there was no news about our treatment.   The doctors, nurses and Morris himself, all begged Maire not to go on strike, the doctor adding that he would take no responsibility for her if she went on hunger strike in her present condition.   He even came to me and asked me to do anything I liked to prevent Maire going on strike.   As he explained, the wound in order to heal properly needed a continual healthy flow of blood in the body, and that a hunger strike would enfeeble the circulation and thereby prevent the healing of the wound.

I used every argument I could think of with Maire, even telling her what the doctor had said.   But the more I said and the more the doctors said the more determined Maire became to go on strike.   As she said, the worse she was the quicker they would grant us our demands.   I even threatened not to go on strike at all and leave her to carry on a foolish strike alone, and she said that would be the best plan of all!   When Maire made up her mind about things like this you could talk till you were black in the face without making the slightest impression on her.

So when no word came about our treatment on Friday morning, we refused our dinner at midday.   I felt I’d be dead by evening!

Maire looked so badly on the second day that I thought the doctors would surely do something to try to settle the strike.   I didn’t know then that all they are interested in is the hunger striker as a patient.   It is really amusing to see all the trouble they go to in looking after the “patient’s” health, in keeping the patient alive!   However this really means a lot, as a hot water bottle is as good as meal in a hunger strike.  

After a few days on we heard that Mam asked to be allowed over to look after us.   I was annoyed.   Wished she hadn’t known at all.   And what “looking after” could she do anyhow.   Hated her asking a thing like that which would have to be refused.   Felt very mad over it for days.

Our cell doors were left open until 8.00 p.m. every night so I used to go in and torment Maire whom I’m sure would rather have read, or be left alone.   Maire’s patience and fortitude (though that word is too catechismic, but very suitable in this case) during that strike was extraordinary.   To have to lie in bed all the time, hungry and terribly weak owing to loss of  blood  - and knowing that she was risking the loss of her leg, was surely the refinement of cruelty.

As the days passed we felt we were forgotten by everyone.   No official ever came near us, even to give us the satisfaction of refusing our demands.   We were just ignored.   Every night before locking up time when I took exercise up and down that eerie dimly lit wing, I used to feel that we were doomed to be left there forever and ever!   The only satisfaction was the thought that the hunger strike would have to end it one way or another.   Not indeed that I ever wanted or expected it to end but the one way.   I had little fear on that strike as we had an extremely good case.

The first person to give us any hope was Father MacMahon.   We were only on about five days when he asked us what terms we would accept.   He took care to explain that he had not been asked officially to negotiate, but purely on his own he was anxious to try to settle it.

We told him our demands, and speaking for myself, I spent the rest of the day in great spirits sure that the ending of the strike was only a matter of hours.

Next day, however, when there was no sign of the Governor coming with blaring trumpets, my spirits sank and I envied Maire’s nonchalance.   However, Father MacMahon came again in the afternoon and said he thought he had a solution for our troubles.   He asked would we be satisfied with any sort of a cell provided we were separated from the other prisoners.   We answered that we would as long as we also got letters and papers.   So away he went again and up went our spirits.

An hour or so later he returned and we could see that something was wrong somewhere.   He then told us that he had seen the Governor and had got permission for us to be put in a cell away from the wing we were then in.    He said, he would like us to see the cell before we agreed to accept the terms, but unfortunately, he added, we would not be allowed see it!   He said it was dark and stuffy and almost airless.   Anxious as we were to grasp at any straw that would give us a way off the hunger strike, we did not want to have to go on again perhaps.   So we said we would leave it to Father MacMahon’s own judgement, that is if he would definitely say that he thought the cell was a suitable one, we would come off there and then.

Decently enough he said he could not say that the cell was a suitable one.   It was good of him to say this, as he had us in his power and once we came off the strike we might not have gone on again.   I trusted him completely after this and must say he never let me down.   We never could discover where that cell he spoke about was but it must have been a black hole or punishment cell in which they occasionally put poor Muriel Mahony for an hour or so when she went on a fierce rampage.   There was no other spare cell anywhere.

Back again to the old strike that night, but we were not without hope of a settlement when we found Father MacMahon so interested.

The following day was a black one.   Father MacMahon came to see us again but said he found the authorities determined not to give in to our demands.   Messages like this used to throw me into the last stages of despair, and I’d curse myself forever having gone on strike.   However, the stage would fortunately pass and I’d feel relief was bound to come from somewhere.

Next day Father MacMahon came again with the news that they were preparing a cell for us, or rather a room, well away from the Wing we were in.   But that it would be necessary to break down a wall and put a door in it and put a strong door and lock on the room itself.   He said the room was a grand big one with a fireplace in which we would have a fire, as there was no other way of heating it.   It seemed too good to be true, and I could not see the authorities going to the trouble of breaking down a wall.   So I was a real doubting Thomas until we heard the sounds of hammering and were told by the wardresses that the workmen were actually working on it.

I don’t remember whether it was that day or the following, that on getting Father MacMahon’s definite assurance that all our demands would be acceded to, we came off hunger strike.   But I don’t forget our first cup of tea.   It tasted like sawdust but it was glorious and we were as happy as mortals can be.

From first to last, on the strike neither the Governor nor the Deputy came near us.   And only for Father MacMahon it might have had serious results for Maire.   As it was it did not seem to have had any ill effect on her wound.

By now we had become great friends with most of the ordinary prisoners.   All the prayers they said – or said they said – for us should get us a pass into the next world.   We never told them what exactly our demands were.   Political treatment was what we said we were on hunger strike to obtain, and left it at that.   It seemed the absolute limit of snobbery to actually go on hunger strike to be removed from one’s fellow creatures.  

Some people’s attitude to association with the ordinary prisoners – including John Mitchel and Michael Davitt – was that they welcomed and scorned all efforts of the enemy to humiliate and degrade them.   But that was as bad in outlook as our own, as it considered association with the others as humiliating to themselves.

However wrong, as I knew it was, to want to get out of that Reception, I counted the minutes until we could go to our new quarters.  

It took, I think, three days to fix it up and even after taking up residence in it, the carpenters still worked on the lock and on the judas hole.   The room itself surpassed our most optimistic hopes.   It was really not part of the prison at all, but part of the Governor’s house, at least originally.   The Governor’s house was opposite the front gate.  It formed part of one of the wings, or rather, spokes of the big wheel in which shape the prison was built.   Originally it took up two storeys but Monroe had partitioned off the basement including the kitchen and maid’s quarters.

It was in one of these large basement rooms we were now installed.   The wardresses were as excited as ourselves and even after the room was officially ready for us, Miss Malin asked us to give her an extra day to finish a little job she was doing.    Hadn't she got all the walls whitewashed, on her own initiative, and of course the floor scrubbed till it was nearly white.   She came herself to welcome us to our new abode, and to see how we’d take the surprises she had prepared for us.   Namely a strip of carpet and a big armchair, wooden of course but very comfortable, drawn up before a blazing fire.

Gosh, but it was gorgeous, almost unbelievable.   It was certainly worth a much longer hunger strike than we had done.   We simply reveled in comfort that first night, and indulged in many a smile at the thought of “Suffolk Street” suffering over in the hospital, without beds or furniture or comforts of any kind.

With sanctimonious hypocrisy I pretended to be sorry for them and actually suggested that we should not accept the treatment we were being given unless their beds and furniture were returned to the girls in the hospital.   Mary, more honestly, said it was the best thing Paídín ever did, and it would show them that it doesn’t always pay to be law abiding.       

Exercise was the one fly in the ointment.   There was only one exercise ground in which we could be put which would be away from the hospital exercise ground, and that was being used by the ordinary women prisoners.   They, naturally, had to get their hours, and were not brought in generally until about 12.30 p.m.   We were then supposed to get a half an hour but as dinner arrived at about 20 minutes to 1.00 p.m., it meant that dinner was quite cold by the time we got back.   This really didn’t matter as we had the fire and an enamel plate to heat it.    However in the afternoon we got from 2.30 until 4.00 o’clock, quite long enough for the month of January, if not for my idea of the treatment due political prisoners.

Also we got no letters or papers, but thought that perhaps none came for us.   Then we heard they had come and realised that Paídín was not going to keep his word.   Because, although we were in the custody of the civil authorities, we knew that Paídín had the last word.

We had to threaten to go on hunger strike again before we got the letters and papers.   Parcels we also had some trouble over.  Paídín tried to say we were only entitled to get clothes, but as we didn’t know whether we would be sent anything else, we thought it safer not to push this demand.   We did receive a box of chocolates sent by        and Sinead Robinson, a huge box – almost empty!

As soon as we were settled down – or thought we were settled – we drew up a programme of work, intending to devote our three months to “improving our minds”!   Our curriculum included Irish, History, Literature and anything else we could procure books on.   But like most jail resolutions, not for one single day did we carry out the full programme.   Mary did certainly a lot of Irish, and I did a certain amount of history, but the only part of the programme we adhered to was the recreation part, which sometimes included the whole day.

Mary taught me chess, she was exceptionally good at it, and I was exceptionally bad, and how she had the patience to play with me, night after night, I don’t know.   I never once won a game, although some games would last from 5.00 till 10.00 p.m. and I suppose in these she'd have given me deliberate chances.   We didn’t have to put our lights out until 10.00 p.m.    Gas had to be put in specially and we had a good mantle, we were on our honour to put the light out at 10.00 p.m. and we seldom wanted to keep it lighting any later.

As to service, we lived in a state of luxury that we shall probably never again enjoy in this world.   Everything was done for us.   The only exertion of our day was lifting the fork to our mouths at dinner, and the bread and butter at breakfast and tea!   It’s a great wonder that we didn’t grow fat enough to be exhibited.   Our mornings are worth describing.   Some time around 7.00 a.m. the door was noiselessly opened and a wardress, an ordinary prisoner came in, the latter gathered and took away the ashes in the fireplace, set and lit a new huge fire, tidied the room and departed.   She did all this so quietly that some mornings Maire didn’t even wake.   About an hour later the wardress unlocked the door again to tell us that our baths were ready.   All my life while I enjoyed the pleasures of home and freedom I had to begin the day, summer and winter, with a dreaded cold bath.   Now that I was “suffering in prison”, I began the day with a full hot bath – too hot very often.

After our baths we found our breakfasts waiting for us on a table before a blazing fire.   After breakfast we made our beds.   They would have been made for us if we wished!   This could not take us longer than a half an hour at the very most as by 9.30 a.m. we were absolutely and entirely free to do nothing for the rest of the day.

If physical comfort is all that is necessary to constitute happiness we should have been the happiest individuals on the face of the earth.   But instead of enjoying our state of luxury, as sensible individuals would have done, we looked around for and sought out causes to grouse about.

Maire was angry at finding herself facing three months – at least – in prison, forced to be a casualty, while there was so much to be done outside.   Her original intention had been to get her release through a hunger strike, and now that our fight inside was over, she was half-sorry that she hadn’t adhered to her original resolution.    Now that the hunger strike weapon was not possible she began to look around for some other way out.   She came to the conclusion that an escape was the only means of getting to the right side of the wall.   On ways and means of escaping she therefore concentrated all her thoughts.  

I was a fair listener to her numerous plans but a poor helper.   Except for the excitement of escaping I wasn’t the least bit keen on it.   I couldn’t go home and I know no one well enough to dump myself on them.   I don’t know how people go on the run so cheerfully.   I don’t think I could ever go into strange houses with the intention of staying there indefinitely.   I’d imagine the people of the house would be all the time thinking, “What does this maniac think she is doing for her country?   Sponging on us is her only contribution to the fight”.

Mary, on the contrary, felt that she could be of real use on the run, and that it was wrong to remain in jail while there was so much to be done outside.   She could drive any car capable of being driven, knew the country pretty well, and nothing was too difficult for her to tackle.

So each time we got news from the outside world – and bad, sad news it used to be – Maire swore that she must get out.   One plan she thought of was to disguise herself and walk out the front gate, as a visitor coming from seeing an ordinary prisoner.   The visiting box was very near our exercise ground, only a path and a few veronica bushes between it and the boundary of our ground.   It would of course be necessary to wait until one or two visitors had passed in and men about to come out, for us or for Maire alone to try her luck.   To us most of the visitors seemed to dress alike, long         coats of a dark colour, with worn fur at the collar, a straw or felt black hat, generally well pulled down, and a dilapidated looking shiny bag.

Maire wrote to her mother to send her in an old coat of her own (mothers) and a hat.   When they came we had a dress rehearsal, and many laughs.   She wears such mannish clothes as a rule that the long coat disguised her well.   Her walk was the most difficult thing to change.   She takes long “country” strides and the women she would have to impersonate either shuffled or tripped along.   Every night in our cell or room, Maire would practice their walk.   I really hadn’t the slightest hope that her plan would succeed but didn’t want to oppose it too much as I realised that the silliest and most outlandish plan sometimes succeed, and anyhow it broke the monotony and was good fun preparing it.

When we had both either made or got in old coats and hats, Maire decided to look out for an opportunity, so day after day for about a week, we brought out our two bundles of rags to exercise.   There was a tomato or plant frame in the corner of our exercise ground and it was inside this that Maire proposed to change our clothes.   One day at last two women – very dilapidated and down at heel – came in to visit some one and Maire decided our chance had come.   Unfortunately that day the Matron on duty was a very vigilant one and kept her eyes on us most of the time.   By now the military policemen on duty took very little notice of us and would not have noticed our leaving the ground, but the wardress never took her eyes off us.   In spite of this Maire succeeded in changing into her old clothes in which she looked such a sight that I could do nothing but laugh.   I am sure she felt like cursing me that day, as I just couldn’t bring myself to enter into the proper spirit.   The Matron saw Maire in her extraordinary get up and of course kept a strict watch on us till she escorted us safely back into the prison.

The failure of this plan however didn’t daunt Maire; she immediately began to think of other ways.   Besides the military policeman who used to come on special duty for us at exercise hour, there was a soldier on ordinary patrol duty.   He used to walk up and down the gravel path beside our ground.   Nearly all these soldiers were young – very young – and the majority of them hardly even looked at us.   Now and again, however, an off one would become very interested and employ all sorts of devices to talk to us – unseen of course either by the wardress or the military policeman.

Sometimes they would give us news, other times a cigarette.   One day a responsible looking one – a little older than the usual sort – started talking to us and asked us if we’d like to escape.   This of course was what Maire had been waiting for.   He said he’d be on duty again in the middle of the night or the early hours of the morning and that if we could get out of our cells he would help us over the wall.   Maire said we could get out all right if he would bring us a file, with which to cut the bars.   He seemed to listen very carefully to the description of where our window was and promised faithfully to bring the file.   As he appeared a really honest type and not at all the sort who would enjoy fooling us, we really believed he would come that night.   How the bars would be filed through in time, and even once outside how we would ever climb that wall without a ladder didn’t worry me very much, nor Maire at all.   A hundred times that evening we pictured ourselves free and at large.   We thought locking up time would never come, and we ate every scrap of bread we had, in order to tackle the wall.   Maire was such an optimist that she refused to give up hope until morning.   Sleep got the better of me and I went to bed sometime around 2.00 or 3.00 o’clock.   I needn’t say the friendly sentry never came nor indeed did we ever see him again.

 

Demand for more Exercise

Now although we were getting very good treatment, I felt that it was not full political treatment and that we shouldn’t be shut up as early as 5.00 o’clock every evening.   I wanted to send in a demand for longer exercise but Maire was still so keen on the thought of escaping that she didn’t want to start any row, which might spoil the chance of escaping.

Eventually we agreed to stay as we were until March 25th and that if Maire couldn’t find means of escaping by then she would agree to put up any sort of a fight I wanted.   Little she knew that the fight would actually provide a chance of escape.

A few days before March 25th we sent in a request or a demand for Exercise until sundown.   It was ignored.   On March 25th we announced that we intended remaining out until sundown which was about 6.25 p.m.   At 5.00 p.m. when we refused to come in, there was consternation.   One official after another came to have a look at us.   We were told first that the Matrons would carry us in forcibly; then that the warders would do it; then that the military policemen would.   But fortunately it didn’t come to that.   We were left out until we finally came in ourselves, weary, hungry and cold!   We spent the evening wondering what would happen next day.

Next morning all went well until after breakfast when no one came to open our door, we began to worry and eventually we rang the bell.   In answer to our ring a wardress came to the outside of the door and said that she had orders not to open the door or let us out until the Governor had seen us.   So the authorities were going to have the last word after all.

It was a lovely fine day and the fact of being kept in made us long to be out, but at the same time, the prospect of being up in arms “agin” the authorities was stimulating.   All day we planned what we’d say to Paídín.   But he never gave us the opportunity.   He never came near us.   After our dinner the wardresses opened our cell door and allowed us walk up and down the passage for a few minutes.   These few minutes were enough for Maire to plan an escape.

 

 

 

Attempted Escape

One of the rooms off this passage was the carpenter’s shop and Maire decided that if she could only get into this shop she could make a “ladder” and get over the wall.   Actually I thought she was crazy but she was so sure she could succeed I didn't like to throw cold water on her scheme.   At 5.00 o'clock when our tea was brought to us, we coaxed the wardress to leave the door of our cell open and let us have the run of the passage saying we were dead from having to remain in the same room all day.   As there was no danger of the Governor coming over at that hour she agreed to leave the door open.   Maire lost no time in getting to work.   The carpenter’s shop had a huge padlock on it, which I thought put an end to all her plans.   Not so.   Maire in a few minutes time she had procured a small piece of strong piping, or rather a piece of a crowbar.   With it we wrenched and wrenched the padlock till it suddenly flew open.   Next Maire found a number of planks, choosing two of the strongest she decided to join them together, not with nails, which would make too much noise, but with screws.

To get screws she had to prize open a huge chest containing all the tools.   The chest was harder to open than the door but nothing was impossible to Maire and she got it open in a remarkably short time.   The only help I was to her was to keep watch at the other end of the passage and warn her when I heard any one coming.    We got a few frights and either went back to our room or walked up and down the passage in innocent conversation.   By about 7.00 o’clock Maire had a perfect ladder made, the two planks joined together and a number of screws put in all the way up to serve as steps.

The next question was how to get out into the grounds.   Now there was a door near our room.   It had been the old front door, leading out to the grounds and it had glass panels on both sides.   They seemed rather too small to fit through but Maire measured one and then put the same measurement on the legs of chair in our room and we both managed to squeeze through.   But in order to avail of this panel it would be necessary to burn out one bit of wood and take out two panes of glass.   Maire thought that burning would be the quietest way of removing the wood.   She took the best chisels she could find in the toolbox and put them in the fire and when red hot she would rush to the window and work on it.   No matter how careful she was it was impossible not to make some sound.   But at last she managed to get the whole thing burned out and there we were ready to attempt the first stage.   However as luck would have it, it was an extremely bright night and Maire decided that we’d have to wait till as late as we safely dared, that is till about 8.30 or 8.45 p.m.  The wardresses were likely to come any time after 9.00 p.m. to lock us up for the night.   While waiting for the darkness we said the Rosary, a very fervent one that night.   Even I had got into the spirit of an escape by that time, though where I was going to go to I didn’t know.

At about 8.30 p.m. Maire started to put her ladder out through a window of another room she had also opened.   It proved a more difficult job than she thought, and she had to go through the panel herself and pull it on the outside while I pushed on the inside.   This took us about 5 or 10 minutes but we eventually succeeded and now all that remained was to tackle the boundary wall.   Going through the panel was only managed by being either pulled or pushed by the one outside or inside.   Maire actually went through twice or three times.   I heard the wardress calling us at the further end door of the passage, I whispered to Maire to join me as quickly as she could and I went down to talk to the wardress and find out what she wanted.   Evidently she didn’t have the key of the passage door or she would have come straight in.   I asked her what she wanted and she said she only came to see were we all right.   (Afterwards we heard that she smelt burning and gave the alarm that something was on)

We thought we had allayed her suspicions but decided to lose no more time, and this time Maire put me through the panel first and remained back herself to help the “ladder” through.   Actually the “ladder” or planks were by this time high over the railings, silhouetted against the light from the Governor’s window.   We were terrified at this stage that the sentry on duty would see the planks, but we heard afterwards that he was in having a cup of tea with the Gate Warden.   So really there was nothing to stop us had we had another 5 minutes.

But when the matron got the smell of burning decided to go outside to the front of the house just to see that everything was all right.   By now I was standing on the outside window sill, helping to pull out the “ladder” while Maire was up on the inside window sill pushing it out.   Suddenly I heard Miss Malin’s alarming cry “What are you doing there Miss Humphreys?”

Her cry brought the sentry rushing out from the Lodge and over to the railings.   I watched him as he placed his rifle in firing position and aimed it at me.   By this time the Matron had rushed over and clutched my two legs.   I had the luck to shout to the sentry, "Don't fire or you’ll kill the Matron”.   To be quite honest, it was of myself I was thinking, as though I genuinely would not have liked any harm to come to Miss Malin – as she had always shown us great kindness – still at a moment like that one’s own safety comes first in one’s mind.   I shall never forget Miss Malin’s “noble” answer to my plea for her safety “I don’t mind if I’m shot it will be in a good cause”.   Even under the circumstances I couldn’t help laughing.   It would indeed have been a tragedy if she had been shot as it was her last night on duty.   She was due to retire the following day.

Fortunately for her and myself, the sentry raised his rifle and fired a few shots into the air.   This brought a sergeant and some other soldiers to the scene.

Meanwhile Maire, seeing all her hopes of escape dashed, decided not to be left out of the excitement and with a determined effort and desperate wriggling, forced herself through the narrow opening.     

We were brought back to D. Wing Basement to await the arrival of Paídín and a group of F.S. Officers, including one called Teeling.   Evidently Paídín must have had some army friends in drinking and when he got the news of our escapade he invited them all over to have a look at the wild women.   He then sent for a squad of “Cumann na Saoirse” woman searchers and evidently told them to “let us have it”.   We were taken into separate cells, thrown on the ground and our clothes just – not pulled – but actually torn off us.   One big fat hefty damsel forced my knees flat on the floor and then sat herself down on them.   Not a very comfortable position!   We must have been a queer sight by the time they were finished with us.

The ostensible reason for their attack on us was to search us in case we had taken any of the carpenter’s tools.   Incidentally while this performance was being carried on, Paídín and his merry men remained outside the cells joking and laughing.   They and the searchers eventually withdrew together.

Although I felt pretty sore, my biggest worry was my torn dress.   After perhaps a half an hour or so I heard footsteps coming to Maire’s cell, the door being opened and then the footsteps faded away down the Wing.   Shortly afterwards it was my turn, the door was unlocked and I was relieved to see the friendly faces of two wardresses who told me that I was going to “The Tower” where Maire had already been lodged.   What a boost for my vanity!   I had no idea where or what the “Tower” was like, but it sounded very imposing.  

It turned out to be a tiny prison within the Prison.   It was built in the form of a circle with, I think five cells, fitted with double doors.   It had its own exercise “ground” or rather wired in “run” like one sees for dogs in the Cat and Dog’s Home.   We were, of course, put in separate cells and given a plank, a pillow and some blankets each.   Although the cells mustn’t have been used for years, at least there was no smell of stale snuff as had been the case in the basement cells of D. Wing.   It was built especially as a punishment place of complete solitary confinement, as the silence was quite eerie.   No sounds seemed to penetrate the walls.   In spite of the hardness of the plank I slept a few hours but awoke early wondering what the day would bring.   After what I thought was hours after the usual breakfast time, the two doors were unlocked and a wardress arrived with breakfast, a cup of tea and the usual prison loaf and a pat of butter on top.   It was most welcome, as I had feared that Paídín might have treated us to “bread and water”.   The first thing I asked the wardress was for a needle and thread with which to sew my frock.   She told me that she was afraid she couldn’t comply with my request, as their orders were that we were not to be given anything except the three meals a day.  





Prison letters, 1922-23

Letters from the family when in prison during the Civil War.

P106/391 Letter from Nannie O’Rahilly and Nell to Anno from Mountjoy

Dated Monday Nov 1922

A Anno a chroidhe,

Conas tá tú in aon chor. Well I’ll write this in English. Wouldn’t I love to see you and have a long talk. Oh when I heard you saying you were hit I couldn’t for the moment "visualise" it. Then I heard you saying you had seen one magpie that morning and I thought you could not be too bad. I suppose you remember I did not go near you until you were on the stretcher when you were all covered up. What do you think of me at all? What will the prisoners' dependents fund do now?

Does the wound pain you? You will say this is a stacatto letter but until I hear from your very self that you are alright I shall be anxious.

Well Anno, you missed prison again! And Nannie in, isn’t it very funny, we are all together and have a fine time really – food is excellent not like prison at all. I hope Mama and Nannie will get out before long. Poor Dick imagine his being in again, and he was so quiet that morning, imagine for him to be in the middle of such a thing!

You should have seen a letter Aogán wrote, he suggested we take a flat here in Mountjoy and invite Dick and Emmet over. Mac and Egan are terribly good. They send everything in to us 3 or 4 attaché cases full of clothes, they collected everything woollen or knitted out of two houses and sent them in. I think we shall have to ask for a trunk room here.

We have hot pipes in the cell, bacon and eggs for breakfast.

Tuesday Morning, so I’m still in bed!! The post is going so slán leat, seachain tu féin go maith, le grádh O Nannie agus Mama



P106/390 Letter from Nell to Aunt Annie Fitzgerald from Mountjoy prison

Mountjoy Prison Nov 17 1922

Dear Aunt Annie

I intended all the week to write to you but put if off from day to day. You may not believe it but there is not much time here to do things, the day is so arranged and we are out of doors so much.

Don’t imagine that I am to be pitied in here. I have been here before (Censored words) - I would be almost enjoying myself, everything is so much easier than at home.

I can get up any hour I like in the morning, our breakfast is quite good. There are four of us together and we all are out of doors for hours.

I am sure I will get fat, everybody does in prison, now my anxiety about Anna is over B. Mor le Dia. She is wonderfully well, Dick and Nannie are home, and the house is running as usual.

You must have got a great fright when you saw what happened in the papers, and I suppose you have given us up in despair, but all the same for the sake of the past go to our L.P.S – censored (Lady of Perpetual Succour)

She can make anything right,

your loving niece

Nell Humphreys



P106/392 Letter from Nell to Anno from Mountjoy

Mountjoy Prison. Little Xmas Day. 8 Dec 1922

(Sighle encloses note ...)

A Aine a chroidhe,

Today I got a letter from you (with Dick, from Emmet and from Nannie. I am sending it back to let you see how much … Emmet’s was grand, he really writes a good letter, a bit goody-goody, but so wise … Things seem to be more peaceful there than here. . . .

Tell Nannie not to send anything just yet, we have only finished a turkey and when she does we would prefer ham, it is nice, who makes the cakes? They are very good, but don’t come up with things for goodness sakes. We are well off.

Last morning, we got a beautiful box of large pears from ‘Ryan’ - that’s the way ‘twas addressed, could it be our own Ryan, the box was from Terenure and how could he be there, but it seems to be her/he; wouldn’t it be nice of him, twas to Sighle.

Will you be dead from work? Is there anyone to help you and we all here idle. Pity Miss Breen went home even, it was her candles came after all. No salt, and now we have clean salt here so I don’t need it. I must write her as she wrote and the Canon sent us both cards.



P106/393 Letter from Nell to Emmet from Mountjoy prison.

Mountjoy Prison

Sunday Morning

A Emmet a Croi (4 Jan’23)

Only last evening I got your Christmas letters.

I was so delighted to get it and see that you are so gay and contented even to be away from home at Xmas. Really it was Dick and Anna who had the loveliest time doing nothing and they two alone in the house, when Nannie/Aine was away for Xmas night. To be honest I never had such an enjoyable time; not since I was at school, there were so many of us here together.

On Xmas eve we had ‘Suffolk Street’ as we call the seven(?) in the big cell, and who were connected with S. St. (at least the most of them were) to tea and punch . . . we played grand games, and were shocked to find it was time for Rosary and bed; then on Xmas night we had charades and a concert and a dance, and cell doors were open till 12am, and we really had a great time. I went to bed a little before the end as usual. I wonder did you have such a good time.

Nannie says she had sent you a (field?) --- work set for Christmas. I do hope you got it all right as it will help to pass time and I expect you will bring all sorts of nice things home, or one big thing. You . . . .



P106/395 Letter from Nell to Anno, circa February 1923

Kilmainham Tuesday

A Aine a chroidhe,

Just a hurried note as post is going. We got here last night at 1.30. It was a great sight to see the numbers of lorries, thirteen I think they said coming together.

The food seems to be ever so much better, and the cells are fairly clean. On the whole I think we will be comfortable here, but Sighle nor Maire haven’t come, so far at any rate.

Tell Dick I intended to write to him next but this is no letter. Did the beautiful medal he got in Paris to ---- Trail go too? It’s so dreadful that all his nice trophy got lost ..

I am fine B. le Dia and so was Sighle when I left, No news yet

Best love to you both and Nannie



P106/396 - Feb 26 1923 - Letter from Nell to Aunt Annie Fitzgerald.

Dear Aunt Annie,

What must you think of me never to have written to you. You know only a limited number of letters can be written each week and now we, Sighle, Emmet and I are in three different prisons, so that by the time I have written to them and home, my limit is up. It shows how many I used to write at home, as these . . .

How are you finding yourself this weather, this really cold time since we came to prison. I would like this place, well I mean as much as anyone can like prisons, if it weren’t so cold at this time. We have good food here and are not irritated by registration.

I am so busy from morning till night that the day flies. I try to be out as much as possible, as I find I don’t catch cold, just as you said yourself, then we say our prayers, stations, etc - the only thing we can do here.

Pity Sighle was left in Mountjoy, I miss her as she would have a great time here, there are so many girls she knows here now, and we have dancing classes and Irish, German, French, Shorthand and . . .

(A postscript at the end mentions her house was bombed recently)


P106/397

From Nell to Emmet from Kilmainham jail. June 15 ’23

We arrived last evening (from North Dublin Union)… We left Anna after us there (only a limited number came so far) She is fine B. le Dia and has got a little fat since she came to prison: the rest I suppose, because it couldn’t have been the food. The grounds there are very nice, we used to be out in the sun all day, and sew and the young girls read and played rounders.

Such matches as they used to have, do you people ever play rounders? I suppose you wouldn’t condescend to them. but it can be wonderful when north plays south or Kerry, Tipperary, etc

How are you mo bhuachal? I do hope you are as well as we three are. Sighle is as brown and burnt as if she had been at the sea and I am grand too B. de Dia.

We hope to get a letter from Dick any day now he must be lonely without any of us



P106/399 Letter from Dev to Nell

Dail Eireann Oifig an Uachtaran 26-7-23

A chara,

Will you pardon me for not sending you a note before this. I hope your health is no worse for the strain. How is Sighle – she has had a very bad time – and Miss O’Rahilly? What a shame! However, the road of the future is kept clean.

Every time I think of Cathal I think of you. What a tower of strength he would be if he were now alive,

le meas mór

Eamonn de Valera






Irish Freedom, June 1928

From Irish Freedom (1926-1937). NLI Microfilm reel 44.

June 1928 Irish Freedom

CUMANN NA MBAN


Miss Humphreys describes her reception in Mountjoy


A sudden stop of a Ford, a rush of me, a voice reading from a white sheet of paper something about a warrant . . . arrest . . . Treason Act . . . and the sickening realisation that I was once again a casualty, a good-for-nothing prisoner, useless to comrades and country.

Seldom did the trees seem so green, the sky so blue, Dublin so fair, as during the drive to the Bridewell. A few dreary hours waiting, a few seconds in the dock, another drive with strange, glum men to Mountjoy, where I was announced as ‘a committal at No. 2 gate.’ Already ‘in,’ was, I thought, not quite in keeping with the situation. Truth to tell, I felt a little sorry for myself, and hoped to get due sympathy by telling them how I felt at their long detention, especially Mrs Mac Dermott and Miss Jackson, who had been three months without a visit. But I quickly realise that they were on a far nobler plain than I was; that here sympathy was neither offered nor received. Mrs MacDermott and Miss Jackson gloried in the jury’s dis-agreeing, and only hoped the next jury will do the same, whatever the consequences may be or however long they may be kept ‘awaiting trial.’

Florence MacCarthy beamingly told me she would be out on the 16th October, as if she were saying next week. Sighle MacInerney remarked: ‘Yes, that’s the worst of my having done three months; I’m getting out on the 1st August.

Cruelly, I told them that this was to be the finest Spring and Summer we had for 25 years; but their answer was to forget the weather, and tell them how was it with the organisation and the cause. Truly, they have adopted Tom Clarke’s golden rules of life for prisoners: ‘No mooning or brown studies; keep your thoughts off yourself all you can.’ May I hope this stoicism is contagious!

My efforts to tell them what we were doing failed hopelessly, as I realised we were not doing half what was expected of us; half what we could be doing. Excuses for inactivity which pass alright outside, seem limp and hypocritical when viewed in the light of the philosophy which takes possession of one in here.

Every member of our organisation should work as if on her alone rested the responsibility of bringing about the next revolution.






Return to Sighle Humphreys.



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