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Title: A Chronicle of Jails
Author: Figgis, Darrell
Language: English
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*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A Chronicle of Jails" ***

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  “Jail Journals are always a fascinating
  study. The self-recorded
  thoughts and impressions of man
  forcibly isolated from his fellows
  in the solitude of the jail have a
  certain interest which is hard to explain.
  This is the case even when
  the recorder is a criminal. But
  when, as in the present instance,
  the individual is a highly cultured
  ‘political felon’ making his first
  acquaintance with the means and
  methods which twentieth century
  civilisation has provided for the reformation
  of those who transgress
  its laws, then, indeed, we have in
  such a one’s ‘Jail Journal’ something
  of surpassing interest.”—_Mac._





  A Vision of Life (1909)
  The Crucibles of Time (1911)
  Queen Tara: A Tragedy (1913)
  The Mount of Transfiguration (1915)


  Broken Arcs (1911)
  Jacob Eltham (1914)
  Children of Earth      (_Shortly_)


  Shakespeare: A Study (1911)

  Studies & Appreciations (1912)

  The Lyric Cry: An Anthology      (_Shortly_)

  William Carleton
  In “Every Irishman’s Library”      (_Shortly_)






Printed at The Talbot Press, 89 Talbot Street, Dublin



The following pages were written mainly as a record for myself of days
in which one’s private interest crossed a wider national interest, and
which therefore seemed worthy of being set down with some care and
faithfulness. In passing them for publication now it is necessary for
me to apologise for their incompleteness in certain particulars. That
incompleteness is due to no fault of mine. It has been arranged to
rectify this by an edition at a subsequent date, when the contrast of
edition with edition will reveal other matters relative to these days.

  D. F.

  _“On the Run,”
  28th May, 1917._


By Darrell Figgis


Tuesday, April 25th, 1916, was filled with sunshine, in token of the
summer that was on the way, while a keen wind from the north came in
reminder of the winter that was passing. The winter had been bad, and
the spring but poor, so that work on the land was delayed, and there
had been no fishing for the year. Yet these things had not served
me ill, for I had been tied all hours with a book overdue with the
publisher. For some months I had been struggling with Calendars of
State Papers, in which in their introductions English editors revealed
so candidly the prejudice that marked their work. So that I waited
about the house during the morning, loth to begin work, and listening
to the voices that came up from the land. The spring work was in full
swing. Voices of men, voices of women, and the barking of dogs, flowed
over the land pleasantly. Nothing seemed further removed from the day
and its work than the noise of war.

Moreover, the post was late. This was another excuse for keeping
from the desk. I looked along the half mile of the road till it bent
behind the heath, looking for the rider on the horse that was our only
connection with the big world.

It was not till some hours after noon that, looking along the road for
the post that was so unaccountably late, I saw a friend making her way
toward the house on her bicycle. As she came nearer and dismounted I
could see the traces of tears on her cheeks, and wondered.

“The post is very late,” I said.

“There is no post,” she replied, “but there’s terrible news. There has
been fighting in Dublin. They say Dawson Street is full of dead and
wounded men. The Volunteers hold the General Post Office, the Bank
of Ireland, and a number of buildings all over Dublin. They’ve been
attacking the Castle, but I cannot find out what happened there. The
soldiers are attacking them everywhere with machine guns, and they say
the slaughter is terrible.”

The mountains stood in the sunshine, calm and splendid, with a delicate
mist clothing their dark sides softly. The sea stretched out to the
western horizon, its winter rage laid by, the sun glinting in the waves
of the offshore wind like the spears of a countless host, and the
islands of the bay, from Clare to Inish Bofin, lay in its waters like
wonderful jewels that shone in the sun. Into this world of delicate
beauty came this news, this tale of yet another attempt to win for a
land so beautiful the freedom that other lands knew. It was not strange
that the mind found some difficulty in adjusting itself to perceive a
tale that came like a stream of blood across the day.

A week or so before, I had had a letter from Sheehy Skeffington telling
me that the situation in Dublin was very strained. The constraint of
the Censor was over the letter, and so little news was told. One knew,
of course, that Dublin Castle was only looking for a chance to seize
the Volunteer leaders, and one knew that the Volunteers were stiff
and pledged to the utmost resistance. And Sheehy Skeffington’s letter
conveyed little more than that the situation was daily becoming more
and more strained.

I turned for more news.

“Oh, I don’t know any more,” came the response. “The engine-driver of
the Mail brought whatever news there is. He said that the Volunteers
held most of the railway stations, and that the bridges were blown up
and the tracks destroyed. Fighting was going on throughout the city
when he left. That’s what he says anyway, but nobody knows what to
believe. It’s terrible to think of. The whole country was coming round
to our way of thinking, business men and responsible men everywhere
were waking up with your financial agitation and other things; and now
it’s all spoilt. Everything will be worse than ever now.”

Already the news was spreading about the place, and knots of men were
standing on the road in discussion. It was impossible to rest in the
house, and so we set off through the villages to see if any further
news could be learned. In one of the villages a Sunday’s paper was
discovered, in which appeared the General Order by Eoin MacNeill,
as President and Chief of Staff of the Volunteers, countermanding
manœuvres that had been ordered for Sunday—Easter Sunday. That only
complicated the matter. “Owing to the very critical position”—what
critical position? What was the cause of the order? And if “each
individual Volunteer” had been ordered to refrain from “parades,
marches, or other movements,” how then came it about that there should
be this news of fighting? The original manœuvres, apparently, had been
ordered for Sunday, whereas this news told of trouble that had broken
out on Monday.

It was perplexing. The only thesis into which all the available parts
seemed to fit was that it was discovered that Dublin Castle proposed
to take advantage of the manœuvres on Easter Sunday to disarm the
Volunteers, and, finding itself baulked by this countermanding order,
had attacked headquarters and the local centres on the following day.
That tallied with Sheehy Skeffington’s letter, and was also all of a
piece with the document which Alderman Kelly had read at a meeting of
the Dublin Corporation some days previous. And that was accepted by us
all as the most likely theory to account for the facts.

It was a strange day. It was a strange week. If one’s countrymen
were being attacked, pretty plain and clear one’s duty seemed; but
how to put it into operation? Over eighteen months before—after the
gun-running at Howth—I had been in command of the Volunteers for the
county, and at the time of the split I had sought to hold both sides
together in the county.

       *       *       *       *       *

Since then I had held to my desk.

       *       *       *       *       *

Whereas once there had been five thousand Volunteers in the county, now
two hundred exceeded their number.

       *       *       *       *       *

The days were full of anxiety. A few of the older people, in secure
possession of their pensions, cursed the “Sinn Feiners” roundly. But
most were perplexed, and told one another tales of those who in elder
days had died for Ireland. There was little else to tell. The air was
thick with rumours: rumours that were contradicted as soon as they
came. It was said that Cork and Limerick were “up,” and that Kerry
had seized the cable and wireless stations. This was contradicted; and
affirmed again. Wexford, it was said, was “up,” and the whole county
in a blaze. Hard on this followed news that Drogheda and Dundalk had
risen and tried to destroy the railroads leading to the north. This
last was the only exact piece of news that came from the east coast.
More precise news came from Co. Galway, nearer home. The east coast
news did not reach us till Wednesday and Thursday; but on Tuesday came
news that Co. Galway was “up,” and that the Volunteers there were under
the command of Liam Mellowes, who had returned from exile in England,
disguised as a priest, and Kenny, a famous footballer. It was stated
that they had marched on the city of Galway, but had retired from there
under the fire of gunboats, and had turned on Athenry, where they
had encamped on one of the Department’s farms. Thursday and Friday
reported that this force had marched on Athlone and had destroyed the
bridge there; but that they were under retreat before a strong force of
military with artillery.

This was the only piece of news that attempted to give details. Of
Dublin no details could be learned, except that on the Monday Lancers
had charged down O’Connell Street, but had broken in disorder under a
heavy fire and had fled, leaving many slain. It was not till Thursday
that the news of the taking of the Bank of Ireland was contradicted;
and at the same time it was reported that Dublin Castle was not taken.
Buildings such as Boland’s Mill, Jacob’s Factory, and the Four Courts,
were said to be in possession of the Volunteers, who were resisting
desperately; but these names were not mentioned with any touch of
authenticity, but rather like the names and symbols of a fantastic

It was difficult to know what to believe or know. Each succeeding day,
instead of clearing the air with more precise news, thickened the
rumours that flew, until even what finally transpired to be true seemed
to possess the least likelihood of truth. The police posted reassuring
bulletins on the telegraph poles, but nobody gave any heed to these.
They were read, and turned from in silent, deep distrust. From them
first came the news that Sir Roger Casement had attempted to land on
the coast of Kerry with rifles from a German transport, but that he
had been arrested on landing in a small boat, and that the transport
with rifles had been sunk. “German help is now at the bottom of the
sea,” declared the notice. Nobody believed any particle of the notice.
The fact that a few of the old-age pensioners clutched the news to
themselves so avidly only deepened the distrust.

From the coastguards on Wednesday news was circulated that the German
Navy had attacked in force on the East Coast of England, in the attempt
to effect a landing for troops; but that all the German fleet was sunk
and the English fleet had lost two battleships. One of the coastguards’
wives, however, the following day was heard to state that not two, but
eight battleships had been sunk on the English side; and this spread
swiftly through the villages. Little comment was made on the change in
the story; and that fact was more significant than many words.


Such were the days of an anxious week. None knew what to believe,
what to trust, or what to distrust. Work was impossible. Sleep even
was almost impossible. We could but drift about and wait, when to do
so seemed almost like a tragic cowardice. What proved finally to be
well-grounded of the rumours that flew were disbelieved. What proved
to be false were the only matters in which any reliance was placed.
None doubted, for instance, that Cork and Limerick were “up,” or that
Wexford County was in a blaze, or that Ballina, quite near home, had
captured Killala Bay. None placed much reliance in the rumours of
fierce fighting round Boland’s Mill and Jacob’s Factory. None doubted
that Athlone Bridge had been blown up and that the Galway boys were
retreating from the town, contesting every foot of the way against
a large English force. None believed in the landing and capture of

One of the county papers published a special edition on Thursday
recording all the rumours. “The Mayo News,” however, refused in its
edition on the Saturday to print or give ordinary circulation to any
rumours, and advised its readers to wait patiently until some reliable
news was to hand. The question of food had become a matter of alarm,
for now that the Rising had lasted a week, it might well last much
longer, with strange results to follow. And a good part of one’s
efforts were occupied with discovering where flour was available.

Then on the Monday came news that Padraic Pearse had surrendered,
and that the Commandants under him were accepting the order, though
reluctantly. The first week’s strain was released, but the mood of
the people began to make a slow change, such a change as Pearse had
foreseen. Already in the first week that change has appeared; but
the news now told of defeat, an ancient tale in Ireland, full of old
honour. On Tuesday the mail was resumed. Papers came and were passed
eagerly from hand to hand. The people were afraid, but sullen. Martial
law gave unlimited power to the peelers, who continued in bands of
three and four with carbines slung over their shoulders along the
roads; but the Rising was already beginning to take its place among
Ireland’s tragic efforts for freedom. The causes were not known; men
had, in fact, ceased to wonder whether it had been a planned Rising
or a provoked resistance. The outstanding fact was its utter failure;
and that became its greatest success, for so it became kneaded into a
history never very far from an Irishman’s emotional consciousness. And
when the further news came that a large part of the city of Dublin was
in ruins as the effect of artillery fire, and when steadily through the
week the tale came of execution succeeding to execution, the sullenness
changed to exasperation. Even those who during the Rising had been
whole-hearted in their denunciation of it, became bitter of speech.

Not the least cause inducing this were the wholesale arrests that were
being reported from all over the country. I had already been warned,
many months previously, that my arrest had been determined for the very
first chance I gave certain persons at Dublin Castle. The warning had
come through a friendly channel, and I had accepted it as a compliment
to my intrusions in public affairs. But now the case was different,
for one’s political opponents were clothed with unlimited power.
Moreover, there was another thing that gave me reason to fear.

       *       *       *       *       *

Yet when that week was passed, and the greater part of the next, I
began to think that my schedule would never be called, in spite of the
fact that each day’s paper recorded a general sweep-up all through the
country. On May 10, I went to bed late as usual. I had been setting
potatoes all day, and had been working making a precis of State Papers
till late at night. I retired at about two o’clock in the morning. As I
turned into bed, a strong presentiment came on me suddenly, almost like
an oppression, that I was to be arrested the following morning. It was
so strong that I thought to wake my wife; but, feeling ashamed of it, I
lay wakeful and wondering.


Two hours later I was wakened by the heavy tread of many feet down the
road. A large number of men were passing round the house. We leapt out
of bed, and, peering through the windows, could see two peelers at each
window, with rifles at the “ready.”

A man who was down on the foreshore, with my house between him and the
village, afterwards described the scene. The whole force of eighteen
peelers, three sergeants, and a district inspector, had charged down
my _boithrin_ at the double—charged down on a house in which one man,
one woman, eight hens and fifteen chickens lay asleep. There was little
need for so desperate an attack.

       *       *       *       *       *

Agitated counsels could point no better way than a peaceful surrender;
so I went out to the porch, and through the window spoke to the
district inspector. I told him that my wife was dressing, and that I
would stand there in his sight if he would give her a few moments in
which to put a few clothes about her before his men took possession of
the house. He agreed. But the local sergeant had other notions of the
proper and fitting thing to be done on so auspicious an occasion. Some
baulks of timber were lying about the house, and with these, and some
heavy rocks, he set about to batter down the doors.

       *       *       *       *       *

Two peelers came into the bedroom with me while I dressed, while the
others tied every available piece of paper that could be found into
parcels. And after a hurried breakfast I was borne off on a motor car
for Castlebar Jail, with a peeler sitting each side of me, and one
in front, beside the driver, with loaded carbines. It was a cold,
miserable morning, and a hurricane of wind and rain swept about the


Castlebar was my first jail. I was more fortunate than many who were
swept-up during those days. I was at least accorded a prison-cell.

       *       *       *       *       *

Compared with these things, which I learned afterwards, my condition
was kingly. I was treated as an ordinary criminal.

The events of the day had presumably come with too great a shock to
make much effect, for I was all the time strangely unperturbed and
calm. It was only when all my things had been taken from me and I was
placed in a reception-cell that the reaction came. A reception-cell
is about two-thirds the size of an ordinary cell, with only a small
window, and very dark. Its only furniture is a little stool. When the
door clanged against me and the key grated in the lock, an almost
overpowering desire came on me to shout aloud and batter on the door
with my fists. That was succeeded by a feeling of utter helplessness.
Tears had need to be controlled. I remember resolving never to permit
the caging of a bird, although that had always been a principle with
me. For now the principle took a new and poignant shape.

I was left there an hour or so (time ceased to count when emotion
became so much more heavily charged) before being removed to my
allotted cell. Castlebar Jail is constructed like the letter V. The
building runs down each side of the V, with a high wall connecting
the base, thus making a triangle of the whole. Each wing contains one
line of cells, on each of the two floors, in the outer wall. The space
included in the triangle is open to the sky, is floored with flints
(up through which two daisies nevertheless grew), and is used as a
special exercise yard. The main large yard lies beyond the left wing.
Two distinctive features of Castlebar Jail stand out in my memory as
contrasted with the English jails I was to visit. The English jails
were built of red brick, warm to the eye. Castlebar Jail was built of
grey granite, cold and forbidding, like a dungeon. On the other hand,
the cells and passages of the English jails were floored with stone,
whereas Castlebar Jail was floored with timber. I was to appreciate
the virtue of this later. One other difference is worthy of note. All
the English jails were of considerable size. Castlebar Jail is quite
small. The difference is noteworthy because it signified a difference
in the number of criminals expected, and in fact, as I learnt while
there, Castlebar Jail had been specially re-opened because of the

The reception cell in which I had been placed lay on the ground floor
of the right-hand wing, near the entrance at the apex. My appointed
cell was on the first floor of the left-hand wing, near the base. There
I saw for the first time, what was later to become a familiar sight in
other places—the equipment of a cell. In the far left-hand corner stood
the bed-board, raised on end against the wall, with blankets draped
over it. At its base was coiled the mattress. In the middle of the
right-hand wall stood the little table, with a stool beside it; and on
the wall hung a copy of the prison rules.

A cheerless morning, a cheerless experience, and a cheerless abode.
Even grimness, that faithful consolation in adversity, was hard to
summon. I put down my bed-board and stretched the mattress upon it,
wishing to forget everything in sleep. But in a short while the warder
passing on his round looked through the spyhole in the door. The key
grated in the lock, and I was roughly told to put up the board at once
and to arrange the things as I had found them. No bed-board was allowed
to remain down after five o’clock in the morning or to be put down
before half past eight at night.

The warder was a dark-visaged man, with a harsh northern accent. He
shouted when he spoke as though he addressed a herd of cattle. He was
a fair specimen on the warder side of an inhuman system, and one could
imagine from his manner the men whom he was accustomed to handle. One
could imagine, too, the soulless beings prisoners must inevitably
become under such a man and with such surroundings. Either they must
become meek and cringing, or, in the effort to defy so abject a fate,
they must become turbulent and violent. The former meant a life of
peace; the latter meant a life of ceaseless torture; but the latter was
at any rate a more honourable estate. After shouting threats and abuse
at me with which the whole prison resounded—after informing me that he
would soon dress me into shape, grand and all as I was—the warder went
out, leaving me feeling as though I had been pitched into a cesspool.

Yet his visit was salutary. It whipped one out of one’s misery, and
gave one something to fight for. I turned to the rules on the wall
and read them carefully and completely. The jail having been newly
re-opened, the Governor was a Chief Warder acting as Governor. (This I
afterwards perceived, for I did not then know the distinction between
Chief Warders and Governors.) Later in the morning he entered to give
me my instructions for the day; and when he did so, I had sufficiently
mastered the section relating to “Prisoners Awaiting Trial” to
interrogate him on its application to myself. I claimed the right to
books, to tobacco, to daily newspapers, to daily letters out and in, to
daily visitors, to my own meals ordered from the town, and to getting
another prisoner, if I so wished it, to clean out my cell each day.

Whatever was there to be claimed, I claimed. At first he sought to put
me by. But when I compelled him to an admission that I was at least a
“Prisoner Awaiting Trial” then I claimed the fulfilment of the rights
accorded to that type of prisoner. It required some address at first
to get him to converse, for the usual method was harshly and instantly
to strike down any attempt at conversation. It was necessary at first,
quite casually and calmly, to ask an interpretation of the rules; and
then, once the net of discussion was cast, it was not so difficult to
hold him in its toils.

He looked at me as though he wished he had removed the troublesome
rules. “You forget,” he said, “these aren’t ordinary times. You are
under martial law now. The soldiers are the masters of us all now, so
they are. I amn’t very sure that I know where I am myself. Rules don’t
apply now. Nothing applies. I get my instructions from day to day. They
might take you out to-morrow morning and shoot you, so they might, and
nobody to save you. Isn’t the whole of the City of Dublin in ruins?
I cannot give you but what I’m bid, and those rules don’t relate to
you—they don’t relate to anybody.”

He granted me permission, however, to send out for my meals, if I so
wished it, and to write one letter each day, on a sheet provided for
that purpose. As a tally against the failure of my other rights he
agreed that I might keep my bed-board down for certain hours of the day
a concession that very much perplexed my northern warder.

I learnt from the other prisoners afterwards that this Governor was
very rough and harsh with them. At first he was so with me; but
finally he shewed me as much kindliness as was possible under the
circumstances. He did so in a strange way. He would enter my cell and
shout at me as harshly as at any; and then he would close the door, sit
on my stool, and begin to talk quite humanly. Such conversations would
conclude as brusquely and sharply as they began. Thus a certain kinship
emerged between us. We were both Irishmen, with a stranger’s martial
hand against us both, thrusting me into jail, and abrogating his rules.
In that mood he always spoke to me as one fellow-countryman might to
another of some unintelligible foreigner that had come into our land;
and then he would remember that he was leagued with the foreigner,
whereas I was pledged against him, when he would make some curt remark
and leave me.


Later in the morning I heard the jingle of the warder’s keys, the
grating of locks, and the tramp of feet down the wooden passage
outside. Presently it came to my turn, and my door was flung open.
When I made no move, my warder appeared in the doorway with angry
countenance to ask me what I was doing.

“Am I wanted?” I asked.

“You’re to come out to exercise, and look sharp. If you’ve a coat
there, bring it with you, it’s raining.”

Through the small high window, ribbed with heavy bars and paned with
thick, dirty glass, it was impossible to say what sort of a day passed
by outside. The different texture of the twilight within was the only

I was taken to the big yard, and there, for the first time, I saw my
fellow-prisoners. There was an Excise Officer, two men whom I did
not know, and two Gaelic League organisers. One of these last, as I
entered the yard, threw up his hand in a Connacht salute, and greeted
me: “[Gaelic: Sé do ḃeaṫa, a ḋuine ċoir]” It was surely a strange
welcome to a prison yard; and the warder’s voice barked out across the
yard: “Stop that talking there.” I was instructed to keep my distance
from the others behind and before, and in silence we all walked round
and round the yard under a cold drizzling rain.

Afterwards I learnt that a large batch of Westport men had been sent to
Dublin two days before, and that the prison was now beginning to fill
up again. This, apparently, was the reason of the delay in my arrest.
The police could only arrest as the prisons gave them space.

       *       *       *       *       *

For Ireland’s prisons were not able to keep pace with this new (and yet
not so very new) manufacture of criminals.

For an hour we marched round in silence; and then we were taken in for
our dinners. The two Gaelic League organisers had been appointed as
the prison orderlies. Warders never do any work, that being an offence
to the relative height at which they are placed; all work is done
by prisoners under their direction. Therefore, Sean Seoighe brought
me in my dinner; and when I in my ignorance asked for a knife and
spoon with which to eat it, he, on his week-old experience of jails,
passed quickly out into the passage to control his mirth, leaving me
to the astonishment of the warder, who asked me if I knew where I was.
The astonishing nature of my request seemed to rob the warder of his
asperity, for he went out in silence, leaving me to an old horn prison

At three o’clock we were taken out again for exercise, and by that
time I had already fallen into prison craft. Old criminals, I was
told, develop it to such an extent that their communications with one
another, in the friendships they establish, become almost as complete
as in ordinary life, despite the close scrutiny under which they are
kept at all times. I can well understand it; for here were we, new to
the game, and without any experienced hand among us, bringing all our
wits to work in order to establish communication with one another—that
communication between man and man without which life is as unhealthy
as a standing pool. Our minds became cunning and crafty; the whole
being became watchful and alert for opportunities that had to be
caught swiftly as they passed, while the outward manner maintained a
deceptive innocence. The result was not conscious; or at least it was
only half-conscious; for a new kind of reflex seemed to be developed.
As we walked round the yard for instance, we timed our journey with
the warder, who walked up and down a small path by the prison wall.
The result was that we were walking toward the far end of the yard as
he walked away from us toward the prison door. Thus his back would
be turned just as we reached the most favourable part of our round,
and by that time the distances between us would have become reduced
as though quite naturally. It was a manœuvre that, ordinarily, would
have been difficult to execute, yet it was managed quite simply,
and, as it were, naturally. Then, as we passed round the favourable
bend—while the warder was walking away from us down his little path—a
swift conversation would proceed, in voices pitched just to reach the
man before or the man behind, and without any perceptible movement of
the lips. And by the time the warder had turned about we were slowly
finishing the bend with lengthening distances between us, erect,
and with calm faces forward. Thus we came to know who we all were,
where we were taken, the circumstances that attended our arrests, and
soforth. This play of wit became no small part of the daily life; and
the penalties that were involved gave spice to existence.

When we were taken back to our cells I had a fairly exact knowledge of
who my fellow-prisoners were, and who had been there before me, and
when they had been removed. One became part of a new continuity, and I
had a strange feeling as though I had been in prison for a long time.
Supper was taken at five, and consisted of prison cocoa and bread.
It was the last meal for the day, and the only thing left to do was
to wait for darkness. In Castlebar Jail the gas jet projects an inch
into the cell, and is never lit except during the winter months. For
though prisons are sometimes spoken of as reformatories of character,
yet elaborate precautions are taken to prevent suicide. Hence the horn
spoons. Hence also the rope or wire netting beneath the landings. Hence
the gas jet, for from anything in the nature of a bracket a man might
hang himself. And such precautions are very necessary. As I sat in
my cell waiting for darkness to come, I felt for the first time the
beginnings of the system on me. The blank, bare walls, the high, dark
window, the deathly silence outside, broken only by the occasional
tread of the warder, the jingle of his keys by his side, and the sound
of the cover of the spy-hole as he slid it aside to spy in upon me—all
these outward things joined, with the instant repression of every sign
of humanity, by communication with a fellow-prisoner, or by a word
with the warder, to produce a mental blank and a complete absence of
any part of the rhythm or colour of life. One never sees anything
resembling a smile on warders’ faces: they seem tutored to graveness
or sullenness, as though they wore masks, and the only human exchange
one can sometimes catch is through the eyes—a quick flash there will
sometimes let one know that this warder at least is still a man and
has yet not wholly become a machine. So one never sees flowers in
prison (save for one exception that I was to meet, where the exception
was rooted in literary history); and prison yards are always floored
with shards of flint or coal slack, or something very like ashes.
Colours are never seen, and I remember later with what extraordinary
joy I feasted my eyes on a blanket with which I was provided—crimson,
and yellow, and claret—a wonderful thing. Everything is toneless,
colourless, featureless, expressionless, noiseless (unless the noise be
the harsh voice of a warder) void and unhuman.

In the twilight that thickened in my cell I sat that first night
feeling these influences sink into my soul—or rather, I felt them
advancing toward me, with intent to blot out the thing that was I,
the personality that was my being, without which I was not. And I
was afraid, afraid as of some last obscenity. I have read those who
have recommended meditation before such a grey void, so to purchase
the final liquidation into the great everlastingly-flowing Nirvana.
To such, a prison can be commended. Such a philosophy has never
commended itself to me, to whom Life is meaningless unless it be for
the production and perfection of personality; and personality is
meaningless unless it be the utmost differentiation of mind, the utmost
liberty of thought and action, the utmost canvassing of desire and
will, without any regard to authorities and bans and interdictions,
or monstrous (literally monstrous) attempts at uniformity, imperial
or otherwise. And so I sat there on my stool beside my little table,
feeling the first pressure of a cold enormity muffling Life at every
turn, seeking to reduce me to the utter blankness that is its ideal.
The prison system protects itself by a number of contrivances against
the suicide of its victims; but suicide is indeed the logical outcome
of the system, it is its final perfection. When personality has been
so far repressed that it can make no demonstration of itself, neither
by voice nor signal; when personality looks upon faces that are as
expressionless as the white-washed wall and flint-strewn yard; when the
mind at last echoes the blankness it meets with a blankness as fitting,
and the outer world becomes forgotten, literally forgotten:—what
difference is there between such a state and the final quenching of the
spark of life in a body whose only value is that a soul inhabits it?
The last state is simply a logical completion of the first.

Thought? I had during my life conceived of prison as a place where a
man could in silence and solitude think out things. As I sat in my cell
that first night in prison I knew on a sure insight (what I was later
to prove) that this was all wrong. As though something spake it in my
soul, I knew that thought would become sluggish and slow, and finally
would not exist at all, until even the effort to recall the names and
faces of friends would be relinquished as too fatiguing. I knew that;
I divined it that first night instantly; and I was afraid. Some of the
others told me that they wept every night; and I understood it. But
when the darkness compelled me to make up my bed, I simply took off my
coat and collar and boots, and rolled the blankets about me as I lay
down, determined that I was going to make a fight for it.

The following morning, when the Chief Warder came to see me, I started
again on the rules and regulations. We fought long and hard; and
finally he granted me permission to get a daily paper and to smoke one
pipe a day. “Only,” he said, “you must smoke it outside, and you must
smoke it in a special yard by yourself where the smell of the tobacco
won’t annoy the others.” I agreed; and before he left me he took the
“Rules” from the wall and bore them away with him.

So I took my exercise that morning by myself, in the small yard between
the forks of the prison building. My pipe was presented to me, and my
pouch. When the pipe was filled, I was presented with a match, and I
was watched while I lit up. Then my pouch was taken away and the door
was locked behind me and I was left alone.

The yard was very small, and triangular. It had apparently not been
much used, for the flints lay loose upon the surface of the ground,
save for one little circle in the centre that had been trodden hard.
Two sides of the triangle were formed by the prison, the walls of which
rose sheer above me, cold and grey, with menacing barred windows at
regular intervals. On the third side a high wall of masonry made the
base of the triangle. The day was sunlit, but the sunlight could only
fall across a small corner of the yard. Two daisies were growing in
the centre of the circle: which I picked, and instantly regretted the
selfishness and vandalism of the deed.

I walked round and round, smoking my pipe; but when my pipe was
finished, the folly of my decision faced me. Here I was shut for
another hour on a floor of flints, surrounded by oppressive grey
walls that rose sheer above me, with nothing to look upon but walls
and floor, and high above me a patch of blue sky, across which clouds
sailed. Deeply I envied the other men their sight of one another, and
their craft and tricks to outwit the warder. I walked round and round
the little circle, first one way and then the other; and gave that
up. I tried lying down in the corner, where the sunlight fell; but
found flint shards not the most inviting of seats. And it seemed an
interminable time before the warder unlocked the door to unloose me
from what had become a refined form of torture.

Yet I did not admit defeat. As I came away, the Chief Warder offered
me another pipe in the afternoon, on the same terms; and I accepted.
But that was enough. The prison cell was better than that little yard,
flint-strewn, beneath grey walls and barred windows. When I came back
in the afternoon I took occasion to slip up the flap from the spy-hole,
unobserved; and the warder closed the door without noticing this. So I
was enabled to relieve the tedium of my cell by looking out. Opposite
my spy-hole was a window looking down into the yard that I had left;
and there, to my astonishment, I saw a hat passing round and round,
coming into sight, and passing out of sight. The hat just appeared
over a bar of the window, which hid the face of the wearer. A hat, and
no more; like a tantalising glimpse into another world; but something
about that hat struck me as familiar. It was astonishingly like the
hat of P. J. D., the editor and proprietor of “The Mayo News,” the one
paper that had refused to print any rumours during the week of the
Rising. Had he then joined me in jail?

That night when at supper I asked for the daily letter I had
been promised, the Chief Warder informed me that he had received
instructions from the military authorities that I was not to be
permitted any sort of communication with the outer world, by letter
or by visit. The previous day I had written to my wife saying that my
daily letters were to be a sign to her that I was safe and well, and
would show her where I was. I wish no man the hours I spent that night.


The next morning I asked the Chief Warder if he had any labour gang at
which I could be employed, for I dreaded a continuance of the thoughts
that had been with me through the night.

“I can put you moulding my potatoes,” he said, with the air of a man
who spoke of something so ridiculous that it disposed of itself.

“Very well,” I said.

“Can you mould potatoes?” he said.

He seemed to be diffident now when his humour took actual shape.

“I can try,” I said. “I was eight hours setting them the day before you
took me.”

So a Gaelic League organiser, an Excise man,

       *       *       *       *       *

were employed throughout that day moulding the Chief Warder’s potatoes;
we enjoyed the work; and we enjoyed it none the less because of the
new warder under whom we were placed. This warder had made his first
appearance, as far as I was concerned, the previous day. The mask he
wore was not sour, but melancholy; and that in itself was a great
difference. His voice, too, suggested possibilities. It was southern,
and somewhere muffled in its official brevity a human quality echoed. I
had heard that quality instantly when, the previous day, he came into
my cell to bid me hasten as he had others to attend to besides myself.
I had not hastened; but, quite deliberately, I had stood and looked at
him. “’Tis queer criminals you have these times, warder,” I said. I
looked at him; and he looked at me. Then he went to the door, looked up
and down the passage, and returned to me. “Faith, you’re right, sir,”
he said. “’Tis a queer sort of criminals these times.” It would be hard
to express all that he managed to convey in those few words. Perhaps
the melancholy mask he wore was all the more melancholy because of the
thoughts he could not utter. Strange pass for a man when his hand is
bought against his fellow-countrymen; and strangest of all when his
heart is not bought with his hand. We had no cause to regret our warder
during that day’s labour; but I am sure he was not as sorry for us as
I was for him.

He was with us on Sunday also. It being Sunday, we only received one
hour’s exercise during the morning; and as the Chief Warder and his
other officials had gone to Mass the warder was in sole charge of us.
Therefore we all had exercise together; and when I entered the yard I
saw that my guess of Friday was correct, for there was P. J. D. already
before me. He threw up his hand in welcome, and a smile lit over his
face. I passed over and walked behind him.

There were many new faces there. There were about sixteen or seventeen
of us. Some were in prison clothes.

       *       *       *       *       *

Some had come into conflict with English troops with whom they had been

I turned to note the others in civilian clothes. One was an elderly
man, with grey beard and majesterial manner: I never found out who he
was. The man, however, who struck me most walked just ahead of P. J. D.
Tall and athletic of build, he strode round and round the path, the
very embodiment of wrath. His face, when I caught a side glance of it
as he turned each bend, was black and lowering. Once as we came round
the corner that served so well for our quick interchanges, he turned
about, took a quick glance at the warder’s retreating back, and shook
his fist at the prison and all it signified, and said: “By God, but
there’ll be a big judgment to pay for all this yet.” Then he strode on
again, striking his heels on the ground. He had probably just completed
his first night in jail; and his emotion had not yet become transmuted
into something more settled and grim. “Keep your heart up, man, keep
your heart up,” I heard P. J. D. whisper. “There’s plenty of time
before all of us.”


When I was wakened the following morning I was informed that I had to
be ready for removal in an hour’s time. The Chief Warder did not know
where I was to go, only that at six a guard of soldiers would come for
me. It was his opinion that I was to be taken for the courtsmartial in
Dublin. That meant anything; it meant, to be more precise, whatever
the police desired or intended, for the reign of terror was abroad in
the land, and every man’s fate was decreed by whatever the police had
decided would make an appropriate chapter in his _leabhran_ at Dublin
Castle, without other evidence than the evidence of the compilers.
During those days that man was safest who was permitted to remain in
any one place for a length of time, for presumably the present orgy
of blood and long sentences, of courtsmartial, and authority on its
war-steed champing the ground, would begin to pall. Nevertheless, I
welcomed the change. Anything seemed better than inaction. It was
better to go out and take one’s fate than to stay skulking in a cell.
My only anxiety was for my wife, who would know nothing of my removal,
and from whom it seemed decided to withhold all knowledge of me.

P. J. D. came down after me to the office where our “effects” were
handed back to us. We were to be fellow travellers on the road, and we
were marched through the streets of Castlebar to the Railway Station
under a sergeant’s guard of eight men. It was too early for the town
to be astir, and those who were abroad seemed rather abashed by the
spectacle. At the station, as the train came in, to my great joy I
was hailed by my wife, who, not getting the promised daily letter,
had travelled down by the same train that was to take me to Dublin
to discover what was happening. A little tactful authority with the
sergeant included her in the same carriage with ourselves; and thus
began a co-operation, from without and from within jail, that was to be
of rare value in the future.

Again I was fortunate in my custodian. The sergeant belonged to one
of the North Staffordshire battalions that had been rushed over for
the Rising-Out, and he was a kindly, homely man, very much unlike some
of his guard. The songs that came from the adjoining compartment were
clearly meant to hearten us with the thought of friendship. There was
no timidity in the choice of theme, and the peeler who accompanied us
(as guide to the strangers in charge of his own countrymen) was clearly
restive hearing songs it had become his first instinct to baton. But
the sergeant was in command, and he maintained a strict dignity. At
Athlone our companions next door managed to convey the state of affairs
to others on the platform, with the result that the cheering crowd had
time to vent their feelings outside our door before they were swept
away. Then a peeler on the platform beckoned to our sergeant, and
whispered something to him. When he returned to his seat beside me, I
asked him what had been said to him.

“He was telling me to be careful, as there are sympathisers of yours in
the next compartment and on the platforms.”

“That doesn’t surprise you, sergeant, does it?” I asked.

He thought for a moment; then, “No, sir, it doesn’t,” he said. And
after a minute’s further thought, he added: “It’s easy for me to see
who has the people’s wish, and who has the unpleasant job. You mustn’t
think, sir, I like it; for I don’t. It wasn’t for this kind of thing
I joined up. Why every nation can’t manage its own affairs without
other nations butting in, I can’t for the life of me imagine. I thought
it was to stop that kind of thing they told me I was wanted out in

Apparently he had been driven to thought. He was a tall, strongly-built
man, with a long head and grave face—the kind of man who takes life
very seriously and very earnestly. He came from the pottery district,
where he had been employed in some clerical capacity; and when he told
me he was fond of books I knew at once what kind of company he kept
and what kind of books he read. In that company the cause of small
nationalities had given him much heart-searching. Very earnestly he
had thought the thing out, and in an international morality not at
all lightly gotten-by, he had donned khaki, won his stripes, and been
dispatched to Ireland for first service. I have wondered sometimes how
he got on in Belgium. Perhaps he laid down his life in order that small
nations should have freedom declared as their indefeasible right.

At Dublin, when I suggested that P. J. D. and I should hire cars across
to Richmond Barracks, and that he should divide his guard between us,
he willingly accepted the proposal.


At Castlebar rigorous care was taken that P. J. D. and I should not
speak with one another. Care had been taken that we should exercise
apart, and only by the accident of the shortage of staff on the Sunday
had either of us been able to do more than guess at the other’s
presence. At Richmond Barracks we were thrown together perforce, and
were condemned to sleep under the one slender blanket.

In the room to which we were consigned there were already twenty-five
others. The officers who took us up told me that it was known as the
Leaders’ Room: a description that, at that time, was ... ominous....
From it, De Valera had gone to his life’s sentence; from it, I was
told, Sean MacDiarmada had gone to his death...; and there Count
Plunkett had been required to answer for the consciences of his sons.
And a goodly company remained there yet, from whom we received a
hospitality the joviality of which gave no heed to the courtsmartial
that slowly worked their way along the lists provided by a diligent
officialdom. Presents from friends were permitted, under supervision;
and food so obtained was put into a common commissariat, presided over
by mighty Sean O’Mahony, the ruler and president of our company. From
this store we were regaled without further ado, while he stood between
us and the others who rose to welcome us to our fate. He would suffer
none to approach us with a more immediate welcome or inquiry until we
had had what we would of the hospitality it was his to dispense; and
then we mixed in the company into which we had been cast.

So, for the first time I came into touch with those who had had their
part in the Rising. There were some of the company on whom the burning
yet remained. Most had been through a historic week, and three had been
severely wounded. In all cases these were leg wounds from bullets,
and two of the number had been lying on the wooden floor, covered by
blankets, when we entered. Coming as I did from a part of the country
where only wild, whirling rumours had reached, sound and fury of
things that had and things that had not occurred, there was something
of a thrill in this first touch of the actual event. One faded into
insignificance beside the simplest follower that had borne the heat of
the day. He would be a man of little emotion, surely, who did not feel
as I did at that moment, with a touch of awe and respect kindling in
his veins. It seems then to me a little thing that a man should think
and labour for his country beside those who had offered dear life for
her sake.

Therefore, when one of the wounded men limped up to me, claiming an
acquaintance I had forgotten, I was anxious to discover from him where
he had fought, and to learn some details of the fighting. He had, with
high personal courage and ability, filled one of the commands in the
defence of the South Dublin Union, and was not loth to tell his tale.
But our conversation was overheard, and an uproar rose.

“He’s going to tell about the South Dublin Union again. No, no;
that can’t be allowed. We’re tired about the South Dublin Union.” I
protested that I wished to hear. “I’m sorry, but we can’t permit it.
We’ve heard that story so often that it’s not safe for us to hear it
again. It’s really not safe. If you let him, he’ll tell it you for a
week; but we can’t permit it; we’ve our nerves to consider.”

So it was. In no way could I extract my tale, and had to remain without


Richmond Barracks was for the military the clearing house for rebels;
for the police it was their last chance of a stroke.

       *       *       *       *       *

Marching tunes are in military orders, and the men in khaki perceived
no difference between one tune and another; but the little groups in
dark green became twice as sullen, and twice as anxious to lay their
victims by the heels, one way or another. Without a doubt Richmond
Barracks was of great value from the dramatic point of view.

We were housed in the second and third storey rooms of the barracks.
The troops occupied the ground floor, the guards were posted at the
doors and on the landings, while outside the whole building was
enclosed with barbed wire barricades, guarded again by soldiers. It was
to Richmond Barracks that the men of the Republican Army were swept as
they surrendered. Some were taken to Kilmainham and Arbour Hill, the
Castle and other places.

       *       *       *       *       *

Not till Asquith’s visit were these things rectified; and even
thereafter conditions were only slowly, and, as it were, grudgingly,
amended. By the time I arrived at the clearing-house, a fortnight after
the Rising had concluded, the amendment was in progress.

The cause for this was simple. Far more potent than a very questionable
beneficence in Premiers, was the grim and bitter mood that had settled
on the country. This had to be propitiated. Asquith’s visit was but a
token of political sagacity; and while I was at Richmond, the dawning
of the same sagacity on the military mind could be seen in the shape
of extra blankets, extra and better food, benches to sit on, tables
to eat from, knives, spoons and forks to eat with, and some care for
greater cleanliness. Slowly these things came; not exactly with a
remarkable good humour or good will; and were received by us, as they
came one by one, with ribaldry and laughter.

Thus, soon after our arrival P. J. D. and I were apportioned a blanket
apiece, and at nightfall, on the call of the bugle, we were instructed
by the others in their use. We all slept with our heads to the wall and
our feet toward the centre of the room. We slept in couples for the
better use of our blankets. One blanket was stretched on the floor, the
other served for coverlet, and our coats made our pillows. So we slept
each night, fully dressed, for the nights were bitterly cold. It was
extraordinary how soon one’s hip-bones hardened to the floor, and the
simplicity of toilet was a great boon to anyone who had found dressing
and undressing labyrinths of inconvenience.

In the morning the reveille sounded at six o’clock; and from then until
about eight we were taken out in squads under armed guards, to wash at
the pumps and washbowls in the yard.

For our meals, we sat where we could or would, on the ground, or, if
one were tactful, on the window-sills. We were all allowed to retain up
to a pound in cash, and some of the men had purchased jack-knives from
the soldiers. Others had managed to retain their own pen-knives. Such
men were fortunate, for they were able at once to proceed with their
meals. The others either waited until an implement was available, or
they did not wait.

Yet all these were but campaigning inconveniences. The great thing was
that we were, by necessity, permitted one another’s company; and the
utmost joviality prevailed. None would have thought that in one of the
barrack buildings within sight of our windows, the courtsmartial were
sitting, and that men were being picked out from the rooms and sent to
long terms of penal servitude. No one knew whose turn would come next.
The selections were, by any reckoning, an extraordinary hazard. Some
who confidently expected a summons, were passed over in silence. Others
were selected whose choice was inexplicable, except on the supposition
(which indeed was no supposition) that some local spite was exerted
against them. Any evening an officer might enter and hand a man a
paper form. That form was a statement of the case against him, and
meant that on the following day he was to be taken before the Court
Martial. No time was given to prepare a defence or employ counsel.
The next morning he was taken out. If his case were not heard, he
returned that evening, and would go forth in the morning; if his case
were heard, he would not return, and we would know nothing until, in
the course of a week or ten days, his sentence was promulgated in the

One such case stands out vividly in my memory because of an interesting
personal relation that was suggested. Thrice a certain officer
had entered, and we had all stood in a line before him while he,
accompanied by a detective, inspected us each carefully in turn. Each
time he had turned away dissatisfied; and on the third occasion, as
he did so, one of our number made some jest, at which we all laughed.
Instantly the officer turned about and fixed on one of our number.

“You’re Captain L——, aren’t you?” he said.

“I am.”

“You were at the Post Office, in charge of the prisoners?”

“I was.”

“Just so. I didn’t recognise you out of your uniform. You are the man.
I fixed you just now when you laughed by your gold teeth.”

When he had gone we gathered round L—— to ask him who the man was; and
we learned that he had been a prisoner in the Post Office. When the
Post Office had been set on fire, and became untenable, the building
had been evacuated in haste. Not until they were filing out into the
street were the prisoners remembered, and then O’Rahilly had sent L——
back to bring them out to safety. As the prisoners were housed in a
room next to that in which the ammunition and high explosives were
stored, beside the lift-shaft, down through which the sparks were
falling, this was a task of some considerable danger.


Men so selected went off to a criminal’s fate. Yet the authorities in
effect recognised that the selection turned on a hazard by treating us
all as criminals. Forms were delivered on some men with charges that
astonished none so much as the recipients; and as there was no evidence
other than police reports offered in support of such allegations, the
only thing in doubt was the length of the sentence. On the other hand,
men were passed over who were not less astonished at the passing. But
all our finger-prints were taken. We were afterwards considerably
amused at the assurance given in the English House of Commons that
finger-prints were only taken “at first” “owing to the difficulty of
identification,” and that they were taken “under military supervision.”
Finger-prints were taken all the time I was at Richmond Barracks by a
peeler whose descent on newcomers was greeted with ironic mirth, for
he was a familiar figure as he hung about the barracks like a hawk,
carrying his implements with him. What mirth we had we made as we went,
for all that it had a grim background; but we were certainly assisted
by comparing the declarations in Parliament as to our estate with the
conditions we actually endured. And the idea of any “difficulty of
identification” was a joke more than ordinarily grim. It conveyed a
wonderful conception of Ireland as a land untracked and uncharted;
whereas, in the most elaborately policed country in the world the only
thing lacking to make our _leabhrain_ artistically complete was the
presence of a finger-print. And the artists in dark green were swift to
complete their pictures.

Such things, I found, were only treated with mirth. It was curious to
note the way in which the doings of the police—either of the R.I.C. or
the D.M.P., “two minds with but a single aim, two hearts that beat as
one”—were received. There was a bitterness in the ribaldry with which
they were greeted, a bitterness and a certain frosty sting in the
mirth; but there was also the laughter for relief.

       *       *       *       *       *

Not having been in Richmond Barracks during the first days of terror,
I raised a complaint the following morning with the medical officer.
I asked his co-operation, as an Irishman who should resent a national
insult. He did resent it; and as a result, the young officer was
compelled to apologise as a matter of discipline. Thereafter, that
officer appeared no more among us; but neither did the medical officer.

Yet, in spite of all these things, we had one another; and that was
compensation. I had heard of most of my companions before, but had
never had the opportunity of meeting many of them; and I was now
glad of the chance of acquaintance and discussion. In Richmond the
first beginnings appeared of that cementing of brotherhood among the
“prisoners of war” that was afterwards to take so fine a form. About a
fortnight after my arrival some of us in our room were offered special
rooms, with two beds in each room; but we all refused these without
any further enquiry rather than injure or forego that brotherhood.
Our national convictions were the same in fundamentals, but they took
different forms. Our roots were the same, and they were set in the same
good earth; but the branches and blossoms were various. From afar, we
could only see the branches and blossoms, and were chiefly aware of our
differences from one another; but now that we came near one another we
could see that our roots were in the same soil.

Indeed, some came who had few roots to boast of, but roots were soon
generated, partly by the warmth of suitable companionship, partly by
the heat engendered by their treatment. And with all, save a possible
few exceptions, a unity and kinship was soon evolved, that mitigated
the hardship of our estate and wiped away the sense of danger that hung
over us all.

Our comradeship softened our hardship in other ways also. The English
Army was camped round about us to stop all communication with the outer
world except through the permitted channels. We were allowed two visits
a week. Our visitors stood on one side of the barbed wire and we stood
on the other, with an armed guard between us. All parcels and letters
had to pass through the censor. If the parcels contained clothing, we
received them; if they contained food, we did not receive them. That
was a part of the rapacity of the army we did not appreciate; but
there was another side to it. We were encompassed about with traders,
and so, by uniting our resources, and by pooling our wits, we were
able to reach the outer world by the very agency that was intended to
obstruct us. The officers of course knew this, but they were powerless.
And therefore, since accurate accounts of our treatment were getting
out to correct the pleasing accounts published by the military, the
authorities, in their desire to conciliate public opinion, were slowly
compelled to make their treatment square with their accounts, just as
they were being slowly compelled to terminate the courtsmartial that
hung over the barracks, and seemed likely to last for another year.

Our day began with the Reveille at six, and concluded with Lights Out,
at a quarter past ten. The intervening hours were spent in walking up
and down the room and in talk. The only thing that broke the monotony
of the day was the continuous business of the clearing-house. Large
batches of prisoners continued to arrive from all parts of the country,
where the police were making hay while the sun shone, to the no small
embarrassment of the military, who seemed likely to have the greater
part of the country delivered upon them. Large batches were being
deported to England; and there is no doubt that many were deported whom
the military had destined for their courts simply because it had become
impossible to warehouse the cargoes of humanity that were being landed
on their wharf. And, in slowly diminishing numbers, men were being

... In the midst of this we lived suspended until our turn came on the
schedules of the military wharfingers.


The day on which deportations were due was always tense and strained
throughout. We were generally warned a day or so in advance by the
soldiers, and sometimes had some of the names conveyed to us of those
who were destined to go. However they obtained this information, it
was always correct. This meant that from the time we awoke we were
all restless. About two o’clock an officer would enter and read a
list of names. Each of those so summoned would be given a knapsack,
and informed that he was to be ready to fall in on parade outside at
half-past two. No more was said; and no more was needed to be said.

Some were glad to go. It meant their removal from the danger zone,
and implied that the military did not know all that might have been
known. But these were few. For the most part men waited anxiously all
day, and if their names were called they made a brief comment, jocular
sometimes, and sometimes defiant, that intimated the dead weight that
had fallen on them with the news. Whatever courts-martial might sit,
so long as we were in Ireland we were at home. There was always the
consciousness with us that our own people were about us and bitterly
resented our fate. Whereas deportation was deportation. Moreover, one
of the men who had been deported a short time before had been brought
back again for trial, and his tale of what had been meted out to him in
an English jail was not pleasant to hear. Altogether, this breaking up
of bonds and transference to the conqueror’s own particular prisons was
a thing of dread, however that dread might be covered by jocularity or

The first deportation after my arrival was on Saturday, May 20th. On
that occasion none was taken from our room. We crowded to the windows
to see the parade and to cheer our comrades by our presence there; but
we were shouted back by the officers, who were conducting the parade,

       *       *       *       *       *

Our very friendship with one another had become an offence.

The following week there was another list of deportations. Three from
our room were taken, their places being filled the following day by
new arrivals from the country. On May 23rd my name was called, with
three others from the room. The previous day I had had an interview
with solicitor and counsel with a view to getting a statement of the
charges against me and to demanding a trial. An officer had been
present throughout the interview, although we had protested against his
presence. He was under discipline to the very men against whom it was
our intention to proceed, and it was a strange thing that he should
be present to learn exactly what our case might be and how it was our
intention to proceed. A further interview was arranged for two days
later, in order that counsel might turn up certain points of law. But
in the meantime I received notice that I was to be deported.

I had been, and then was, ill. I was really unfit to travel, especially
under these particular conditions. But that was a matter easily mended.
When I reported sick on parade I was taken over to the dispensary and
... ... Others who had been summoned to the parade were treated in the
same way; and we stood out there till about half-past four, when our
escort arrived. It was a beautiful afternoon; the sunlight poured down
through a cloudless sky and lay like a sultry blanket on the ground.
There were about a hundred and fifty of us, in two companies, for two
destinations. We stood there in ranks with soldiers guarding us, while
officers busied themselves with papers all about us. I thought of the
sun shining on the sea, and clothing the mountains with a new soft
beauty, and of the summer that began now to flow back over the earth in
Achill. There was time to indulge in reflection to the full.

At five o’clock our guards handed us over to the escort. The barrack
guard had been comprised of English troops. The escort was an Irish
regiment. Ironic, that an Irish regiment should escort Irishmen for
deportation to England. Stranger still when, as we were being marched
through the city, the people crowded about us to let us know of their
sympathy, and the soldiers were instructed to keep the people back with
their rifle-stocks.

       *       *       *       *       *

We are sometimes derided as a people rent by divisions, but the division
in this case was due to the same cause as has created nearly all our
other divisions. That cause was symbolised by the scene that was
enacted that day. In no way more picturesquely could the fact of a
perpetual military conquest have been staged. And when, as we marched
down along the quays, most of us saw, for the first time, the havoc
wrought in our capital by the guns of the conqueror, that only gave the
appropriate scenery without which dramatists have agreed that the work
of their artistry cannot be given to the world.

At the North Wall we were put on board a cattle boat. The cattle were
herded at one end of the pens, we were being herded at the other end of
the pens. When it came to my turn to be penned I was surprised to hear
myself accosted by the Embarkation Officer:

“I’m B——, you know.”

“Certainly,” I replied; “we meet again.” But I had not the dimmest
notion who he was.

“I hope to be in Castlebar soon,” he said. “I haven’t been back since I
went out.”

“Is that so?” I said. “I was in Castlebar a fortnight ago. I was
stopping at the jail.”

He laughed, and turned to P. J. D., who stood beside me as we awaited
our turn to be penned. His manner was frank and pleasant and not at all
constrained, although his penning of us was quite efficiently done. I
informed him that I was not well, and asked if certain accommodation
could not be found slightly more efficient than a cattle pen packed
with my fellows. He promised to see what he could do, and went off.
When he had gone, P. J. D. informed me that he had been a Volunteer
when I was in command of the county, and had since gained some
distinction in the European War. Presently he returned, and conveyed
some of us to a room in the forecastle, where we had seats on which we
could stretch ourselves.

When we arrived in England, however, we struck quite another
atmosphere. Inquisitive crowds gathered about us who lost no
opportunity of displaying their enmity and hostility. German prisoners
of war might have aroused an equal curiosity, but they could not have
an equal enmity. Clearly and sharply we stood out, whether we gathered
on railway platforms or were marched through streets, as nation against
nation, with an unbridgeable hatred between us. Any attempt on our
part to meet taunt with taunt was at

       *       *       *       *       *

; and so we were compelled to stand as the mark of contumely and the
target of contempt. To be sure, that only stiffened us, and we held
ourselves high and unflinchingly before the crowds. Nevertheless, there
was a sickening in most of us, for Ireland was behind us and we were
utterly in the stranger’s power.

I had lived some years in England, and had formed many good
friendships. Unlike many of my companions, England and the English
were no strange things to me. Yet I came then into something utterly
strange, foreign, and hostile. I could not more strangely have been led
captive among the mountains of the moon, so icy was this world and such
leagues apart from that which I had known.

Everything was coloured by that relation. One looked on England with
new eyes, and old thoughts became startling new discoveries. Stafford
lay for the most part steeped in slumber as we were marched through
its streets in the morning, accompanied by a small, inquisitive crowd.
It looked incredibly sleek and prosperous beside our Irish towns.
The villas were sleek and comfortable; the roads were sleek and neat;
the very grass beside the canal looked sleek as though nurtured with
the centuries. Everything had an air of being well fed and well
groomed, and quite consciously proud of the fact that it was part of
a prosperous whole, where no invader’s foot had trampled, where no
spoliation had dared to efface the moss that had gathered for centuries
on the gables, or to rough the smooth lawns. The villas might be the
latest examples of modernity, yet that was the air they suggested,
for they became part of something that was smooth and sleek. How
different to our Irish towns, that look as though they—not the people
in them, but they themselves—live a precarious day-to-day existence.
Each suggests the history of their nation. One has grown sleek with
prosperity, and smooth and round with the large air of the conqueror,
with shores that have never known invasion. The other has been hunted
from end to end by rapacious conquest; the forests that were its pride
burnt away the better to root out its people; the people hunted until
they lost the instinct to build for themselves permanent abodes, and,
more latterly, rack-rented till they stealthily hid any small savings
and kept middens before their doors, until a show of poverty from being
a disguise became a habit; rising against the conqueror in a series
of revolts foredoomed to failure, but triumphant in what they spoke
of—a spirit still unbroken; stricken to earth again by soldiery that
marched through the land; and harnessed by a network of legislative
acts that intended to inhibit industry and commerce with the nations of
the earth, and that succeeded in their intention. And yet there was no
question of a choice between the two. For with one individuality had
become smoothened away, the wheel having come full circle; with the
other individuality was sharp and keen, angular it might be, but alive
for the future.

H. P. and I were speaking of these things when we arrived at Stafford
Jail. It was about six o’clock in the morning as we were marched
through the gates and lined up outside the prison. The building looked
gloomy and forbidding as it frowned down on us with its hundreds of
barred windows. It had lately been used as a detention barracks; that
is to say, as a prison for soldiers, the major part of the population
of England having donned khaki but not having doffed their sins
therewith. Therefore, it was staffed by military, who received us from
our escort and marched us up the great building to the cells that had
been allotted us. And once again I heard the key grate behind me.


Stafford Jail covers a large space of ground surrounded by high
brick walls, and contains three prisons, with the usual outhouses,
such as the Governor’s office, the reception-cells, the cookhouse,
laundry, hospital, workshops, and chapels. In the centre stands the
original prison, known as the Old Prison, a building of an old type
of architecture, with high gabled roof and large windows. A path ran
beside it, between it and the Governor’s office, and this path led at
each end to the two newer buildings that face each other and complete
the square. One is known as the New Prison, of menacing exterior, with
small windows heavily barred. The other is known as the Crescent,
because of its shape. Both are plain solid buildings, but in the
Crescent the windows are large and less dungeon-like. Windows mean much
to the outward look of a prison, but they mean much more to its inward

In the ordinary life of the jail—if it is at all possible to
speak of a jail containing an ordinary life—women occupy the Old
Prison, long-sentence and penal servitude men the New Prison, and
short-sentence men the Crescent. While we were there soldiers under
sentence occupied the Old Prison, and the Irish Prisoners of War the
other two prisons. Dublin men occupied the Crescent, having been
brought there on Monday, immediately after the surrender; and the men
from the country districts were put into the New Prison as they came to
hand, together with a few Dublin men who had been swept up during the
week after the Rising.

Flanking the jail on each side are the Union and the Lunatic Asylum,
and to judge from the size of all three, the population of that part of
England seems to be in a bad way. Afterwards I had an opportunity of
looking from one of the higher windows over the walls, and I could see
factory chimneys stretching to the horizon. Factory chimneys, lunatic
asylums, jails, poorhouses, and sleek suburbia: a pretty picture of
civilization. All the jail buildings were in red brick, which was at
least warm to the eye. The New Prison held about four hundred cells,
and the Crescent about the same.

Being one of the later Sweep-up I was placed in the New Prison. Within,
it was not unlike a church in some ways, chiefly in the matter of
gloom. It was comprised of three wings, branching from the central
hall. Right and left ran a long high hall, with church-like windows
at each end. Each side formed a wing, and opposite the gate there
extended a third smaller wing. The walls of each wing rose like a cliff
on either hand, with three tiers of cells like so many caves. Round
the cells run balconies with spiral stairways connecting them. Across
the midmost balcony wire netting is extended lest men’s nerves get
the better of them. Half-way down each wing the monotonous succession
of cell doors is broken on each side, and a little recess formed for

Each wing bears a letter of the alphabet, and each cell a number. Each
man on entrance has his name inscribed on one side of a cardboard
form, and his cell number on the other. This is placed in a wooden
slot outside his cell. The name is turned to the wall, and the number
turned to view. By that is signified that his name is no longer needed,
and he becomes a number. Inasmuch as the system is subtly devised for
the extinction of personality, of identity, this is a deft piece of
symbolism of which any dramatist might be proud. In Stafford I was C
2:21:—Wing C., Balcony 2, Cell 21.

Cells are ever the same, even as their occupants are presumed to be.
My cell at Stafford was the same as at Castlebar, save that the upper
half of the walls was painted yellow instead of being whitewashed, the
lower half red instead of yellow, and the floor paved. The window was
much smaller and very dark. Unlike Castlebar, it had no gas jet inside.
Instead of this, a square thick pane of glass beside the door covered
an incandescent burner that was lit from outside. The cavity in which
the burner stood narrowed to a small slit in the outer wall, lest
any prisoner should magically narrow himself with a view to escaping
through an aperture a foot square. Beside the door appeared the usual
bell handle. By turning it sharply to one side a gong was rung above
the latrine recess, and the same action registered one’s number


All that I had feared in Castlebar now returned upon me; yet,
curiously, not so keenly, not so sharply. Already there had been
a dulling of consciousness, a blunting of the susceptibilities.
During the early morning we were examined medically and then bathed
in antiseptic. We needed it; herded on the dusty floors of Richmond
Barracks we had collected what was to be collected, and had, as a
Tyrone lad put it, “grazed our cattle through-other”; and the doctor
nodded gravely over his inspection, like one who thought, “Well, this
is the Irish nation: report has not spoken untruly of them.” Then we
were taken back to our cells. During the afternoon we were taken out
for a quarter of an hour’s exercise in silence round one of the yards
at the back of the prison, and solemnly informed that if any attempt
to communicate with one another were detected we would be removed to
special punishment cells and fed on bread and water for a week. Back
to our cells then until the following afternoon.

That was our life. We were awoken at five and brought out for lavatory
parade. Soon after six breakfast was served out to us. This consisted
of a tin mug of tea, a square lump of white bread, and a small piece
of margarine. Inasmuch as the mug served for soup as well as for tea,
and presumably the tea was decocted in the same vessel as the soup,
there was a strong similarity of taste between the two. Nor was the
fluid that reached us always very hot. We were not permitted either
knife, fork or spoon. While we took our breakfast the staff retired
to theirs, and the curiously deathly prison silence descended on the
place. At a quarter to eight the staff returned with the jangling
of many keys, and soon the shouts of commands rent the air. For we
were now to scrub out our cells. On the ground floor each man had,
in addition to his cell, to scrub a portion of the hall opposite his
door. When this was accomplished, if the staff-sergeant had any general
instructions to announce, or could by any means devise an occasion
for instructions, we were put on parade in the hall to hear him
discourse. The staff-sergeant had a Biblical gift of iteration without
the Biblical music of phrase. Nor had he the faculty of disguising
his repetitions. He had, however, a certain ornateness of expression
which, though it was not exactly Biblical, succeeded in relieving the
monotony of his discourse. If he had two simple announcements to make
he occupied himself for half an hour with them, and with variations on
them, striding up and down the line of us, shouting at the top of his
voice, while his staff of non-commissioned officers stood amongst us
to see that we gave due heed to what he said. He was an excellent man,
however; and meant kindly.

Back then to our cells, where we sat till dinner. This was brought
round (by orderlies appointed from among ourselves) at twelve. Dinner
consisted of soup and a lump of white bread. The soup was contained in
the same mug as the morning tea, and was, until one became accustomed
to it, a strange looking spectacle. In the midst of it floated a lump
of something that varied according to one’s varying luck. If one were
fortunate it was, mainly, meat; if one’s luck were only fair, it
consisted of fat, with streaks of lean bravely running through it; if
one’s luck were completely out, it was gristle, with bits of meat set
in it like amethysts in quartz (and indeed the meat was illuminated by
strange colours astonishingly like amethysts). Either the animals slain
for our eating were curious beasts or my luck was badly out, for the
succession of gristle that came to my turn was noteworthy. Afterwards
I managed to smuggle out one of the islands that floated in my soup,
and sent it entire to a member of the English Parliament, thinking the
effect might be remarkable if it were thrown dramatically across the
floor of the House, as Burke once threw a dagger. Two or three potatoes
in their skins were served with the soup; and the whole meal had to be
manipulated with one’s fingers. I became quite expert with the course
of time in discovering where pieces of meat crouched in their layers of
gristle and bringing them to the light of day with my forefinger. Yet
often I decided that the meal was not worth the fatigue involved, and
left it where it stood.

The afternoons served our scanty pleasure, for then we were taken out
for exercise, which usually lasted twenty minutes to half an hour, and
on some occasions longer, according to the pleasure of the sergeant in
control. For the staff worked through the prisoners in batches through
the day. How one looked forward to that glimpse of sky overhead, to
that beat of the summer’s sun on one’s body. The yard was of great
size as befitted the size of the prison, and was laid with ground
clinkers, or some black earth of the nature of ashes, surrounded by a
concrete path. There was no colour to be seen anywhere, save the red
bricks of the gaol and the black floor of the yard. Yet the sky was
blue overhead, and the sun was golden; and though these things were
plaintive in what they told of a summer passing in pomp elsewhere, yet
their immediate gift made that half hour of the day the moment for
which we lived during the 23½ hours’ existence in a cell. Moreover,
after a time I tried an experiment. I quietly stepped out of the file
into the yard and began running easily within the circle that the
others made about me. I saw the sergeant look at me, not quite knowing
what to make of the innovation. Then another stepped out, and ran
behind me; and another, and yet another, till there was a string of
half a dozen of us. Nothing was said the first day; and the innovation
once begun it was continued. Thus we had another event to which to look
forward during the long hours.

At five came tea, which was a repetition of breakfast; and then set in
the hours we most dreaded. The staff went home at five, and silence
settled down over the prison—a silence that was not broken till five
the next morning. Now and then as the night watchman passed in his
padded shoes I would hear the spy-hole slot being moved aside and would
know that an eye was looking in upon me. Then the slot fell back again.
The eye had passed on to the next cell. But all the time the silence
was profound.

The lengthening day, with the altered hour, gave light till ten at
night. That is to say, the customary twilight of the cell did not
change to profound gloom and then to darkness till after that hour.
That made the case worse, for one would not take refuge in sleep. It
would be hard to say how many times I counted the number of bolts that
studded the door, how many times I counted the number of bricks in each
wall, how many times I measured the number of feet from end to end of
the cell, from side to side, and from corner to corner. This was one’s
occupation for twenty-three hours out of the twenty-four, save for the
time given to sleep, until one fell back on bitter blank staring ahead.

Sometimes, as though to make the silence still more oppressive, I heard
one of the other prisoners somewhere down the prison break into a song.
Then a harsh voice would loudly call on him to be quiet; and silence
would be supreme again. Already on my first day I had established
friendly relations with my corporal. He was, I discovered, a London
Irishman, and he happened to be more easily quickened to interest on
that account. I asked him once what the other men did with their time,
when he spied in upon them, thinking to find comfort for my hours in
a more intelligent knowledge of the life that was silently proceeding
around me.

“Most of them just sit on their stools and stare at the wall. It’s
horrible to see them. Lots of them are crying—some that you wouldn’t
think of. And a lot of them are praying, always praying. And that’s
worse, for things are not as bad as that. It makes me feel bad to see

I thought of Dame Quickly with her, “Now I, to comfort him, bid him a’
should not think of God; I hoped there was no need to trouble himself
with any such thoughts yet,” and smiled. But I wished I had not asked
him my question.

Yet, strangely enough, the thing that I had feared with such horror in
its coming at Castlebar did not quicken in me such fear now that it had
settled upon me. The process had, as most processes do, brought its own
rather ghastly relief. In Castlebar I had been keen and sensitive; my
mind had been quick to speed ahead and anticipate the approaching evil;
and that, if painful, was a preferable estate to this dead inertia,
when the mind seemed hardly to have any existence in the body.

       *       *       *       *       *

and I cannot wonder at it; for often one would spring to one’s feet
and march up and down the cell in a mental excitement that was almost
unendurable. Such times, when they came, came intolerably, for they
came with diminishing frequency; but the usual state was inertia. There
was something of learned patience about it; something of a reserve that
waited its day; but deeper set than these things was the blankness of
being that it was the first duty of the whole system to achieve.

I tried, for instance, to bring before me the faces of those whom I
knew, and to imagine what they might be doing as I thought of them.
I sought, thus, to give myself a life in the life that others were
living; but could I think of those lives, could I bring their faces
before me? It was not that they fled me. The mind simply would not rise
to the effort. I tried to surrender myself to problems of thought that
had fascinated me in the past, and to problems of being into which all
life’s meaning had been crowded. But at most the wheel only spun round,
never gripping the metal; and more often the wheel refused to move.
The life within the cell was significantly told by the card outside:
the name was turned to the wall, and only a number was turned to view.
Prison cells are not dwellings, they are sepulchres.

So the days passed, one by one, while the summer rolled by outside.
Even the will to fight seemed lost.


Sunday brought relief. That day there was no exercise; but when we
were aroused we all went to Mass. The Protestant Chapel was used, for
there was no room elsewhere for both prisons-full. Everybody went,
whatever our creed, both for the comfort of one another, and for the
joint comfort of worship. There I saw for the first time the Dublin men
from the Crescent, many of them known to me, many of them wearing the
uniform of the Republican Army, in some cases scarred by battle. It was
a large concourse, and the body of song was a joy to hear after our
enforced silence. The warders sat at regular intervals on seats above
us, with their backs turned to the Altar and their faces toward us,
like strange idols perched aloft.

The priest, I learned, had told the first men on their arrival that
he was there to fulfil his functions only, though he abhorred their
actions and could have no dealings with them. This he had announced
at their first Mass, and he had till now preserved that attitude,
never suffering himself to discover by closer contact the cause of the
sufferings that stirred his anger.

The following day I put myself down to see him, and during the course
of the morning he visited me.

“You wish to see me,” he said. He was exceedingly kind and courteous.

“Yes,” I said; “I wish to congratulate you on the fact that you are not
here in prison with us.”

“I don’t understand you.”

“For preaching sedition, or at least reading seditionary stuff. You
recall the epistle you read yesterday? I think it was misapplied, mind
you. You were exhorting us to do just what we had done, and had been
thrown into prison for; but you read it all the same, and deserve
congratulation. Do you remember:

 ‘Be ye doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own
 selves, for if a man be a hearer of the Word, and not a doer, he shall
 be compared to a man beholding his own countenance in a glass. For he
 beheld himself, and went his way, and presently forgot what manner of
 man he was. But he that hath looked into the perfect law of liberty,
 and hath continued therein, not becoming a forgetful hearer, but a
 doer of the work; this man shall be blessed in his deed.’

“That’s sound talk; every word of it applies; and we are blessed in the
deed, though we are in prison all the same.

       *       *       *       *       *

In that connection you think over that phrase about the man who looked
into a mirror, and presently forgot what manner of man he was, till he
became a doer of the Word after having looked into the perfect law of
liberty. I thank you for that epistle; and I congratulate you that you
are not in prison.”

Afterwards he moved among us intimately and always. He made it his
business to know each man personally, and there was scarcely a man to
whom he did not endear himself. In very literal truth he spent himself
and his substance for us all. He got into touch with the men’s families
at home, and reassured both man and family as to the state of the
other. During those days, indeed, he lived his life with us, and every
man turned to him as to a brother. What he said to me of his opinion of
the men may pass; but I subsequently heard that he said publicly in his
chapel in the town that if his hearers wished to know what faith was,
what religion, what principle and truth, he would commend them to look
in the jail. He had his convictions and emotions as an Englishman; we
had ours as Irishmen; but there is no man who was at Stafford Jail for
his convictions and emotions who does not cherish with affection the
name of Father Moore.

Some Sundays afterwards he had occasion to read the following epistle:—

 “Be you humbled under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in
 the time of visitation. Casting all your care upon Him, for He hath
 care of you. Be sober and watch; for your adversary the devil, as a
 roaring lion goeth about, seeking whom he may devour; whom resist ye,
 strong in faith....”

As he did so, his eye travelled over to me; and the following day he
came over to me.

“I know what you are going to say. You make me watchful of my
epistles,” he said.


Deadened and inert though the barbarity of solitary confinement caused
one to become (and even as solitary confinement ours was particularly
severe and therefore particularly barbarous) there were times when the
whole being rose in revolt. Anything would have been preferable to it.
On one such occasion I demanded to see the Commandant of the jail. When
he came, I requested to know exactly why I was being punished, and for
what offence. I told him that I wished to have his answer in writing
and to be able to communicate with my solicitor with a view to taking
action. My thought was that a personal suit against him might prove
abortive, but that it might cause a publicity the effect of which would
be healthy.

He replied that I was not being punished; that I was simply being
“detained.” I said that this could not be. According to prison
regulations, solitary confinement of so severe a nature was punishment
at least equivalent to birching. Would he birch me without acquainting
me with the cause of such a punishment? No, he said, he would not.
Then why, I asked, was I receiving a punishment equivalent in severity
without a cause assigned. I wished to be provided with a cause, and to
be provided with it in writing.

The Commandant himself was gentlemanly and courteous. A few days
afterwards when I repeated my request he told me he was simply acting
under orders, and that he could not change matters without orders. I
asked him then if he would communicate my request to the War Office,
under whose instructions he proceeded; and he promised to do so.

Some time elapsed; and when he spoke to me further about the matter
he asked what it was that I demanded. He asked me if I would
particularise. I replied that the War Office had on their own
initiative defined us as Prisoners of War. It had been announced to us
that all our letters had to be so addressed; all the orders given to us
were made applicable under that heading. I said I did not quarrel with
the designation; both nationally and personally I hailed it. It was, I
agreed, a splendid designation; but such being our state, I demanded
on our behalf the application of the international agreement governing
the treatment of prisoners of war—an agreement that, I believed, had
been ratified between the belligerent powers during the first week
of the war. In other words, I wanted tobacco and pipe, I wished any
books that I might order or that might be sent in to me, daily papers,
free communication with my fellow-prisoners, and the opening of cell
doors by night and by day, the right to have food sent into us, and
the return of my money in order that I might be able to purchase food
in the town, and facilities to purchase it, by canteen or by order. I
added that what I demanded I demanded not for myself but for all of us,
and in all of the prisons.

After a few days he came to me to say that the War Office had
authorised him to grant these rights, but to grant them in stages,
and with one stipulation. That stipulation he would announce to the
men. Having put us all on parade he announced the rights that would be
granted, but said that it would first be necessary for us to choose a
commandant from among ourselves who would be responsible to him for
the good order of the prison, and who would have power to maintain
discipline. The men appointed me, and I created officers for each of
the landings.

So began our little republic, and so extended our educative influence.
When the rights were in full force the staff became supernumeraries.
We created our post office and handled our own parcels and letters
for distribution. Rules were laid down for the ordering of our life
together; and only once or twice was it necessary to take disciplinary
measures (solitary confinement in one case as a pathetic reminder!),
for the general spirit of loyalty and affection was sufficient—was, in
fact, remarkable with a body of men not accustomed to the strict rules
necessary to the ordering of such a community. The appointed officers
were responsible for their landings, made daily reports, and brought
up any cases with which they were unable to deal. And so from top to
bottom we maintained ourselves, quietly eliminating the staff, to the
no small dissatisfaction of some of them, though with the good will of
most. There was, in fact, no work for most of the staff to do.

At seven each morning, after breakfast, and at eight at night, the
bell was rung, and we all gathered for public prayers. Michael
MacRory Irish orator, and Padraic Pearse’s gardener, led the Rosary.
Englishmen speak much of our religious differences. It devolved upon
me as a Protestant to summon the prayers, and none thought otherwise
of it than as a natural thing, while every Protestant knelt with his
fellows in prayer to the one God. Whatever announcements or enquiries
Father Moore had to make were made through a Protestant, and had anyone
suggested that they should not have been so made, it would have fared
ill with him. They were made as a simple matter of authority by whoever
was in authority. The reason for this was that we were sufficient in
ourselves to guard over our own affairs without a stranger’s hand to
create trouble.

These daily prayers were a great astonishment to the staff. One
sergeant declared to a visitor: “I heard a lot about these Sinn Feiners
being a bad lot, but you should see them. They’re a religious lot. They
goes to prayers and church same as we goes to the theaytre.” And when,
some days after our public prayers had begun, the news came that the
“Hampshire” had sunk, there was not a man of the staff but was fully
assured that it was our prayers had sent Lord Kitchener to his death.

At ten each night every man was required to be off the corridor and
balconies, and any conversation in cells after that time had to be
conducted softly, in order not to interfere with those who wished to
sleep; and within five minutes of the ringing of the bell the prison
was clear and quiet. The staff became accustomed, if they had business
to execute with us, to resign it into our hands for prosecution. Those
who did not do so made a sad affair of their undertaking. Which is a
parable. In a phrase, our motto was: [Gaelic: Sinn Féin Aṁáin].

It was interesting to notice our influence on the staff. We never
troubled about them; they had their interests and we had ours; and only
occasionally the national opposition clashed sharply. Yet they confided
in us. With our extended rights the library was opened to us; and the
librarian-warder informed us that he was at first afraid to be left
alone in the library with any one of us. Apparently he thought we would
bite out his windpipe unexpectedly, or playfully split his skull. But
when his first visitor, a man from Belfast, contemptuously described
his collection of books as “piffle,” and asked that certain other
books should be procured from the officers’ library, as he himself
declared: “My word, I was surprised. I thought you Sinn Feiners were
a wild lot of savages from what I heard of you. But you are men of
culture, most of you. It’s a bit of a shock to a man to find out.”
The librarian-warder was quite pleased at the widening range of his
ethnographical knowledge.

Yet the most interesting member of the staff was the sergeant of the
R.A.M.C. He was a Doctor of Literature at Oxford, and also, I believe,
a _Docteur ès Lettres_ at the Sorbonne. He had been out at Gallipoli,
whence he had been invalided home. As he passed on his rounds he would
often come into my cell for a talk. We very seldom spoke on national
questions, for I assumed that our orbits of interest on such matters
would not cut each other at any point; our conversation was generally
on literary or philosophical matters. But once he came up to me with a
definite thing to say.

“You know,” he said, “the Government make a great mistake putting men
like you into prison. You will never forget it; you can never forget
it; no man could who canvasses experience with his intellect. They’re
simply a lot of grandfatherly old fools at the top of affairs, and
we always make a muddle of things. They should either give you a
clear run, and let you make what you can of your country and take the
chances; or they should wait their chance and shoot you out of hand and
laugh at the racket afterwards. But all this sentimental talk about
your country, followed up by all this muddle, simply makes a thinking
man sick. All this business,” and he indicated the hundreds of us
standing talking about the yard, “is clumsy, it’s idiocy, and it breeds
more clumsiness and idiocy for the future.”

“Which of your two alternatives would you adopt?” I asked him.

“Well, you know, one likes to meet a man to whom one can talk;
intellect, and all that sort of thing, and culture, and care for art,
they’re rare enough in this world, and one wouldn’t altogether care to
take the responsibility of destroying any part of it—”

“But you’d shoot me all the same.”

“Yes, I think I would.” He was quite serious. “Quite possibly that’s
because I’ve just been seeing a lot of blood; and I don’t think I would
have said that two years ago. But just now I’d shoot you. I wouldn’t of
course do it in a stupid way. I’d wait till you gave me a chance; and
sooner or later you would, for you have your convictions, and they’d
lead you into my hand; and then I’d shoot you instantly, and without
trial if need be, without waiting anyhow. Of course there’d be trouble
afterwards, but I’d wait quietly till that blew over, as it would.”

“That wouldn’t get you out of the wood, for you’d make a martyr of me
and exploit my ideals.”

“That’s so. There’s that side, of course. But still that’s what I
think I’d do. I certainly wouldn’t go muddling about trying to do two
mutually contradictory things at the same time. All you men here—the
whole thing’s simply offensive.”

“Does the hypocrisy offend you then? You ought to have become
accustomed to that by this time as a nation.”

“Well, yes, in a way it does, I suppose. But it’s not that mainly;
it’s the clumsy thinking; it’s not thinking the thing out from the
beginning. Do I horrify you?”

“Not at all. If you came over to Ireland you’d have a great audience.
We’d agree with you in every word, simply and utterly. We’d be
delighted to meet one of your nation who looked at things without any
silly sentiment. You’re a sentimental people, and at bottom very
cruel; we’re not sentimental. You are as sentimental as any yourself;
but you’ve at least got your mentality clear of it, and so for the
first time you can see things as they are. The worst of it is that,
dealing with a sentimental people, you are making us superficially
sentimental too, and that’s distracting us from our work. I only wish
that more of you would talk as you do, instead of slobbering. And shoot
away; as long as you say why, without using words that convey nothing
to us and that only mean sloppy thinking on your part.”

“But I thought you objected to the shootings in Dublin.”

“Certainly. Those men were my brothers. But they weren’t shot as you
said you’d shoot me, because you were out to smash an opposed thing
as the only logical alternative to giving it the run of its own life,
but, if you please, because they didn’t accept certain standards which
none of us can ever accept until we make and endorse them in terms of
ourselves—or, rather, which we now do and must for ever act upon in
that sense, because it’s the first principle of life so to do. And
then, when you have them shot, you turn round and praise their noble
ideals! In the name of heaven, what ideals?”

“I think I should certainly shoot you now.”

“To smash me. Good man! We’d understand that in Ireland, where your
Liberal sentiments bore us, and your Tory hectoring irritates us.
We’re a kindly people—human and hospitable; but you, because you can
escape into words and hide realities from yourselves, are cruel and

And I believe he would have shot me. Many were the conversations we
had; many were the kindly, thoughtful acts he did for us; and he was
courtesy itself to the ladies who spent their days at the prison gate
taking rebuffs from everyone in the prison, in the determination to see
that each man of us received what he had need of, food or clothing. But
he would have reasoned the thing out and shot me, without the least
ill-will or high-falutin. And I would have borne him no ill-will, for
the fight would have continued long past the two of us.


These more fortunate times soon came to an end—for me at least. So long
as they lasted they were not intolerable; and the various funds in aid
of prisoners, and the companies of our fellow-countrymen and women
(chiefly women!) who came to visit us, made captivity as amenable as
it could be made. But one morning I was summoned to the Commandant’s
office, and informed that I and some fifty others were to be sent that
day to an internment camp at Frongoch in Wales. We were to be the
first to arrive, and we were to take charge of the camp and order and
regulate it for the remainder of the Irish Prisoners of War, who would
arrive in detachments from Stafford, from Knutsford, from Perth, from
Glasgow, from Wakefield, from Wandsworth, and from Lewes.

Such were the orders, and we were to be ready to leave in an hour’s
time. But I had what H. P. afterwards chaffingly alluded to as my
“strategic illness.” Never till then did I admire the amazing insight
and foresight of Dublin Castle.

       *       *       *       *       *

I was in fact covered from head to foot with the proof of their
perspicuity. And as a result all the detachments to Frongoch from
Stafford were held back for three weeks to cover the period of

Thus I spent nearly a fortnight in hospital in the company of
an R.A.M.C. corporal who was isolated with me. He had been a
Northumberland mines inspector, and we discussed the working of mines,
their proprietorship and profits, and the virtues of Trades Unions.
Sometimes my friend the sergeant came and stood out of sight, and
beyond infection, behind the door. He informed me that it had been
discovered that I had written a book on Shakespeare, and that I was to
be treated with respect accordingly. He seemed to be somewhat amused at
this. But my corporal snorted with northern scorn, and declared that if
I could not be treated with respect as a man, I should not be treated
with respect as a man who had written books. So, with one hand, one
touched both ends of English society.

When I rose I was informed by the Commandant that I was not to rejoin
the others. Since I had been ill, it appeared, instructions had been
received that I and another were to be isolated. That other (H. P.)
was already in a cell in the Crescent, where I was to be taken. He
and I would be allowed to speak to one another whenever the staff
arrangements permitted of it; but never, under any circumstances, were
we to be allowed to communicate with the others. And, at the same time,
he handed me my official order of internment, stating that according
to regulations drafted for dealing with “aliens,” I was to be interned
because I was “reasonably suspected of having favoured, promoted or
assisted an armed insurrection against His Majesty.”

It was easy to see a craftier hand than that of the War Office at work
in this. Yet, by isolating us they magnified us: a result, indeed, that
the smallest wit could have foreseen. We were exercised together in
the afternoon; and when, the first day, we passed within sight of the
others they hailed us unitedly from the distance. Thereafter we were
not permitted to pass within sight of them.

The rooms into which we had been put had been designed for consumptive
prisoners, and contained bracket beds attached to the wall. The walls
were plastered and smooth, and painted in a pleasing combination of two
greens. Little things; but what they meant to anyone who had to spend
his day sitting in a small cell! What chiefly delighted me, however,
was the blanket on my bed. It would have given joy to a Red Indian
chief. Its colours were green, claret, and yellow. It lay on my bed
like a spread cockatoo. Life could not be drab with that to look upon.
Moreover, I had books, and I was allowed foolscap on which to write.
So with books, pen and blanket, the days passed with as much ease as a
prison could give. For, strangely enough, though the severity of our
condition had been much relaxed, the presence and the effect of the
system remained. Books that demanded any thought in the reading were
avoided; the mind seemed incapable of the effort they demanded; as soon
as a page were read it passed from the memory, and the mind became
once again a blank. One rebelled against this at first, and sought to
conquer it; but when the will demanded an effort, the brain replied
that such efforts were for another, not for this world, that the soul
could not realise itself in a world that had been wrought as nearly as
possible to resemble a vacuum.

A sergeant had been placed in charge of the two of us, a grown child
of a man, with all a child’s shrewdness and sharpness, and from him
we received many friendly acts in spite of the fact that he seemed
constantly to live in fear of some judgment that would alight on him.
He would take me into H. P.’s cell for conversation, and he came to
the tolling of the gong without a murmur or complaint. And for twenty
minutes each day I saw my wife at the iron gate—who, in truth, lived
her days at that gate.

Then one day Father Moore came into my room and sat on my bed, with the
tears in his eyes. “They’re taking the men away from me,” he said. The
dear man was heart-sore at the parting that now began. Every few days
saw the men leaving in batches of fifty to a hundred on their way to
Frongoch. Sometimes from a distance we could see them going. More often
we had to rely on news brought us from our sergeant. The final stage of
our journey was to begin; for we nothing doubted that our destination
was to be the same as theirs—Frongoch, from which place no good reports

It was not till they had all gone, and we had had the long desolate
prison to ourselves for over a week that we were informed that we were
not to go to Frongoch, but were to be removed to Reading Jail. The
others having gone, and the fear of our contamination removed, we had
been permitted the run of the prison; and quite probably we were the
only prisoners in all time who paced alone a long prison that echoed to
our steps. The effluence of many thousands of prisoners was about us;
and we entered the cells to find the names they had scratched and to
reconstruct their history.

Then one morning, July 10th, we were marched out under yet another
sergeant’s guard for Reading Jail.


Reading Jail that day was a mustering of the clans. All the isolation
men from the various prisons, Wakefield, Knutsford, and Wandsworth,
including many who had been to Frongoch, were gathered together at
Reading. It was meant as an elect company; but it was not at all as
elect as the selectors imagined. We ourselves entertained no delusions
on that head. One of the most distinguished of our company had been
wildly hailed on his arrival months before at Wandsworth, as the man
who “’ad been a-hinciting of ’em”; and apparently the net had been
thrown to sweep into Reading all those who “’ad been a-hinciting of
’em”; but the net had had a singularly faulty mesh. Even the original
net that had swept through the country during the month of May,
carefully though it had been wrought, and thoroughly though it had been
cast, had had a mesh none too perfect. There were but twenty-eight of
us gathered together that day; and we had, as it were, a double crown
pressed on our heads; but we made haste to disown the title to wear it.

Yet we were glad to meet. National work necessarily intersects at many
points, and so most of us who foregathered that day for our months of
association had met before in differing combinations, and at different
times, in differing groups of work that were but part of the one great
work. Yet we had never met in that particular combination before.
Some came representing the leadership of large districts, counties
or cities, and some represented national leadership from some more
central focus. The provinces were indeed as nearly represented as they
could well be: eight came from Connacht, seven from Leinster, seven
from Munster, and six from Ulster; or, fourteen from Leth Chuinn and
fourteen from Leth Mhogha. It was exceedingly well arranged. Though we
were not as complete as we might have been, though we did not venture
to conceive of ourselves as an assembly either inclusive or exclusive
of anything, yet the general representation was very evenly matched.
And it was yet more evenly when, two days later, another Ulster
representative arrived; for, as it so fell out, a Connacht man had
been elected as Ceannphort, and so the provinces were left matched with
a perfect seven apiece.

Such was the skill the Government of England had taken to see, not only
that we had an opportunity of meeting and understanding one another
such as we never could have hoped for, but that we should meet as a
well-balanced and proportionate whole. The care with which this was
wrought must have been considerable.

The only drawback to our assembly was the uncertainty of date when we
discontinue it, and the building in which we met.


Reading, being set deep in a valley at the confluence of two rivers,
is an unhealthy town, close and sultry by summer, and damp and misty
by winter. The gaol is a handsome building, erected in red brick after
the manner of an old castle, with battlements and towers. One almost
expected a portcullis to be lowered at the great gate; and when we were
within the double gates we certainly felt as though a portcullis had
been drawn after us. We stood in a small cobbled yard. Behind us was
the broad wall in which the double gates were set, flanked on each side
by the Governor’s and the Steward’s houses. Before us a flight of stone
steps arose, leading to the offices, behind which was the large male
prison. To the right a wall arose dividing us from the work yard; and
on the left a high blind wall arose, pierced only by a single door near
the wall round the jail. This was the female prison—ordinarily so, but
for the time being our habitation.

Yet what astonished me most was the sight of flowers. Their presence
made the cobbled yard and the precincts seem almost collegiate. In
neatly kept beds about the walls they lifted their heads with a happy
gaiety very strange to some of us who had known so human a touch
banished from buildings more appropriately given over to the possession
of flints and cinders. A few days after we were taken through the
work yard behind the main prison. Here in the work hall a canteen was
opened on three days in the week for the interned prisoners who now
occupied the prison, but here also was the large exercise yard, and it
was covered with an abundance of flowers. The familiar asphalt paths
could not be seen where they threaded their way amid blossoms. In beds
beneath the walls tall flowers lifted their heads, and even the graves
of hanged men could not be seen beneath the blooms that covered them.

It was an amazing sight. There were not merely flowers, a sight
astonishing enough in itself; there was a prodigality of flowers. Then
some of us remembered the cause. One of the graves unlocked the secret.
It was marked with the letters C. T. W., and the date, 1896, to whom
Oscar Wilde’s “Ballad of Reading Jail” had been inscribed, and in
celebration of whose passing the poem had been penned.

    But neither milk-white rose nor red
      May bloom in prison-air;
    The shard, the pebble, and the flint
      Are what they give us there:
    For flowers have been known to heal
      A common man’s despair.

    So never will wine-red rose or white
      Petal by petal, fall
    On that stretch of mud and sand that lies
      By the hideous prison-wall,
    To tell the men who tramp the yard
      That God’s Son died for all.

So Wilde had sung, not in protest, but in bitter acceptance, never
dreaming that a poet’s song could change the flint, the pebble, and
the shard of the yard he trod. But for us who came after him with the
memory of his song in our minds, the miracle had been wrought. Miracle
it was, and it had been wrought in no common sort, for the great
yard was a lake of leaf and bloom, and the hideous prison wall was
transformed by gay figures decked in raiment that not Solomon in all
his glory could outvie.

Already in the pebbled entrance yard the hand of this “unacknowledged
legislator” was in evidence. We were first taken across to the office,
as we arrived in batches, and our money taken from us, and our kit
examined. Then we were led back through the door in the blind wall
into the female prison, that had been allocated to Irish Prisoners of
War. The main prison was occupied by the nations of Europe: Belgians,
Germans, French, Rumanians, Russians, and indeed every degree and
variety of European to the number of fourteen.

       *       *       *       *       *

The prison actually held only twenty-two cells. There were in addition
a hospital, a maternity ward, and two padded cells, one permanent and
one temporary. The hospital and maternity ward consisted of two cells
each, with the intervening wall removed. In each of these three men
were placed (there being some little rivalry for the maternity ward),
which with the use of the temporary padded cell provided for all of us.
In addition to this, there was also an observation ward, on the ground
floor, similarly constructed of two cells converted into one, and this
was given to us as a recreation room. All these cells were on one side
of the building, the other side being a blank wall, and the only light
that came to the passage struggled down through skylights.

Such was the place that was to be our habitation for nearly six months,
and in which we erected the structure of our communal life.


We had all come with experience of prison life, and were not easily
perturbed. We had become accustomed to taking things as we found them,
and making them the basis of improvement, not in the mood of those who
sought privileges, but as those who demanded rights. Our first act was
to elect a Ceann-Phort, through whom to formulate our demands, and by
whom to lay out the lines of our life together. Our next act was to put
together the tables that stood in the passage in order that we might
have our meals together. From the very first during the time we were
permitted together we at once took the control of our affairs into our
own hands, and it became a recognised principle that any dealings of
officials with us were with us as a whole and not with individuals.

For instance, the prison had to be scrubbed through twice a week, and
in addition there was orderly work to be appointed, such as daily
sweeping, polishing of rails, cleaning of dishes, and, as we had
elected to take our meals together, the preparation and clearance of
tables. For this work it was proposed, as in the usual way, to select
the required men, and to pay them at the prison rate of ten pence a
day. Instead of that we desired that the payment should be made to the
Ceann-Phort, saying that the work would be done under his arrangements.
We were then drawn out into eight teams who took it in turns for
orderly work. The fatigues on Wednesday and Saturday were taken by each
half-company of four teams. All questions concerning our life were
arranged between our Ceann-Phort and the prison Governor.

The moneys that were paid over to us were expended by us, together with
contributions made from time to time from among us, on the canteen
that was open three days in the week. For the food that we received
was the same as we had received in other prisons, except that at first
its quality was improved. While our exchequers lasted we were able to
enrich our dietary to some extent by extra doles of bread, margarine
and sugar. This canteen was in the hands of one of the grocers in the
town for the use of all the prisoners in the jail.

The first night we were locked up at eight o’clock, with lights
out at nine. This was one of the first matters to which we turned
our attention. We were not successful in approximating this to the
conditions that had prevailed elsewhere with us, such as at Stafford,
but we were finally able to have the time altered to ten. The gravest
hardships, however, in the conditions as at first announced to us
were that we were only suffered one visit every three months and one
letter each month. These were the ordinary conditions imposed on penal
servitude convicts,

       *       *       *       *       *

Finally we were permitted one visit a month and two letters each week,
the letters to be written on little slips of paper provided for us. At
first also we were refused the right to receive parcels of food sent
in by friends. This was clearly contrary to the code prevailing for
Prisoners ...; and this also we had annulled.

Therefore our life, as finally adjusted, was on this wise. We were
aroused at seven o’clock, and the orderlies for the day at once laid
the breakfast, which was taken at a quarter to eight. At half-past ten
we were taken out by the warders to the work yard for exercise. There
we disported ourselves as we pleased until we were brought in for
dinner at twelve. In the afternoon we went out, not to the work yard,
but to the small exercise yard at the back of our prison. This was
separated by a wall from the Debtors’ Yard, of which Wilde had sung:

    In Debtors’ Yard the stones are hard,
      And the dripping wall is high.

Then tea at five—

    And the bitter bread they weigh in scales
      Is full of chalk and lime.

After tea, during the summer months, we were allowed out into the yard
again till it was dark, and at ten the key grated against us once more
in our cell doors.

    Each narrow cell in which we dwell
      Is a foul and dark latrine,
    And the fetid breath of living death
      Chokes up each grated screen,
    And all, but Lust, is turned to dust
      In Humanity’s machine.


We were treading a path that had already been sung (for even bitterness
has its song) but we trod it in greater comfort. Above all we had one
another’s company. The boon of this might conceivably have been blurred
a little, as with the passage of months it became difficult in our
cramped space to avoid treading on one another’s toes. And certainly
it was impossible for each man not to know each other at his best and
worst. The knowledge so gained had its value for future days. For at
bottom the solidity with which we began was only cemented with the
passage of time.

Yet our company was first to be revised, by a process of addition and
subtraction, before it took its final shape. One Friday in August we
were informed that on the Monday and Tuesday following we were to be
taken in two parties before the Advisory Committee. We were asked to
give our word that we would make no attempt to escape. If we gave
that pledge we would be sent to London with warders in plain clothes;
otherwise it would be necessary to send us handcuffed together. On
this a keen discussion took place; for while the majority was content
to give the undertaking there were some who would give no pledge, who
would leave it to the authorities to decide for themselves on any
action they pleased. Finally the Governor, who was very anxious to
avoid handcuffs, assumed an undertaking, and so the issue was muffled.
Two warders in plain clothes accompanied each party to Wormwood Scrubbs
Jail; and nothing was done to advertise the fact that we were prisoners
travelling. Had the question arisen a few months later hardly a man
would have given the undertaking, or even have suffered it to be
implied. The public display of handcuffs would have been coveted rather
than avoided; for it was certainly not to comfort us that the offer was
made, whatever the Governor’s personal inclinations might have been.
For jails but straighten the back and harden the mind.

We also differed in our attitude towards the Advisory Committee.
None of us differed in our opinion of its function. It sat, so the
purport ran, to decide which of us might be liberated; or rather,
more technically, in respect of which of us our internment orders
should be confirmed; but these things, as we know, would be decided by
political considerations quite outside the review of the Committee.
None of us doubted that its main function was to check and complete our
_Leabhrain_, as far as possible, by question and cross reference. But
we differed in our attitude. Some refused to recognise the Committee
in any way, as being a body set up by a foreign government, having no
authority over Irishmen. These, when brought before the Committee,
firmly defined their attitude, and were promptly escorted again into
the outside air. Others answered the brief interrogatory to which they
were submitted, and went their way in a matter of minutes. My own
attitude was somewhat different.

In the first place, I had now been in prison for some months, without
much chance of enlivenment. The opportunity of a debate through the
labyrinth of the Defence of the Realm Regulations seemed too good a
thing to be lightly put by. Moreover, I was anxious to discover some
of the items that furnished my _leabhran_. I was not disappointed. As I
had expected, deftly mixed among the questions put to me about my own
doings were a number of questions that involved others. Also, as I had
expected, a week’s study of the Regulations left the rather interesting
legal debate not altogether a one-sided matter; for a number of points
were conceded to me, which, when I afterwards sought to take advantage
of them, proved to have been made without any deep knowledge of the
possibilities the Regulations offered. One or two matters of interest
emerged, however.

For instance, the Committee had some little difficulty in explaining
exactly why, if I as an Irishman was to be interned as an

       *       *       *       *       *

This, I was told, was a political matter. Strangely enough, it was
exactly so I had conceived it. Then I was informed that I was only
considered as an _alien_ for the purposes of that particular act, that
in other matters my citizenship under the law was not disputed. By
which it appeared that I was an alien when my imprisonment was desired,
but not an alien when my personal and national freedom was to be

Then, among other questions, I was asked if I had or had not
endeavoured to get Irish farm labourers into touch with Irish farmers
in order to stay their migrating to England, where they could be taken
under the Military Service Act. On my asking on what authority the
question was put, I was answered that it was so alleged in the local
police report. My answer was an admission of the charge. I suggested
that it might have a bearing that the assurance had been made in
Parliament that farm labourers from Ireland could not be taken under
the Military Service Act. But it was interesting to discover that a
benefit intended to Ireland was made the basis of a charge; and it was
interesting to discover the furniture that found its way into police

When I came out and explained how it was I had remained so long, when
all the others had been dispatched in two minutes or three, I was told
that I had at least ensured continued internment. The price was not


[A] It seems worthy of note that as I write in the year 1917 the
Department of Agriculture and Technical Education have adopted this
scheme, and are being assisted in its prosecution by the police. It
took a Clown to refer to Time as a whirligig.


The week after our excursion to Wormwood Scrubbs, seven men were sent
down to us from Frongoch, where trouble had already begun. There were
no cells to hold them in our prison, and so they were lodged in the
reception-cells under the offices, where neither light nor air was bold
enough to venture. They were brought over to us for breakfast, and
lived during the day with us until they were taken back to bed.

Shortly afterwards five of our number were summoned to the Governor’s
office, and returned saying they were to be released that day. We
already had had that joke played on us several times, and so we gave
no heed to them. But when in a short time we saw them industriously
packing their kit, the joke wore a more earnest expression. It was no
jest, however. Although no man changed his mien yet none but felt what
a jewel freedom was when it became within the grasp of his neighbour,
and when that neighbour rose up and went forth proudly wearing it. We
sang them home, however, gaily enough. In a week two more were sent
home. These seven comprised all the releases from Reading at the same
time that two thousand and more were released from Frongoch. It was
not very difficult to discover the reasons prompting most of these
releases, and it need hardly be said that they had little relation to
the events of Easter Week. The internments covered a much wider ground,
which was chosen for much subtler reasons. The soldier’s hand might
rule in Ireland, but the politician’s hand indexed the internments.
And as usual the politician over-reached himself. For the men who were
released found on their return that the country judged them unworthy
to remain; and the Home Office officials were finally convinced that
Ireland was inhabited by the mad when they received shoals of letters
from released men pitifully arguing that their releases must have been
in error, and giving proofs of their part in the Rising-Out.

We, however, settled down to the honour of imprisonment with fortitude.
Already, when we had learned that the celebrations of the 12th of July
had been forbidden in Ulster we had filled the gap with a procession
and a meeting in which excellent Orange speeches had been made. Now we
held a Hibernian meeting. Such things enlivened our days.

We suffered greatly from lack of exercise, and the closeness of our
confinement began to tell upon us as the autumn approached. We had
given up going out to the work-yard for our morning exercise, and kept
to the little yard. This yard was beset on three sides by the buildings
of the jail, and on the fourth side, beyond the high wall, Huntley &
Palmer’s chimneys belched black smoke that blotted the sky. In a corner
of this yard we made a hand-ball alley. No stranger alley was ever
devised. Two windows, a drain-pipe, a railing across steps leading to
the basement, and a ventilator grating, gave opportunity for chance and
skill. And the exercise saved us.

Nevertheless, with the coming of winter the effects of our confinement
could be seen on most of us. The food, also, had become bad. The
margarine was often rancid. On two occasions the meat made several of
us ill; and for three months I lived only on bread and porridge, both
of which were, at least, clean and wholesome. Prisons are not built as
health resorts, yet precautions are supposed to be taken that a mean
of temperature is maintained. During a week of frost, however, the
temperature in my room was 46° to 48° Fahrenheit. This was inside the
cells: outside, the passage was full of draughts. Yet the prison was
never ventilated, for the only place where air could come or go was the
door. The result was that when one of the warders came in once with
influenza, every man in the prison in time fell to it.

Yet we kept our backs straight. P. J. D. was informed by the Governor,
on the authority of the Home Office, that if he would sign an
undertaking to be of good behaviour for the future he would at once be
liberated. He replied that the offer was adding insult to injury, and
he declared that if his liberation depended on his signature of any
manner of undertaking, he was destined to remain long in prison. The
Chief Warder approached others of us, thinking to try the ground before
any other offers were made; but he left matters as he found them.

In Frongoch at this time the same attitude was being taken. Matters
there were also complicated by the attempt of the military to search
out Irishmen who had returned home from England on the passage of the
Military Service Act—to search them out, not for the Army, but for the
pleasure of thrusting them into jails. And the result of the ensuing
resistance was that seven of the leaders there were brought to Reading
and put into the reception-cells, making our number thirty-five once


So the winter days passed. The prison was wrapt continually in an
unpleasant amalgam of winter fog and Huntley & Palmer’s smoke. We never
saw the sun, though occasionally, when the fog cleared, we could make a
guess at it where it strode the sky.

Little wonder if we occasionally got upon one another’s nerves. None
of our nerves were of the best, and we all felt the deathly system of
prison life like an oppression on us, blotting out all intellectual
life and making a blank of mind and soul. Yet no outsider saw cleavage
among us. That was a principle we never let down.

Of an evening we met together and discussed different aspects of
national affairs, partly with the intention of defining our future
action, and partly with a view to defining our points of view in
their relation to one another. The two things were really one; for
satisfactorily to outline the second was already largely to complete
the first; and we were determined not to lose the chance with which
we had been so admirably furnished. Moreover, when birthdays arrived
we had modest supper-parties, in which song and good will supplied the
lack of viands.

Yet towards the end, with illness and depression settling on most of
us, we kept largely to our own cells, despite their icy temperature. We
were suffered books—carefully selected. It became part of our business
carefully to test the selection by arranging for a variety of books
to be sent in to us by friends. Especially was this so when a happy
accident gave us the name of our censor; and it was deeply interesting
to see his path among the classics of Irish literature.

In this we were assisted by our friends outside. Indeed, not the least
value of our months of imprisonment was the revelation of friendship,
and its spontaneity and strength and unity in those of our race. We had
but to express a need and it was at once met by leagues and committees
that had been gathered together, both at home and in England, to
befriend and serve us. If our state was like that of an island it was
at least an island washed by a great sea of friendship.

The gifts cast up by the tides of that sea became embarrassing as
Christmas approached. We had altogether to dispense with prison fare;
and our thrills of excitement were not the less because we were so
remote from the outer world. But the full bounty of that sea was never
to be experienced by us.

Shut away though we were, we watched political affairs closely—watched
not merely the surface that appeared, but watched for indications of
the hidden streams that ran—and when John Dillon brought forward his
motion for the discussion of the Irish Prisoners of War we guessed
that he had learned some hint that we were to be released. This came
soon after the failure to get us to sign pledges of good behaviour.
When, however, the threatened motion was never taken, it was clear
that we were not to be released. We were not greatly affected; but we
watched that pending motion with interest. It became a theme of daily
jest with us. When, after the change of government, the motion at last
was discussed, the sign was clear to us; and we were not surprised
when, the following day, we learned that Irish interned prisoners were
to be released. In a noncommittal way some of us began to pack—like
men who were content, the next moment, to unpack, and take whatever
came without perturbation. On Friday, the 22nd of December, we heard
that the Frongoch men were going, and during that day we learned
that a courier was expected during the afternoon with papers for our
release. No courier, however, arrived; and Sunday saw us content
again to continue as we were without complaint. It appeared, as I
afterwards learnt, that the Home Office had actually arranged for our
release together with the men at Frongoch, but that the Irish Office
had intervened. It was not till the Sunday afternoon that the Home
Office won its way. For on that day, Christmas Eve, at half-past two,
the Governor came into the prison to tell us that we were to be ready
to go out in two hours’ time. It seemed indeed that our maximum of
inconvenience had been sought; for it was impossible then for many of
us to reach home for Christmas, and such men had need to lodge where
they could with the more fortunate.

So at half-past four we passed out through the streets of Reading,
singing our songs as we went. Each man went to take up his duty as
he had always conceived it, but with the added hardness inevitably
begotten of a jail. And each man remembered his fellows who still were
in jail, the men who, for the same duty and for the same high cause,
were serving sentences at Lewes, beside whom our sufferings were a
light thing lightly endured.

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Transcriber’s Note

Minor punctuation and printer errors repaired.

Italic text is denoted by _underscores_ and bold text by =equal signs=.

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