In March 2021 a painting of an inmate escaping from Reading Gaol, appeared on the former prison . Entitled ‘Create Escape’, it depicts an inmate in the process breaking out by sliding down sheets of paper instead of traditional bed sheets tethered together and anchored at the end by a typewriter. The artist, who identity has never been identified, confirmed the work was his by a video on his website: https://www.banksy.co.uk/
The prison, closed since 2014, has been vacant since. Banksy’s involvement suggested he was backing the campaign to save the prison, according to Reading Borough Council. Who commented: “We are thrilled that Banksy appears to have thrown his support behind the council’s desire to transform the vacant Reading Gaol into a beacon of arts, heritage and culture with this piece of artwork he has aptly called Create Escape. Reading Gaol’s possible future incarnation as an arts or heritage centre, would make for a perfectly fitting continuum and nod to its past creative inmates, such Oscar Wilde.
“In 1895, Oscar Wilde (1854–1900) was found guilty of ‘acts of gross indecency with other male persons’ and sentenced to two years’ hard labour. He was sent first to Pentonville, then to Wandsworth and finally to Reading Gaol.”https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/the-ballad-of-reading-gaol-by-oscar-wilde#
After he was released in 1897 Oscar Wilde, made his way to France where he settled in Dieppe. It was there, that he penned his famous poem, The Ballad of Reading Gaol. It was there that he died in 1900 without ever returning to Ireland.
Poet and writer, Darrell Figgis was also an inmate at Reading Gaol. Incarcerated for his part in the Easter Rising, even though he was miles away at his writer’s refuge on Achill Island. As a person of interest to the authorities since his part in the Howth Gun Running of 1914, he was arrested under the Defense of the Realm Act 1914. He was taken to Castlebar Jail, from there transferred to Richmond Gaol in Dublin before been sent to Stafford Gaol and then on to Reading Gaol, where he remained until the end of 1916. During his incarceration in the many jails he produced poetry and his prison diary, The Chronicle of Jails. Like Oscar Wilde he too was struck by former inmate, Charles Thomas Wooldridge a trooper in the Royal Horse Guards, who hanged for the murder of his wife. Wilde wrote the Ballad of Reading Gaol which describes the hanging.
“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.”A CHRONICLE OF JAILS 1918
Cardiff Times 06 April 1895
Figgis, Darrell, and William Murphy. A Chronicle of Jails. Dublin: University College Dublin Press, 2010.
Illustrated London News 17 February 1844
As the Anglo Irish War raged on and the violence escalated houses of known and suspected Republicans were searched by by the British Military. They literately, knocked on and in some cases knocked down doors hoping to throw a spanner in the Republican works. If nothing if interest was uncovered or any arrests were effected they turned their attentions on ordinary civilians. On the night of February 25th 1921 the military were particularly active in Dublin.
There was great military activity in the city last night. About 7 o’clock 4 armored cars passed through Westmoreland Street, flashing searchlights on pedestrians on each side of the roadway. Between 8 and 10 o’clock Crown forces were particulary active in Dawson street. Several houses were visited but as far as it known no arrests were effected. In on house searched near the Stephen’s Green end of the street, some books and papers were thrown from an upper window.Dublin Evening Telegraph 26 February 1921
Darrell Figgis was not arrested, but his wife Millie, was hauled off to Dublin Castle and interrogated for about an hour. Finding and hearing nothing of interest the RIC released Millie without charge. Darrell Figgis was safe up the Dublin Mountains at the time, staying with their friend Mrs. Fox, as was Commissioner, Kevin R. O’Sheil, who like the Figgis’ was avoiding detection by the Crown Forces. Millie who was less of a suspect made the journey to the city every day to check on their property. Every night she returned with the same story. More leaders home were ransacked, but their remained untouched. Figgis was put out about the fact that his house was ignored when others were targeted. Until one day Millie came back flushed and excited as O’Sheil remembered in his witness statement many years later;
“The week of raids and arrests had nearly elapsed, the flat of Figgis in Kildare Street untouched and unharmed, when Milly arrived one evening, her face glowing with pride and excitement, “Darrell, we’ve been raided! They’ve pulled your books about and made an awful mess. something dreadful.”BMH.WS1770 Section 5
Millie didn’t make too much of a fuss about her arrest, treating it as a matter of course, just like the raid. She was the latest of Emily’s friends, who found themselves at the mercy of the Crown forces.
Londonderry Sentinel 26 February 1921
Freeman’s Journal 26 February 1921
Dublin Evening Telegraph 26 February 1921
BMH.WS1770 Section 5
Anita Serves her Sentence
“So on this 19th day of January 1921 they took us back to Galway Fail which now admitted both of us. In the jail we fund another political prisoner, Miss Anita MacMahon, of a writer and a worker for Land Reform in Achill. She had been there for some time a and showed the signs and strain of imprisonment”. Alice M Cashel, recalled in her witness statement decades later. Anita was more than half way into her six month sentence for possession of seditious documents.
Anita who was used of having more freedom than most in her time must have found incarceration very difficult. Moreover, she had to endure being locked up while her friends were free and able to participate in the war against the British forces. Emily would have visited her if at all possible, although it may have been difficult for her to leave Dublin while she was working as a nurse or traveling when nearly every train was held up due to ambushes, searches and sometimes violent attacks. The latter would have been less of a problem for Emily than missing work.
WS Ref #: 366 , Witness: Alice M Cashel, Member Cumann na mBan, Galway; Vice-Chairman Galway County Council, 1920-1921
London Daily News 05 March 1921
Sheffield Independent 03 March 1921
By 1920 Cork had become the epicentre of the War of Independence. That year the city had lost two mayors to murder and hunger strike in a short succession of time. Cork was still reeling for their deaths, as well as other atrocities in the form of reprisals by the Crown forces since the war began in January 1919.
On the night of December 11 1920 The IRA carried out an ambush on a party of British Auxiliaries at Dillon’s Cross. At least one member of the forces was killed and many more wounded. Reprisal was immediate, two IRA members were killed and the British military and police forces went on a government sanctioned rampage which resulted in the burning of Cork.
Members of the Black and Tans who were noted for their brutality, joined by the RIC went torched the city’s commercial district. Many were drunk, swigging from whiskey bottles while more tore down awnings, which were put up each night by shop owners to protect their property due to the escalating violence that the city had become subject to. Pouring cans of petrol in the buildings they set the shops well stocked with Christmas merchandise alight causing millions worth of damage.
The fire brigade were called out but their job hampered, their hoses cut and were even shot at by crazed auxiliaries, who were given leave to do as they wished. The firemen were even denied water to quench the flames. Looters were free if they dared to help themselves to what they were able to grab from the burning buildings or salvage from the char.
"It will be represented no doubt, that this was part of the campaign of unauthorized reprisals by servants of the Crown. What seems to us more more probable is that this was the reply of the rebel element to the proclamation re Martial Law."
Five acres of the commercial centre of Cork was razed to the ground, causing millions of pounds worth of damage and thousand’s lost their livelihood as a result. The City Hall and Carnegie Library were completely destroyed, and the epicentre of the fire was likened to O’Connell Street in Dublin after the Easter Rising.
In the initial inquiry the British government denied that the Crown forced were responsible for the fire, instead blaming the IRA, but later conceded that it was in fact the Auxiliaries.
It did not take long for ditties to be composed such as Greenwood’s Logic below, which appeared in the Freeman’s Journal on December 14th 1920:
Irish Times 13 December 1920
Dublin Evening Mail 13 December 1920
Western Mail 14 December 1920
Freeman’s Journal 14 December 1920