Monthly Archives: October 2015

Figgis on Achill and Politics

Centenary of Howth Gun Running, July 2014

Besides his involvement in  the cultural life of Achill, Darrell Figgis, became entwined in the political activities there too. Like Emily Weddall and Anita McMahon he also took part in the Land Wars of 1913 taking the tenant’s side to help them gain a fair deal with the Achill Mission Estate.

In November 1913 The Irish Volunteers, was founded in Dublin. Darrell Figgis joined and was given the job of the drilling the Achill Battalion. At the time there was about fifty volunteers on the Island, quite a lot for a relatively small population. According to local legend these drill took place on the beaches of the Island and became a common sight there were also rumors that they hid weapons, at Annagh, on the north side of the Island, a place that was and still is only accessible by foot.



Less than a year later in the summer of 1914 Rodger Casement, was appointed him to go to Hamburg to purchase arms for Sinn Fein. Along with Erskine and Molly Childers, Mary Spring Rice, Gordon Shepard and two fishermen from Donegal, he traveled to Hamburg on the yacht Asgard. They collected the 900 rifles and 29,000 rounds of ammunition, and sailed back to Howth, where they unloaded the ‘cargo’. It did not take the authorities at Dublin Castle too long to find out and send in the Dublin Metropolitan Police to disarm the Volunteers.


As a result there was a clash between the police and volunteers on Bachelor’s Walk, which resulted in fatalities. Figgis came to the attention of the authorities and was well scrutinized by them from then on. These guns were used in the 1916 Rising, an event that he did not directly take part in but was implicated anyway.  Centenary of Howth Gun Running. July 2014

Centenary of Howth Gun Running. July 2014


Interview with Mary Kilcoyne McNamara, Achill 1999
Thanks to
John Twin McNamara and Edward King, Achill

Darrell Figgis on Achill

Darrell Figgis made Achill his western writing retreat. In 1913 he purchased land and had a cottage built on the Island. If he moved to Achill to live a quiet life away from the distractions of Dublin that was short lived.  He soon,  probably with the persuasion of people like Emily, Claud Chavasse, An Paorach, Eva O’Flaherty and the the other founding members of Scoil Acla to get involved in the summer school.  In 1914 he took part in a production of Douglas Hyde’s Casadh an tSugain, directed by the artist Paul Henry, who also made Achill his home. The photograph below was of the main players in the production.

Back Row: John Kilcoyne, Dominick Lavelle, James Kilcoyne, Pat McNamara. Front row: John McNamara, Darrrell figgis, Pat McNamara

Back Row: John Kilcoyne, Dominick Lavelle, James Kilcoyne, Pat McNamara.
Front row: John McNamara, Darrrell figgis, Pat McNamara

 Edward King and Tommy McNamara, Achill

Darrell Figgis, the Writer

Slide04When Darrell Figgis arrived back in London, after leaving his father’s tea company in India, he had already written poetry. Encouraged by his uncle E J Figgis, he left the tea trade behind and began his literary career. He was published as early as 1909, which quickly led to him being took on as literary adviser to Mess’s. Dent form 1911 to 1913 ,when he left London for Dublin. He was readily accepted on the literary scene. By now he was married to Emily “Millie” Tate and had began building a house on Achill, which he would use as a retreat to write. But his writing career would be somewhat interrupted when he got involved in politics, which would occupy most of his life for the next decade. He still found time to write and produced many works in those years. In his obituary in The Times (London) interestingly enough his literary career was highly praised and given more attention than his political life.

Writing credits Slide73


Death Of Darrell Figgis.; The Times (London, England), Wednesday, Oct 28, 1925; pg. 16
Thanks to; Edward King

The Early Life of Darrell Figgis

Darell Edmund Figgis was born on 17th September 1882 in Rathmines, Dublin to Arthur William Figgis and his wife Mary. The family lived between Ireland and India where his father was a tea broker with the East India Company, in Calcutta, West Bengal.

West Bengal, where Darrell Figgis spent his childhood

West Bengal, where Darrell Figgis spent his childhood

When Figgis was about ten he was sent to England to be educated. He attended the Company of Grocers School in Hackney, where the merchant class sent their children. The school had the reputation of being one of the best second level educational institution in London at the time. The headmaster at the time Darrell Figgis was a pupil, maintained strict discipline, but had modern ideas on teaching. These early influences may have laid down a firm foundation for his writing career.

The first Head Master, Herbert Courthope Bowen (1847–1899) was committed to  innovative ideas about English teaching, pupils’ learning and children’s development that are usually associated with progressive teaching in elementary schools.

He did not begin his literary career straight after finishing his education.  He joined his father in tea industry, but that was not long lived. Figgis would recount to his fellow inmates, years later during his interment in Durham Jail, to hi that he had a talent for tea tasting. As Kevin O’Shiel disclosed in his Witness Statement:

He [Figgis] was the acknowledged king of all tea-tasters, being gifted with a palate of such exquisite refinement and unerring accuracy that his judgements on the tea samples submitted to the the tasters became celebrated…

His job as a tea broker in his father’s company came to an abrupt end when he fell out with him;

“He was a very obstinate disposition,self-willed, and reluctant to fall in with is father’s ideas as regards the carrying on of their business with a result that he parted form his father and returned to London, working his passage home…”

On his return his stayed with his uncle, who helped to nurture his writing.


India Births and Baptisms, 1786-1947,” database, FamilySearch
Public Record Office. CO 904/201/Part 134-153



There is no peace now however thing to,
No peace where the ways of men ring loud,
save in a secret place that I know,
Hidden as in a cloud.

All the high hills stand clustering round,
Arched to protect it from trouble and noise,
the great sting hills that sing without sound,
And speak with no voice.

There lies Caorog, the mute low lake
And Bun-na-freamha lying aloft,
Peacefully sleeping, or even if they wake,
Lapping low and soft.

Upon the high hill-tops the heather may be crying.
And over the hill-tops the voices of men are heard,
But here only water lapping and sighing,
Or the wail of a bird.

Peace, peace and peace from the inner heart of dream,
More full of wisdom than speech can tell,
Drop like a veil round the show of things that seem
With an invisible spell.

Darrell Figgis