Category Archives: Friends

Poets in Prison

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:

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.

Oscar Wilde at his trial in 1895

“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.”

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.”



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

Darrell Figgis’ House is Raided

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.

Dublin Evening Telegraph 26 February 1921

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

“Achill Lady” in Galway Goal

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

Anita McMahon gets Sentenced in Galway

One hundred years ago, Emily’s friend Anita McMahon gets sentenced in Galway District Court, after being charged before a court-martial, the previous month. Anita stood silently before the jurisdiction, and was not represented by a lawyer, as she refused to recognise the court in which she was brought before, a British Court. Her address was given as Keel, Achill.

Keel, Achill where Anita McMahon was arrested in 1920

Anita was arrested on September 30th at her home, where a copy of the West Mayo Brigade Orders, the local Branch of IRA, dated 10th September. Among the documents were a pamphlet entitled “The Faith and Morals of Sinn Fein” and various other papers that were considered seditious. A week or so later the house, which was by then under surveillance by the local RIC (Royal Irish Constabulary), was searched again. More ‘seditious’ papers were found, this time a typewritten sheet, containing subversive phrases, enough to have Miss McMahon, hauled off to the local RIC station, possibly at Dugort or Achill Sound and then on to Galway.


Irish Times 15 November 1920

Irish Times 13 November 1952

The Funeral of Terence MacSwiney and the Aftermath

Terence MacSwiney and his wife Muriel

MacSwiney’s 74-day hunger strike captured the attention of the international press and raised the profile of calls for an independent Ireland. It also kicked off protests in cities around the world such as New York. At the time Eamon de Valera was on an eighteen month tour of America on a mission to establish the Ireland as a Republic and to help raise finance for the independence movement. The event of the Lord Mayor’s death garnered a lot of support from the American’s. He was the second Lord Mayor of Cork to die in the dark days of the War of Independence. In March On 20 March 1920, his was shot dead Thomas Curtain by the RIC, (Royal Irish Constabulary) in front of his wife and child. It was his thirty-sixth birthday.

His death, the second death of a Cork mayor that year, made headlines around the world and brought international attention to the campaign for Irish freedom.

After his death further his family suffered the further fear that his body would be, like most prisoners interred in the grounds of Brixton Prison, as his funeral would certainly be a huge political affair. The British Home Office allowed his body to be put on board a ship and be sailed directly to his hometown Cork, bypassing Dublin completely. If it were to go to the Irish capital MacSwiney would certainly be given a state funeral, which would only turn up the heat on the political situation. His family won out in the end and they were granted permission to bring his coffin to St. George’s Church in London. It was the first of three funerals for the patriotic Lord Mayor. Thousands, many British filed by his remains before being removed to an awaiting ship to make his final journey home to the country he gave his life for.

His body was brought from the Cathedral in London, put on a train, accompanied by a large group of mourners, it was also accompanied by police, which arrived at Hollyhead early. The ship, which his family, mourners and Nationalists hoped would dock in Dublin for a funeral there, but it was not to be. His body was taken directly to Cork, vetoed by the authorities, to avoid large demonstrations in Dublin. Incensed Nationalists were not deterred from giving MacSwiney the funeral he deserved. A day of mourning and funeral procession went ahead even without a body. A Requiem Mass was said at the Pro-Catherdral attended by a crowd that spilled out onto Marlborough Street.

An hearse, without a coffin followed by thousands of mourners, made its way along the lined streets of Dublin to Kingsbridge Station, the same route that would have been followed if a real funeral was permitted. All the same it was followed lorries of British soldiers and met at the station by an armored car.

Terence McSwiney’s body arrived in Cork city. His family with guard of Irish Volunteers brought the body to Cork City Hall, where it lay in state for the citizens to pay their respects. His funeral at the Cathedral of St Mary and St Anne on October 31 attracted enormous crowds. He was buried in the Republican Plot of St Finbarr’s Cemetery, where Arthur Griffith gave the oration.

MacSwiney’s hunger strike instead had an international effect. The British Government was threatened with a boycott of goods by Americans, countries in South America pleaded with the Pope to intervene, while protests took place in Germany and France.

Terence McSwiney’ death was a source of inspiration to freedom fighters such as Gandhi, who also used hunger strike as a quiet power against the British government. he also inspired writers and poets such as Lousiene Murphy below:

His writing was published after his death such as the poem below.

The death of Terence MacSwiney was one of a myriad of events that lead to the burning of Cork, a pivotal event in the War of Independence a little over a month later.


Freeman’s Journal 26 October 1920