One hundred years ago today, 3 May 1921 under the Government of Ireland Act 1920, the partition of Ireland took place. The then Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland divided Ireland into two self-governing zones, Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland. Emily had Northern Irish family origins, in Ardglass, Co. Down when her maternal grandfather, Richard M’Arthur was born, as was her mother.
It is one hundred and five years since the first executions of the 1916 Rebels began, starting with Patrick Pearse.
Also one hundred years ago on this day the Tourmakeady Ambush took place in Co. Mayo. The South Mayo Flying Column, backed by local volunteers staged an attack on a convey of lorries carrying supplies to the RIC station there. Read more:
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.”
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.”
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.
“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