The internees released from the camps following the Treaty of 6 December 1921. A time of ferment in politics. By Michael Byrne

The scene at the railway station [Tullamore] will long be remembered. Long before the hour for arrival of the train, the stream of people to the station premises and surroundings was continuous. There was joy everywhere and the light and hope that the glad tidings brought were seen in the faces of the huge gathering. The railway station premises were thronged while from every point of vantage round about it people awaited the home-coming of the boys whose familiar faces they yearned to see once more. 

Ballykinlar autograph courtesy Offaly Archives. For further on this see Offaly History and Decade of Centenaries/ gallery. ‘Autograph books were an important aspect of the material culture of the camps and the internees signed each other’s books with political quotes, inspirational messages, and artwork depicting the camps or political ideals. Although prisoners were released from the camps following the Truce in 1921, anti-treaty republicans were again interned in prison camps such as Tintown in the Curragh during the Civil War.‘ – Offaly Archives

Late 1921 was a time of ferment in Offaly. Once the Truce was announced in July 1921 attention turned to matters such as reforms in public health that would see the county infirmary along with the workhouses at Edenderry and Birr closed. The former workhouse at Tullamore was now to serve as county hospital and ‘county home’. It was a major reform pushed through by Sinn Féin who dominated much of local government, save in the urban councils of Birr and Tullamore. As more people were pushed out of the institutions and the economic situation deteriorated the demand for home help grew. Some of the ratepayers were concerned but not the Midland Tribune which was then owned by Mrs Margaret Powell who was one of the few women involved in the Birr local health committees.[1] Her editor from 1912 to late 1940s was James Pike from Roscore, Screggan. Four women sat on the Tullamore Hospitals and Homes Committee chaired by Mrs Wyer. Pike in an editorial on 17 December 1921 was to describe it as a momentous week with the secret debates in the Dáil. Offaly Technical Committee did not wait for the outcome of the Dáil debate and supported the Treaty almost immediately.[2] Supporters included the chairman Fr O’Reilly, Kilcormac, Revd John Humphreys and James Rogers as did Revd R.S. Craig.

It was also a time for town tenants to demand that town estate landlords sell to the tenants. Wage reduction following on the fall in prices was leading to strikes such as that in November 1921 in Tullamore at Egan’s and Williams’s, the two largest firms in Tullamore. The workers submitted to a 5s. reduction and possibly more to follow. The electric light was switched on in Birr and Tullamore in September (see earlier blog) and a strike of the electricity providers soon followed in Tullamore.

Our thanks to the National Museum of Ireland for this picture of the camp at Ballykinlar

Sinn Féin courts and arbitration courts continued during the Truce with only some interruptions from the police. An arbitration court was finishing in the board room of the former Tullamore Union workhouse (the county hospital from 1921) when the police first called and did likewise the following day. Interestingly, the police came by the canal towpath from the barracks and did not march through the streets.[3] The old petty sessions resumed also after the Truce and continued in operation (more so in Birr) until the Treaty. Where courthouses had been burned out the sessions were held in one of the larger towns. After ninety years Tullamore jail was now empty with the last prisoner, Sean Mahon of Banagher, transferred to Mountjoy.[4]

Meantime Darrell Figgis was in Tullamore in late 1921 giving an address at the opening of the fifth session of the Tullamore Students Union on ‘Reconstruction in the new Ireland’. These lectures were organized by the Technical Committee secretary E.J. Delahunty. As so often Pat Egan of P. & H. Egan and James Rogers, solicitor proposed and seconded the vote of thanks to the speaker. The technical school was badly in need of larger accommodation but did not secure it until 1937. Then it was on the site of the Tarleton house in O’Connor Square where the assize judges used to stay until July 1921. The very fine house was demolished to provide a site and lands for the school.

The strength of the Volunteers was evident in the funeral of Thomas Robbins of Kilmucklin, Clara, who was a member of A Company, Ist Battalion, No. 2 Offaly Brigade, who died after a short illness, aged 30. Upwards of 1,500 Volunteers were said to have been present at the funeral.[5] At the time two women who had suffered injury at the hands of Volunteers (forcible cutting of hair and being tied up in a public place) were seeking payment of a personal injury award of £100 each on the local rates.

The condition of prisoners in Mountjoy and in the camps at Ballykinlar and Rath were a concern.[6] Sean Fleming of Ballycumber who was sentenced to twelve months in Mountjoy was removed to the Mater Hospital and had an appendicitis operation.[7] Conditions in the camps were far from satisfactory and were it not for food parcels sent from home and from members of Cumann na mBan matters would have been much worse. The welcome of 9 December 1921 was reported in the Midland Tribune as follows (that in the King’s County Chronicle was much more muted):

Our thanks to the Ballykinlar Remembrance Committee for this picture by William Johnson of Harbour Street, Tullamore

A Historic Welcome at Tullamore

Returning Prisoners receive a Great Ovation

All Classes

Enthusiastically Honour the Occasion

I.R.A., Cumann Na mBan and Fianna Take Part in Procession

A list of the Released Prisoners[8]

Tullamore on Friday [9 December 1921] gave the home coming prisoners an historic welcome.  They arrived by special train at 4 p.m. and got a tremendous ovation. The shops were closed in the afternoon, and the day was observed as a holiday, all classes joining with enthusiasm in honoring the occasion. The tri-colour floated from buildings and business places and flew from numbers of cars which brought contingents from the country districts and neighboring counties to Offaly’s capital.

The men who had been on strike throughout a trying and anxious week [the Egan’s and Williame staff] and who only returned to work on Friday morning gave the afternoon to co-operating in the arrangements for the welcome back to home and liberty of their friends and comrades from the prison camps.

The Trade and Labour Band took a prominent part in their demonstration. 

The Local Battalion I.R.A turned out while many Companies of Volunteers came from outlying districts. [The local IRA were now serving as a police force.]

There was great jubilation throughout the town, and the news of the home coming of the prisoners created feelings of delight and relief.

The feeling of affection and regard for the men who fought our battles, and faced danger and sufferings, filled all hearts.

There was unbounded joy to see them all back again in the bosom of their families, having fought the good fight the good fight and won.

The Fianna Boy Scouts and Cumann na mBan, as well as the I.R.A., helped to add to the national character of the welcome.  The scene at the railway station will long be remembered. Long before the hour for arrival of the train, the stream of people to the station premises and surroundings was continuous. There was joy everywhere and the light and hope that the glad tidings brought were seen in the faces of the huge gathering.

The railway station premises were thronged while from every point of vantage round about it people awaited the home-coming of the boys whose familiar faces they yearned to see once more.  The IRA and IRP did duty at the station and outside and handled the arrangements skillfully.  Only a limited number of people were admitted to the station proper, where along the platform a guard of honor of I.R.A. was drawn up.

Ballykinlar from an autograph book courtesy Offaly Archives.

Fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, and relatives of homecoming prisoners, were within the station in large numbers. It was for them a day of joy and thanksgiving, a day of relief and a day of brightness, for their long suffering and anxiety had come to an end, and the reward so richly deserved, was theirs at last.

The explosion of fog signals heralded the approach of the train, on which the national colours were seen proudly floating. 

A mighty cheer went up and with all the pent up love of their hearts the people shouted.

There were touching scenes at the station as prisoners and their parents and families met after a long absence – after months and years of weary waiting, anxiety and gloom.  A new day had dawned for them and for Ireland.

The prisoners filed out of the station between long lines of Volunteers who made a way clear for them thought too immense gathering, who were pressing forward to greet them and express words of welcome. 

They were escorted in a long procession to the town by thousands of I.R.A. headed by the splendid Pipers Band, with flag, the whole spectacle being grand and impressive. 

The released prisoners, who looked fatigued, and bore traces of long confinement and hardships, were in the best of spirits and responded heartily to the enthusiasm of the people, and the rousing welcome which they received.

Midland Tribune, 17 Dec. 1921

They soon afterwards proceeded to their homes to enjoy the quiet and rest, and good cheer of the home and family circle.  The prisoners who arrived on Friday afternoon in Tullamore were, James Longworth, Tullamore (ex-soldier, who fought through the Great War with distinction); James Egan, Tullamore; William Mooney (ex-soldier, who was in every campaign from Mons onwards in the War, who is a D.C.M., and whose mother, while he was interned, received from the British Authorities for him a further mark of distinction for war service); Bartholomew Byrne, Kill, Tullamore; Dan Ravenhill, Pat Ravenhill, James Hagan, Joseph Neville, Michael Lynch, Sean Lennon (Killeenmore), Denis Kelly, Pat Finlay Killeenmore, Jack and William Scully, Killoughy, Pat Mahon, Killoughey. 

On the train which brought the prisoners were hundreds of others, the west of the country and harts of Connaught.

William Feehan, Tullamore (also from Rath Camp arrived the previous evening.

William Johnston, [the artist] Stephen Johnston, John Kelly (Thomas Street) Tullamore arrived from Ballykinlar Camp.

It was thought that Rev Father Smyth CC, Rahan, would also arrive, but it appears he  was called in another direction after release and the people were somewhat disappointed in not being afforded an opportunity of extending to him the cordial welcome while the good soggart so richly deserves.

There was another big crowd at the station to meet Saturday evening’s train and the few prisoners who came got a magnificent reception (They were Pat Lloyd Tullamore, Joe Gallagher, Seamus Mahon, Ballinamere).

Others included Henry Mahon of Tullamore who had worked in the Post Office.

[Others released included Peter Finlay of Coalhill, Tullamore, Fr Burbage from Ballykinlar, John McEvoy of Killoneen, Michael Gibson of Geashill, Denis Donegan and Terence Shiel of near Daingean.]

Birr extended a similar week at its railway station to John Delahunty,

Arriving home to Banagher were: Michael Cummins, Stephen Walker,  – Hynes, Michael Murray, Michael Larkin (Park) – all released from Curragh Camp and Patrick McNally from Ballykinlar.[9]

             Midland Tribune, 17 Dec. 1921                                             

A Enthusiastic Throng

Impressions at Tullamore Station

I was one of the crowd-the great surging, enthusiastic throng- at the Tullamore railway station, on Friday evening [9 December 1921] when the boys came home.

I have seen many gatherings and occasions for rejoicing, but never one like this.  I was glad everyone was glad; the feeling took possession of our hearts; it was irresistible.

Young soldiers of Ireland, with steady step and graceful movement, passed along in endless procession and skillfully arranged their far-flung ranks.  They were the comrades, the brothers of those whom they had come to meet and greet.

Old people were there; the fathers, and oh! The dear old mothers, who through all the weary years of anxiety and suffering, blessed the work for freedom, and put their trust in God. 

The Girls were there-the girls of Offaly, who did such magnificent work in the sacred cause, and endured that the flag which was uplifted in Easter Week might float down the centuries triumphantly.  Homes in town and country were emptied; those within came out to welcome the dear ones so long absent back into the family circle, of which they were the pride.  The heroes of the fight came back, unbroken in spirit, whatever they might have suffered in health.  Unselfish still, and forgetful of their own suffering and its effects, they thought only of those at home who had passed through the long night of terror.

Torn from the bosom of their families, they returned with the coming dawn, restored to the white heads that had silvered in their absence, and to the loving, hearts, whose thoughts were of them only.

The scenes at the railway station will long be remembered; they were moving and pathetic, but the great joy of the occasion exerted its influence and banished all other feelings.

As those brave boys filed out their faces bore signs of the patient sufferings and weary existence is the prison camps, but the proud spirit which conquered still shone in them.

They were a fine, athletic, stalwart body of whom any county of country might be proud, and for physical fitness and coolness.  I have hardly seen their equals. 

This is a tribute for a stranger a stranger to these parts but an Irishman who has bad been the privilege in various parts of the country of seeing these glorious young men of Ireland’s army at work, at play and in prison.

The Irish people are now coming into their own; the day of victory had come; that victory was purchased at the price of suffering and sacrifice, but it is a glorious ending to the struggle of centuries.

It is the day of which our fathers spoke, our poets sang, for which our people prayed.

Those who suffered and died that the Irish nation might live and shape its own destiny, freed from foreign yoke, which doomed all its efforts to failure, have brought us into the full light of freedom.

The task was a heavy and difficult one- said to have been too difficult in the opinion of many at home and abroad, to tackle with any hope of success.

We faced fearful Odds; stood up against a tyrant, before whom the world quailed, withstood his heavy blows and won.

Ireland’s victory is hailed to-day throughout the world as the victory of justice over tyranny and oppression and as the fitting reward of courage, intrepidity and devotion to high and noble ideals, of a brave and chivalrous people.

[1] Midland Tribune, 3 Dec. 1921.

[2] Midland Tribune, 10 Dec. 1921

[3] Ibid., 26 Nov. 1921

[4] Midland Tribune, 5 Nov. 1921.

[5] Ibid.,

[6] Midland Tribune, 12 Nov. 1921.

[7] Ibid., 26 Nov. 1921

[8] Midland Tribune, 17 Dec. 1921 

[9] Midland Tribune, 24 Dec. 1921.