The release of the War of Independence prisoners: Tullamore jail was deplorable. Louis Downes and Michael Grogan of Tullamore tell their story. By Michael Byrne

The release of thousands of internees from jails in Ireland and Britain followed on the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in early December 1921. Most had been imprisoned under the Restoration of Order (Ireland) Act. We carried a blog on the first phase of the releases in mid-December. Upwards of 4,000 were being held since the Truce of July 1921 in Rath Camp in the Curragh, Portlaoise Jail and Ballykinlar Camp in Co. Down as well as from Waterford, Cork, Kilmainham, Mountjoy and other prisons. The second wave of releases came in mid-January 1922 and many had been convicted and sent to English prisons.

The Offaly IRA men imprisoned included : Source Brigade Activity Reports

Taken Prisoner

John Daly                     Jan 1921,

? Lloyd                        Jan 1921

Patrick Molloy             Jan 1921 – Dec 1921, July 1921 – Dec 1923

James Clarke               March 1918 to 12th Oct 1918

James Clarke               Dec 1920 to Dec 1921

Alphonsus Johnson     Nov 1920 to Dec 1921 [see Dec. 2021 blog]

William Johnson         Nov 1920 to Dec 1921

Wm Fitzpatrick           Feb 1920 to Dec 1921

Joseph Gallagher        Dec 1920 to Dec 1921

Frank Mooney            Sept to Oct 1919 Dec 1920 to Jan 1922

Martin Meleady          Dec 1920 to Sept 1921 Aug 1922 to Jan 1924

John Finlay                 Dec 1920 to Jan 1922

Malachy Lynam          Dec 1919 to April 1920 Feb 1921 to Sept 1921

Patrick Daly                Dec 1919 to April 1920 Feb 1921 to Dec 1921

James Egan                 May 1921 to Dec 1921

Michael Whelan         March 1921 to Dec 1921

James Hogan               Jan 1921 to Oct 1921

Harry Feehan              Jan 1921 to Oct 1921

Daniel Lynam `           Jan 1921 to Dec 1921

Sean Talbot                 April 1921 to Dec 1921

John Doody                 March 1921 to Sept 1921 & 1922

Ed Conroy                   Jan 1921 to Jan 1922. Sept 1922 to Oct 1923

A Brennan                   Jan 1921 to Jan 1922

Michael Grogan          Jan 1921 to Jan 1922

William Nolan            Mar 1921 to Sept 1921, Sept 1922 to Jan 1924

John Killeavy              May 1921 to Sept 1921, Sept 1922 to Jan 1924

Pat Finlay                    May 1921 to Dec 1921

John Spain                  May 1921 to Dec 1921

[63] Tom Berry                       June 1921 to Dec 1921

James Longworth        May 1921 to Dec 1921

Denis Walsh               May 1921 to Dec 1921

John Mitchell              May 1921 to Dec 1921

Peter Bracken             Feb 1921 to Oct 1921

Patrick Bracken          May 1921 to Oct 1921

Michael Bracken        May 1921 to Oct 1921

Denis Pender               May 1921 to Oct 1921

Tom Mullins               May 1921 to Sept 1921

William Mooney         Feb 1921 to Dec 1921

Peter Larkin                March 1921 to Jan 1922

Louie Downes             March 1921 to Jan 1922

John Scally

M1 Galvin (Ardan)     April 1921 to Dec 1921

John Galvin                 April 1921 to Dec 1921

William Kelly             March 1921 to Nov 1921

Patk O’Brien               Jan 1921 to Dec 1921, Sept 1922 to Jan 1924

William Keegan          May 1921 to Dec 1921

Henry Mahon              May 1921 to Dec 1921

James Donegan           May 1921 to Dec 1921

John Barry                  April to July 1918. May to Sept 1921

Local reports of the prison releases in January 1922

Prison doors thrown open     

An amnesty for all prisoners incarcerated in respect “of offences committed in Ireland from political motives” prior to the Truce was declared on Thursday. Immediately there were set free from Mountjoy 183, Cork 88, Waterford 49, Limerick 41, and Galway 9 – a total of 370. These included many who had been under sentence of death (see the blog on the Furlong family of Tullamore and Wexford) Releases from Derry, Belfast, English and Scottish jails followed. The official announcement expressed King George’s hope that this act would aid powerfully in establishing friendship and goodwill between the Irish and British peoples. Irish men or women in captivity for alleged political offences at home since July 11, or sentenced in connection with occurrences across the water, were not included, but it was stated these cases were under consideration. The regime in the English prisoners was much tougher than that of the internment camps.

In Dublin and throughout, the country the released political prisoners were welcomed with enthusiasm. Illuminations and torchlight processions were features of the receptions in many places.

……. 

Tullamore jail about 1910

The releases from Dartmoor included :- …; Francis Dolan, Rosfaraghan, Ferbane; J Feeney, Ferbane; F. B. Daly, Ferbane; Joe Ryan, Brackna.   

Amongst the men released from Hull were: Edward Conroy, Michael Grogan, both Tullamore men, and were each serving three years. 

A number of other local prisoners, including S. Langton, Kinnitty, had also been released.[1]

Back From British Prisons      

Tullamore town about 1909

Tullamore’s Welcome to Home Coming Prisoners Report Jan. 1922.

There was a big demonstration of welcome in Tullamore on Saturday night, on the occasion of the home coming of the prisoners who had long been incarcerated in English and Scotch Prisons. The news of the release created intense satisfaction, and there was great rejoicing in the town and district. Needless to say, it was a great relief to their families and friends to know that they were to be back again to freedom. They arrived by the 6 p.m. train and were met at the station by a very large gathering, who, as the train steamed in and fog signals went off, raised a great cheer. The Republican police were active at the station and in the vicinity, handling their arrangements skilfully. Companies of Volunteers marched to the station with the Volunteer Pipers’ Band, and also the Trade and Labour Fife and Drum Band. The prisoners met their parents, brothers and sisters, from whom they had been long separated and responded to the affectionate greetings which they received. They passed out of the station between lines of Volunteers who accompanied them through the town to their homes. Outside and through the town the enthusiasm was remarkable. Considering all they went through the boys looked fairly well, and returned as they had left, unbroken in spirit and strong in the principles for which they had fought and suffered. The following are the names of the prisoners who arrived in Tullamore on Saturday night – From Perth (Scotland)  – Jack Finlay, Tullamore; Jack Mahon, Ballycommon, Tullamore; Frank Mooney, Tullamore. From Wandsworth – Louis Downes, Tullamore; Jack Connor, Tullamore, Peadar Larkin, Ballydaly; Wm Nolan, Tullamore. From Hull – Alo Brennan, Tullamore, Michael Grogan, Tullamore; Ned Conroy, Tullamore. Larry Rigney, The Meelaghans, Tullamore. From Canterbury – Pat Molloy, Rahan.[2]

Governor’s house, Tullamore jail, in late 1880s

How was it for Tullamore men Louis Downes and Michael Grogan of Davitt Street, Tullamore? Interviews

TULLAMORE MEN’S EXPERIENCES IN PRISON IN TULLAMORE JAIL, MOUNTJOY, WORMWOOD SCRUBS, WANDSWORTH, AND HULL

Refused To Pray At Mass For The Wing

 (From Our Tullamore Reporter)

I had interview with Mr Louis Downes on Sunday [14 Jan.] at his father’s house, Covent View, Tullamore. He told me he was arrested in the same house on the night of 1st March 1921, and the charge made against him was one of soliciting arms from British military. Mr Downes was taken to Tullamore prison on his arrest and remained there for some time. He was tried by Field General Courtmartial on 9th April following and was sentenced to two years hard labour. He spent six weeks in Tullamore jail before removal further. [Downes was involved in the robbery of the Tullamore post office in 1921 and the previous year as a lookout in the killing of Sergeant Cronin.

Conditions in Tullamore prison [deplorable]

Asked to describe conditions in Tullamore prison during his time there, he stated that there was about thirty persons in the prison at the time, and then (as afterwards even to a greater extent) the position of the prisoners from the point of view of accommodation, was extraordinarily serious. There were five prisoners in the cell in which he was placed. The cell, of course, was built to accommodate one person, and having five in that cell sleeping day and night, was outrageous, from a health and every other point of view, but during the period of terrorism, which terrorism extended even to the Press, it became impossible to expose the terrible conditions that prevailed. In the cell, Mr Downes stated, they slept on the floor without even the ordinary bed boards or mattresses. The prison diet was wretched but fortunately they were able to get food from outside. They were removed, handcuffed in pairs from Tullamore to Harepark prison, Curragh, where three weeks were spent, and where the treatment was fairly good at the time.

Mountjoy, Wormwood Scrubs and Wandsworth

 From the Curragh they went to Mountjoy prison, handcuffed behind their backs. There they remained for a short time, until the order came for their removal to England. The first prison to which they went in England was Wormwood Scrubs, in which place they remained for three days prior to removal to Wandsworth Prison, where they spent the remainder of the time up to the date of their release. Wandsworth, Mr Downes stated, is a large prison in south west London area, and had over 100 criminal prisoners within its confines, there being forty or fifty political prisoners, including himself, Messrs O’ Connor, Larkin and Nolan, from Tullamore district.

Daily Routine

At Wandsworth the daily routine was as follows – They rose at 6:30 a.m.; had breakfast at 7:15 a.m.; went to religious devotions from 8:30 to 9:15 a.m.; exercise, 9:20 to 10:20 a.m., further exercise 10:30 to 11:30 AM; Dinner at twelve o’clock (noon). At work in the workshops from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Were carried back to cell at 4 p.m., and had supper, and did not leave the cell until the next morning. In the workshops what was the position, were you allowed to talk and associate? “No; we were divided up in the workshops and the Irishmen were scattered around to keep them from communicating with one another. ” We were not allowed to laugh, smile or show our teeth and the penalty for either varied from one to three days on bread and water ” “Was there any very objectionable work that you were ordered to do?” “Yes; and we refused; we made it a standing rule not to whitewash, or scrub floors” “Anything else you refused to do?” “Yes; we refused to pray at mass for the king” “As regard the diet, what kind was it?” “Very poor. For breakfast we had one pint of tea; one pint. Skilly and some ounces of dry bread” “No butter?” “We never saw butter there and we had not even margarine at breakfast. For dinner on Sundays we had a small piece of bully beef and some potatoes, on Mondays and Saturdays a little bacon, some beans and vegetables. On Tuesdays Irish Stew, so called. Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays soup. The food was very coarse and unpalatable. For supper we had a pint of cocoa or a pint of tea (not of the kind one would get at home needless to say), some quantity of bread and half ounce margarine. We were allowed no kinds of forks, and a piece of tin did duty for a knife. We slept on a plank, covered with an oakum mattress, and light covering. Although we went to cells at 4 p.m., we were not allowed to make our bed until 7:30 p.m., and could not get into bed until 8 p.m. “I thought once you were in cell you could do as you pleased – go to bed immediately, if you felt in need of rest?” “No; that was not allowed” “Were the warders in charge English or Irish?” “The warders were mostly English and were specially watchful of Irish prisoners. Some of them were very strict, stricter than might reasonably be expected, but others were reasonable enough.” “Was there anything in the way of additional and better food at Xmas time!” “No, the fare at Xmas was the same as ordinary days; there was no change whatever. The New Year was, however celebrated in accordance with the arrangements made by the prison authorities, but we did not participate for the reason I will just tell you. They brought into the prison a London Chorus Society to entertain prisoners. They gave a concert. It was intended to have all the prisoners at the performance. We were never, however, informed that the national anthem of England would be sung, during which all present would be expected to stand up. we then refused to attend the concert at all” “The diet in the prison seems to have been far from satisfactory?” “It was. It was only by a hunger strike and continual agitation for better treatment, that we got even that” “What about letters and visits?” “We were allowed to write one letter and receive one letter every two months and allowed a visit once a month. When we had not a visit, an extra letter was allowed in lieu of visit”

Tullamore jail about 1960

News of Release

 “When did you first hear the news of the order to release you?” “On Friday morning last, the 13th inst, about 9 a.m., the chaplain informed us of order for release, and were out of the prison at 12 (noon) same day. We had been, while in prison, wearing the prison garb, and our clothes, when given to us, on release, were damp. When we came out the London Irish gave us clothing while we dried our own at the fire. The London Irish gave us a rousing reception and entertained and treated us most hospitably until the departure of the train at 9 p.m.. We had a rough passage in the North Wall boat. We received a great welcome in Dublin. On leaving Kingsbridge by the 4 p.m. train for Tullamore, we got a hearty send off from some of the Dublin Brigade, and you saw yourself the reception given us by the people of our native town” Questioned as to the health of the released prisoners, Mr Downes said that it was as good as could be expected, considering what they had gone through.

Plank bed & little clothing. Supplied with food by an American gentleman.

Mr Michael Grogan was among those who arrived from Hull prison on Saturday evening. [unreadable]… Davitt St, Tullamore, on Sunday evening – quite a sturdy, athletic young fellow, and he told me the story of his prison experiences. He was arrested in his home on 18th January 1921, the charge against him being the kidnapping of a man named John Hannon [Hannon was from Ballyduff near Daingean and had retired from the RIC in 1915. In 1916 he was an RIC special constable.] He was taken to Tullamore prison where he remained from the time of his arrest to the 13th March. There were three in the cell in which he was in Tullamore (the cell made for accommodating one). He was carried to the Curragh on the 13th March, and on the 14th March to Mountjoy prison. They travelled in an open lorry, handcuffed, from Tullamore to the Curragh, and the day being wet they were drenched with rain. Prisoners’ journeys were not pleasant in those days – they got no food. They arrived at Mountjoy on 14th March – a day of tragedy and sorrow, for six young Irishmen were that day hung in the prison for no other crime than that they loved their country. Mr Grogan gave a very unfavourable account of the treatment they received in Tullamore. They got nothing to eat he said, the first night there. The next morning they got very little, and at dinner and tea the repast was anything but eatable, and they did not partake of the food until they got food from outside. As regards exercise the time allowed was an hour but the prisoners kicked up a row and were conceded two hours. They had no beds, and during the time in Tullamore slept on the floor of the cell They were, he said, handcuffed while in Mountjoy from 14th to 30th March and slept on the floor for some time, then getting a bed board, but no mattress. After Mountjoy they were packed off into a boat, taken to England – to Wormwood Scrubs prison, they were handcuffed and got no food from the military on the sea journey. An American gentleman who happened to be travelling on the same boat provided them with some food They arrived in Wormwood Scrubs, cold, fatigued and hungry. They were treated as ordinary criminals and had to wear the prison garb for the first time.

Transfer to Hull

They were transferred to Hull on the 6th April. “What kind was the treatment there?” “Very bad, the diet was very poor. . . They did nothing to facilitate visits which were rare. Miss Pidgeon, Arden Road, Tullamore, called to the prison in April, but her visit would not be allowed, as she had no permit” “You first heard of your coming release – when?” “On Friday morning last as we were at exercise, we heard the first news of our release from the principal warder. When we came out we were given a great welcome, and were entertained by the Nuns at the convents, as we as by the Self Determination League, who treated us with great hospitality. The Hull Irish were very kind to us. We left Hull and went to Leeds, from Leeds to Crewe, and from Crewe to Holyhead. We met, at Crewe, a number of Irish comrades released from other prisons. We got great receptions on the way home and on our arrival home we were glad to see the old town, and thankful for the fine welcome given us”

In Tullamore Jail     

A prisoner who arrived home on Saturday evening in Tullamore, questioned by our representative as to the treatment in English prisons said he would prefer to emphasise the bad treatment he received at Tullamore prison, where the R Scot Fusiliers acted as guards and jailers. There were three in the cell where he was placed, and in the morning they often woke up to find the number had increased to seven. Imagine he said seven men huddled, together in a cell meant for one prisoner. Curfew prisoners were thrown into the cells during the night, and those inside had very often to go up and give the fresh arrivals some of their bed clothes to keep them from perishing with the cold “Talk about Huns or Turks”, he said, “nothing could equal the bad treatment which political prisoners received in Tullamore jail”

More soon on the Great Evacuation of the British Military in 1922