Frongoch – Personal Memories

Memorial at the now demolished Frongoch internment camp

Memorial at the now demolished Frongoch internment camp – Easter 2016

FROM DERRYKILLEW TO FRONGOCH UNDER THE DEFENCE OF THE REALM ACT

by Patrick M. Tunney, D.C.

(Reprinted from Mayo New, 5, 12 and 19 Jan., 1918)

The golden rays of a glorious summer’s sun were just brightening the heavenly canopy on Tuesday morning the 9th May, 1916, when I suddenly awoke from my slumber to the tramp of marching feet, which were fast approaching my parental home, to the door of which a gentle knock was immediately give. My time for consideration seemed limited then. Whilst still barefooted I instantly opened the door and I was more than a little surprised when I saw standing outside three armed Constables with Sergeant Coughlan, Carrowkennedy, and Head Constable Creighton, Westport. The latter entered, bade “good morning” and said “Are you Patrick Tunney?” to which I replied “yes.” “Well get ready, we want you,” said he. “All right,” said I, as I began to prepare for my first route march under an armed escort, but never dreaming at the time that I had committed any political sins for which I should suffer inside iron bars and barbed wire in Castlebar Jail, Trinity College and Richmond Barracks, Dublin; in Wandswork Detentin Barracks – Surrey Co. Jail – in Frongoch South Detention Barracks, in Wormswood Scrubbs Prison, London, and in the North Frongock Camp, Merrioneth, Wales. Whilst I was lacing my boots the Head-constable sat down and chatted freely. I asked him what “authorities” wanted me form but he failed to give a clue, though he was very courteous otherwise. He gave me permission to have breakfast which I did in haste. Breakfast over he rose and said: “Under the Defence of the Realm Act I place you under arrest.” I made no statement, or the Head-constable sought for no information, so we cheerily left the home of my childhood. A short distance away from the house Mr. Edward Kelly, Castlebar street, Westport, was waiting with his horse and car for me. He was commissioned by R.I.C. that morning to drive me to Westport. On leaving Derrykillew, I calmly glanced o’er the haunts of my boyhood which no doubt looked beautiful that glorious summer’s morning, the gentle due was rising off the green fields and in chorus the feathered tribe was sweetly singing. To leave such scenes behind I inwardly felt very lonesome, though outwardly my mood was indifferent. I was driven to the Carrowkennedy barracks where I met another “suspect” like myself in the person of Mr. Manus Keane, Lankill, Aughagower. Manus had been arrested at an earlier hour that morning. His disposition then was cheery and his appearance was robust. After a short delay at Carrowkennedy the two of us were placed on the car – the owner of which was as silent as George Glendenning’s monument is now – and the seven miles journey to Westport was begun, a journey which was slow, silent and uneventful. Our escort then consisted of a Head-constable, two sergeants and five constables, neither of whom showed any discourtesy to us though to my mind some of those gentlemen would be much better employed elsewhere defending small nationalities or the mighty British Empire on which the sun never sets (or never will moryah), escorting Redmond’s Irish Party clique, or disarming Carson’s armed covenanters. We reached Westport at 6.30a.m., the inhabitants of which were all astir. On arrival at the Westport R.I.C. barracks I was first led to the day-room where I was diligently searched, but I was then too wide awake for anything like an unpleasant surprise. Some private letters were found in my possession which were burned in my presence and a pen-knife was taken from me which was returned to me by Constable Fury, Newport, on the 16th March, 1917. After being searched a grim looking official led me to the “black cells” which were then occupied by Messrs. Charles Hughes, draper, Westport; Edward Haran, U.D.C.; Thadeus Walsh, P.L.G.; Chas Hickey, Patrick Kenny, John Logan, Martin Geraty, Hubert Heraty, James Malone, Ed. Sammon, John Berry, Bartley Cryan, Michael Reilly, Patrick Hughes, Thomas O’Brien and John Gavin, Westport.

It may not be out of place to mention here that the above-named Patrick Huges lost his youthful life in a bathing fatality at Westport Quay, August 1917. He was a youth of much promise, faithful and true to the very core, and his early demise was much regretted by his fellow prisioners and a host of admirers, – R.I.P.

At 7.30 we were all handcuffed and let out through the barrack yard on to Shop Street where hundreds of spectators were assembled, some of whom were sympathetic looking, others scornful looking; curiosity attracted the remainder – the entire spectacle was nature’s own. Some forty members of the R.I.C. and a large number of cavelrymen escorted us from the barrack on by mill Street, the Fair Green, Altamont Street, to Westport Railway Station, and at 8 o’clock, Irish time, our first train journey was begun. Our train arrived at Castlebar station about half-past 8 or a little later. We had a short delay there putting a guard in order, this being done, “quick march” was given and in a few minutes we were bravely marching into the county town, and in less than falf an hour we were inside the grim looking walls of Castlebar jail. We were then led on to a large, but narrow, hall where our eighteen names were called out. the other seventeen men were first called out, and finally the warder or jailer or whatever his profession was, shouted out “Peter Tunney.” I stayed still and said “my name is not Peter, you must have the wrong man.” Ah” but what a shock I go when he yelled out at the top of his voice; “You have come in here as Peter and as Peter you will get what you deserve, come on.” His horrid yells amused me, so without a murmur I followed him till he showed me a door to cell “49” which I entered and then locked the door leaving me in solitude.

When I found myself locked up in the prison cell, I for a few moments sat down in contemplation after which I put a “blossom” on my “Forty-three.” At the time I never knew an eye was watching me at the “peep-hole” (a peep-hole or spy-hole, is in every prison door). No sooner had I the pipe kindled than I heard a terrible roar outside the door, I knew not what it was for. Immediately the door banged open and the warder or jailor who was after locking the door rushed in and shouted: “What the devil are you doing?” “I thought ‘twas no harm,” said I to him. “Harm be damned” said he, “I’ll soon part yourself and your pipe me boyo.” He rushed out again quite passionate and by the time the door was locked I had repented enough for the offence.

At 10.30 I was brought from my cell to some kind of an office, where I was searched by the warders. I was also weighed and measured. All my small belongings were packed up carefully and I was again ordered back to my cell. When going into the cell I noticed on the door outside a tiny card bearing the following

Name of prisoner – PATRICK TUNNEY

Religion – R.C.

Offence –

Terms of Imprisonment –

Cell 49 in Castlebar Jail is 14 feet 6 inches long, four feet six inches wide, in the centre. The floor is boarded and the cell is fairly well ventilated. It is furnished with a bare plank which is about 6 feet 6 inches long and about 30 inches wide a small table, a form shaped stool, a wooden salt cellar and a big horn spoon. There are no books or anything in the shape of literature whatever. There are some charts hung on the wall regarding the “Prison Diet Scale,” I read them all over several time to break the monotony. About 1 o’clock I got dinner which consisted of bread and vegetable soup. The vegetable soup is anything but palatable, it is simply a mixture of water with water with minced swedes, turnips, and onions. ‘Twas served warm and I drank it because I felt cold. The amount of bread which was given to me in Castlebar jail for each meal was eight ounces, and the quality was good. At 2 o’clock I was ordered to the exercise grounds which is in reality a small yard more oblong than square, with a small path close to the wall. For curiosity I used to step the path and to the best of my judgement it is about one hundred yards long and is covered over with cinders or partly burned coke. When I entered the exercise ground somebody said “A subject for a song.” And the warder exclaimed in solemn tones: “Quit that talking.” Whilst at exercise I saw many true and familiar friends of mine, but I dare not speak to them then. The seventeen men who were with me from Westport that morning were “on exercise”, along with Messrs. Thomas Derrig, University College, Galway; Joseph Ring, Drummindoo; Philip Waldron, Gaelic League Organiser, Ballyhaunis; Eamonn Gannon, Charles Gavin, John McDonagh, Michael Derrig, Michael Duffy, Joseph Ruddy, and Thomas Ralph, Westport; Joseph Gill, Westport Quay; Owen Hughes, Aughagower; John Joyce, Irish Teacher, Tourmakeady; John Corcoran, Kiltimagh; Peter O’Rorke, Castlerea and Colman O’Geary, Cong. There were also two other men I did now know. I was afterwards informed that one of them was an excise officer, and that the other was the hotel proprietor with whom Mr. O’Geary was lodging in Cong.

For an hour the thirty-six of us in single file travelled round and round the path of the exercise ground without a murmur, after which we were all sent back to our respective cells. On returning to my cell I felt happier and consoled myself with the thoughts of being in good company with such fellow prisoners; truly I felt more proud than otherwise.

At 5 o’clock I got supper which consisted of bread and cocoa, without either milk or sugar. At eight o’clock I prepared the plank on which I lay for a sleep. I slept quite well during the night. At 5 o’clock the following morning was roused from my slumbers, and as I had only to drop off the rug which I had wound round me and put on my boots, I was soon ready. My boots were my pillow that night. At 7.30 I got breakfast which was just the same as my previous night’s supper.

After breakfast I resolved to ask the warder for permission to write a letter; however when he entered said I to him will all humility: “Could I write a letter home, sir?” He stood erect, looked at me and exclaimed with a thunderous roar “remember you are under martial low now. Conduct yourself or I will make you conduct yourself, you are not on the mountain now, your scoundrel you.” Nothing else noteworthy took place during the day. The day was passed in silence, ‘twas uneventful, long and lonely. At 9 o’clock p.m. I was ordered to the office again and all my earthly belongings (which were in safe keeping) were given back to me and I was ordered to be “ready” in an hour that I was leaving – “Leaving for home,” said I “is it?” “As soon as you get outside the gate you can go to hell,” he said. Above all the officials – civil or military – with whom I came in contact a more heartless official I never met; his voice was harsh, cruel and commanding. I dreaded his appearance, his voice shocked me; I longed for a prison cell elsewhere, or my freedom, and surely I pitied the poor unfortunate creature whose lot it was to be a month, or even a week, under his mercy. If all governors, warders, jailors, and turnkeys were of his disposition, prison life would certainly be unbearable. At ten o’clock I and thirty-one of those already mentioned and Mr. Joseph McBride, Craob Mor, Westport – thirty-three all told – were lined out in single file in the prison hall, our names were read out; we were led to the door of the prison where we handed over to the Fifth Staffordshire regiment who were waiting fully armed to escort us. We then got the orders “Form two deep,” “turn right,” “by the left, quick march.” Soon we were marching through the streets of Castlebar under a heavy escort, and about eleven o’clock we were all entrained for Dublin. The men who escorted us were very courteous to us, they gave us biscuits and cigarettes and were very cheerful; anything they could do for us was done, and amid song, cheer and laughter our train steamed forth from Castlebar Railway Station. Our journey was slow from Castlebar to Athlone. Joy shone forth in all our faces as each of us narrated our tales of our first prison experiences.

Our train gently steamed along through the fair plains of Westmeath, as the grey dawn of Thursday morning, the 11th May, began to brighten our carriage windows, and as the red sun of a beautiful Summer’s morning began to peep away in the distant horizon, I went to the window of my compartment and I glanced for miles and miles o’er the fertile plains of Westmeath. Far away in the distance I viewed the peaks of the Tipperary and Wicklow mountains, but I failed to see a vestige of human habitation. I could see no congested village, or no labourers’ cottages; all I could see were prime cattle grazing on the prime arable land which God and nature intended should be inhabited. Then for a few moments I reflected on the neglected and deplorable state of our poor county, how the hardworking honest peasantry, who lived along the western seaboard from the foot of Nephin to the fool of Croaghpatrick, and all along the coast to Leeane by, have to eke out a livelihood on barren patches, on unreclaimed mountains, or congested hamlets. Certainly I thought it the duty of our representative, or mis-representative, the Imperial Irish Party, to see that such a sad state of affairs would no longer exist, and that the rich depopulated plains of Leinster should be adopted homes of thousands of Irishmen who are forced to emigrate from the shores of Ireland and labour in foreign regions – I thought then, and I think now, that the united action of a faithful body of truly representative Irishmen would certainly alter the present state of affairs (of course I am aware that quite a number of elected representatives are now much worried about Russia, Belgium, Jerusalem, and Timbuctoo). Whilst all these thoughts were glaringly before me the remainder of the prisoners were freely singing or debating or spinning stores until 6.30 am., when our train, loaded with unconvicted rebels, steamed slowly into Broadstone Station, Dublin. We had about half an hour’s delay at Broadstone station, after which we were formed into ranks of four men deep and handed over from the fitth to a body of the sixth Staffordshire Regiment, who apparently come to the station to receive us, and who with rifle and bayonet were all fully armed.in regiment style, with a lively pace we left from Braodstone and with spirits high we were soon marching through the streets of Dublin on our way to Trinity College. Though pretty early in the morning, at various centres, we were loudly cheered. From the spirited cheers we received, instinctively I learned that I was an Irishman and silently unseen I congratulated myself. The sights which I witnessed in Dublin that morning are vividly before my gaze still. I saw the shattered windows, the ruined homes, the wrecked buildings, the debris of which was then freshly burning; the entire scene could be better imagined than described. It instantly reminded me of the many thrilling tales I read about devastated Belgium and the burning homes of Wexford in 1798. We arrived at Trinity College at 8 o’clock, where we were detained for about two hours. Almost all the College seemed to be occupied by the military authorities. Apparently there was no room for us there. We were kept standing still for two hours. We got no refreshments of any kind though the unpalatable cocoa in Castlebar and drank at 5 o’clock the previous evening. At ten o’clock we got the order “Left turn,” and soon again we were on the streets of Dublin on our way to Richmond Barracks. Again and again we were cheered loudly, and one young lady who waved a small Republican flag at Christ Church-Place, said as we passed along: “Cheer up, men, our cause is just, God will strengthen you,” and as she said the words a rum looking Metropolitan peeler rushed towards her, and with a burly voice shouted: “Shut up, or I will arrest you,” to which she replied defiantly; “You can if you wish, you did it before.” We had then passed by and I know not whether she was arrested or not. After a long tramp we reached Richmond Barracks at 11 o’clock, and on arrival there we were first brought into the gymnasium hall, which is indeed a fine spacious apartment. It was empty until the thirty-three of us entered it. I felt fatigued and tired after the night’s journey, and the long marches of the morning. The pinch of hunger was telling on me. The other prisoners were also a bit worried looking. We got a pint of tea and a biscuit each about an hour later. Then in groups here and there we sat down on the floor of the hall where we discussed many topics – the rebellion, courtmartials, probabilities and improbabilities. About 1 o’clock a batch of prisoners from Belfast entered the Hall. Immediately after a batch of Tyrone men, who came that morning direct from Derry jail. Some Dublin men also came in. With all the new-comers we conversed freely. Finally a tall, stately young fellow entered; he was dressed in a blue serge suit wearing puttees and bare-headed. He leisurely, and very unconcernedly, walked up and down the hall several time. He asked me for a match, and I being somewhat inquisitive, was glad to have a conversation with him, in the course of which I asked his name and from whence he came. He was a fluent speaker who know his country’s history well, and in the course of a long harnangue which he made he said: “My name is Frawley, my father was a Head-constable in the R.I.C. and did duty in that capacity in Cork and Kilkenny, and was pensioned off in Queen’s County. Well when I heard of the rising, myself and a few others entered and took possession of the Wolf Hill R.I.C. Barracks in Queen’s County; I was arrested while in the barrack.” I cannot vouch for the truth of Mr. Frawley’s adventure; I am merely telling it as ‘twas told to me/ about two o’clock we got dinner – two potatoes each and about 2 ounces of “bully beef.” The vegetable soup which I got in Castlebar jail was simple in its composition, but with all my experiments I failed to diagnose “bully beef.” It was absolutely tasteless. When I got my beef I was looking at it, and my friend Manus Kane whispered to me: “Take it man, anything rather than eating them dry.” About three o’clock Mr. John Berry and the late Mr, Patrick Hughes, Westport, were brought away from the gymnasium hall, and I saw them no more as prisoners; they were afterwards deported to Berlienne, Scotland. About four o’clock twenty-seven of the Mayo men were called out, Joseph M. McBride, Charles Hughes, Colm O’Geary and Joseph Gill, and we were taken to a room in block L. At 6 o’clock we got for supper one biscuit each and a can of clean water. Sometime afterwards Mr. Owen Hughes, Aughagower, and Mr. Peter O’Rorke, Castlerea, reverentially recited the Rosary; we all responded loudly and with devotion – Whilst we were repeating the second or third decade, one of the guards from outside the door entered and said “What the hell are you bally fellows shouting for?” none of us replied; he made no further inquiries but left quietly. After prayers we all took off our boots, and to the sound of the bugle we all lay down on the bare floor for a sleep. The twenty-seven of us lay side by side with our heads towards the wall, our boots covered with our vests were our pillow. In spite of hunger and hardship I believe a more cheerful lot of prisoners could not be together. When the humours of evening abated, I went to sleep and slept well. So ended the 11th May.

PATRICK M. TUNNEY: D.C. Tailor, small farmer, poet and writer. Popular personality, always to the front in the National Movement. Died 1951 aged 64 years.

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