A Chronicle of Jails
A CHRONICLE OF JAILS
“Jail Journals are always a fascinatingstudy. The self-recordedthoughts and impressions of manforcibly isolated from his fellowsin the solitude of the jail have acertain interest which is hard to explain.This is the case even whenthe recorder is a criminal. Butwhen, as in the present instance,the individual is a highly cultured‘political felon’ making his firstacquaintance with the means andmethods which twentieth centurycivilisation has provided for the reformationof those who transgressits laws, then, indeed, we have insuch a one’s ‘Jail Journal’ somethingof surpassing interest.”—Mac.
DUBLIN: THE TALBOT PRESS LTD.
BY THE SAME AUTHOR
- A Vision of Life (1909)
- The Crucibles of Time (1911)
- Queen Tara: A Tragedy (1913)
- The Mount of Transfiguration (1915)
- Broken Arcs (1911)
- Jacob Eltham (1914)
- Children of Earth (Shortly)
- Shakespeare: A Study (1911)
- Studies & Appreciations (1912)
- The Lyric Cry: An Anthology (Shortly)
- William Carleton
In “Every Irishman’s Library” (Shortly)
Printed at The Talbot Press, 89 Talbot Street, Dublin
THE LADY AT THE GATE
The following pages were writtenmainly as a record for myself of daysin which one’s private interest crossed awider national interest, and which thereforeseemed worthy of being set down with somecare and faithfulness. In passing them forpublication now it is necessary for me toapologise for their incompleteness in certainparticulars. That incompleteness is due tono fault of mine. It has been arranged torectify this by an edition at a subsequentdate, when the contrast of edition withedition will reveal other matters relative tothese days.
“On the Run,”
28th May, 1917.
A CHRONICLE OF JAILS
By Darrell Figgis
Tuesday, April 25th, 1916, was filled withsunshine, in token of the summer that was onthe way, while a keen wind from the northcame in reminder of the winter that was passing.The winter had been bad, and the spring butpoor, so that work on the land was delayed, andthere had been no fishing for the year. Yetthese things had not served me ill, for I hadbeen tied all hours with a book overdue withthe publisher. For some months I had beenstruggling with Calendars of State Papers, inwhich in their introductions English editorsrevealed so candidly the prejudice that markedtheir work. So that I waited about the houseduring the morning, loth to begin work, andlistening to the voices that came up from theland. The spring work was in full swing.Voices of men, voices of women, and the barkingof dogs, flowed over the land pleasantly.Nothing seemed further removed from the dayand its work than the noise of war.
Moreover, the post was late. This wasanother excuse for keeping from the desk. Ilooked along the half mile of the road till itbent behind the heath, looking for the rideron the horse that was our only connection withthe big world.
It was not till some hours after noon that,looking along the road for the post that was sounaccountably late, I saw a friend making herway toward the house on her bicycle. As shecame nearer and dismounted I could see thetraces of tears on her cheeks, and wondered.
“The post is very late,” I said.
“There is no post,” she replied, “but there’sterrible news. There has been fighting inDublin. They say Dawson Street is full ofdead and wounded men. The Volunteers holdthe General Post Office, the Bank of Ireland,and a number of buildings all over Dublin.They’ve been attacking the Castle, but I cannotfind out what happened there. The soldiersare attacking them everywhere with machineguns, and they say the slaughter is terrible.”
The mountains stood in the sunshine, calmand splendid, with a delicate mist clothing theirdark sides softly. The sea stretched out to thewestern horizon, its winter rage laid by, the sunglinting in the waves of the offshore wind likethe spears of a countless host, and the islandsof the bay, from Clare to Inish Bofin, lay in itswaters like wonderful jewels that shone in thesun. Into this world of delicate beauty camethis news, this tale of yet another attempt towin for a land so beautiful the freedom thatother lands knew. It was not strange that themind found some difficulty in adjusting itselfto perceive a tale that came like a stream ofblood across the day.
A week or so before, I had had a letter fromSheehy Skeffington telling me that the situationin Dublin was very strained. The constraintof the Censor was over the letter, and so littlenews was told. One knew, of course, thatDublin Castle was only looking for a chanceto seize the Volunteer leaders, and one knew thatthe Volunteers were stiff and pledged to theutmost resistance. And Sheehy Skeffington’sletter conveyed little more than that the situationwas daily becoming more and morestrained.
I turned for more news.
“Oh, I don’t know any more,” came theresponse. “The engine-driver of the Mailbrought whatever news there is. He said thatthe Volunteers held most of the railway stations,and that the bridges were blown up and thetracks destroyed. Fighting was going onthroughout the city when he left. That’s whathe says anyway, but nobody knows what tobelieve. It’s terrible to think of. The wholecountry was coming round to our way ofthinking, business men and responsible meneverywhere were waking up with your financialagitation and other things; and now it’s allspoilt. Everything will be worse than evernow.”
Already the news was spreading about theplace, and knots of men were standing on theroad in discussion. It was impossible to restin the house, and so we set off through thevillages to see if any further news could belearned. In one of the villages a Sunday’spaper was discovered, in which appeared theGeneral Order by Eoin MacNeill, as Presidentand Chief of Staff of the Volunteers, countermandingmanœuvres that had been ordered forSunday—Easter Sunday. That only complicatedthe matter. “Owing to the very criticalposition”—what critical position? What wasthe cause of the order? And if “each individualVolunteer” had been ordered to refrainfrom “parades, marches, or other movements,”how then came it about that there should bethis news of fighting? The original manœuvres,apparently, had been ordered for Sunday,whereas this news told of trouble that hadbroken out on Monday.
It was perplexing. The only thesis intowhich all the available parts seemed to fitwas that it was discovered that Dublin Castleproposed to take advantage of the manœuvreson Easter Sunday to disarm the Volunteers,and, finding itself baulked by this countermandingorder, had attacked headquarters andthe local centres on the following day. Thattallied with Sheehy Skeffington’s letter, andwas also all of a piece with the document whichAlderman Kelly had read at a meeting of theDublin Corporation some days previous. Andthat was accepted by us all as the most likelytheory to account for the facts.
It was a strange day. It was a strange week.If one’s countrymen were being attacked, prettyplain and clear one’s duty seemed; but howto put it into operation? Over eighteen monthsbefore—after the gun-running at Howth—Ihad been in command of the Volunteers forthe county, and at the time of the split I hadsought to hold both sides together in thecounty.
Since then I had held to my desk.
Whereas once there had been fivethousand Volunteers in the county, now twohundred exceeded their number.
The days were full of anxiety. A few of theolder people, in secure possession of theirpensions, cursed the “Sinn Feiners” roundly.But most were perplexed, and told one anothertales of those who in elder days had died forIreland. There was little else to tell. The airwas thick with rumours: rumours that werecontradicted as soon as they came. It wassaid that Cork and Limerick were “up,” andthat Kerry had seized the cable and wirelessstations. This was contradicted; and affirmedagain. Wexford, it was said, was “up,” andthe whole county in a blaze. Hard on thisfollowed news that Drogheda and Dundalk hadrisen and tried to destroy the railroads leadingto the north. This last was the only exactpiece of news that came from the east coast.More precise news came from Co. Galway,nearer home. The east coast news did notreach us till Wednesday and Thursday; buton Tuesday came news that Co. Galwaywas “up,” and that the Volunteers there wereunder the command of Liam Mellowes, who hadreturned from exile in England, disguised as apriest, and Kenny, a famous footballer. Itwas stated that they had marched on the cityof Galway, but had retired from there under thefire of gunboats, and had turned on Athenry,where they had encamped on one of the Department’sfarms. Thursday and Friday reportedthat this force had marched on Athloneand had destroyed the bridge there; but thatthey were under retreat before a strong force ofmilitary with artillery.
This was the only piece of news thatattempted to give details. Of Dublin nodetails could be learned, except that on theMonday Lancers had charged down O’ConnellStreet, but had broken in disorder under aheavy fire and had fled, leaving many slain.It was not till Thursday that the news of thetaking of the Bank of Ireland was contradicted;and at the same time it was reported thatDublin Castle was not taken. Buildings such asBoland’s Mill, Jacob’s Factory, and the FourCourts, were said to be in possession of theVolunteers, who were resisting desperately;but these names were not mentioned withany touch of authenticity, but rather like thenames and symbols of a fantastic legend.
It was difficult to know what to believe orknow. Each succeeding day, instead of clearingthe air with more precise news, thickened therumours that flew, until even what finally transpiredto be true seemed to possess the leastlikelihood of truth. The police posted reassuringbulletins on the telegraph poles, but nobodygave any heed to these. They were read, andturned from in silent, deep distrust. From themfirst came the news that Sir Roger Casementhad attempted to land on the coast of Kerrywith rifles from a German transport, but that hehad been arrested on landing in a small boat,and that the transport with rifles had beensunk. “German help is now at the bottomof the sea,” declared the notice. Nobodybelieved any particle of the notice. The factthat a few of the old-age pensioners clutchedthe news to themselves so avidly only deepenedthe distrust.
From the coastguards on Wednesday newswas circulated that the German Navy hadattacked in force on the East Coast of England,in the attempt to effect a landing for troops;but that all the German fleet was sunk and theEnglish fleet had lost two battleships. One ofthe coastguards’ wives, however, the followingday was heard to state that not two, but eightbattleships had been sunk on the English side;and this spread swiftly through the villages.Little comment was made on the change in thestory; and that fact was more significant thanmany words.
Such were the days of an anxious week.None knew what to believe, what to trust,or what to distrust. Work was impossible.Sleep even was almost impossible. We couldbut drift about and wait, when to do so seemedalmost like a tragic cowardice. What provedfinally to be well-grounded of the rumoursthat flew were disbelieved. What proved to befalse were the only matters in which any reliancewas placed. None doubted, for instance, thatCork and Limerick were “up,” or that WexfordCounty was in a blaze, or that Ballina, quitenear home, had captured Killala Bay. Noneplaced much reliance in the rumours of fiercefighting round Boland’s Mill and Jacob’s Factory.None doubted that Athlone Bridge had beenblown up and that the Galway boys were retreatingfrom the town, contesting every foot of theway against a large English force. Nonebelieved in the landing and capture of Casement.
One of the county papers published a specialedition on Thursday recording all the rumours.“The Mayo News,” however, refused in itsedition on the Saturday to print or give ordinarycirculation