1916 - 1917

'The finest men alive': Documents of imprisonment & protest, 1916–17 

University College Dublin Archives

An exhibition of documents concerning those imprisoned in Irish and British jails following the 1916 Rising until the general amnesty of June 1917.

Note from Eamon de Valera, Kilmainham Prison to Jack Barrett, Co. Kilkenny, 9 May 1916
"My Dear Jack, I am to be shot for my part in the Rebellion. It would be easy to die but for the poor wife with her helpless little ones. Should you find it possible in later years to advise her as to what she shd do with the children I know you will do it. Remember me to your mother [Sherin] & the others. Pray for me. Dev." [UCDA P150/539 Papers of Eamon de Valera]
Letter from Bernard O'Rourke, Richmond Barracks, Dublin to his wife Clare [13 May 1916] 
Letter written on paper headed ‘YMCA with H.M. Forces on Active Service’ given to O’Rourke by a sentry. "Things are doing well with me here and I am quite comfortable and have a room full of the finest men alive. All from the West & South of Ireland. We have the rosary every night and morning in Irish. Just songs & dances all day, we have not a dull moment." [UCDA P117/3 Papers of Bernard O'Rourke]
Mountjoy jail receipt, 17 May 1916 
Receipt for the personal possessions and clothing of prisoner Edward de Valera. Signed by De Valera on his transfer to H.M. Prison Dartmoor on 17 May 1916. Notes his height (6”), weight (11st. 9lbs.) and distinguishing features (‘mole on left side of chin’) on the back of the receipt in De Valera’s hand. This document was returned to De Valera by Patrick Diamond, Belfast in 1935. [UCDA P150/525 Papers of Eamon de Valera] 
Letter from Bernard O’Rourke, Richmond Barracks, Dublin to his wife Clare, 19 May 1916 
Describes the food rations in Richmond Barracks: ‘... in fact we are giving some of it leftover to the Tommies who are very glad to get it. They say they wish they were as well treated. The menu yesterday was breakfast rashers, tea, bread, butter, jam, marmalade. Anyone who did not like tea could have cocoa or coffee. Dinner, roast beef & cabbage & potatoes, cheese & butter & bread. Tea at 5 o’clock, same as breakfast only without the rashers’
Typescript copy letter from Mabel FitzGerald, Co. Wicklow to the Brigadier General, Richmond Barracks, 22 May 1916 
FitzGerald writes concerning the severe sentence served on her husband Desmond. "…as my husband was a non-combatant and held no rank whatever in the Volunteers and as I understand from him that Lieut. King who was a prisoner in the G.P .O. made a deposition that he was a non-combatant, I think some grave blunder has been made in sentencing him to twenty years penal servitude, a blunder which is not by any means rectified by the remittance of ten years." [UCDA P80/1577 Papers of Desmond & Mabel FitzGerald]
Letter to Mabel FitzGerald from T. M. Healy, House of Commons, 24 May 1916 
"Madam, By public & private remonstrances, we have tried to obtain better conditions & are slowly succeeding. If Martial Law were got rid of, it wd be possible to secure more improvement, but when we reproached Govt yesterday with the Dublin prisoners, Mr John OConor trotted out the grand state of Wakefield Jail! A nation which elects such a representative, must bear the consequences. Until today the leading Redmondites remained silent. I shall bear your husband’s case in mind & trust before long an Amnesty may clear the jails. Truly yours TM Healy" [UCDA P80/1581 Papers of Desmond & Mabel FitzGerald]
Letter from Eoin MacNeill (Prisoner No. 58), HM Prison Dartmoor to his wife Agnes, Dublin 1, June 1916 
Printed instructions for written communications between prisoners and their friends and family. [UCDA LA1/K/142 Papers of Eoin MacNeill]
Letter from Harry Nicholls, HM Prison Knutsford to his sister Kathleen, 2 June 1916 
"I was very glad to get your card to let me know that I was not forgotten about, the numbers you must have to think of. I was one of the first batch sent across and arrived here early on the morning of the 1st May and up to last Saturday we had an awful time — solitary confinement except for one hours exercise in the day which consisted of marching in single file round a yard with three paces between each man and the next …" [UCDA P120/56 Papers of Denis McCullough]
Letter from W.P . Boyles, House of Commons Library to Fr Humphreys, 1 June 1916 
"We are assured to-day by the Prime Minister that all innocent persons arrested and imprisoned in connexion with the Irish rebellion are being released as rapidly as possible. I have put in a plea for several of them and will take care that your sister’s son shall not be forgotten. What a bloody business it has been!" [UCDA P106/567 Papers of Sighle Humphreys]
Letter from Kate FitzGerald, [London] to Mabel FitzGerald, 14 June 1916 
Kate FitzGerald outlines the activities of the Ladies Committee in supplying food and clothes and visiting the prisoners in Wandsworth. "I am just back from the Meeting. I enclose the Agenda. Mrs Gavan Duffy, Mrs Ginnell, Mrs Dryhurst, Miss Maggie Coles, Miss Flannery, & several others whose names I didn’t catch were there. It was most business like. Mrs Ginnell is Sec. for that Ladies Committee. Clothes & food are to be supplied to Wandsworth, where another Committee has been formed of the prisoners with S.T. Kelly at its head. All supplies will be sent to him & his committee will deal with them. This will prevent overlapping prisoners. There was also a list of unvisited prisoners, and we were each given 3. Mine are T. Nelson, Dublin, Pat O’Brien, Galway, and G. Nosgrove, Dublin. There are also letters to be written to those prisoners who do not receive any otherwise. We’ll get the names of these in due course from Mrs Ginnell." [UCDA P80/1621 Papers of Desmond & Mabel FitzGerald]
Typescript copy of Eamon de Valera’s account of meeting Eoin MacNeill in HM Prison Dartmoor, [June 1916] 
This account was dictated by De Valera to Marie O’Kelly in 1959. "He [De Valera] always had for McNeill respect and high regard. Feeling that McNeill might be depressed, expecting, under the circumstances, to be coldly received by the prisoners, de Valera made up his mind to cheer him. He determined to use the first occasion that came his way to show him regard." [UCDA P150/526 Papers of Eamon de Valera]
Peter Paul Galligan's prison notebook, 27 January–26 February 1917 
Peter Paul Galligan’s approved prison notebook issued by HM Prison Lewes. Galligan’s notebook includes drawings of constellations, lists of books read, works on astronomy, political histories and biographies and devotional works. Notes on history include extracts from Arthur Hassall’s ‘The history of France’ and Louis Antoine Fauvelet de Bourrienne’s ‘Memoirs of Napoleon Bonaparte’. Notes on the Irish language include points of grammar and vocabulary. [UCDA P25/1 Papers of Peter Paul Galligan]
Peter Paul Galligan's prison notebook, 27 January–26 February 1917 
Peter Paul Galligan’s approved prison notebook issued by HM Prison Lewes with the conditions for use clearly printed on the inside cover. [UCDA P25/1 Papers of Peter Paul Galligan]
Desmond Ryan's prison diary, June 1916–April 1917
Small diary for the year 1913, in which Desmond Ryan writes brief accounts of life in HM Prison Stafford (June–July 1916) and at Frongoch internment camp (11–27 July 1916). It was unusual for a prisoner to keep a personal diary. [UCDA LA10/332 Papers of Desmond Ryan]
Copybook entitled: ‘Three Months: Spent as an Irish Prisoner of War in Stafford Military Detention Barracks and the Internment Camp, Frongoch...’ August 1916 
This account of Ryan’s experiences of imprisonment following the 1916 Rising was written in St Enda’s College, Rathfarnham. Ryan warns the reader that ‘these scattered and perhaps contradictory notes’ are written ‘as a record of not only facts, but of opinions which may change later’. He discusses the treatment given to the rebels by the British forces after their arrest as well as his thoughts on Patrick Pearse and other aspects of the Rising. "The Shell of Our prison: Military Records Yards, landings, stone-flagged halls, innumerable bells, name boards, shouting and drilled and righteous puppets, the stolid English sadly watching the brilliant and erratic Irish - that was the first impression they conveyed to us. Next they allowed us every privilege owing to their foolish toleration - only to be found in the British Empire...’" [UCDA LA10/333 Papers of Desmond Ryan]
Letter from Eoin MacNeill, HM Prison Lewes to his sister Margaret, Dublin, 23 March 1917 
"I have plenty of interesting chats with fellow prisoners. De Valera enjoys scientific matters. Cosgrave is as much interested in the housing of the working classes as if he were at home in Dublin. FitzGerald talks about literature, There is a Mr. MacMahon who was manager for a milling company at Ardee — with him we discuss food economics (among other things) & he thinks my notion is quite feasible of reviving the production of oatmeal from oats as a home industry." [UCDA LA1/G/150 Papers of Eoin MacNeill]
Secret despatch from file of material relating to De Valera’s detention in HM Prison Lewes, 23 April 1917
The file includes original and typescript transcripts of despatches from Comdt de Valera to Simon Donnelly, acting O/C ‘C’ Company, 3rd Battalion, Dublin Brigade during Easter Week. The despatches were smuggled out of HM Prison Lewes by Gerard Crofts, sewn into scapulars worn around his neck. Donnelly informed Michael Collins and Cathal Brugha of their contents. ‘...as regards ourselves here we apparently have won the last battle for we talk fifty times as much now as ever before but we are now into a new struggle again. They cut down our food rations last week. Were we to submit to the new regime our health would be ruined, at least that of many of us.’ [UCDA P150/529 Papers of Eamon de Valera]
Secret despatch from file of material relating to De Valera’s detention in HM Prison Lewes, 23 April 1917
De Valera’s instructions on what to do if prisoners are to be sent to other prisons "(1) Refuse to put on civilian clothes for the journey — we must therefore be taken in convict garb. (2) Refuse to give parole for the journey — we will therefore be chained or they will have to send a very strong escort — we will sing songs on the journey if we go in groups. (3) Refuse at any time to go home on “ticket of leave” " [UCDA P150/529 Papers of Eamon de Valera]
Copy of letter from Harry Boland to his mother, June 1917 
The original letter was dropped by Boland on the street in Lewes during his transfer from HM Prison Lewes to HM Prison Maidstone in June 1917. It was picked up by an Englishwoman and forwarded to Boland’s mother in Dublin. Describes their attempts in Lewes to demand prisoner of war status. "I am on my way to some other Prison in Irons. Just left Lewes after a terrible time there since last Whit Monday at 8 am when our leaders presented our demand to the prison authorities asking that we be treated as Prisoners of War, refusing to do any work or obey an orders as long as we were treated as criminals." [UCDA P106/1304 Papers of Sighle Humphreys]
Printed leaflet: text of letter from Harry Boland to his mother, [June 1917]
Kathleen Boland brought the original letter to Michael Collins, who published it as a leaflet. On 10 June 1917, it was read out at a protest meeting at Beresford Place. Clashes with police erupted and Inspector John Mills was fatally wounded after being struck by a hurley. [UCDA P150/529 Papers of Eamon de Valera]
Questionnaire for ex-prisoners, compiled by the Penal Reform League, completed by Eoin MacNeill, 20 June 1917 
Concerns MacNeill’s experiences in Dartmoor and Lewes jails, with remarks on segregation, sanitation, medical attendance, wardens, prison work, study facilities, governors, and visiting regulations. "Any remarks on food as to (e) any noteworthy ill-effects upon yourself or others? I believe that in general the food was repulsive to persons of delicate appetite, and it was insufficient for the younger prisoners, some of whom were growing youths." [UCDA LA1/G/158 Papers of Eoin MacNeill]
Letter from Con O’Leary, Manchester to Mary MacSwiney, 15 July 1916 
"I hope you will pardon me for not writing before. I am not well in touch with many people here, as it is only recently that I succeeded in emancipating myself from the fatuous crowd of old politicians! I think that process is going on everywhere to-day. There has been a revolution in thought and feeling and purpose, as well as in fact." [UCDA P48a/109 Papers of Mary MacSwiney]
Secret despatch from file of material relating to De Valera’s detention in HM Prison Lewes, April 1917
"We have been of the opinion from the beginning that electoral contests in which we are represented officially as taking part are most dangerous and likely to damage the good done by last Easter’s events." [UCDA P150/529 Papers of Eamon de Valera]
Secret despatch from file of material relating to De Valera’s detention in HM Prison Lewes, April 1917
"As soldiers (Irish Volunteers etc) we should abstain officially from taking sides in these contests and no candidates should in future be officialy recognised as standing in our interests or as representing our ideals. That is our opinion." [UCDA P150/529 Papers of Eamon de Valera]
Secret despatch from file of material relating to De Valera’s detention in HM Prison Lewes, 23 April 1917
"The most important point at present is the political & Peace Conference position. We hope that no demand less than that of absolute independence will be made at the Peace Conference. If delegates are sent and are admitted they should be given no powers of agreeing to anything less."  [UCDA P150/529 Papers of Eamon de Valera]
Secret despatch from file of material relating to De Valera’s detention in HM Prison Lewes, 23 April 1917
"I [De Valera] hope the Irish Volunteers (those who obeyed McNeill as well as those who turned out) are banded together again." [UCDA P150/529 Papers of Eamon de Valera]
Secret despatch: Final Order — Whit Monday Whit Monday, 1917 
Written by Eamon de Valera. "Comrades. We are all soldiers of the Irish nation. It is our duty to maintain our dignity as such fighting for it whenever we get the opportunity. The Irish people demand that we be given the status of prisoners of war. It is our duty to co-operate. No one need hesitate: we have the express approval of our friends at home. They know what we are about to do and they know to what we are liable. We must no longer allow it to appear that we are satisfied to be classed as criminals — bribed by a few privileges. What superior power enforces you cannot prevent but you can show that all England’s might cannot degrade you." [UCDA P150/529 Papers of Eamon de Valera ]
Letter from Eoin MacNeill, Weston-Super-Mare, en route to HM Prison Dartmoor, to his wife Agnes, 31 May 1916 
MacNeill describes his journey along with ten others and an escort of the ‘Dublins’ [Royal Dublin Fusiliers].  "We left Dublin by LNW Ry Steamer about 7.30. We have an escort of the Dublins, good decent men, a pleasure to meet. We got to Holyhead about midnight, then came on by train thro’ Crewe, Birmingham…" [UCDA LA1/G/132 Papers of Eoin MacNeill]
Letter from Private John O’Brien, B Company, 10th Royal Dublin Fusiliers, to Agnes MacNeill, 8 June 1916 
"Dear Madam, Kindly pardon the liberty I take in addressing you. I am one of the twenty Dublin Fusiliers who escorted Mr MacNeill and some other prisoners to England last week. After travelling about half the journey Mr MacNeill asked me to write and let you know that he was all right. Subsequently I succeeded in procuring some notepaper and envelopes so he himself was able to write. Did the letter reach you? I posted it with ten other letters in London. I should have called upon you but thought it would be rather too great a liberty for a man in khaki. Rusting your received the letter. Yours faithfully, John O’Brien" [UCDA LA1/G/134 Papers of Eoin MacNeill]
Letter from Agnes MacNeill, Dublin to her husband Eoin, HM Prison Dartmoor, 1 June 1916 
This letter featuring handwritten notes to Eoin MacNeill from his children, is from a series of seventeen letters between MacNeill and his wife Agnes mainly relating to conditions in prison and events at home, particularly the childrens’ progress at school. "I was very sorry when I heard of the sentence you got. All the priests at school simpathised (sic) with us and were inquiring for Mháthair. We all hope to see you soon again. Brian There seems to be something missing here without you and we all feel rather sorry. I wil do my best to obedient because I hope it will please both you and Mháthair. Toir [Turlough] Dear Athair I would love to see you again, with love and pógs. Máire" [UCDA LA1/K/142 Papers of Eoin MacNeill]
Letter from Seamus MacNeill, Belfast to his father Eoin, 18 March 1917
"My dear Athair, I hope you are well, ... Would you write me a letter soon, Father ... We were making the Novena to St Patrick for you & Ireland." [UCDA LA1/K/142 Papers of Eoin MacNeill]
Letter from Austin Stack, Richmond Barracks, Dublin to Mabel FitzGerald, 4 June 1916 
My dear Mrs FitzGerald, I take courage to write you. I was ashamed not to have done so when Desmond was imprisoned last December. It must have been a severe trial on you to have little Pierce at deaths door in the absence of his father. But thank God the lad was spared. I saw Desmond but once after coming up here, and, unfortunately, was not able to have a word with him. A salute was all that passed between us, and next day I heard he had been tried (?). Perhaps some day soon I may meet him and tell him how Kathleen is going on. I pray that he may return to you strong in health. I know his ardour will not be diminished. I am to be before Courtmartial on the 14th, and shall face result without fear. Accept my kindest regards for self & children. Some day I shall meet you again with God’s help. Very sincerely yours, Austin Stack [UCDA P80/1600 Papers of Desmond & Mabel FitzGerald]
Typescript copy reply from Mabel FitzGerald, Co. Wicklow, to a letter from the Governor, HM Prison Dartmoor, 22 June 1916 
FitzGerald thanks the Governor for relaying information concerning the location of The O’Rahilly’s bicycle and to let her husband know it has been recovered. She also asks him to inform her husband about his son’s health. "I should be glad if you would tell my husband that owing to sudden and growing deafness our elder boy had to have an operation for Adenoids last week and that it was performed very skilfully by a Dublin Specialist, Dr Oliver Gogarty and was a complete success; the child has recovered his hearing, and is now in excellent health." [UCDA P80/1604 Papers of Desmond & Mabel FitzGerald]
Typescript letter from the Governor, HM Prison Dartmoor, to Mabel FitzGerald, Co. Wicklow, 5 July 1916 
"Madam, Your letter to the above named has been stopped by the Censor. You may send him another but you must confine yourself to domestic matters & avoid politics. Your letter must also be limited to one sheet of foolscap script or its equivalent. I am, Madam, Your obedient Servant, E. Reade, Governor" [UCDA P80/1605 Papers of Desmond & Mabel FitzGerald]
Visitor permission slip, 25 June 1916 
This permission slip allows Mary McSwiney to visit Terence McSwiney at Frongoch Prisoner of War Camp on 27 June 1916. [UCDA P48a/109 Papers of Mary MacSwiney]
Letter from J.W. Bacon, Secretary, University College Dublin, to Agnes MacNeill, 12 July 1916 
Letter concerns the payment of her husband’s salary while he is imprisoned. "Yesterday our Solicitor sent me Counsel’s opinion about your husband’s case. It is to the effect that we are to pay his salary to the date of conviction to the administrator appointed under the Act of Parliament which deals with these matters. I understand from the Solicitor that the Crown appoints the Administrator and he thinks that you will be appointed as a matter of course." [UCDA LA1/G/137 Papers of Eoin MacNeill] 
Letter from Margaret Pearse (sister of Patrick and William Pearse), St Enda’s College, Rathfarnham to Mabel FitzGerald, 16 July 1916 
Pearse thanks FitzGerald for the message of sympathy concerning the execution of her brother. "First I must thank you for your kind words about my good brother. Life for us will never again be the same, & yet it is such a strange mixture of grief & pride. May God bless the boy & all who stood by him. You have your own great trial, but it won’t be for very long. Time will bring many changes." [UCDA P80/1606 Papers of Desmond & Mabel FitzGerald]
St Patrick’s Day card sent to Eamon de Valera, [March 1917]
One example of the St Patrick's Day cards sent to De Valera while he was in prison. Several cards include shamrocks or shamrock seeds. [UCDA P150/532 Papers of Eamon de Valera]
Letter from Phyllis Ryan, Dublin, to her brother James Ryan, HM Prison Stafford, 6 June 1916 
"Kit (as you may have heard came out of Mountjoy yesterday morning, also Kathleen Browne, Miss Gifford, Miss Ffrench Mullen, and Miss Shiggins. We gave them a great reception coming out, there were a great crowd of us up outside the Prison, a lot of university students, and outsiders too. We took Kathleen & Kit home here in a taxi, and they are both here still. Nell is not out yet. But I think she will be in a day or two. The Count & Countess Plunkett have been ordered away to live in Oxford by the 10th June.  & Dr. Kathleen Tynan to Bath by the same date. Kit is lucky to get off anyway. And I am sure we’ll have Nell soon. There’s only yourself now." [UCDA P88/8 Papers of James Ryan]
Letter from Con O’Leary, Manchester to Terence MacSwiney, 2 September 1916 
"On the boat going across I fell in with 31 prisoners on their way home, after having been released from Frongoch. Though I had secured a bunk I came up on deck in order to be with them all night. They were all in good form, and sang a martial song, “Soldiers are We”, as we steamed up Dublin Bay. It gave one queer thrills. One of them had eleven wounds, but was the merriest of the company. There were many wounded men among them. One of the party was a brother of J.J. Walsh, and another was Willie O’Brien, who had been a chemist’s assistant at Queenstown, and whom I knew at University College." [UCDA P48b/192 Papers of Terence MacSwiney]
Letter from Thomas Gogarty CC, Parochial House, Louth to Eoin MacNeill, 19 June 1917 
"It is with genuine pleasure that I extend to you from this remote spot, a cordial welcome home. I thank God that you were spared in the terrible orgy of the courtsmartial, and that you will soon be strong enough to do whatever work for Ireland comes to your hand." [UCDA LA1/H/19 Papers of Eoin MacNeill]
Letter from Margaret Macken, Dublin to Eamon de Valera, 18 June 1917 
"A hundred thousand welcomes to you! A hero among heros your name must ever inspire young Ireland with a Patriotism beyond compare, an with ideas if unattainable at any rate to be striven after." [UCD P150/534 Papers of Eamon de Valera]
Postcard from Una Whelan to  Peter Paul Galligan, 13 July 1917
Image depicts the release of Countess Markievicz in June 1917. [UCDA P25/8 Papers of Peter Paul Galligan]
Postcard from Una Whelan to  Peter Paul Galligan, 13 July 1917
Una Whelan praises the 'splendid victory' [Sinn Féin by-election success]. Recounts meeting 'Kavanagh' who gave her a button from the tunic worn by Joseph Plunkett at his execution. Countess Markievicz is depicted on the front of the postcard showing her arriving at Liberty Hall on the return of IRA prisoners to Dublin in June 1917. [UCDA P25/8 Papers of Peter Paul Galligan]
Typescript note dictated by Eamon de Valera to Marie O'Kelly in 1964
De Valera when he heard about the impending general amnesty while he was in HM Prison Maidstone."This was the position when in a few days it was whispered about that they were going to be released. The Irish prisoners were sumond (sic) in a body to the governor's room to be given the news of Bonar Law's statement. De Valera had the word passed round that the were to show no signs of elation; they were to receive the news of their freedom with the same calm with which they received the sentences of bread and water." [UCDA P150/538 Papers of Eamon de Valera]
UCD Archives
Credits: Story


Papers of Eamon de Valera (UCDA P150) items from the De Valera Papers are reproduced by kind permission of UCD-OFM Partnership; Papers of Desmond and Mabel FitzGerald (UCDA P80); Papers of Peter Paul Galligan (UCDA P25); Papers of Liam S. Gógan (UCDA LA27); Papers of Sighle Humphreys (UCDA P106); Papers of Sean MacEntee (UCDA P67); Papers of Eoin MacNeill (UCDA LA1); Papers of Mary MacSwiney (UCDA P48a); Papers of Terence MacSwiney (UCDA P48b); Papers of Denis McCullough (UCDA P120); Papers of Thomas McPartlin (UCDA P19); Papers of Bernard O'Rourke (UCDA P117); Papers of Desmond Ryan (UCDA LA10) Papers of James Ryan (UCDA P88)

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