Momentum builds toward Dáil Éireann

Almost three weeks have passed since the results from the momentous General Election in December were announced. With international focus pointed squarely upon Paris and the commencement of the Peace Conference, moves were being made to convene the first meeting of an Irish legislative assembly, Dáil Éireann.

A second meeting of elected and un-imprisoned Republican MPs was held during the past week. Count Plunkett told his colleagues that he had presented an invitation to the first meeting of Dáil Éireann to the remaining elected Irish MPs but had received just one reply – a polite apology from Sir Robert Woods, the Tullamore-born Unionist MP from the Trinity College Constituency.

Plunkett announced that the first meeting of Dáil Éireann would be convened very soon, and that as so many of the elected members were imprisoned, all formalities and ceremony would be dispensed with as they needed to proceed with the important business at hand.[1]

[1] Nenagh Guardian, 18th January 1918

Prominent Nenagh Volunteer returns home

One of Nenagh’s most prominent Volunteers, Bill Hoolan, returned home to Nenagh following an eventful six month stay in Belfast Prison this week.

Whilst Tipperary GAA hero, Frank McGrath, may have been the most visibly prominent Volunteer in North Tipperary, the RIC noted that it was Hoolan who was ‘the leading spirit in the movement’.[1]

Along with Frank McGrath and Ned O’Leary, Hoolan was instrumental in the re-development of the Volunteer movement in North Tipperary in 1917. Following the death of Thomas Ashe in September 1917, and the decision of the National Executive to order all Volunteer Corps to drill in public for the first time since 1914, it was Hoolan who took the lead in Nenagh and addressed the movement in Courthouse Square before leading them in a rendition of the Soldier’s Song.

Like McGrath, and several other prominent Volunteers in the Nenagh area, Hoolan had been earmarked for arrest in April 1918. However, he received a tip-off from a friendly RIC Officer that North Tipperary County Council, where he worked, was going to be raided. Hoolan subsequently went on the run until 18 June when he was finally arrested and sentenced to six months in Belfast Prison.[2]

Hoolan’s confinement coincided with one of the most infamous prison riots in the history of the Crumlin Road Gaol. Hoolan was interred with several prominent republicans, including a group of Kerry Volunteers, led by Austin Stack. Stack had been organising a mass-break out of the prison for early December to coincide with the General Election, during which he was elected to the Kerry West constituency. However, an order from Michael Collins in Dublin blocked the plan, much to the dismay of Stack and, indeed, Hoolan. En-route back to Nenagh from Belfast, Hoolan called to Collins in his base on Bachelor’s Walk in Dublin and asked for the reasons why plans for prison break were scuppered. He was told in no uncertain terms ‘where to get off’, and that as Stack had not shared enough details of the plans with him, he would not authorise an operation that could have risked the lives of so many prominent Volunteers.[3]

However, shortly afterwards, another opportunity for the prisoners to generate some propaganda presented itself. The authorities in Crumlin Road had done their very best to avoid situations that the Volunteers and Sinn Féin could use for propaganda. They had given the inmates such special attention during the outbreak of Spanish Flu in the city, that not a single prisoner died of the outbreak, a near-unique survival statistic among His Majesty’s Prison Service at the time.

In November, a young Volunteer from Down, John Doran, was brought to the prison. He was awaiting trial by court martial and was kept away from the other Republicans in the prison. They were usually housed together in a separate wing of the prison. Austin Stack learned that Doran was soon going to be transferred to the criminal wing of a prison in Derry. He was determined to prevent this and wanted to secure Doran within the Republican wing.

The Sunday before Christmas, Doran joined the Republicans at morning mass and afterwards they smuggled him into their wing of the prison. When the Governor of the prison noticed, he told Stack that they were going to take Doran back by force if he was not given up. Stack was unrelenting and they duly barricaded themselves in. When they heard that the military were about to come in and seize Doran by force, Hoolan joined his fellow Volunteers in demolishing as much of the republican wing of the prison as they could.

Fionán Lynch, another prominent Kerry Volunteer in the prison at the time described the scene;

Prior to these events we had been mixing freely [with other prisoners] during the daytime and we arranged all kinds of sports and athletic contests amongst ourselves. We were allowed to have a fifty-six-pound weight for weight throwing and this ‘half hundred’ was soon to be brought into service for quite another purpose.

Amongst our number was a hefty young Kerry blacksmith who was easily the best of us at throwing the weight. His name was Tadhg Brosnan and he hailed from Castlegregory. To him was assigned the leading part in the destruction of the stairs and railings, and for this purpose he decided to use the weight.

He slung it by strong towels which he had bound together and pushed through the loop on top of the weight and it was an unforgettable sight to see him swing that half hundred as though it were no more than a light sledgehammer.

After Brosnan had wrecked the stairway he then proceeded to break six or seven of the main posts of the railings. A number of us grabbed these and gave them a big pull and push that sent them, railings, and all, hurtling to the ground below, smashing through the floor wrecking gas and water pipes, to the accompaniment of shouts of triumph … Whilst the demolition of the stairway and railings was in progress, Doran and a number of other six-footers were ordered to the attic to destroy the roof. This they accomplished most effectively by using broom handles to push out the slates along the entire wing. As one can imagine, the place was a shambles after it had been given the complete treatment, and we were effectively cut off from the jail authorities and their forces.[4]

Once on the roof, the republican prisoners began to sing ‘Soldier’s Song’ among other nationalist airs but were faced by a decidedly unfriendly crowd outside who began to throw stones at them. The riot lasted for a number of days, before a settlement was reached.

[1] NLI, Reports of Information received by the Special Branch, RIC, 1914-1917, (CO 904/122).

[2] Nenagh Guardian, 22 June 1918

[3] BMH WS 1,553, Bill Hoolan, p. 5.

[4] O'Donoghue, Florence. IRA Jailbreaks 1918-1921, p. 105.

Belfast Newsletter, 31 December 1918.

Derry Journal, 1 January 1919.

Two Political Prisoners moved to Maryborough Prison

From The Nationalist and Leinster Times, 18th January 1919

On Saturday last two of the political prisoners In Mountjoy Jail were removed to Maryborough Convict Prison, under a heavy guard of police and military, they created a scene by singing patriotic songs.

They were heard to say, "We will smash up this Jail as we did the other one." It appears the prisoners were some of a company of seven or eight who revolted In Mountjoy claiming illegal treatment. According to the "Independent" account, they broke windows and fixtures and generally damaged their cells. Alderman J J Kelly, one of the visiting justices, stated to an "Independent" Interviewer that he found a lot of glass smashed, fixtures in every cell torn down, all the utensils battered and broken, and in one case the bedclothes torn in pieces. The answer to the question as to why they had destroyed their cells was the same in all cases—"We do so because we were political prisoners and not criminals, and because we will die rather than be allocated with and treated as criminals." The prisoners, the Alderman said, are-educated and resolute young men, and -as one who had been an innocent victim of injustice in [a British prison before] he could not help sympathising with them and expressing admiration of their manliness and courage. Their spirit was such, he added, that no power on earth could break It, and it was madness for the Government to attempt to subdue them.

Local News Round-Up

McCurtin’s Bakers remain on Strike in Nenagh

The strike of the bakers employed at Mr W. F. McCurtin's, Castle-street, Nenagh, still continues. The local branch of the Transport Workers' Union, of which the men concerned are members, has charge of the case, and on Tuesday other employees in the establishment struck work in sympathy.

Mr Eamonn Hayes, Organiser of the Transport Workers' Union, who is conducting the case, explained that the men's demand was for a 10s per week increase on their present wages, or a reduction in the output, or that an extra man be employed. The two bakers, he said, worked 13 ½ hours per day, and were rarely finished before 7 o'clock in the evening. Their pay was 45s and 35s per week. They turned out 16 or 17 sacks weekly, so that they were paid less than 5s per sack, while the rate obtaining in other bakery establishments in the town was 6s per sack.

Mrs McCurtin, who manages the bakery business, said she did not wish any publicity in connection with the dispute, adding that the men had no case.[1]

Price of Beer

The Food Controller’s proposals for more stronger and cheaper beer cannot take effect until the new Cabinet is formed and agree to them. It is understood in England that the price of all beers of the new standard gravity or strength will be 3 d. a pint ... Although brewers have been greatly restricted in their output, and taxation has been raised, the have made tremendous profits during the war.[2]

International News Round-Up

The Paris Peace Conference opens on 18th January 1919 in the Salle d l’Horlage (Clock Hall) of the French Foreign Office in Paris. The opening meeting hears a passionate speech from the French President, Raymond Poincaré. He said

What gave them authority to establish a peace of justice was that more of the peoples had any part in the injustice of the war … Their victory had been complete, as the enemy had only asked for an armistice to escape irretrievable military disaster.

The solidarity which had united the Allies during the war should remain unimpaired during these negotiations.

If the map of the world was to be re-made it was on condition that they should faithfully interpret the thoughts and respect the rights of nations, small and great... they would establish a great League of Nations which would be a supreme guarantee against any fresh assault upon the rights of peoples.[3]

[1] Nenagh Guardian, 18th January 1919.

[2] Kilkenny People, 18th January 1919.

[3] Sunday Independent, 19th January 1919