Exhibition Launch is Fully Booked!

This coming Tuesday (30th April) we’ll be launching our exhibition at the Berkshire Record Office.

They’ll be live Irish music, refreshments, a chance to preview the exhibits outside of their glass cases, and three expert talks.

We’re now fully booked for the Tuesday event, but the exhibition will remain at the Berkshire Record Office for a month.

If you’re desperate to come to the launch, I can add you to my ever-increasing reserve list and will email you on Tuesday if a place becomes available. Please email: c.a.hanaway[at]reading.ac.uk.

We’re looking forward to seeing you there – it should be a great night.

 

 

Introducing the Internees: Terence MacSwiney

Terence MacSwiney was born on 28th March 1879 in Cork. After leaving school early to support his family, he worked as an accountancy clerk whilst studying at Royal University (now University College Cork); in 1907 he graduated with a degree in Mental and Moral Science.

Terence MacSwiney

Terence MacSwiney

Whilst at university, MacSwiney became interested in literature. Along with literary colleagues, in 1901 he founded the Celtic Literary Society and contributed many poems and pieces of criticism to the society’s journal; several were published under the pseudonym MacEireann (meaning ‘Son of Erin’). Like Figgis, MacSwiney became increasingly interested in the Irish language and culture and attended Gaelic League classes. In 1908, MacSwiney was part of the founding committee for the Cork Dramatic Society; he wrote a number of plays for the society, most of which dealt with Irishness. MacSwiney contributed to the weekly republican paper Fianna Fáil (‘Soldiers of Destiny’) before its suppression in December 1914. Despite his nationalist writings, in Principles of Freedom (1921), his posthumously published book of essays, MacSwiney is careful to distinguish between ‘propagandist’ literature and ‘art for art’s sake’. Both, according to MacSwiney, fail to help the cause of Irish freedom: propagandists reduce both heroes and villains to clichéd ‘puppets’ and lack the ability to laugh at their own people, whilst the producers of art for art’s sake focus on form over passion and are afraid to let any strong views shine through in their work. For MacSwiney, the ideal Irish writer will ‘will not be careless of form, but the passion that is in him will make simple words burn and live’.

Like Figgis, MacSwiney was a founding member of the Irish Volunteers. In April 1916, he was supposed to be second in command of the Easter Rising in Cork and Kerry, but by the time news of the Rising reached Cork British forces had already begun to supress the rebels, so MacSwiney’s part in the Rising was smaller than intended. Despite not playing an active role in the Easter Rising, MacSwiney, like Figgis, was arrested under the terms of the Defence of the Realm Act. He arrived at Reading Prison from the Frongoch Internment Camp on 11th July 1916. MacSwiney was name-checked, alongside twelve other Reading internees, in the Meath Chronicle on 12th August 1916. According to the reporter, MacSwiney and his fellow internees ate ‘their meals together’ and the ‘food supplied [was] considerably better than ordinary prison fare’. Like Figgis, MacSwiney was released from Reading Prison on 24th December 1916.

In February 1917 MacSwiney was arrested again and interned in Shrewsbury and Bromyard internment camps until his release in June 1917. Whilst interned, MacSwiney got married to Muriel Frances Murphy. In November 1917 he was arrested again and began a hunger strike in protest; he was released after four days. A few months later, in March 1918, MacSwiney was detained for nearly a year.

In December 1918, MacSwiney was elected as a Sinn Féin candidate for Mid-Cork; he became a founding member of the Irish parliament, the Dáil Éireann. In March 1920, he succeeded Tomás MacCurtain as lord mayor of Cork after MacCurtain’s death during the Irish War of Independence. However, MacSwiney’s term in office was cut short when he was arrested yet again on 12th August 1920. He was charged with sedition and possessing a police cipher code. Again, he began a hunger strike; as quoted by P. S. O’Hegarty in A short memoir of Terence MacSwiney (1922), MacSwiney stated: ‘I have taken no food since Thursday’; ‘I shall be free, alive or dead, within a month’.

This time, MacSwiney was not released. He survived seventy-four days, resisting force-feeding, then died on 25 October 1920. His death certificate stated his cause of death as ‘heart failure […] from prolonged refusal to take food’.

Introducing the Internees: Darrell Figgis

 

Childhood

Darrell Figgis was born in Dublin in 1882 (17th September), the same town and year as his more famous literary contemporary, James Joyce. Still in his infancy, Figgis moved to India where his father worked as a tea merchant. As a young adult, Figgis continued in the family business, working in the tea trade in London. Whilst in London Figgis developed a keen interest in literature; he began working at Dent publishers and started writing poetry and prose. He contributed creative and critical pieces to The New Age magazine; published two volumes of poetry, A Vision of Life (1909) and The Crucibles of Time (1911); and released his first novel Broken Arcs (1911).

 

Falling in Love with Literature

In 1913 Figgis moved back to Éire, settling on Achill Island in County Mayo, the largest island off the coast of Ireland. Like many of his contemporaries, he became part of the Gaelic Revival: he learnt Irish, absorbed himself in Irish culture, and began a series of four novels to be published under the pseudonym ‘Michael Ireland’ (the first of these novels was Jacob Elthorne, published in 1914, and the last was The Return of the Hero, published in 1923). In 1911 Figgis published a critical work – Shakespeare: A Story, and his first play, Queen Tara, was produced by Dublin’s Abbey Theatre in 1913.

 

Nationalist Leanings

Figgis joined the Irish Volunteers in Dublin in 1913, and in August 1914, he was involved in the ‘Kilcoole Gun-Running” episode. After a meeting in London, Figgis, Erskine Childers, and Roger Casement purchased 1,500 German Mauser rifles and ammunition for the Irish Volunteers. The ammunition was successfully transported to Ireland on two yachts. Although Figgis was not directly involved in the Easter Rising, his gun-running activities resulted in his arrest on 11th May 1916 under the Defence of the Realm Act.

Darrell Figgis, with thanks to the Irish Newspaper Archives and the Irish Independent, 26 May 1916

Darrell Figgis, with thanks to the Irish Newspaper Archives and the Irish Independent, 26 May 1916

 

Prison Life

Figgis was first held at Castlebar Jail (County Mayo), then detained in Richmond Barracks (Dublin) before being confined at Stafford Jail (England), then transferred to H.M. Place of Internment, Reading on 10th July 1916. Figgis writes about his time in prison in A Chronicle of Jails (1917). He admired Reading Prison’s design: ‘the gaol is a handsome building, erected in red brick after the manner of an old castle’. However, he was not so admiring of the town itself: ‘Reading being set deep in a valley at the confluence of two rivers, as an unhealthy town’. Through reading law books and lobbying the prison staff, Figgis managed change lights out time from 8 to 10 pm, increase visiting and letters allowance, and up the internees’ prison wages (for cleaning work) so that they could buy better meals from the canteen. Despite these improvements, Figgis writes that ‘we all felt the deathly system of prison life like an oppression on us, blotting out all intellectual life and making a blank of mind and soul’. Along with the majority of Reading’s Irish internees, Figgis was released on Christmas Eve 1916.

 

Moving into Politics

In 1917, Figgis was made Honorary Secretaries of the Sinn Féin party, who were winning by-elections and going form strength to strength. In 1918, Figgis became editor of the newspaper The Republic and was arrested for a second time (again for his part in the German gun-running plot). From 1919 to 1921, Figgis was head of the Commission of Inquiry into the Resources and Industries of Ireland. During this time, a rift developed between Figgis and Michael Collins, the Minister for Finance, which was to continue for several years. After the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty (an agreement that Ireland was now a self-governing nation) on 6 December 1921, it was necessary to draft a constitution for the new Irish Free State. Arthur Griffith (leader Sinn Féin) wanted Figgis to chair the Constitution Committee, but Michael Collins nominated himself for the position instead, deepening the rift between himself and Figgis.

 

Becoming a Victim

Over the next couple of years, Figgis suffered two freak attacks. The first occurred while Figgis was at a political meeting; they were interrupted by a British Army raid in which Captain Cyril Crawford condemned Figgis and said he should be hanged. The second attack took place in Figgis’s home: a Republican gunman broke in, assaulted Figgis and his wife then cut off half of Figgis’s beard. In 1923, Figgis was involved in a corruption scandal which resulted in him resigning from the newly formed Irish Broadcasting Committee: Figgis denied the accusations, which included the allegation that he had used to political influence to gain government contracts for friends.

 

Tragic Ends

In 1924, Figgis’s wife Millie committed suicide. The following year Figgis’s new love, Rita North, died as the result of a botched abortion. On 27th October 1925, Figgis himself committed suicide, just a week after giving evidence at Rita’s inquest.

Reading Gaol: A Very Short History

 

The New Gaol at Reading

In 1844, H.M. Prison, Reading, was built on the site the old county gaol (built in 1785), beside the River Kennet. The castle-like cruciform building, designed by George Gilbert Scott, was based on Pentonville Prison, London (built two years earlier in 1842). These innovative penitentiaries were designed to keep inmates apart, a method of prison discipline known as ‘the separate system’. The new Reading Prison had 250 individual cells; 4 men’s wings; 1 virtually self-contained women’s wing; a flat roof for performing executions; luxury housing for the prison chaplain and governor; and a turret each for the matron, deputy-governor and two other prison officers. The new goal’s first prisoner was Abraham Boswell who was sentenced to 6 months with hard labour for sexually assaulting a toddler. The first prisoner to be executed was Thomas Jennings; he was accused of poisoning his son but protested his innocence right up until he was put to death. The Irish author, Oscar Wilde, was probably the gaol’s most famous resident. On 20th November 1895, Wilde was transferred to Reading from Wandsworth Prison (via Newgate and Pentonville); he had been sentenced to 2 years with hard labour after being found guilty of gross indecency. In his poem, The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898), Wilde calls the prison a ‘pit of shame’ and describes his cell as a ‘foul and dark latrine’. In the same year as Wilde’s poem was published, the 1898 Prison Act was passed, calling for more humane living conditions and the abolition of hard labour.

 

Courtesy of Reading Central Library

Courtesy of Reading Central Library

A Place of Internment

In 1915 Reading Prison was re-designated ‘H.M. Place of Internment’. Over the course of the war, Reading played host to various ‘aliens’; the majority were inmates of German origin but Latin Americans, Belgians, and Hungarians were also interned. As detailed in my previous blog post, in July 1916, the ‘aliens’ were joined by the ‘Irish’ – a group of 37 men who had been involved (either directly or indirectly) in the Easter Rising and were interned without trial under the terms of 1914 Defence of the Realm Act.

 

Reading Prison Today

In 1992, Reading Prison was re-designated as an H.M. Remand Centre for Young Offenders, taking inmates aged 18 to 21. ‘B’ and ‘C’ wings were demolished to make way for a football pitch, other recreational areas (housing gym equipment, pools tables, computers, and televisions), and educational facilities. The Centre now holds young men up to the age of 26 in their stage 2 resettlement unit.

Naming Names: Reading’s Nominal Register

I began my research by leafing through Reading Prison’s 1916-18 Nominal Register for ‘Aliens & Irish’ (held at the Berkshire Record Office)…

Aliens & Irish 3_edited for web (2)

During the First World War, prison populations dwindled due to increased employment opportunities and the army’s recruitment drive. As noted by Peter Southerton in The Story of a Prison (1975), ‘by November 1915, the inmate population of Reading prison had fallen to a mere 71’ (p. 127). Instead of holding traditional criminals, prisons accommodated foreign nationals who were suspected of spying and/ or having anti-British sympathies; Reading Prison was redesignated ‘H.M. Place of Internment’. Over the course of the war, Reading played host to various ‘aliens’; the majority were inmates of German origin but Latin Americans, Belgians, and Hungarians were also interned.

In July 1916, the ‘aliens’ were joined by the ‘Irish’ – a group of around 35 men who had been involved (either directly or indirectly) in the Easter Rising. The Nominal Register tells us that the majority of the men were transferred from Frongoch Internment Camp, but others came from Wakefield Prison, Knutsford Prison, Stafford Prison, and Woking Prison. They were interned without trial under the terms of 1914 Defence of the Realm Act and housed in the E Wing, formally the women’s prison.

The Nominal Register gives us an insight into the kinds of people these Irish internees were. We know their heights (they ranged between 5’2” and  6’1”, with most being around 5’7”); ages (between 20 and 55, with most being around 30); hair colours (mostly brown or dark brown); religions (mostly Roman Catholic, but not all); and jobs (farmers, builders, clerks, secretaries,  shopkeepers, printers, book-keepers, teachers, solicitors, doctors, authors, several journalists, one musical instrument maker, one house furnisher, one harbour official, one ironmonger, one motor agent, one sailor, one unemployed, one insurance officer, and one painter).

The register also gives us the names and birth places of each Irish internee. Some inmates are of particular note (as politicians and authors) and were written about in the Irish press – see below (with thanks to Irish Newspaper Archives and the Meath Chronicle, 12 August 1916).

 

Meath Cronicle, Aug 12 1916 Headline

Meath Cronicle, Aug 12 1916

 

Some of these ‘big names’  – plus other interesting indivuals – will be getting their own blog posts in due course. Watch this space!

Welcome to the ‘Enemies of the State’ blog!

 

Hello and welcome!

 

I’m Cleo Hanaway, Cultural Engagement Officer for the ‘Enemies of the State’ project. Also involved in the project are: Professor Peter Stoneley, Joanna John, Dr Lawrence McNamara, and Mark Stevens.

 

Cleo Hanaway, Cultural Engagement Officer for 'Enemies of the State'

Cleo Hanaway, Cultural Engagement Officer for ‘Enemies of the State’

The ‘Enemies of the State’ project is a collaboration between the Department of English Literature at the University of Reading and Berkshire Record Office and is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) as part of their Cultural Engagement Fund pilot scheme.

We seek to engage new, local, non-academic audiences with under-used archives on the internment of Irish patriots in Reading Prison following the 1916 Easter Uprising. We will show the wider contemporary significance of the archives by making linkages between internment following the Easter Rising and post-9/11 issues of counter-terrorism and civil liberties.

 

On the evening of Tuesday 30th April 2013 we will be launching an exhibition of some of the most fascinating items from the archives. There will be short talks by experts on Irish history, prisons, and contemporary counter-terrorism, refreshments, and the chance to ask any questions you might have about the project and the issues it deals with. The event will take place at the Berkshire Record Office – details to follow.

 

In the meantime, I’ll be updating you on my research finds and any project developments here on this blog.