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1919 Cork. [April, May, June 1919]

Memoirs Of George Lennon

4. 1919 Cork. [April, May, June 1919]

When we arrived at the gaol our handcuffs were removed and we were taken to the part of the prison where the regular prisoners were incarcerated. Some of the political prisoners had been discriminated against and almost all the other politicals had gone on strike in sympathy with them. All had been bodily removed to a disused part of the old gaol known as Wing No. 10. We soon made our intentions known and the police were brought in to deal with us. On being asked if we would walk peacefully to No. 10; or if we wanted to be dragged, we quite sensibly decided to walk.

My cell in No. 10 was anything but luxurious. After they had taken my shoes away and locked me in, I had ample time to survey my new home for the next three months to come. The bed was something that looked like the lid of a coffin, covered by a hard mattress and pillow, a sheet and two army blankets. Nothing else but a sanitary utensil and a wooden salt cellar. We had to eat our meals on the floor. My predecessor had vented his wrath on the window, bursting out every last vestige of glass, he had also gouged out some minor holes in the wall. Needless to say, there was not heat of any kind, and the weather was cold.

A strange silence reigned. The policy, as I was soon to discover, was to break every prison regulation, non-cooperation in short, so we all stayed in bed most of the day and stayed up most of the night yelling out through the cell windows. It could hardly be described as "solitary" confinement as all the cell windows were on one side of the building and quite close together.  Sitting on the window ledges and pushing our faces against the bars we carried on a garrulous and active communication. It was confinement in as much as I never saw the outside of my cell door for three months to come.

Activities began about 9 p.m. when our master of ceremonies introduced us new arrivals (by voice) to the rest of our comrades, about fifty in all. Then the nightly concert began and it was, and I mean it, really entertaining. It was mostly songs, ballads and recitations; speeches were definitely out. After a number of the contributions our M.C. would sadly complain that the applause was not as appreciative as he would have wished and threatened to stop the concert whereupon the yelling would be redoubled and distracted parents living in the vicinity would start calling up the prison governor complaining that they could not get their children to sleep.

A favorite song was:

See who comes over the red-blossomed heather
Their green banners kissing the clear mountain air
Heads erect, eyes to front, stepping proudly together
Freedom sits bright on each proud spirit there

Then we would all join in:
Down the hills climbing, their blessed steel shining
The fire that illumines dark Aherlow's glen
And all who love English law, native or Sassenach,
Out and make way for the bold Fanian men.

Many of the ballads were the most beautiful and moving I had ever listened to. The recitations were usually quite funny and to annoy the British Tommies on guard outside on the walls we sang the Watch on the Rhine but this dreary anthem passed over the poor fellows heads -they had never heard it before.

We also sang satirical songs of the revolution such as:

When Adam and Eve were courting down in Eden
And Eve she ate an apple just for fun
The serpent said to himself when homeward speeding
"The constitutional movement's just begun"

The last line was intended as a sneer at the contemptible constitutional activities of the Irish parliamentary party which was belittling our physical force movement.

There were times during our incarceration when we grew deathly serious and then we sang our Battle Hymn:

Armed for the battle
Kneel we before Thee,
Bless thou our banners
God of the brave.
Who dies for Ireland
God give him peace.
Knowing our cause just
March we victorious
Giving our heart's blood
Ireland to free...

The Irish prison warders were an admirable lot of men and they handled our underground mail. They delivered our letters from home at breakfast and took away our replies, to be posted outside. The govenor of the prison, Captain King, made his regular inspections. The warder would fling open the cell door announcing "the Govenor" and you were supposed to stand to attention. We just lay in bed and grinned At him.

On one occasion he told me I was a foolish boy not to take my exercise and that I would make myself sick, he then slipped me a pack of Capstan cigarettes and a box of matches. Reference must be made to poor old Dr. Foley, the prison doctor. We played endless tricks on him. He had a different colored pill for every disease so we thought up a new ailment every day to add to our collection. I kept my collection of pills in a hole in the window ledge.

There is a nostalgic feeling for all this for it was about fifty years ago, when the world was comparatively civilized. In those days they just locked you away and left you along with your integrity. Now the cell door opens and the secret police come in. They have come to "question" you.

There were, of course, many unpleasant things such as the food. The meat was of a most suspicious color and was said to be once part of a horse. "Plumduff" was a kind of suet pudding that felt like grape shot in your stomach. The stew, known as "tyres in paraffin oil" consisted of stripes of stringy mutton floating in a horrible liquid. The bread is not even worthy of mention.

After some months Dr. Foley began to sound me all over and to shake his head. Five of us, including two other beardless infants, young Barlow and young Phillips from Tipperary, were removed to the prison hospital. After being administered Parish's syrup and other nourishments to build us up were released. Our friends drove us to a nice lady's house on the Grand Parade from where we were taken to tea with Sean and Mrs. Hegarty on the Western Road.

I came home and I lay on a sunny strand. Or I took my bike and with keen anticipation went to visit my dearest friends the Whelans whose comfortable farm was within easy riding distance. Ballyduff, my home from home. Here lived Mr. and Mrs. Whelan, Elanna, Mollie, Ned and Aunt B. Aunt B. would feel me all over exclaiming the while your poor anishore, when are you going to get some flesh on your poor bones." At the back of the house was a lovely old world garden, nestling by the orchard, with such flowers as migonette, flox, boy's love and girl's fancy.

The girls made a delicious apple cake for me and we all sat happily down to tea with the perfumes from the garden drifting in the open window. (Dear, kind people when I think of you I know there must be such a place as Heaven.)

My poor mother fed me numerous egg flips to speed my recovery.

Author: George Lennon

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