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Literary Internees

Darrell Figgis (1882-1925)

Darrell Figgis - with thanks to the Irish Newspaper Archives and the Irish Independent, 26 May 1916Like many of his contemporaries, Figgis joined 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’.

In 1913 Figgis joined the Irish Volunteers, and in August 1914, he was involved in the ‘Kilcoole Gun-Running’ episode, in which ammunition from Germany was successfully shipped to Ireland. He was arrested on 11th May 1916 and transferred to Reading on 10th July 1916.

Figgis writes about his time in prison in A Chronicle of Jails (1917). Figgis lobbied the Reading governor for various improvements to internees' conditions: changing lights out time from 8 to 10 pm, increased visiting and letters allowances, and improved wages for cleaning work so that they could buy better meals from the prison canteen. Despite these improvements, Figgis writes: ‘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. From 1917 to 1921, Figgis had a successful political career, though this ended when he fell out with senior members of Sinn Fein. In 1924, Figgis's wife Millie committed suicide, and the following year his new love died as the result of a botched abortion. One week after giving evidence at her inquest, Figgis gassed himself in his London bedsit.


Terence MacSwiney (1879-1920)

Terrence MacSwineyMacSwiney as a founder of the Celtic Literary Society and contributed many poems and pieces of criticism to its journal. Like Figgis, MacSwiney became increasingly interested in the Irish language and culture and also contributed to the weekly republican paper Fianna Fáil (‘Soldiers of Destiny’) before its suppression in December 1914.

Also 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 suppress the rebels. He was also arrested under the terms of the Defence of the Realm Act, and arrived at Reading from the Frongoch Internment Camp on 11th July 1916, where he stayed until Christmas Eve.

Between February 1917 and March 1918, MacSwiney was arrested and detained three times. On his release, in December 1918, MacSwiney was elected as a Sinn Féin candidate for Mid-Cork and became a founding member of the Irish parliament, the Dáil Éireann. In March 1920, he became lord mayor of Cork. 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. He began a hunger strike, stating ‘I have taken no food since Thursday’; ‘I shall be free, alive or dead, within a month’.

He was one month out: MacSwiney died on 25 October 1920.


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