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24 September 2014
Wars and Conflict - Witnesses

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Joseph Sweeney
CURIOUS JOURNEY: An Oral History of Ireland’s Unfinished Revolution,
by Kenneth Griffith and Timothy O’Grady,
(Mercier Press, 1998).

Image of Prisoners arriving at Kilmainham Gaol

Prisoners arriving at Kilmainham Jail 1916 ©

We filed out onto Moore Street and were lined up into fours and were marched up O’Connell Street and formed into two lines on each side of the street. We marched up to the front and left all our arms and ammunition and then went back to our original places. Officers with notebooks then came along and took down our names. A funny incident happened there. One of the officers just looked at one of our fellows and without asking him anything wrote down his name and then walked on. After he had gone a certain distance, somebody asked this fellow, ‘Does that officer know you?’ ‘That’s my brother,’ he said.

When that formality was over we were marched into a little patch of green in front of the Rotunda Hospital, an oval patch, and we were made to lie down there. Anybody who put his foot out of line got a whack of a rifle butt. We were kept there all night and a British officer amused himself by taking out some of the leaders. He took out poor old Tom Clarke and, with the nurses looking out of the windows of the hospital, he stripped him to the buff and made all sorts of disparaging remarks about him. ‘This old bastard had been at it before. He has a shop across the street there. He’s an old Fenian,’ and so on, and he took several others out too. That officer’s name was Lee Wilson and I remember a few years later I happened to be in the bar of the Wicklow Hotel and Mick Collins in his usual way stomped in and said to me, ‘We got the bugger, Joe.’ I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ He said, ‘Do you remember that first night outside the Rotunda? Lee Wilson?’ ‘I do remember,’ I said, ‘I’ll never forget it.’ ‘Well we got him today in Gorey.’

During the night the garrison from the Four Courts came in and we were put lying on top of one another. I had two fellows lying on top of me. In one way it was desperate and in another way it was great, because it was a very cold night and they kept me warm.

The following morning we were put into formation and marched down O’Connell Street, past the GPO, which still had the tricolour flying from it, and past Clery’s, which still had the Plough and the Stars. We got a very hostile reception along the way. At this stage we had very little sympathy in the country as a whole.

Image of Frongoch detention camp

Frongoch detention camp in Wales ©

We were eventually led out to the Richmond barracks and put into a big gymnasium there, where all the detectives of the G Division or political division came in to have a look at us. They picked out all the leaders and anyone they knew to have been previously involved in meetings or demonstrations or whatever. They were all courtmartialled and the leaders, of course, were shot.

They took us all to barrack rooms then and I lay down on my back on the floor. I was a fairly good sleeper in those days and I went right off to sleep. I was awakened after a bit by somebody kicking me on the soles of my feet and I looked up to find a British staff officer standing over me. He had a lot of gold on his cap. ‘What age are you?’ he said. I said, ‘I’m nineteen.’ So he passed on and one of the fellows said, ‘You’re a bloody fool. If you had said eighteen you would have been out by now.’ But I was unconcerned about whether I got out or not because I wanted to stay with the crowd. I was glad about it afterwards too, because I went through experiences that I’d never have had otherwise. That evening then we were marched down the quays and put on board a boat at the North Wall, down into the hold. We all got lousy as a result of the trip over to Holyhead, but I met a lot of fine people in Wales where I eventually wound up, outside Balla, a place called Frongoch Camp.

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