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                                             Searc's Web Guide to 20th Century Ireland - Edward Darrell Figgis (1882-1925)


Edward Darrell Figgis was born and educated in Dublin. He worked as a tea importer in London before becoming a journalist. In 1910 Figgis became a literary advisor to a publishing company and later established his own publishing company in which he republished the works of the Irish novelist William Carleton, among others.
Figgis joined the Irish Volunteers in Dublin in 1913 and partook in the Howth gun-running of 1914. Following the 1916 Easter Rising Figgis was interned in Reading Gaol even though, like hundreds of other internees, he had not taken part in the Rising.
On his release in 1917 Figgis was made an Honorary Secretary of Sinn Féin and published the first of his books, A Chronicle of Jails from which the extract below is taken. In 1918 he published The Historic Case for Irish Independence. Figgis was again interned during the War of Independence afterwhich he published his second Chronicle of Jails (1919). In 1922 Figgis was elected to Dáil Éireann for County Dublin and in the same year he co-wrote, with Alfred O'Rathaille, a draft Constitution for the Irish Free State. In 1923 Figgis published a novel The Return of the Hero under the pseudonym 'Michael Ireland'. In the same year his wife committed suicide and in the following year, 1925, Edmund Darrell Figgis committed suicide in London. ©

Deadened and inert though the barbarity of solitary confinement caused one to become (and even as solitary confinement ours was particularly severe and therefore particularly barbarous) there were times when the whole being rose in revolt. Anything would have been preferable to it. On one such occasion I demanded to see the Commandant of the jail. When he came, I requested to know exactly why I was being punished, and for what offence. I told him that I wished to have his answer in writing and to be able to communicate with my solicitor with a view to taking action. My thought was that a personal suit against him might prove abortive, but that it might cause a publicity the effect of which would be healthy. He replied that I was not being punished; that I was simply being 'detained'.
I said that this could not be. According to prison regulations, solitary confinement of so severe a nature was punishment at least equivalent to birching. Would he birch me without acquainting me with the cause of such a punishment? No, he said, he would not. Then why, I asked, was I receiving a punishment equivalent in severity without a cause assigned. I wished to be provided with a cause, and to be provided with it in writing. The Commandant himself was gentlemanly and courteous.
A few days afterwards when I repeated my request he told me he was simply acting under orders, and that he could not change matters without orders. I asked him then if he would communicate my request to the War Office, under whose instructions he proceeded; and he promised to do so.
Some time elapsed; and when he spoke to me further about the matter he asked what it was that I demanded. He asked me if I would particularize. I replied that the War Office had on their own initiative defined us as Prisoners of War. It had been announced to us that all our letters had to be so addressed; all the orders given to us were made applicable under that heading. I said I did not quarrel with the designation; both nationally and personally I hailed it. It was, I agreed, a splendid designation; but such being our state, I demanded on our behalf the application of the international agreement governing the treatment of prisoners of war - an agreement that, I believed, had been ratified between the belligerent powers during the first week of the war. In other words, I wanted tobacco and pipe, I wished any books that I might order or that might be sent into me, daily papers, free communication with my fellow-prisoners, and the opening of cell doors by night and by day, the right to have food sent into us, and the return of my money in order that I might be able to purchase food in the town, and facilities to purchase it, by canteen or by order. I added that what I demanded I demanded not for myself but for all of us, and in all of the prisons.
After a few days he came to me to say that the War Office had authorized him to grant these rights, but to grant them in stages, and with one stipulation. That stipulation he would announce to the men. Having put us all on parade he announced the rights that would be granted, but said that it would first be necessary for us to choose a commandant from among ourselves who would be responsible to him for the good order of the prison, and who would have power to maintain discipline. The men appointed me, and I created officers for each of the landings.
So began our little republic, and so extended our educative influence. When the rights were in full force the staff became supernumeraries. We created our post office and handled our own parcels and letters for distribution. Rules were laid down for the ordering of our lives together; and only once or twice was it necessary to take disciplinary measures (solitary confinement in one case as a pathetic reminder!), for the general spirit of loyality and affection was sufficient - was, in fact, remarkable with a body of men not accustomed to the strict rules necessary to the ordering of such a community. The appointed officers were responsible for their landings, made daily reports, and brought up any cases with which they were unable to deal. And so from top to bottom we maintained ourselves, quietly eliminating the staff, to the no small dissatisfaction of some of them, though with the good will of most. There was, in fact, no work for most of the staff to do.
At seven each morning, after breakfast, and at eight at night, the bell was rung, and we all gathered for public prayers. Michael McRory, Irish orator, and Padraic Pearse's gardener, led the Rosary. Englishmen speak much of our religious differences. It devolved upon me as a Protestant to summon the prayers, and none thought otherwise of it than as a natural thing, while every Protestant knelt with his fellows in prayer to the one God. Whatever announcements or enquiries Father Moore had to make were made through a Protestant, and had anyone suggested that they should not have been so made, it would have fared ill with him. They were made as a simple matter of authority by whoever was in authority. The reason for this was that we were sufficient in ourselves to guard over our own affairs without a stranger's hand to create trouble.
These daily prayers were a great astonishment to the staff. One sergeant declared to a visitor: 'I heard a lot about these Sinn Feiners being a bad lot, but you should see them. They're a religious lot. They goes to prayers and church same as we goes to the theaytre [sic].' And when, some days after our public prayers had begun, the news came that the 'Hampshire' had sunk, there was not a man of the staff but was fully assured that it was our prayers had sent Lord Kitchener to his death.

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