Spike Island exhibition shares stories of soldiers interned during War of Independence

Spike Island exhibition shares stories of soldiers interned during War of Independence
Commodore Mick Malone, Flag Officer of Irish Naval Service, with the photo of Grand Uncle James Egan, who was shot by British Auxiliaries at Croke Park on Bloody Sunday 1920, pictured at the launch of a new exhibition 'Independence'. Photo: Michael O'Sullivan / OSM PHOTO.

It's somewhat ironic the Naval Service's commander spends most of his days on Haulbowline Island, just a stone's throw from Spike Island where three of his granduncles were interned in 1921 – and a fact he only found out two years ago.

Flag Officer Commanding the Naval Service, Commodore Mick Malone, was among a handful of people invited to the opening of a new exhibition on Spike Island who had forebears interned there by the British during the War of Independence.

His granduncles James, Paud, and Charles Egan hailed from Poulacapple, near Mullinahone, Co Tipperary.

A year before being held, James was a member of the Tipperary team who were playing at Croke Park when British forces burst into the stadium and starting randomly shooting players and spectators, in what became known as 'Bloody Sunday.'

He was shot alongside Mick Hogan and although bleeding managed to get a priest to administer the last rites to Hogan. The Hogan Stand is named after him.

After 'The Truce' with the British, James joined the Free State Army, but later defected to the Anti-Treaty IRA.

On April 19, 1923, just days before the Civil War ended, his house was surrounded by Free State troops and he was fatally wounded trying to escape. He died the following day in hospital in Clonmel.

Paud and Charles also joined the Anti-Treaty side, but survived the war.

“I was one of the first young cadets who came out to train on Spike Island in 1982 and they (the surviving granduncles) never told me they were there. I thought there might be a connection with Spike Island and told Tom O'Neill who then confirmed the whole story to me two years ago,” Commodore Malone said.

Fr Eddie Griffin, Bray, Co Wicklow looking at a picture of his father Tom Griffin, Ballynoe who was internee on Spike. Picture Dan Linehan
Fr Eddie Griffin, Bray, Co Wicklow looking at a picture of his father Tom Griffin, Ballynoe who was internee on Spike. Picture Dan Linehan

Fr Eddie Griffin, who travelled from Dublin for the occasion, was there to remember his father, Thomas. He was one of the men involved in the very first IRA military action in the War of Independence.

Thomas was a member of Cork No 2 Brigade, under the command of Liam Lynch (later General), who on Sept 7, 1919 ambushed British troops at the Wesleyan Church, Fermoy.

A soldier trying to attack Lynch was shot dead and three others were wounded. The rest were finally overpowered and the IRA stole their rifles. Fr Griffin has donated his father's medals and a photograph of him to the exhibition.

Thomas, from Ballynoe, Co Cork, was charged by the British with murdering the soldier and spent 11 months on the island.

“He didn't agree with the Treaty, but wouldn't get involved in the Civil War because he didn't want to fall out (or fight) with old friends. He bought a Model T Ford and worked as a hackney driver in the Castlelyons area. He later became a Department of Agriculture inspector in Dublin,” Fr Griffin said.

John Harty from Cloyne, also in East Cork, was captured by the British after they ambushed an IRA unit on February 20, 1921, in what become known as the 'Battle of Clonmult.'

"It was the only occasion that a flying column was wiped out. Twelve of them were killed, eight captured and two executed," Mr O'Neill said. “John was just 17 at the time and was interned at Spike after the battle.” “If a (Black and) Tan hadn't hit him with his rifle, breaking his nose and chin, he'd definitely have been shot dead and I wouldn't be here today,” John's son, Michael, said.

“It's good to be here today, but it's also hard to be here. I saw the cell he was kept in. It's eerie and it's very emotional,” Michael added.

Also attending the exhibition were former Cork East TD Michael Ahern whose granduncle, Maurice, was interned there, as was Neil Hurley from Dungarvan, Co Waterford whose uncle shared the same experience.

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