Tierney was confined at Spike Island prison for 13 years. He was arrested in 1866, and charged with stabbing with intent to kill John Warner, an informer. When he was 18, Tierney had joined the 87th (Prince of Wales’s Irish) Regiment of foot soldiers, a unit where a revolutionary spirit prevailed.
When Tierney discovered that Warner had infiltrated the Fenian brotherhood, and his information had resulted in convictions of members, Tierney stabbed Warner. But the wound was not fatal, and Warner gave evidence against him in court.
Tierney told the authorities that his name was Edward O’Connor, to protect others in his regiment. He was sentenced to life imprisonment. It was many years before his real identity was discovered, and his family knew what had happened to him. It was six years before he was told that his mother had died.
When he arrived at Spike, the warder immediately confronted him. He was told he was on a level with the meanest pickpocket within the walls, and would be made to feel so before he left there.
The warder was true to his word. When Tierney’s sister Brigid Cullen finally tracked him down and visited Spike in 1878, she discovered that her brother had spent long months in solitary confinement, chained to the wall of a dark cell like a prisoner in the middle ages.
Tierney later related being loaded with chains and forced to do the work of a man with free limbs. Despite developing an abscess on his back, and considerably weakened from months of bread and water, he was refused hospital treatment. Brigid’s efforts on his behalf resulted in a commission from Dublin Castle investigating, and later, a Royal Commission was appointed to enquire into the treatment of political prisoners.
Tierney was granted a Queen’s pardon in 1879 on the condition that he would never set foot on English territory.
When he was told that he was to be set free, the warder said that if he didn’t leave Spike within the next 10 minutes, he’d have to wait for 14 days for the next boat.
Tierney opted to wait, so that, he said, he might see his friends and family one last time.
His visitors were given just 20 minutes with him to say their goodbye. And when the doctor finally suggested admitting him to the prison hospital, Tierney asked if he would have made the offer if he were still a prisoner.
The doctor answered, “Certainly not”, and Tierney promptly declined his offer.
Fourteen days later, Tierney was given five minutes to get on the boat that was to take him off the island.
He was given 17 pounds, 10 shillings and 10 pence, his earnings for 13 years.
Broken in health, he sailed for New York, and died in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1882.