This remarkable photograph was taken in 1920/21. It shows a group of republican prisoners who are being held in the Town Hall. They are surrounded by barbed wire and are being carefully watched by a soldier you can see standing beside the tin hut. He is wearing a ‘Brodie’ helmet which was a steel combat helmet invented by Englishman John Brodie during World War I. There were probably more soldiers on duty inside the hut watching the detainees, the photographer, and anyone else who might have been was passing. A notice on one of the windows reads “No one is allowed within ten yards of this building.”
These prisoners were rounded up in the very tense days and weeks after the “Krumm” affair which involved the death of a Black and Tan named Krumm, and also of two Volunteers, Sean Mulvoy and Seamus Quirke; the kidnapping of Barna schoolteacher Joyce; and the murders of Father Griffin and Michael Walsh. There were 134 prisoners in all detained here, including Liam Ó Briain who had helped to print the 1916 Proclamation. They were occasionally let out for air, as you can see, but there was not much of it inside the building. They had no means of washing or getting rid of the vermin, not enough to eat, and no privacy. The place was very smelly and dirty and there was an awful lot of noise. There was also a certain amount of ill-treatment of the prisoners.
Because the detainees were so badly fed, the shop assistants of Galway each gave a shilling out of their wages every week and this paid for a hamper of food. The money was collected in cash from the various places of business and given to Bid McHugh, who was George Nicholls’ sister-in-law. She bought and prepared the food, and when the money was not enough, she made it up herself. Many people passing by used to throw food parcels over the barbed wire to those waiting on the far side.
They were guarded by the Sherwood Foresters who were billeted in the workhouse at the time. Even though it was all barbed wire and soldiers, many of these soldiers were kind to the prisoners — one named Willie was always running messages for them, and visitors were occasionally allowed. One officer used to let them out once a week as far as the river bank to shake the lice out of their blankets, but this was stopped on account of an epidemic of the mumps which occurred on December 30 1920. Those with the sickness were removed to the Isolation Hospital at Lough Athalia. After two internees, Patrick Walsh from south Mayo and Michael Mullin from Moylough, died without warning of pneumonia in the Town Hall, a ‘better’ officer took control by taking over the Protestant Parochial School (seen on the left of the photograph ), setting it up as a detention centre and moving some of the prisoners there. Some others were transferred to the County Gaol and some to the camp of the 17th Lancers at Earl’s Island, thus creating more space in the Town Hall.
It is ironic that the Town Hall in a previous existence, when it was known as the Tholsel, was also used as a prison.
Our thanks to the National Museum for this photograph which will be part of a major exhibition on the Revolutionary Decade 1913-1923 which will open in Galway City Museum at Easter time. Not to be missed. If you have any items that you think might interest them for this show, contact Brendan McGowan at the museum.