Fire and protest in Galway Jail

Diarmuid Crowley, a native of Co Cork, was arrested, charged with being a judge in the Sinn Féin courts, and incarcerated in Galway Jail even though he was ill. His condition worsened and he demanded the attendance of a private medical doctor. The prison doctor refused, so 40 Sinn Féin prisoners decided to do something to prevent Mr Crowley suffering any further.

The jail building was horseshoe in shape. On November 24, 1921, they piled up bedding and clothing and other articles in an apartment of the ground floor of the southern wing and set them ablaze. They broke into the paint shop, scattered oils and paints, and set them on fire. They seized six prison warders and marched them to the northern wing using no violence against them. They were kept on the corridor on the second floor. The prisoners broke into the punishment cell on this wing and eight bales of fibre there were set ablaze.

All the while the prisoners were singing “The Soldier’s Song” and other national airs, but as this was a daily occurrence, little notice was taken of it. One of the warders managed to get his head out a window and blew his whistle to sound the alarm. He was dragged back in but no harm was done to him. When the Governor and warders outside heard the alarm and realised something was wrong, they found the main doors of both wings stoutly barricaded against them. By now the fire had begun to get a grip and dense volumes of smoke could be seen.

The alarm was raised and a number of RIC men, together with armed parties from Renmore, the Lancer’s camp at Earl’s Island, and the workhouse (where the Worcestershire Regiment were stationed ) arrived. They were joined by Auxiliaries from Lenaboy. They succeeded in breaking down the doors and they rushed upstairs where a brief but bloody battle ensued. The police alleged the prisoners were armed with iron bars they had taken out of the staircases. The prisoners emphatically denied this saying they were content just to have made their protest against the galling prison conditions.

About 40 of the 53 prisoners in the jail were involved and 11 were injured, some having to go to hospital. Ten warders were injured. Their ‘serious’ injuries were listed as cut in hand, injury to wrist, bruises on the arm, and a blow to the wrist. Their minor injuries were not listed. Within hours of the protest, Mr Crowley was taken by ambulance to Mountjoy.

Our photograph was posed in a studio and shows some of the prisoners taken with their ‘armed guard’ some time after their release. Those we have been able to identify are, front row: P Griffin, P O’Connor, -----. Seated are: Tom Fleming, this next man looks like John Tynan from the Castlegar Flying Squad, ------, ‘Baby’ Duggan (in uniform ), Thomas Kilroy, MJ Roche. Back row: ----- , ----- , ----- , ------ , Tom Courtney (behind the unknown man with the scarf ), and Seán Turke.

Thomas Kilroy had been serving a life sentence for his part in the Caltra ambush. He was the leader of the protest and was badly beaten. He said afterwards: “We got beaten to save the life of Diarmuid Crowley, but we would have suffered death had it been necessary to release him.” He later joined the gardai and was transferred to Callan in Co Kilkenny where he became the father of the distinguished playwright, Tom Kilroy.

If anybody can identify any of the others in this photograph, we would love to hear from you.


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