Liam Ó Briain, Irish rebel

Liam Ó Briain was born in Dublin in 1888. In 1916 he helped print the Proclamation and he served with Michael Mallin in the College of Surgeons during the Rising. He was subsequently interned in Wandsworth Prison and in Frongoch. In 1917 he was appointed professor of romance languages in UCG. He was jailed in Belfast in 1919/20. When he returned to Galway he was appointed as a judge in the Republican Courts In late 1920, he was having dinner in college when he was arrested by the Black and Tans, and jailed for 13 months in Galway and the Curragh. Some of his experiences in prison are vividly described in a recently published book.

“Galway Gaol was full of prisoners, the majority from east County Galway. I was there only a fortnight when six of us were marched across the bridge to the Town Hall prison. It was like going from Ireland to England [all of the staff in the gaol were Irish]. The Town Hall was adapted to function as a temporary detention camp. Members of the Borders Regiment were on guard there. They gave us a rough and raucous welcome, opened the door of the long room and shoved us in. The room was full to bursting, the floor was filthy. The blankets were laid out along the walls. Three of us found a space in a small room at the right hand side of the stage. There were seven there already and up to 40 lying on the stage. The two rooms on the far side of the stage were just as crammed.

“Our only activity during the day was to walk around the room. Once every three days, a Sergeant Gates brought us out to the street and led us in exercises. On our return, the street mud from our shoes was added to the dirt already on the floor. We had no opportunity to clean or wash, the place was awful, the worst ever in my experience.

“The priests of the town had permission to call and they often did. There was a corner of the room where I slept that was set up for confessions until we discovered a small hole cut under the adjacent stairs and a dictaphone hidden in there! Needless to say, we made bits of it.

“One night a strong young prisoner named Walsh, a blacksmith, was found dead on the floor from cerebro-spinal meningitis, and shortly afterwards, a second prisoner named Mullen from east Galway died [The official reason for his death was given as ‘the flu’, but his family believed he was beaten to death]. This frightened the authorities and they took over the Protestant Hall which was next to the Town Hall. Some of us were sent there and barbed wire fencing was installed at both ends of the street between the halls and we could spend some time strolling up and down that little street. Our friends could come and look at us from the far side of the wire.”

Some extracts there from Essays by an Irish Rebel by Liam Ó Briain. These were published in various Irish language journals between 1934 and 1968. They have now been collected and translated by Eoin Ó Dochartaigh and published in book form by Ardcrú Books. The essays are autobiographical and cover many aspects of his very full life, his association with An Taidhbhearc and the Irish language, profiles of people he met such as Eoin McNeill, Padraig De Brún, Padraic Ó Conaire, etc. A fascinating read, highly recommended, in good bookshops at €18.

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