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Artyfacts on KFM – Interned

I was delighted to have Interned featured on KFM Artyfacts, hosted by Brenda Drumm, on 6 August 2014. You can listen to the Podcast here.

Interned was also chosen for inclusion in Original Writing from Ireland’s Own, Anthology, 2012. You can read it below:Ballykinlar, 1921

Eighty year old, Jim, received a call from his older sister Monica, asking if he could repair the old piano in the parlour of their family home. It was there, hidden inside, that he discovered the bundle of letters. He opened twined knots to release a dozen, off-white faded and torn envelopes. Each with a two pence stamp pasted in the top right corner, the address beautifully penned in fading black ink.

Each was written by his father, John and sent to his mother during the war for Irish Independence, dating from 1921 to 1923, while he was interned in Ballykinler Prison Camp, in County Down. Their formal air spoke of different times, each signed off with “best of love to all at home, from your loving son, John,” with references to Father and addressed to Dear Mother.

“Rounded up and taken” along with many others to Wellington Barracks on 1 December 1920, John had scribbled notes, on scraps of paper, telling his mother that he was okay. He expected to be released soon, as he had “never mixed up in any party” and asked if she could bring a collar and handkerchief for his release. Mother had spoken to a Lieutenant at the Barracks who promised to see what could be done. A meeting with O’Neill & Collins Solicitors in North Brunswick Street had been arranged for 11 December 1920. In October 1921 letters from John were arriving – now from Ballykinlar Prison Camp.

Ballykinlar Camp Orchestra

Ballykinlar Camp Orchestra (circa 1921). 

The men pictured were detainees in Ballykinlar Prison Camp in Co Down during the war for Irish independence where Martin Walton (far right) formed and taught the camp orchestra. 

They rose at 7.30am, eventually retiring at 9.00pm when they would make Bovril, then rosary and bed at 9.45pm. Papers delivered to the camp could be bought for two bob. Camp rules allowed prisoners to post no more than two letters per week, of no more than two pages in length and both to be sent in the same envelope. Most letters were written on Sunday and were four pages long.
Parcels from home would be shared around. No eggs, but supplies of butter, tealeaves, fruit cake, cigarettes and strings – apparently one of his fellow interns was Martin Walton who formed and taught the camp orchestra to play the violin. He was yet to found the famous Walton’s Music Shop and the Walton’s music programme which always finished with the words: “If you feel like singing, do sing an Irish song”. Other internees included Peadar Kearney, co-author of the National Anthem and Sean Lemass who, in 1959, would succeed Eamonn De Valera as Taoiseach.

John requested a kit-bag from home so, that like the four chaps he shared with, he could use it to store his clothes neatly. He frequently requested pencils and colours. Among the letters were sketches he had made from Hut 29. Barbed wire covered the windows outside. Blankets and sheets piled neatly on low wooden cots. Small shelves set high on walls – milk and Liptons tea sitting atop one; a small selection of papers and books lay flat on another, beneath a chess set. Pegs were set into the wall and held coats and hats. Other sketches showed a row of rust coloured huts running down the camp, a dark mountain looming in the background, echoing the atmosphere. Another showed “The Altar, Ballykinlar”. Music notes for “Show a leg” appeared on another page along with a pattern for a suit jacket on the back. The last showed a hut with two crosses, one on either side of the door. The words “Where Sloan and Tormey Died,” written beneath, dated Jan. 17th 1921.

Sports Day arranged for March, 17th, 1921 – St Patrick’s Day – had not been a success due to the weather. “I hope the weather is better in old Dublin, it is wild here, but dry and the sand would cut the eyes out of your head. Talk about the sands of the desert,” he’d written. They had, however, enjoyed a concert that night.

On August, 7th, 1921 he mentions rumours that they may soon be returning home but that he will never forget 1st December 1920. “I think this will be a different Winter. I’ll not forget the 1st of Dec. 1920 in all my life. I don’t suppose any of you will at home. I have a good laugh at it by times, when I think of Father with the blanket round him. I don’t expect he will forget it in a hurry. Does he laugh over it? I don’t think so, but I will make him laugh over my times since, even though they are not all laughable ones I may tell you.”

In the final letter, John was looking forward to returning home and back to his job as a tailor/cutter with Messrs. Scotts.

He asked his mother to be sure that his blue suit would be ready for him to go “clicking.”

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