The Avondhu - By The Fireside

– 1921 Spike Island escapee and freedom fighter

- Neil Donovan

100 years ago, Spike Island Prison witnessed probably the most daring of escapes associated with the War of Independen­ce, when seven active Republican prisoners managed to reach the mainland near Cobh during the night of November 10/11th, 1921. Amongst the seven was Paddy Buckley from Coolmohan, Araglin and latterly of Church Street, Mitchelsto­wn.

Patrick (Paddy) Buckley was born on April 1st, 1893 at Coolmohan, Araglin to Patrick Buckley and Ellen O’Donoghue. Patrick Buckley was a school teacher at Araglin National School in Coolmohan. Ellen O’Donoghue, also from Coolmohan, married Patrick in June 1886 but he died from pneumonia at the young age of 38 after only 10 years of marriage, leaving Ellen widowed at only 39 with the eight children ranging from 6 months to 10 years old still to rear. And that she did, while also setting up a shop and running it to provide for the young family. Once the children were of an age, they worked as farm labourers and dressmaker­s to supplement the shop income.

The Buckley family like all families in Araglin were witness to the land troubles down the years and Ireland’s hardship under British rule. It is little wonder that the younger Buckley siblings joined the newly formed branch of the Irish Volunteers in Araglin in May 1914 when about 60 gathered under Jerry Mulvey’s leadership for weekly parades. A look at the Buckley siblings’ path in life in the early 1900’s is a common tale for many families, the eldest three boys emigrated to America, Thomas the oldest leading the way in 1904 aged 17 to New York, but ultimately settling in Boston after marrying Nora O’Brien from Fermoy and rearing 2 children, he worked for the Boston Postal service.

David Buckley followed next in 1911 aged 20, marrying a Mayo woman, Mary O’Malley and settled in Chicago working as a safety officer. William Buckley was the last to arrive the following year in 1912, aged 23. He joined David in Chicago and worked for the Chicago Rapid Transit Company. He married Lucy Van Hanxeden from Chicago and reared 7 children.

Remarkably, the 3 brothers fought in World War 1 with the American forces, Thomas in the Navy, while William and David did so with the Military. No doubt these three were a loss to the fight for Irish Freedom, whilst the youngest of the Buckley’s, Patrick and John, fought with distinctio­n at home. Of the remaining Buckley siblings, Maggie tragically died young at 15 from TB. Incidental­ly, her informant on the death cert was her twin brother James. What a harrowing experience for a 15-year-old.

John Buckley remained in the home place in Coolmohan, marrying Catherine Moroney from Ballard, Araglin and rearing their family there, taking over the shop. John Buckley was an active volunteer with the Araglin Company, Fermoy Battalion, Cork No. 2 Brigade.

While Paddy Buckley’s initial involvemen­t with the Irish struggle was in Araglin with the Irish Volunteers, by October 1917, Paddy

Buckley had joined the Ballyduff Company, 2nd Battalion, Waterford No. 2 Brigade. From the outset Paddy was appointed as Officer Commanding of the Company, ably assisted by fellow officers James Quirke, E. O’Brien, D. Lenihan, John Quirke, D. Shanahan and J. Lane. For the years 1917, 1918 and 1919 their activities were in line with other Company activities, i.e. weekly parades, recruiting, dispatch work, field operations, handling the conscripti­on crisis and raiding for arms. The arms raids were aimed at collecting mainly shotguns, rifles, revolvers and ammunition held by farmers and landowners. The hope was the owners would surrender the arms to the volunteers, but at time force was required. In the Ballyduff company area, these raids were concentrat­ed in the following townlands: Gortnapeak­y, Mocollop, Flower Hill, Inchleamy, Black and Ballyduff itself.


However, early 1920 the British authoritie­s changed tact as leaders of Sinn Féin and the IRA were arrested and interned under the Defence of the Realm Regulation (DORA). In the Araglin area on the morning of January 10th, 1920, Pad Donovan from Gortnaskeh­y and Batt Joyce from Cronohill were arrested, followed by Matt O’Mahony from Lyre on 31st January, where Constable Shanley’s carbine rifle was recovered along with two shotguns in an outhouse concealed in the oats, after it had been captured during Araglin RIC Barracks raid the previous year. The final two to be arrested on the morning of February 2nd were Con Leddy from Gortnaskeh­y and Paddy Buckley at his home in Coolmohan.

While initially detained in Cork Jail, on February 8th 55 of those interned were transferre­d under military and RIC escort to Cobh where they boarded a boat bound for Pembroke in Wales and in turn, brought to Wormwood Scrubs prison in London by train. Pad Donovan, Batt Joyce, Con Leddy and Paddy Buckley were transferre­d, while Matt O’Mahony was held in Cork Jail in preparatio­n of Court Martial charges. Other North East Cork men transferre­d were John Keane, William Ryan and Michael Sullivan from Mitchelsto­wn and John Fanning from Clondulane. As they had been interned under DORA, there was no certainty on any detail regarding trial, timeframe if indeed there was to be any. The one thing that was certain that first morning in the Scrubs, is that hundreds of Irishmen were being held as prisoners in London without trial, as they were in various prisons in Ireland also.

Days turned to weeks and weeks to months. Various hunger strikes were undertaken, Paddy Buckley was involved in three, initially on March 15th, 1920 for 4 days, 21st March for 3 days and 19th April for 19 days. The determinat­ion and sheer numbers of the prisoners of the final strike appeared to overwhelm the British authoritie­s. When the prisoner’s condition deteriorat­ed to a seriously weak condition, they were transferre­d to various hospitals in London and kept under guard. Paddy Buckley was transferre­d to St. Mary’s Infirmary, Islington, London on Sunday, 8th May which in effect meant he was released as no effort was made to retain the prisoners once sufficient­ly recovered and Paddy, like the others, simply walked out of the hospital after 18 days of treatment. With the assistance of J.H. McDonnell, London a well-known lawyer with republican sympathies, the released prisoners made their way back home to Ireland.


Upon his return Paddy went on the run and joined up with the East Limerick Brigade and the Flying Column under the command of Sean Wall and Donnacha O’Hannigan. This Flying Column was the first to be formed and the template quickly followed by others becoming a main factor in IRA successes during the War of Independen­ce. For the next months from June 1920, Paddy saw engagement­s with the enemy at Cush, Kilfinane, Glenbrohan­e, Glenrue, Glenacurra­ne and Cross of the Tree ambush. During this period, Paddy was also tasked with conveying arms from Cork City back to the Brigade area on six occasions, a task fraught with danger and no doubt death if discovered by the British. The column disbanded at Christmas 1920 and the volunteers returned to their own area to reconvene in the New Year.

Donnacha O’Hannigan ordered Paddy to operate in Liam Lynch’s area and report to Thomas Barry, Glanworth Battalion O/C, Cork No. 2 Brigade. From early 1921, Paddy saw action with this Column and more specifical­ly the Sniping Section, as the battalion members had been split due to constant harassment by British military. Paddy saw engagement­s at Ballyhoole­y, Fermoy Aerodrome, Kilworth Camps, Kildorrery RIC Barracks and Castletown­roche RIC Barracks’ attacks. With permission of his senior officers, Paddy returned home to Coolmohan in April 1921 to meet up with his brother who was about to be deported to America, having only 48 hours to leave.


Paddy Buckley was once again arrested after the British military surrounded a neighbouri­ng house in Araglin, it was Friday, April 29th, 1921. He was brought to the nearby Moorepark Military Station and following stints in Fermoy Military Barracks, Kilworth Internment Camp, Cork Military Barracks and Cork County Jail, he was lodged in Spike Island Prison on June 30th, 1921. Initially lodged on ‘B’ Block, Hut 20 he was later moved to ‘A’ Block during another hunger strike, which Paddy took part in for 4 days from 30th August, 1921.

Paddy Buckley was back into prison routine and was elected Company Captain of Rooms 16, 17 and 18 on 20th June, 1921. As was common, Gaelic language, heritage and sports coming to the fore with various classes and the prison diary of Tom Ryan of Thomastown, Co. Kilkenny notes a junior hurling match between Tim Hennessy’s ‘C’ team and Paddy Buckley’s ‘A’ team on Monday, 22nd August, 1921 - Paddy’s team was victorious.

However, when prisoner rights were refused by the prison authoritie­s, the IRA Prison O/C ordered the destructio­n of the prison blocks. This commenced on August 16th, 1921 and the prison authoritie­s reacted quickly, inflicting beatings on numerous prisoners. Paddy Buckley being an officer was singled out and he was dragged out by two military officers, struck on the head with a hurley, knocked down, kicked and handcuffed.

He suffered similar treatment two days later on 18th August when a sergeant was the one to inflict a beating, after again being dragged out. He suffered a swollen head and shock, which initially took seven weeks to recover from, but the headaches persisted for years later, as did the effects of the hunger strikes.


The Truce on July 11th, 1921 gave hope of an early release but months later, with no sign of release in sight, the prisoners reconvened efforts to escape. An earlier escape on Saturday 29th April, 1921 during broad daylight of Tom Malone (Sean Forde) of East Limerick Brigade, along with Sean MacSwiney and Cornelius Twomey, both of Cork City, while a great success, resulted in the tightening of security on the island. The obstacles for escaping were substantia­l, the initial being to escape from the building/compound itself unseen as there was a daily roll call at 4pm; next was a 7m high rampart, followed by a dry moat and an outer wall. And then you had the rolls of barbed wire, sentries and searchligh­ts strategica­lly placed. Outside the prison walls itself, are numerous houses which house military personnel, another obstacle to be avoided. And finally, the most daunting obstacle of all, the harbour waters with its motor launch, which patrolled the island with an armed crew. To add to the difficulty all boats on the island were ordered to be chained and padlocked, with oars removed.

The riots and destructio­n of ‘A’ Block mentioned previously resulted in the prisoners being corralled in the dry moat area as punishment for 3 nights by the authoritie­s, exposed to the elements with little or no food. The prisoners accessed the moat via a Sally Port at the rear of ‘A’ Block. A Sally Port is a small entrance in a fortificat­ion and in this case, was a small tunnel through the rampart that was secured by barbed wire, boulders and a gate on the outer side. This gave the prisoners food for thought in that as opposed to scaling the rampart, go through it via the Sally Port, but how? A simple plan was put into effect, the prisoners over time threw their rubbish at the entrance of the Sally Port and especially food stuff. This had the obvious effect of attracting vermin and the prisoners complained to the British authoritie­s of rats being so close to their living quarters. As hoped, the authoritie­s foolishly gave the prisoners permission to clean the area themselves. This they did and in doing so, also cut the barbed wire and cleared obstacles over time to enable the entry into the Sally Port to be achieved when required.

 ?? ?? Araglin native Paddy Buckley.
Araglin native Paddy Buckley.

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