#OTD in 1918 – Seventy-three Sinn Féin prisoners are shipped to Britain, after being arrested on 17 May by police and military authorities.

The arrests caused a public sensation; newspapers were snapped up by those eager for details of what happened.

It is understood that twenty-four of the arrests took place in Dublin, the most recent of them involving Maud Gonne MacBride, who was seized while returning from a visit to George Russell. Also in Dublin, the Sinn Féin headquarters on Harcourt Street and the National Aid offices on Bachelor’s Walk were raided, with papers removed from the former.

Arrests also took place in the cities of Belfast and Cork and in counties Kilkenny, Wexford, Westmeath, King’s County, Galway, Sligo, Roscommon, Clare, Kerry, Tipperary, Cavan and Tyrone. Most of them concluded without incident or public disturbance; one exception was in Skibbereen, Co Cork, where six arrests were made. One prisoner, Ted O’Driscoll, was wounded in the arm by a revolver bullet.

The seventy-three arrested men and women were transferred to Dublin, arriving in twos and threes at Kingstown, where they were placed on board a steamer. As the prisoners arrived, they were given an enthusiastic reception by crowds that had gathered on the wharf, sometimes shouting republican slogans – ‘Up the rebels’ and ‘Small nationalities’ – and sometimes breaking into singing of the ‘Soldier’s song’. The ship departed Kingstown for Holyhead at 6 pm, receiving a rousing send off from the crowd.

About fifty of the prisoners had been lodged in the Frongoch Internment camp, a site with which a number of them would be familiar having been interned there in the aftermath of the Easter Rising in 1916. Countess Markievicz was imprisoned in Holloway Jail, London.

The Press Association reported that the arrests were made solely on the grounds of ‘suspicion’ and that the evidence on which the allegations were based would be published shortly. The Bishop of Killaloe, Dr Fogarty, speaking at a confirmation ceremony in Borrisokane, Co Tipperary, said that Ireland would await with interest the publication of the evidence on which the arrest of its ‘national leaders’ had been taken, adding that the government action has filled the ‘heart of the nation with distrust and exasperation’.

Similarly, in a letter published in the Irish Independent, Cpt. Stephen Gwynn asked for proof to be provided of the charges levelled against the arrested men and women. Gwynn, a firm supporter of the war effort, cautioned against a repetition of the ‘insane severities’ that followed the 1916 Rising: ‘No reasons of State can justify the policy of withholding from Ireland the facts on which the proclamation was based and the arrests ordered.’

Image | Troops escorting the Sinn Féin leaders | Manchester Guardian | History of War 1918 | Full collection available in the National Library of Ireland | Source | Century Ireland

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