1103a. Empress Place, Former Black and Tan Barracks 1921, Summerhill North, present day. Photo: Kieran McCarthy

Journeys to a Truce: A Crown interrogation 100 years ago

In mid-June 1921 Seán Healy, Captain of A Company, 1st Battalion, Cork Brigade No 1, was elated at the prospect of bringing off a successful ambush against crown forces.

He had plans completed for a large ambush on a patrol of Black and Tans whose daily beat brought them through Silversprings Lane in Tivoli. About 30 fully armed Black and Tans passed through it every evening. The Company considered this lane as an ideal place for an ambush. The hills on both sides were heavily wooded, which would provide ample cover for the men. A-Company company were only awaiting sanction from their Brigade Officer-in-Command. However, events did go according to plan.

In his Bureau of Military History witness statement (WS1479), Seán recalls that at 11am on the morning of 14 June, Seán was in the parcels office at the Glanmire Station (now Kent Station) when two British Intelligence officers, in mufti, entered and he was trapped and arrested.

He notes of his arrest: “I had no way of escape, being taken unawares. The railway station had been surrounded by military and police. I was placed under arrest and marched from the station to the nearby Black and Tan Barracks at Empress Place, under a heavy escort.

“When climbing the long flight of stone steps leading from the Lower Road to Empress Place, I felt that my race was run…It was obvious that I was in for a rough time. Heavy fighting was taking place in most parts of the country at that time. The enemy was being attacked on all sides. The Dublin Custom House was burnt down a short time previously. The temper of the Crown forces was very high.”

When Seán was taken into the police barracks he was handed over to the Black and Tans by the military, as a temporary arrangement – the British Intelligence Officer Lieutenant Dove remarking that he would call back him back later.

Seán was pushed into an office and the sergeant insitu demanded his name and address. Seán gave him the required information and his particulars were recorded. The sergeant then ordered two of his men to search Seán. They removed his coat, vest and shoes.

Seán remarks of being interrogated: “We had strict orders from GHQ to remain silent during interrogations and to refuse to recognise the enemy courts. Next questions were: ‘Are you a member of the IRA? Another one of the Murder Gang? Where were you born? How old are you? What occupation do you hold? Where does your father reside?’ Knowing that the military officers were calling back for me again, I played for time and informed the interrogators that I would not answer any questions until my solicitor was present”.

Seán was then handcuffed and removed to a military lorry which was waiting outside and was conveyed to Victoria Military Barracks. Before leaving Empress Place, the military took possession of Seán’s belongings, which had been taken from him by the police.

The lorry halted outside the main gates of the military barracks which were then opened by a sentry and Seán’s lorry was admitted. All alighted from the lorry and an orderly wrote down the usual particulars.

Sean was then un-handcuffed and escorted to the Intelligence Office.

He remarks: “I was again searched and subjected to an interrogation by three Intelligence officers. ‘Your name? Your address? Your occupation? Are you a Sinn Féiner? Did you take part in any of the attacks against our forces? What do you know about Sinn Féin dispatches being sent on railway trains? What business had you and three other Sinn Féiners outside the Cork University at 9am on a certain morning? etc, etc’.”

The Intelligence Officer had information that Seán was prominent in Cork IRA Brigade No.1 and that he held the rank of an officer.

It now became quite clear to Seán that a spy had given information against him. He again claimed privilege not to answer any questions until his solicitor Mr. Healy, solicitor, South Mall was present.

Seán was abruptly told that this was a military inquiry and under Martial Law they had a means of making him talk. The interrogation lasted about half an hour. After leaving the Intelligence Office, Seán was taken to a prison cell where he was kept in solitary confinement for three days and nights.

The weather was exceptionally warm so that bed clothes did not bother him.

The only ventilation in the cell was a small window, which was about ten feet from the ground and strongly protected with iron bars. The only furniture in the cell was the plank bed on which there was one army blanket.

A notice was crudely hand-printed on the wall over the cell door - “All who enter here are doomed men”.

This was evidently done for a joke by some of the soldiers who were guarding the prison. Seán describes that he slept very little on those nights: “I was expecting visits from the Intelligence officers, who frequently took out their prisoners during the late hours for further interrogations, but for some inexplicable reason they did not interfere with me at night

“The thought of the ordeals that confronted me did not help to induce sleep. Realising that if any of the various charges which could be brought against me were proved, torture, the firing squad, then the release by death, would be my end, I prayed that I would be strong enough to stand up to them all.”

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