The Entry In The Autograph Book

Written during Internment in the Town Hall, Galway in 1921

Frances Holohan based on original contribution from Mary Love

Some weeks ago, following the publication of ‘Oirdheisceart na Gaillimhe: Gnéithe dá Stair’ – ‘South-east Galway: Aspects of its History’ – Nollaig Ó Muraíle’s revised and translated bilingual edition of Micheál Ó Conaill’s original book ‘Cinéal Fhéichín agus Síol Anmachadha’, we received an interesting contribution to our website from a person named Mary Love.  She was going through an old autograph book that belonged to her grandfather, Dick Murphy, Athenry and wondered if M M O’Connell, Duniry, was a fellow prisoner?

Page from the Autograph Book of Dick Murphy, Athenry

Mary sent us a copy of the autograph entry that had been made during her grandfather’s internment in the Town Hall in Galway in 1921.  The entry read:

“Were I as large to reach the pole or catch the ocean in my span, I would be measured by my soul – the mind’s the measure of the man”

and the autograph was signed M M O’Connell, Duniry, Loughrea – Town Hall Galway 1921.  Mary wondered if it might be the same Mícheál Ó Conaill, as the teacher in Duniry who had published the original book.

We held off adding her contribution to our website until we did a little further investigation as perhaps there could have been another M M O’Connell in Duniry!

Serendipity played a part as a short time later an article appeared in the Lifestyle section of the Connacht Tribune dated 17 September 2021 under the Heading ‘Galway In Days Gone By’.  One piece related to 1921 and ‘Life in Internment’, that had been submitted by a Gort man at Ballykinlar, outlining the conditions in the internment camp “where so many men from our country are at present held prisoner without charge ever having been preferred against them, without trial or conviction”.  He went on to say that “the camp is an improvement on the Earl’s Island death trap or the Town Hall poison den.  There is a greater sense of security here than in either of those places.  The food is inadequate, and doubtful of quality ….”  The article further states that “the education board, which owes a lot to Mr O’Connell, Duniry, to whom all students are deeply indebted, has been instrumental in endowing many of the boys with a liberal increase to their attainments and has provided a much-needed antidote to the deterioration of the mind, which is so invariably associated with internment.  The study of Gaelic has pride of place in the curriculum, and many students have made great headway.  It is not unusual to find half-a-dozen in a hut almost at any hour carrying on a laboured conversation in Irish or debating some of the finer points in grammar.  I believe one of the boys (none of them had a word of Irish coming in) passed a fainne at the recent examination…”

Having read the above article, we had no doubt that the Mr O’Connell referred to and the M M O’Connell who signed Dick Murphy’s autograph book was indeed Micheál Ó Conaill, Principal in Duniry National School, and the author of ‘Cinéal Fhéichín agus Síol Anmachadha’ published in 1932.

This page was added on 29/09/2021.

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