Chapter 11. – THE MURDER OF FRANCIS SHEEHY SKEFFINGTON
THE MURDER OF FRANCIS SHEEHY SKEFFINGTON
COLLINS’ disinclination to dwell on instances of cruelty practised by the British armed forces in Ireland led to my making independent enquiries. Quickly I learned in a general way of the murder of Francis Sheehy Skeffington at Portobello Barracks, April 19, 1916, by a firing squad of seven men under the command of Captain J. C. Bowen-Colthurst, Royal Irish Rifles. It seemed to be the one instance that came to every Irishman’s mind when I asked for authentic cases of brutality.
The murder and a British court-martial’s finding Colthurst ” guilty, but insane,” were extensively commented upon by the world Press, but the real story has never been published. I obtained the story from Skeffington’s widow a unique figure in Ireland today in that she is the only woman whose husband went to a martyr’s grave who does not wear mourning, and who never tried to be elected to Dail Eireann. It seems to me to merit inclusion in these pages if only because it is indirectly another testimonial to Collins’ genius for helping others to outwit the British Secret Service.
Behind Mrs. Skeffington’s reticence regarding her escape from Ireland and her trip to America by means of a counterfeit passport there is the plain stamp of Collins’ handiwork. It was Collins who smuggled Mrs. Skeffington out of the country and back again just as it was Collins who enabled De Valera and Boland and the others to evade the British watchers and cross and re-cross the Atlantic without genuine passports. In great part the facts as told me by Mrs. Skeffington are verified by the official records of the Royal Commission of Enquiry set up by the command of the King in August, 1916, at the Four Courts in Dublin.
” My husband,” Mrs. Skeffington began, ” was an antimilitarist, a fighting pacifist, a man gentle and kindly even to his bitterest opponents, who always ranged himself on the side of the weak against the strong whether the struggle was one of class, sex or race domination. Together with his strong fighting spirit he had a marvellous, an inextinguishable good humour, a keen joy of life, a great faith in humanity and a hope in the progress towards good.
” Several months prior to the Easter week rising my husband was sentenced to one year’s imprisonment for making a speech ‘ calculated to prejudice recruiting, He went on hunger strike, and was out after six days with a licence under the Cat and Mouse Act. Shortly after his release he went to the United States where, in February, 1916, Century Magazine published his article entitled ‘ A Forgotten Small Nationality.’
” Although as a socialist and a pacifist he was opposed to all militarism even Irish his great sympathy for and belief in the general movement for Irish freedom led him to return to Ireland where he believed he was most needed. He felt the British authorities realised perfectly as of course they did that he was resolutely opposed to the use of force, and therefore, in their eyes, a relatively unimportant figure. His record as a publicist for many years as special correspondent of labour papers such as the London Herald, New York Call, Manchester Guardian, and as author of the ” Life of Michael Davitt,” and as editor and founder of the Irish Citizen, a pacifist and feminist Dublin Weekly established him as a man to whom the thought of militarism was abhorrent.
” Equally well-known was his opposition to Arthur Griffith, whose ideals were anti-socialist. Altogether then, although he was openly associated with James Connolly in the revolutionary Irish labour movement and was one of the founders of the Irish socialist party, he was not an undesirable in British eyes in the sense that rebel suspects were.
” Of course, neither he nor I would have been surprised had he been deported to England on his return from America. But murder without trial we did not foresee.
” My brother, Eugene Sheehy, an attorney, volunteered as a follower of Redmond for service in the British army during the war. He became a lieutenant in the Dublin Fusiliers, and later won a captaincy. My sister’s husband, Professor Tom Kettle, also was a lieutenant in the same regiment and was killed in action in France in September, 1916. My father then a member of Parliament for South Meath supported England in the alleged ‘ fight for small nations.’ Thus my husband and I were in a small minority in our family.
” Finally, my husband was sympathetic to the idea of an Irish Republic in so far as it made for a worker’s commonwealth, but he was distinctly opposed to the use of military methods to achieve that end. I emphasise this point, because it bears directly on the fact that his murder was so completely without justification as to compel English military chieftains to admit as much officially.
” And they knew his attitude. In March, a month before his murder, my husband published an open letter to Thomas MacDonagh one of the signers of the Irish Republic Proclamation and made his position clear. In the course of this letter he stated :
” ‘ As you know I am personally in full sympathy with the fundamental objects of the Irish Volunteers. When you shook off the Redmondite incubus last September I was on the point of joining you. … I am glad now that I did not. For, as your infant movement grows towards the stature of a full-grown militarism its essence preparation to kill grows more repellent to me.
” ‘ High ideals undoubtedly animate you. But has not nearly every militarist system started with the same high ideals ? You are not out to exploit or to oppress ; you are out merely to prevent exploitation and to defend. You justify no war except a war to end oppression, to establish the right. What militarism ever avowed other aims in its beginnings ?
” ‘ I advocate no mere servile lazy acquiescence in injustice . . . but I want to see the age-long fight against injustice clothe itself in new forms, suited to a new age. I want to see the manhood of Ireland no longer hypnotised by the glamour of ‘ the glory of arms, no longer blind to the horrors of organised murder. . . . We are on the threshold of a new era in human history. After this war nothing can be as it was before. The foundations of all things must be re-examined. . . . Formerly we could only imagine the chaos to which we were being led by the military spirit. Now we realise it. And we must never fall into that abyss again.’
” Surely there was nothing in this openly distributed document to earn British censure. On the other hand there was his arrest to prove that he was none the less offensive to the British authorities. His article in the Century was not calculated to improve his standing. In that article he had referred to the sentence of a fortnight meted out to a Dublin boy for kicking a recruiting poster ! As a matter of fact, subsequent events proved that his description was circulated to the military immediately after the Easter Monday rising.
” So much for my husband, and his record.
” Captain Bowen-Colthurst had had sixteen years’ service in the British army. His family had settled in Ireland in Cromwell’s time and been given grants of land confiscated from the Irish. At the court-martial held in Richmond Barracks, Dublin, June 6, 1916, fellow officers of Colthurst’s testified to his cruelty to natives in India and to his having tortured dumb animals while on service there. After the battle of Mons, according to the|testimony of Major-General Bird, Colthurst’s ‘ eccentricity ‘ (which had expressed itself in his recklessly sacrificing his men and practising cruelty on German prisoners) resulted in his being sent home from the front.
” When the Easter Week rising took place Colthurst was stationed with the 3rd Royal Irish Rifles in Portobello Barracks. The battalion’s commanding officer, Colonel McCammond, was absent on sick-leave. Captain Colthurst, although not the equal in rank of Major Rosborough, was the senior office in point of service and, according to all the evidence, considered himself at liberty to ignore his brother-officers.
” If this statement seems incredible to persons who have implicit faith in the unvarying discipline enforced in all units of the British army, let it be remembered that what I have just said was stated by a British officer at Colthurst’s court martial. More, it is easy to prove that there was open animosity between all the Irish regiments, as regards those recruited in the north-east and in the south of Ireland. Although they all wore the British uniform and served the same king, they were bitterly hostile to one another. Between the Royal Irish Rifles, for instance, and the Dublin Fusiliers there was constant friction. The former was an Orange regiment from Belfast.
” Through my family’s connections with the British military forces I had become acquainted with Captain T. Wilson, then a despatch rider in the Dublin Fusiliers. I appealed to him after rumours had reached me that my husband was being held prisoner in Portobello Barracks to go there and make enquiries. He refused point blank, asking me if I wanted him to go to his death. When he realised I didn’t understand the situation, he explained. He dared not go near the Royal Irish Rifles. He was a Catholic !
” So much for Colthurst and the conditions affecting army discipline in Dublin at the time of the Easter Week rising.
” When the outbreak began on Easter Monday my husband was near Dublin Castle. He learned that a British officer had been gravely wounded and was bleeding to death on the cobblestones outside the Castle gate. My husband persuaded a bystander to go with him to the rescue. Together they ran across the square under a hail of fire. Before they reached the spot, however, some British troops rushed out and dragged the wounded man to cover inside the gate.
” Throughout that day and the next my husband actively interested himself in preventing looting. He was instrumental in saving several shops ; he posted civic guards, and enlisted the help of many civilians and priests. He pleaded with the crowds and persuaded them to return to their homes. But by Tuesday evening the crowds were getting out of hand. Everyone feared the worst. My husband called a meeting for that evening to organise a civic police. We met at 5.30 and had tea. I went home by a roundabout route, for I was anxious about my seven-year-old boy. I never saw my husband again.
” It was between 7 and 8 o’clock that evening that my husband passed Portobello Bridge on his way home. At this point Lieutenant M. C. Morris, Nth East Surrey regiment, was in charge of a picket. Recognising my husband from the circulated description of him he ordered his arrest. He was unarmed, carrying a walking-stick, and was walking quite alone in the middle of the road. At Portobello Barracks, wither two soldiers escorted him, he was searched and questioned. No papers of an incriminating character were found on him.
” Lieutenant S. V. Morgan, 3rd Royal Irish Rifles, the adjutant at Portobello Barracks, reported the arrest to headquarters, saying there was no charge against my husband, and asking whether he should release him. Orders were given to detain him. But the charge sheet produced at Colthurst’s court martial showed the entry against my husband’s name was ‘ no charge.’
” Told he was to be detained overnight, he asked that I be informed, but the request was refused. No message was ever allowed to reach me ; no notification of his death no announcement of his first or second burial was ever issued.
” At about midnight Captain Bowen-Colthurst came to Lieutenant W. P. Dobbin, 3rd Royal Irish Fusiliers, captain of the guard, and demanded that my husband be turned over to him. This, of course, Dobbin had no right to do, but he did it. Colthurst had my husband’s hands tied behind his back, and then led him out with a raiding party along the Rathmines road, the raiders firing at houses as they went along.
” Opposite Rathmines Catholic Church the column came upon two boys who had been attending the service that evening and were returning to their homes. Colthurst stopped and asked them if they did not know that martial law had been proclaimed, and that they could be ‘ shot like dogs.’ The elder of the boys, J. J. Coady, a lad of 17, made no reply but started to walk away. ‘ Bash him, Colthurst ordered, and a soldier broke the boy’s jaw with the butt end of his rifle, knocking him down. Colthurst whipped out his revolver and shot him dead. The body was later carried to the barracks.
” My husband protested against this wanton murder and was told by Colthurst to say his prayers as he probably would be the next.
” Evidence as to what happened next is conflicting, although it is abundantly plain that Colthurst committed another murder a few minutes later. The official enquiry report on this subject had this to say :
” ‘ The evidence of the different witnesses can only be reconciled by inferring that more than one case of shooting occurred during the progress of Capt. Colthurst’s party. . . . None of the evidence offered to us afforded any justification for the shooting of Coady ; it is, of course, a delusion to suppose that martial law confers upon an officer the right to take human life, and this delusion had in the present case tragic consequences.’
” All evidence of these atrocities was omitted at Colthurst’s court martial. It was only against the strongest protest from the military that Sir John Simon insisted that testimony in this matter be presented to the commission holding the enquiry. But nothing was ever done about two other murders which responsible eyewitnesses declared Colthurst committed later in that week. The commission ruled that they were ‘ not within their scope.’
” At Portobello Bridge, Colthurst posted part of his men under Lieutenant Leslie Wilson to whom he turned over my husband with instructions to shoot him ‘ forthwith ‘ if there was any sniping at him and his raiders. Then Colthurst led his party on over the bridge and to Alderman James Kelly’s tobacco shop. Before entering it they flung live bombs into the place. Then they sacked the premises and took prisoners the shopman and two editors Thomas Dickson and Patrick Maclntyre. Together with my husband they were all marched back to the barracks.
” As it happened Dickson, a cripple, had published a loyalist newspaper, the Eye Opener, and Maclntyre paper, the Searchlight, was also a loyalist publication. Alderman Kelly had helped to recruit for the British army. But Colthurst had mistaken the latter for Alderman Tom Kelly, a Sinn Feiner, and their combined protests were unavailing.
” Shortly before 10 o’clock the next morning Colthurst again demanded my husband from the guard, together with the two other editors. Besides Wilson and Dobbin, Lieutenant Tooley was in charge of the guard of 18 men. To them he stated he was ‘ going to shoot Skeffington and the other two.’ According to their own testimony these subordinate officers delivered the three prisoners to Colthurst without protest. They also told off seven men with rifles to accompany Colthurst to the barracks’ yard.
” This yard was about 12 feet long and 6 feet wide. As the three prisoners walked away from the firing squad, and when they had reached the end of the yard, Colthurst gave the order to fire, and all three dropped in their tracks, dead.
” The British authorities prevented my ever seeing my husband’s body, and when I attempted to have an inquest held, refused permission
” Colthurst presently made a report of the triple murder after Major Rosborough ordered him to do so, and it was duly sent to headquarters at Dublin Castle. The report was altogether a fabrication and, subsequently, he was ordered to make a second report. Meantime, however, he kept his command without even a reprimand.
” Later in the day of the murder of the three editors, Colthurst was in charge of troops in Camden Street when Councillor Richard O’ Carroll one of the labour leaders in the Dublin City Council surrendered. Marched to the barracks’ yard, his hands above his head, O’Carroll walked to his death. Colthurst shot him in the chest. To a soldier who expressed doubt as to the effect of Colthurst’s bullet, the latter replied, ‘ Never mind, he’ll die later.’ Then he ordered the unconscious man to be dragged out into the street and left there. The driver of a bread van picked him up, but the military interfered, and took him back to Portobello Barracks. Ten days later he died in his wife’s arms. They had sent for her at the last, and she arrived in time to hear him whisper a dying statement in her ear a statement she later repeated to me.
” Three weeks later Mrs. O’Carroll gave birth to a son.
” On the same day Colthurst arrested a boy whom he suspected of having Sinn Fein information. When the boy denied it, Colthurst ordered him to kneel in the street and, as the boy raised his hand to cross himself, shot him in the back.
” In both these cases the British authorities refused to order an enquiry.
” Meanwhile, I was vainly seeking my husband. All sorts of rumours reached me : that he had been wounded and was in a hospital ; that he had been shot by a looter ; arrested by the police. I also heard that he had been executed, but this I refused to believe it seemed incredible. I clung to the belief that even if he had been condemned to die, he would be tried before a jury, for martial law did not apply to non-combatants, and that I would be notified. Of course, the reason of the silence is now clear. It was hoped my husband’s case would be like that of so many others who ‘ disappeared ‘ and whose whereabouts could never be traced. Thirteen days after the murder of my husband and the other two editors, Mr. Tennant stated in the House of Commons in answer to a question that ‘ no prisoner has been shot in Dublin without a trial.
” All day Wednesday and Thursday I enquired in vain, and Friday came without my having any positive information of my husband’s fate. On Friday I tried to see a physician connected with the Portobello Barracks, but the police stopped me. I discovered I was under police supervision as I continually was for several years afterwards. Meantime, houses were being raided and pillaged. Mme. Markievicz’s home was broken into on Wednesday and all her pictures and other valuables stolen. Whole streets were ransacked and the inhabitants terrified ; the soldiers ruining everything within reach of their bayonets.
” Soldiers were everywhere selling their loot openly in the streets. Officers were shamelessly displaying ‘ souvenirs. ‘
” To allay my terrible anxiety my two sisters, Mrs. Kettle and Mrs. Culhane, agreed to try to get into Portobello Barracks. On their arrival they were immediately put under arrest and a drumhead court martial held upon them. Colthurst presided. Their crime was that they had been seen talking to Sinn Feiners. Colthurst refused to give them any information, declaring he knew nothing whatever of Sheehy Skeffington. Finally, they were marched off under armed guard and admonished not to mention what had taken place.
” That afternoon I managed to find the father of the murdered boy Coade. He told me he had seen my husband’s body in the barracks’ mortuary when he had gone for his son’s body. This a priest later confirmed, but he could give me no other information.
” I went home shortly after 6 o’clock, and was putting my little boy to bed when the maid noticed soldiers lining up around the house. She became terrified and dashed out the back door, carrying my son with her. I ran after them, for I knew the house would be surrounded and feared they might be shot down if seen running. As I ran down the hall a volley was fired through the front door and windows. The shots were fired without warning, and without any demand having been made on us to open the door.
” They broke in the windows with their rifle butts and swarmed all over the house, some going to the roof. Colthurst was in command. He rushed upon us and ordered us to throw up our hands. Behind him was a squad of men with fixed bayonets. The raiders numbered about 40 and included Colonel H. T. N. Allat, Royal Irish Rifles, who was later killed in the vicinity of the South Dublin Union. On this occasion, however, he exercised no command.
” Colthurst ordered us to be removed to the front room to be shot if we stirred. For three hours they searched the house while we stood motionless, closely guarded by men with drawn bayonets, with others outside the house with levelled rifles pointed at us. The house was sacked, everything of value being removed books, pictures, toys, linen and household goods. I could hear officers and men jeering as they turned over my private possessions. One of the soldiers (a Belfast man) seemed ashamed, and said, ‘ I didn’t enlist for this. They are taking the whole bloomin’ house with them.’
” All my private letters, including many from my husband before our marriage, his articles, a manuscript play the labour of a lifetime were taken. Colthurst had brought my husband’s keys, stolen from his body, and with them opened his study which he always kept locked.
” Throughout the raid, Colthurst’s demeanour was that of a sane man. He addressed several questions to me, and was coldly insolent in manner But he was quite self- possessed. His men took his orders without question. My sisters are certain he was sane when he questioned them at the drumhead court martial. He was not the same man, unquestionably, a friend would have found him on the golf links, for instance. But British officers are all like that. It is only on occasions like this that one sees them as they really are. Of insanity, there was no suggestion. Colthurst was simply the Englishman with the veneer removed.
” It was during this raid that he came across some papers which later he falsely endorsed as having been ‘ found on Skeffington’s person.’ This was proved at the enquiry.
” A second raid was made May 1st, during my absence, and this time a little temporary maid was taken under guard to the barracks. She was held there a week, the charge against her being that she was found in my house. On this same day, Major Sir Francis Vane, the second in command at Portobello, was relieved of his command by Lieut. Col. McCammond for his persistent efforts to have Colthurst put under arrest. He was told to give up his post and hand it over to Colthurst. Thus the latter was promoted six days after the murders. Later he was sent in charge of a detachment of troops to Newry, and not until May n was he put under ‘ close arrest.’ Are these facts consistent with the theory of lunacy ?
” Sir Francis Vane made a genuine effort to see justice done. Finding his superior officers at Portobello would do nothing, he went to Dublin Castle and saw Colonel Kinnard and General Friend as well as Major Price, head of the Intelligence department. They all deprecated the ‘ fuss ‘ and refused to act.
” By order of Colonel McCammond, bricklayers were brought to the barracks, Sunday, May 7. They removed the bloodstained bricks in the wall and replaced them with new bricks.
” Sir Francis Vane crossed to London early in May, interviewed Lord Kitchener, before whom he laid the facts, and I have reason to believe it was Kitchener who ordered Colthurst’s arrest. But the order was disregarded by General Maxwell, then in command in Dublin. The net result of Sir Francis Vane’s efforts was that he was dismissed from the service by secret report of General Maxwell deprived of his rank of major and refused a hearing at the court martial. Yet previously he had been mentioned in despatches by Brigadier-General McConochine for bravery.
” Without my knowledge my husband’s body was exhumed and reburied in Glasnevin, May 8. Originally it had been put in a sack and buried in the barracks’ yard. The remains were given to his father on condition that the funeral would be at early morn and that I be not notified. My husband’s father consented unwillingly to do this on the assurance of General Maxwell that obedience would result in the trial and punishment of the murderer.
” On that day I managed to get to John Dillon and told him my story. Three days later he read my statement in the House of Commons in the course of his wonderful speech describing the horror he had seen in Dublin. It was that speech that compelled Mr. Asquith to cross at once to Ireland. Regarding my statement, Mr. Asquith said :
” ‘ I confess I do not and cannot believe it. Does anyone suppose that Sir John Maxwell has any object in shielding officers and soldiers, if there be such, who have been guilty of such un-gentlemanlike, such inhuman, conduct ? It is the last thing the British army would dream of.’
” He went to Ireland, and found every word of my statement true, as verified at the enquiry. He found other horrors the North Kings Street atrocity, for instance surpassing mine. Yet the military shielded the murderers and hushed all enquiries. The Royal Commission that was appointed to enquire into the causes of the rebellion early in May did its work thoroughly, but no enquiry was permitted as to the atrocities committed by British troops in Dublin.
” The enquiry connected with Colthurst’s murder of my husband and the other editors was limited in scope to the consideration of only these three murders collateral evidence of other murders of which he had been admittedly guilty being ruled out. Witnesses were not sworn. Colthurst himself at that time committed to Broadmoor Insane Asylum was not present.
” Colthurst had been found insane by the earlier court martial, a wooden tribunal presided over by Lord Cheylesmore and twelve senior officers All the witnesses were military. I was not allowed to present evidence. My counsel, Mr. Healy, declared that, ‘ Never since the trial of Christ was there a greater travesty of justice.’
” During the court martial Colthurst was under no restraint. He stayed at the Kilworth hotel in Dawson Street with his family, and for several weeks after he had been found ‘ insane ‘ he continued at liberty. When Dublin feeling began to run high, he was finally taken to Broadmoor Asylum to be ‘ detained during the King’s pleasure ‘ but he still held his rank as captain and drew half -pay for several months. Eventually he was ‘ retired/ but was not dismissed from the service !
“In an attempt to force the British Government to administer justice, I went to London in July to interview editors and members of Parliament. My efforts resulted in my being sent for by Mr. Asquith, July 19. I brought with me as a witness to the interview, Miss Muriel Matters, a well-known suffragist. Mr. Asquith received us at 10, Downing Street and began by explaining the difficulties in the way of holding an adequate enquiry. The House, he said, would refuse a sworn enquiry, and that alone could be satisfactory. He wanted to know if I would be satisfied with an inadequate enquiry which was ‘ the best ‘ he could offer. I told him I should not be satisfied with any enquiry that he told me in advance would be inadequate. I told him also that if I were not satisfied I should take further action.
” I had even then in view a visit to America to tell an honest country what British militarism could do.
” Then Mr. Asquith carefully broached the subject of ‘ compensation ‘ in lieu of an enquiry. Previously proposals had been made to me, from various unofficial sources, to accept compensation, most of the arguments being based on my boy’s future. Mr. Asquith put the proposition ever so delicately, but it was obviously his only object in sending for me. He was mellow and hale, with a rosy, chubby face and silver hair, suggesting a Father Christmas. But he never looked me straight in the face once during the interview !
I listened to his persuasive talk about compensation, and finally told him the only compensation I would consider was a full, public enquiry into my husband’s murder. He finally said he would give his answer to Mr. Dillon, and so our interview ended.
” Out of this interview came the setting up of the Commission of Enquiry with Sir John Simon at its head. But Asquith narrowly restricted the scope of the enquiry as I have pointed out. My counsel was not allowed to examine or cross-examine any witness. All witnesses who might have testified damagingly to the military were either dead or scattered to points where they could not be reached. And yet the report of the commission established many important facts : the promotion of Colthurst, the dismissal of Sir Francis Vane, and the raids on my house for incriminatory evidence after the murder. Doubt was cast on the insanity of Colthurst, and grave censure passed on the military.
” Finally, let no one imagine that my husband’s case was isolated, the one mad act of an irresponsible officer. It was part of an organised programme. There is evidence, sworn and duly attested, in Irish hands today of almost fifty other murders of unarmed civilians and disarmed prisoners some of them boys and some women committed by British soldiers during Easter Week. The North Staffords murdered 14 men in North King Street, and buried them in the cellars of their houses. In the British official reports two such murders are admitted. They are ‘ justified ‘ in a statement made by General Sir John Maxwell at the time as follows :
” ‘ Possibly unfortunate incidents, which we should regret now, may have occurred. It did not, perhaps, always follow that where shots were fired from a particular house the inmates were always necessarily guilty, but how were the soldiers to discriminate ? They saw their comrades killed beside them by hidden and treacherous assailants, and it is even possible that under the horrors of this peculiar attack some of them saw red. That is the inevitable consequence of a rebellion of this kind. It was allowed to come into being among these people and could not be suppressed by velvet-glove methods.’
Mrs. Skeffington left Ireland for America in December, 1916. She went with the fixed purpose of exposing British atrocities to the people of a then neutral country. She hoped to damage British prestige in the United States, and especially to do her best to prevent America from entering the war. As she herself has stated, she was under police and military surveillance at this time, a fact that stamps her eluding them a feat equal to some of Collins’ best. This is her own story of her outwitting the British authorities.
” I managed to obtain a passport by assuming another woman’s personality,” she began. ” With the help of her Scottish family I learned to dress and make up like her in every way. I cannot give further details on this point as others are involved and our fight for independence is not yet over.
” My first goal was a Scotch port from which it had been arranged I was to take ship for an American port. The boat I took for the Irish Sea crossing did not, as was usual, stop at Liverpool for mails. Ordinarily all passengers were questioned and searched at that port, but I was unfortunately spared that ordeal as a result of a submarine scare which caused us to make a wide detour away from the English coast.
” Before starting on the journey perhaps the more risky because I insisted on taking my boy with me I had carefully arranged an alibi to account for my absence from Dublin. I let it be generally known that I had fallen ill and had gone to the home of a friend in the country to be nursed. Letters I had prepared were posted by this friend every day while I was on the high seas and in America.
” Providence again came to my aid although it did not seem so at the time when my seven-year-old son developed diphtheria on the eve of our departure from the Scotch port. It was necessary to put him in a hospital at once, and there he was isolated for ten weeks under the assumed name which I had adopted. Finally, when he was released, to my astonishment he was not only very changed in appearance, but had acquired a strong Scotch accent !
” To further my chances of eventual success, and realising that I could be of no use to my boy while he was in the hospital, 1 returned to Dublin. I had recovered from my ‘ illness,’ and resumed my former occupation as a teacher. Thus I put the sleuths off the scent. My second trip across the Irish Sea in possession of the false passport was a relatively easy matter. At Liverpool the authorities subjected Greeks, Americans and Irish aboard the boat to a rigourous examination, but my Scotch passport and passable ‘ burr’ let me escape with a question or two.
” The most difficult part of my task was travelling in Ireland itself. There was, of course, no chance of my leaving from the port of Dublin. I had to go north by a roundabout route, during the course of which I adopted a series of disguises. At one stage of the journey I was an elderly invalid; at another I was a touring actress. These were necessary transitions from my own identity to that of the Scotch woman named in my passport.
” Of course the passport was bogus, but, like my make up, it was good enough to deceive the authorities who examined it. The turning out of those bogus passports is a story by itself which, one day, perhaps, can be safely told. But as yet no one in Ireland knows how soon bogus passports may again become vitally necessary !
” My little boy was obviously an invalid, and as such an object of compassion a fact that served to distract attention from me. Also I encouraged him to chatter in the hearing of the British authorities, and his suddenly acquired Scottish burr was better for my purposes than a dozen passports !
” I remained in the United States for eighteen months, lecturing on ‘ British Militarism as I have known it.’ In this period I addressed audiences in every large city from New York to San Francisco, and from the State of Washington to Texas. I spoke at women’s clubs, at universities, including Harvard, Chicago and Columbia, at peace and labour conferences, and, of course, Irish assemblies. I was arrested in San Francisco for speaking against conscription for Ireland after America had entered the war. But I was not detained nor even charged.
” For several weeks I lobbied Congress and the Senate, and obtained an interview with President Wilson. I found him sympathetic but guarded.
” The British in America were not idle at this time. They tried many times to put an end to my activities. Once their agents attempted to get me into Canada by inducing me to board the wrong train out of Buffalo. They approached me as an Irish reception committee. A stranger put me right just as the train was about to pull out of the station. Had I remained aboard, I should have been deported to England the moment I was in Canada.
” The American people were very kind to me. Individually and collectively they are extremely warm-hearted, hospitable and sympathetic. I made many enduring friendships with Americans that have stood the test of time. I found American women especially helpful women like Jane Adams and Mary McDougall of Chicago, Alice Park of Palo Alto, and Katherine Lecky and Dr. Gertrude Kelly of New York. If for any reason I had to live outside Ireland, I should choose the United States as a second home-
” Having readopted my own personality as soon I landed in America, the task of returning to Ireland was no easy matter. At last, after much difficulty and delay, I obtained a passport from the British under restrictive conditions. It permitted me to go to Liverpool only ; I should not be allowed to go to Ireland, but must remain in England. I told them I was willing to chance their being able to keep me in England, and so took passage to Liverpool, where I arrived in July, 1918. There I was closely examined by the military who threatened me with dire penalties if I failed to report regularly to the police or tried to leave Liverpool. These threats I naturally ignored.
” First, one of my sisters obtained permission to come to Liverpool and take my little boy back to Dublin. Then I disappeared for a fortnight with the help of friends, a fast car, and some disguises. Eventually I landed in Ireland at the end of July as a stowaway in a tramp steamship. For two nights and a day I hid in the pitch dark, grimy hold without food or water. We landed south of Dublin and, after some delay, I was smuggled ashore, clad in ship’s dungarees, in the small hours of the morning.
” The British still believe I managed to elude them by disguising myself as a nun, and nuns were searched regularly for weeks before it was discovered I was back in Ireland.
” Almost as soon as I resumed my ordinary life having in the interim transacted some special business which I cannot divulge at this time I was arrested and deported to Holloway jail in London for the duration of the ‘ disorder ‘ in Ireland. I hunger struck, was released, and finally permitted to return to my home.
” By this time Colthurst had been released from the in- sane asylum ‘ cured.’ So far as I know it is the only case on record of a man found guilty of murder but insane, who has ever obtained his release from an English criminal lunatic asylum. It was the fact that he had been released that undoubtedly led the British authorities to permit me to return to Ireland. Public opinion in England itself was aroused. It was going too far Colthurst at liberty and his victim’s widow imprisoned !
” Since then I have been arrested several times ; my home has been raided several times, and on one occasion I suffered concussion of the brain as a result of having been clubbed with the butt end of a rifle in the hands of a Royal Irish Constable.
” The last I heard of Colthurst he was occupying a minor official post in Essex. His stay in the Broadmoor Asylum lasted about eighteen months from July, 1916, to February, 1918. His release was effected by a campaign conducted by the Morning Post and the Spectator, both of which newspapers insisted quite correctly that he was not insane. I go further, and declare that he never was insane ! So far as I have been able to discover, no formal steps were ever taken to establish his restoration to sanity.
” His family no longer live in Ireland. Some of his property he owned some castles in Cork was burned to the ground last year. It would seem to be fairly safe to assume that Ireland has seen the last of Captain Bowen-Colthurst.
” One final word about Adjutant Morgan, the only Catholic in the Royal Irish Rifles, and the only man at Portobello Barracks who treated my husband kindly. Very shortly after my husband’s murder he was removed from the regiment, deprived of his adjutancy, and sent to the front ‘ under a cloud.’ There he was killed in 1917.”