Local History by Seán Beattie


Buncrana lady in Mountjoy jail


On 9 June 1923, the newspaper ÉIRE THE IRISH NATION published a letter from an unnamed Buncrana lady who complained bitterly about conditions in Mountjoy jail, Dublin. The banner headline ran BRUTALITY TO WOMEN IN BUNCRANA.

Her jailers were not British soldiers but officers of the newly-established Irish Free State, (referred to as Staters who were pro-Treaty) in the final days of the Civil War. At the time of writing, her parents lived in Buncrana but she had been released and was living in the town.  Below, some extracts are quoted:

I have no longer permission to get letters or parcels or newspapers. This right was denied me because I accused the Staters of the murder of poor Charlie Daly and his comrades. Times have changed for the worse in the last fortnight. We have been changed to other quarters – a terrible place. We sent up a protest against having to lie on planks only six inches off the cement floor. Instead our protest went unheeded. Fifty Slavers were marched up and took positions outside our cells, which were barricaded. We delivered a free address, accusing them of being guilty of the murder of Charlie Daly for the sake of a miserable pittance a week and called on them to leave off their English uniforms. After a while, my cell door was burst in. Four Creeslough girls and myself were attacked and dragged unmercifully out. I was last. The Staters were angry at hearing the bitter truth…..Well I got badly beaten. We were slammed into the place and given wet bed clothing………

Other letters support her story. Similar conditions obtained in Kilmainham jail. Names are not given but there are references to a Miss MacDermott and a Mrs. Barrett in related letters. The lady who wrote the letter above may have been a member of Cumann na mBan in Buncrana but she may have joined in another town. Any help in identifying the lady would be welcome. She belonged to an anti-Treaty family.

Seán Beattie 31/12/2016



  1. Seamus McTague

    Not at all surprised to read this. Brutality seems to have been the norm in those days. Just finished “After the Rising ” by Seán Enright. It covers the aftermath of 1916 from a legal point of view. Well worth a read.It deals with the period up to The Treaty.The ruthlessness of both sides was an eye opener to me.

  2. Raymond and Carole Blair

    Hello Sean – that is very interesting about the Buncrana lady. It is almost certainly not the same lady but I have seen a reference to a Miss Eithne Coyle from somewhere in Donegal, a young girl from an anti-treaty family, who was involved in a hunger strike in mountjoy in 1923 – again many modern parallels!




    • Comment by post author

      Eithne Coyle was definitely involved at some stage. I think she lived in Falcarragh and was married to a Moville man (whose family I cannot trace)
      Iam hoping someone in Buncrana will reply but as we know 1923 is as long time ago and memories are short.
      Regards, Sean

  3. Fearghal Mac Lochlainn

    A very interesting piece Sean. It would have been hard times to live in. The civil war was Irelands shame. So many cruel deeds done on what we’re once comrades in arms. Here’s a link to a photo to a photo of Eithne Coyle.


    A couple of my Great GrandUncles were part of Clonmany IRA during war of independence. Would you have any information from that area. Their surname was Hirrell .
    Thank you for Sharing Sean.

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