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13 June 1997 Edition

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Remembering the Past: General amnesty 1917

In June 1917, just 14 months after the Easter Rising and with the political climate throughout Ireland dramatically changed, the last of the sentenced republican prisoners in jail in England arrived home to an enthusiastic reception.

During May 1916, following the end of the Rising, almost 2,000 republicans from all over Ireland, including five women, were deported to internment camps and jails in Wales and England.

In August, 1,136 internees in Frongoch Internment Camp in North Wales were released and the remaining 600 internees were freed the following December. However, over 100 sentenced political prisoners, including Countess Markievicz, remained in jails throughout England.

During the early months of 1917, the recently-released internees set about reorganising the Volunteers and Sinn Féin and began a major campaign for the unconditional release of all the sentenced political prisoners.

Faced with mounting demands for the prisoners' release, and the fear of another prisoner being nominated for the forthcoming East Clare by-election following the election of Joe McGuinness as MP for South Longford the previous month, Lloyd George, the British prime minister, announced a general amnesty for all republican prisoners in English jails.

There was rejoicing all through the night before the arrival from England on the mail-boat from Holyhead of more than 100 political prisoners. Huge crowds gathered to greet them.

By the time the ex-prisoners arrived at Westland Row Station (now Pearse Station) from Dun Laoghaire, a milling, pressing crowd, stewarded by the Volunteers, was waiting for them.

Members of Dublin Corporation welcomed them on behalf of the people who, delirious with enthusiasm, carried the prisoners to cars to be driven in triumph through the streets. The events were repeated when Countess Markievicz, released from Aylesbury Prison, returned on the evening boat.

The people were looking for leadership and the duty of leadership now fell on the ex-prisoners. Within two years they would organise the people in a devastating guerrilla war against the British forces of occupation.

The last of the republican prisoners imprisoned in England since the Rising arrived in Ireland in June 1917, 80 years ago this month.


An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1
Ireland
 

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