DOC Series: Interned on St Helena

This addition to our Decade of Centenaries series is quite unusual and not very well known. From November 1922 until January 1923 there was a flurry of correspondence between Desmond FitzGerald, Irish Pro-Treaty Minister of External Affairs, and Mark Sturgis, Irish Colonial Office, concerning the establishment of an internment camp for Republican prisoners on the Island of St. Helena and the cost of such an undertaking.

The documents speak for themselves so this blog will consist mainly of images of the letters, reports and papers (all secret of course). These highlight the time and effort that went into investigating if this remote island, once the home of Napoleon, could indeed house Irish Republican prisoners.

The report below is 16 pages and goes into great detail about the logistics of getting prisoners to the island, the topography and natural resources on the island and, most importantly, the financial cost of this proposal. It is signed by M.J. Burke from the Office of Public Works.

Another report by Burke followed on 3 January 1923 with the forwarding letter by Thomas Le Fanu, Office of Public Works, in which he stated that this additional information was obtained from a ‘private source’.

Two interesting letters within this file can be seen below. The first is a copy of a letter from N.J. Loughnane, Vice Regal Lodge, to Sturgis informing him that having discussed the issue with

..Mr. Cosgrave and General Mulcahy who agreed that wherever possible British Military offenders against the [Irish] Civil law would be handed over to their own military authorities for trial and punishment…

Despite this concession being made and all the research into the island being a viable internment camp, it is noted in the report entitled ‘Camp in St Helena’ that the ‘British Government have so far given no decision as to weather they will allot portion of the island to us’.

In the end Irish Republican prisoners were not interred on St Helena and reading about the climate, food supply and lodging available on the island they may have been glad not to!

  • This post was researched and written by Meadhbh Murphy, Archivist, UCD Archives.

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