DOC SERIES: Papers of Margaret and Fr Tom Burke

The papers of the Burke family of Castlegar, County Galway, were deposited in UCD Archives by Colonel Dan Bryan in September 1975, and catalogued by Marie Altzinger in December 1981.

The collection was assembled by Catherine Burke O’Donovan and covers the War of Independence and Civil War period. All the correspondence (except items UCDA P30/10–11, 14) was written or received by members of the Burke family: Fr Tom Burke, Margaret Burke (Peg) and Catherine Burke O’Donovan. The early correspondence and reports (P30/1–11) relate to the organisation of the Irish Volunteer movement in the Galway area, where Fr Burke was its chaplain. The letters received include two from Michael Collins (P30/7–8). The later correspondence dates mainly from 1923 to 1924 and consists of letters written by Margaret Burke and Thomas Derrig during their respective periods of imprisonment by the Irish Free State government. 

Margaret Burke was a member of Cumann na mBan and played an active role in the war of independence. She opposed the Treaty and was imprisoned by the Free State government. She does not appear to have taken part in any hunger strikes. Tomas Derrig (1897–1956), Westport, County Mayo, was a member of the Irish Volunteers and organised a Volunteer corps at University College Galway. He was arrested by the British authorities in 1918 and given a twelve month jail sentence in Belfast, where he went on hunger strike. In 1919 he became commander of the IRA West Mayo brigade. He was arrested and released in 1921 and was elected a TD in the same year. He opposed the Treaty and became adjutant-general of the western division of the anti-Treaty IRA. He was arrested by the Free State government in April 1923. During an unsuccessful escape attempt, he was shot in one eye, which he lost. While in jail, he again went on hunger strike but eventually abandoned it. 

All Derrig’s letters are personal ones, written from jail in 1923 and 1924 to Catherine Burke O’Donovan. They refer to prison conditions and national events. The newspapers in the collection are all, with one exception (P30/37), anti-Treaty publications and deal mainly with prisoners’ hunger strikes.

Margaret Burke’s letters (P30/15–22) in this collection, are written from Kilmainham Gaol and the North Dublin Union internment camp during the spring and summer of 1923. They include few references to national events but discuss the sometimes arbitrary life of a prisoner, her own health, and conditions in the places where she is imprisoned. She writes to her sisters Mary (Burke) and Kit (Catherine O’Donovan). She discusses the manner of her arrest (P30/19), and gives an account of the release of Mrs (Nora) Connolly O’Brien (daughter of James Connolly, signatory of 1916 Proclamation) from the prison (P30/22).

The letters demonstrate her awareness of her obligations to friends, family and supporters, who write and send parcels, including food and clothing. The whims of the censor’s office often mean that she receives parcels long after they arrived and without the sender’s details, and she is at pains to acknowledge receipt. She often comments on the unpredictable rules regarding sending and receiving letters and parcels. 

27-4-23 Dublin

My dearest Mary,

I expected to have been able to write to you long ago, but had to write to Miss Farrell & Miss Horgan a few times to send me on some clothes. I know it would be useless writing to [Mc?] as he would be hopeless (although very willing) at that work, & I wrote to Tom, Nora, Kit, Michael & Delia in turn, & left you until last. We were unfortunate to arrive here the day all letters & parcels were stopped, and it was nearly three weeks before we could write. Fortunately for me, when Kit heard I was here, she came up, & got leave to send me in some of her own clothes & brought me some, & a lovely red blanket, so I was not too badly off. The other ladies who came with me from Galway, had only to take off their clothes by degrees & in turn & try to wash them. I got a bad cold & rheumatism after coming here, but I was sent to hospital, where we have a fire, and I am a good deal better now thank God. Everyone has been so kind to us since we came here sending letters & parcels that I really feel ashamed. Tom, Nora, Kit & Delia made me parcels, & several other friends, and Mother Brendan in Gort has sent letters & parcels, & I could not write to her yet but asked Kit to thank her for me, & hope to write to her next week DV. We are only allowed to write three letters a week, but can receive any number [sent], so if you can spare me a letter I will be glad. We can only send one sheet of paper so that’s the reason of the overcrowding. I asked them to send my pen from home but it has not arrived yet. I hope to be able to write to Peter soon. I did not write to him [] [], & meant to write on t Patrick’s Day, (as I shall []) but alas I was landed up here that day, I am to think I must be an important person that I have to locked up. I hope your cold is better & that you are feeling well.

Best Love, Peg

North Dublin Union Internment Camp
July 27th 1923

My dearest Mary,

I expect you have heard from Kit, that we are again allowed to write and receive letters. How do you like being up for the Irish course. I thought after getting the certificate last year you would have no more studying to do. It is hard enough to begin to study, after your hard [] work during the year. There is a Miss Chambers here, who tells me that there was a friends if hers, received & professed with Peggy Gannon, who is also up for the course. Are any of the Sligo nuns up. I had letters and parcels from Kit & Nora this week and a parcel from  Miss Farrell. It will take me weeks when I get home to see all my friends to thank them for all the parcels I have got. The postage alone has cost a small fortune. Mother Brendan has sent several and I could only write to her once, but I hope to write to her next week [] when I have written to all my scattered family.

I must go to see Surgeon McArdle before I go home. Kit was trying to get him in to see me, but filed. Anyway all the doctors I saw since I was arrested (and I saw several) said that they could not do anything for me,  whilst I am here, my knee has been bad all the times. I got a  bad cold the first time I went to Kilmainham. Kit told me in her letter that she expects to be up Croagh Patrick on Sunday next, so she will probably go to Westport today or tomorrow. I am afraid I won’t be able to do Lough Derg this year. I expect there are crowds going there this year as they were prevented last year. I was planning to go with some Galway friends early this year “ but —alas”.  Best love,

Your [], Peg

North Dublin Union 1-5-23
“No 204” North Dublin Union Dublin our new address 

My dearest Nora,

You see I have changed my address since I wrote last. We were moved here from Kilmainham at half-past two on Saturday morning last. We were kept a long time walking in the cold. We were all [], & were not allowed take any luggage with us, but as a great concession another hospital patient Mrs O’Brien (Nora Connolly) [was] allowed take our [] * night attire, and it was only today our luggage arrived. I think when we get fixed up here, it will be much healthier that Kilmainham. We can look out at the houses all round, & the exercise ground is much bigger, & there is green grass and trees, and we are near the Broadstone, so when we are released it won’t take us long to get to the station. I expect we will all be released soon now. We are over [?] hundred here, & some of the girls have to sleep in big dormitories with over thirty beds, & that’s not very pleasant. Fortunately I am in a room with only three beds. The meals are not very good but we expect they will be better, when we are all settled here. There are other prisoners, to be taken here from Kilmainham. I got cold on Friday again and had a bad attack of rheumatism on Saturday, Sunday & Monday but thank God, I am a good deal better [today] & hope to be able to go out to the grounds tomorrow, [?] the nurse [?] you. If so I hope you will be able to [?] our good wishes. I asked Kit to write & thank you for the two parcels of cakes. We get any amount of parcels. Tom sent us a cooked ham last week & mother Brendan sent parcels & letters [?]. It was only last week I was able to write to Mary. I hope Jack, [?] Triona [?] & yourself are in the best of form. Reg to Mary. 

“No 204”

My dearest Kit, 

All our private letters are again stopped but I got special permission to reply to you letter of Whit Monday. I know you will be glad to learn that I am ever so much better this week, & able to be up & out every day, and if the weather keeps fine I hope, that the rheumatism will not bother me again. It would be useless I believe for you to try & get a specialist in to see me. I have written to Miss Farrell for a doctors address, & expect to get a letter from her when we are again allowed our letters and parcels. If I cannot see the doctor Miss Farrell recommends in a week of two I shall write to him. [?] one of my old crutches still at home that [?] a stick would do me if I want it, so if I do, I will write home don’t go to the expense of getting me new pair, as I have cost you far too much already, and please God when I get released I will be able to get proper treatment and will be quite well again. I got my watch, & I expect you sent the other things as well, but I expect they will be lying in the Censors Office for weeks, as they were last time. I got three parcels sent to me from the Galway Restaurant last week, that had bee here for nearly three weeks and I don’t even know who they are from & now cannot write to [?] & thank [?]. Will you please tell Nora & the others that I cannot write. I wanted to write to Nora & the Riddles for their birthdays but could not. Tell Nora also to send word to Miss Brownes mother that our letters are stopped, & [?] she is quite well. Will you tell Maura Quin to send me my navy costume if she is going on holidays before I am released. Miss Farrell sent me a very nice cardigan but I returned it to her as I had two already. I have plenty of clothes at present but hope to get the blouse I was getting made by [?]. Best love, Peg.

No 3209 North Dublin Union
Dublin July 18th ‘23 

My Dearest Kit, 

I was only last night I got your letter of June 7th, enclosing Dr Bale’s address. I got the letters you sent me from the city over a week ago, but could not answer it until today. I got you parcel (the Castlebar one) about three weeks ago, and a parcel from Galway, but no parcel from Maura or Babe. Perhaps they took them to the gate & there were not taken. I don’t know who sent the Galway parcel, but I asked Miss Farrell in a business letter to find out so that I could acknowledge it & thank the donors. I also got a parcel of tinned fruit from Mother Brendan. Will you write & thank her, & say I will write next week D.V. I must write to Nora on Friday D.V. I hope her cold is better. I have a few things to send for her own birthday & the Riddles, but could not even write to her. We will be allowed to write two letters weekly & a business letter. & will receive all letters & parcels sent. Did Maura come back from her holidays. I wrote to Mr Donnellan in Roberts for some things. He sent me [?] cloth for a dress, which I had made & am wearing & crepe silk for a jumper. One of the prisoners made the jumper & it looks very nice. It is done in a crooked stitch and if you like to send me the silk, I could get one made for you. If you like I can send you out my own as I don’t intend to wear it until I go out with my navy costume. I got the letter from Blake & Kenneys Yesterday & have written to Mr Cooke. When I saw Mr Cooke about the claim I gave him the dates of the claim, & I have a role of them at home but I think it’s useless to ask Michael to look them up as the day U was arrested the military went through all my letters & papers, as they did not tell me I was arrested. I did tell them go through everything. When they arrived I was busy getting tea for the men, and I thought I would have plenty of time to tidy up when they left, so God only knows where I will find my papers when I go home. Had they told me when they arrived that I had to go with them, I could have taken my private letters and business letters & given them to Michael. I had some important letters from Blake & Kenneys that I will want again. Will you write to Tommy & ask him to see Mr Cooke & tell him Miss Farrell will be able to give him all information. Mr Cooke made a note of things the day I interviewed here & I expect he has it. Since the weather got fine my rheumatism is a lot better but my knee is still painful & swollen, so I must see Surgeon McArdle as well as Dr Ball when I go out. I got the parcel of soap, tooth paste etc you sent me. There was a niece of Dr McArdle in Kilmainham with us. She was released after we came here. (Dorothy McArdle). He is to see her, he will be able to tell you the cause of all the unpleasantness here as I have no room to say any more now. Could you send us a cheap kettle to hold 6 or seven cups of water, we can boil it with sticks at night & my love Maura & all from Peg

Note I have got a new number 

North Dublin Union Internment Camp
July 25th 1923

My Dearest Kit,

This is our day for writing business letters, but as you are to go to Croagh Patrick, you would probably be left town before my Friday letter could reach you. Many thanks for the parcel (the raspberries were delicious). We won’t want anything for some time, as we all have had parcels since they were delivered. I got the blouse, and got the saucepan & tea pot some weeks ago. Bridie Kelly did not get the parcel you re-addressed to her, and I never got a parcel from Babe, but Miss Sweeney got one from her, & does not know her new address to write & thank her. I think it would be only a waste of time trying to trace processing parcels here. I got a parcel from Miss Browne (Duke? St) some weeks ago, in which she sent 50 cigarettes, I only received 20. If there isn’t a list in parcel you cannot claim for them. I cannot understand the Governor telly you I was in “perfect health”. I am sure you were astonished, as you know, that unfortunately, I was never that, since I was twelve years old (& that’s some time ago). I think I was sixteen when I first came up to Surgeon McArdle, and its over three years ago since I saw him last. It was where I first begin to suffer badly from rheumatism but I was with Surgeon O’Malley since then. I asked Dr McNabb today about having a doctor in, but he says I cannot possibly get proper treatment here, so I think it’s useless to bother any further. I must only do the best I can until I get out. Tell this to Tom when you go home, as Miss Farrell told in a letter I got recently, he was coming up again to get a doctor in to see me. Call to see Miss Scally (Miss Neville’s friend) before you go home. She has been awfully good to us. Miss Neville has not been in jail over four months now, I think the people responsible for our imprisonment must be forgetting our existence.  Remember us all at the Reek on Sunday. I got your note with [?] correct address. I was awfully sorry to hear she was ill. Give her my love & best wishes for a speedy recovery.

Best love,


Margaret Burke No 3209

North Dublin Union Internment Camp
July 30th 1923

My Dearest Kit, 

I expect this letter will find you at home, after doing the “Reek” yesterday, and played  out. It was cold & showery here yesterday so I expect it was not too pleasant at Westport. I am sure you were disgusted going home for a third time without me. Surely I cannot be much longer. Of course we are all disappointed missing the [races], and it’s really a shame keeping [Mairead Mahon] as they want her so badly at home. I see that Miss Croft has two horses for the “[?]”. I hope one of them wins, and that Tom Lynskey, Pet, John, Jim, Colm & Tommy OH, have him backed, not to mention Mary & Kitty (Kitty is sure to have something on). How did Mary do at the exam. I expect she will be with you for the holidays. Make her write me a long letter, & tell me all the news.  How is Miss McDermott & all the youngsters. Give her my love, and to all the neighbours. I had a grand long newsy letter from Muss Farrell, and I wrote to Mary on Friday last. I had letters & parcels from Nora last week, She sent us a lovely cake, & some soda bread. She told me Jack was on holidays & expected me back with him. We had a great fancy dress Ceileidh here last night. Of course “Dev” took the first prize. Miss Sweeney was very good as a policeman. All the dresses were [?] considering they made them all here. You will be too tired to make us a cake this week, but if have time next-week we would be glad to get one, and some “salty” rashers (some bacon we got last week was not good). Now don’t entertain anyone for the races, except Delia and the Riddles, & your own personal friends. When do you go.

Best love to Michael, self & all others,


Margaret Burke No 3209

North Dublin Union Internment Camp
August 8th 1923 

[Send me stamps please]

My Dearest Kit,

I’ll be expecting a long letter today or tomorrow with the races news. All the Galway prisoners were terribly disappointed at not being home last week. Don’t you think we are long enough [?], particularly as the war is over for some time, and there are not charges against us. I expect you saw by the papers last week all about Miss Connolly O Brien’s case. I hope you were able to read it through? It was most interesting. We were terribly excited here on Thursday morning when she was told to get ready to go, as we did not know what was going to happen. She was here in a small room with Mamie Mahon & I, and Miss Neville spent most of her time here, but had to sleep in one the long dormitories, but is now sleeping here, and is a lot more comfortable. We were all delighted that Nora O Brien was released as she has been in bad health all the she was in prison. She got frightfully bad headaches, was never able to get anything for them. My knee is still bad, and since the weather changes I am getting the rheumatism again. If it continues I will write to Dr Ball and he may be able to send something. Dr McNabb gave me something but I could not continue it. You know how hard I always find it to take medicine. I am sending you a parcel with some clothes that were sent to me in Kilmainham, that I don’t want, you can put them away for me. I am sending a night dress, a camisole & pair of slippers for yourself, two pictures one for Mary O Donoghue, & one for Mary Horgan & a gollywog* for Kitty. I am also sending Nora a small parcel, that I had for her birthday,& the Riddles. If you are sending a parcel send the usual, tea, sugar butter & rashers, any day you are in town will do. Miss Scally keeps us well supplied.

Love to Michael, Delia, Miss Farrell & self,


Margaret Burke No 3209

*Offensive term used to describe a rag doll

This post was written by Kate Manning, Principal Archivist, UCD Archives.

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