Research which I carried out in recent years gave me the names of only two Athy men who were interned in Ballykinlar Camp in County Down throughout 1921. Joe May was arrested on 22nd November 1920 and charged as an I.R.A. officer. Bapty Maher was arrested around the same time and both were lodged in the guard room of Gough Barracks before being transferred to the former British Army camp in Ballykinlar. Opened in 1901 the camp had been vacant following the end of World War I but was quickly brought back into use as an internment camp in December 1920 following the assassination of British spies on Bloody Sunday. The camp was divided into two separate areas, both surrounded by barbed wire fences and each capable of holding approximately 1,000 internees.
A complete listing of the men interned in Ballykinlar has not survived but efforts to prepare such a list from different sources has revealed that Richard Murphy was another Athy man detained in Ballykinlar Camp in the year immediately preceding the signing of the Anglo Irish Treaty. His name had not previously been known to me and no address other than Athy was given for him. Faced with so many Murphy families in Athy I held out faint hope of being able to positively identify the man who over 90 years ago spent almost a year in captivity near the County Down village of Ballykinlar. I remembered however one Murphy with the name Richard, a school mate and friend of my brother Tony, whose sister Bernie still lives in Athy. A phone call to Bernie Bowden of Ashville, a sister of that Richard Murphy, brought success. Richard Murphy, who with Joe May and Bapty Maher was interned in Ballykinlar Camp, was indeed Bernie’s father. Bernie graciously answered my questions, as did her older brother Billy whom I later contacted that same evening in my attempt to unravel the story of another member of Athy’s freedom fighters.
Richard Murphy was a farmer’s son from Kilcoo, who on leaving school was apprenticed as a motor mechanic to a firm in Cork. Born in 1894 he later worked for Magees garage in Ardee, Co. Louth. While working in Ardee he was an active member of the I.R.A. and was the officer in charge of the Ardee Battalion of the South Louth Brigade. However, this aspect of his career has yet to be properly documented for unfortunately like most men and women involved in the War of Independence Richard Murphy did not talk of the part he played in the drive for independence in post 1916 Ireland.
Conditions in Ballykinlar Camp were the subject of a press report in the Evening Telegraph in March 1921 following an interview with John Rice of Clonegal, Carlow. He described how many of the prisoners were in delicate health due to the cold and damp conditions in the camp huts. The food supplied to the internees was described as almost inedible with ‘water soaked potatoes’ supplied with ‘nauseating bacon’ on three days a week. Sleeping accommodation and sanitary arrangements were described as bad, resulting in ‘disease raging in the camp’. Several men died while incarcerated in Ballykinlar and Patrick Sloane and Joseph Tormey, both from County Westmeath were shot and killed in January 1921 after they went too close to the wire fence surrounding one of the camps.
The three Athy men were released in December 1921 after spending a year in Ballykinlar Camp. Their return journey to Athy was an eventful one. The trains bringing the former internees to the South were attacked by mobs in Portadown and Banbridge. While the trains were stopped in Banbridge railway station attempts were made by a Unionist mob to get at the men who although weakened by prison camp conditions managed to beat off their attackers. Eventually the trains crossed into the South, but further trouble awaited those alighting at Thurles station where Black and Tans threw bombs at the train injuring three returning internees, one of whom later died.
Joe May recounted the difficulty the Athy men had in getting a County Down based railway ticket vendor to understand their request for tickets to travel home to Athy. Unable to get him to recognise their destination they eventually settled for tickets to Kildare and walked from Kildare town to Athy.
Richard Murphy who suffered poor health following his year long internment died aged 56 years in 1950, survived by his wife Molly and five children, the eldest of whom, Billy, was just 18 years of age. Richard, or Dick as he was generally known in Athy, served as a member of Athy Urban District Council from 1928 to 1934. He carried on a garage and hackney car business in Duke Street next to the then disused Hannons Mill. He married Molly Dooley, daughter of Patrick Dooley of the bakery, Leinster Street, while his fellow internee, Joe May, married Hester, the daughter of Michael Dooley who was Paddy’s brother.
Richard Murphy was buried in St. Michael’s Cemetery, Athy with members of the Old I.R.A. providing a guard of honour to St. Michael’s Church on the Monday evening and to St. Michael’s Cemetery on the following day. Richard was one of the forgotten heroes of our country’s struggle for independence, but thankfully his name has now been recovered and will never again be overlooked as we face into several years of remembrance and commemoration of events surrounding 1916, the War of Independence and the Civil War.