James Hanratty was 32 years of age when he was arrested by British Forces and lodged in Richmond Barracks in Dublin, prior to being shipped (literally) to England.
His young wife had died at the beginning of 1915, and their little daughter was being raised by her grandmother, with the help of her aunt and her uncle. In letters home he constantly sent messages to his daughter, whom he missed very much.
James joined the Irish Volunteers in 1914, and he took an active part in the organising of the Volunteers up to Easter 1916. He was a member of the Dundalk Battalion, ‘A’ Company that, on Easter Sunday, marched to Ardee and Castlebellingham, and on to Slane. The Battalion returned to Castlebellingham on Easter Monday, and on Tuesday the men marched to Ratoath where James was arrested – probably on the Wednesday. He was taken to Slane Castle, from whence he and his friends were brought to Dublin, and imprisoned. Approximately 3,000 men and a number of women were arrested following the Rising, but the majority of these were released quite soon when it was established that they did not have a direct, if any, connection with the events of that week.
Following short periods of time in Wakefield, Wormwood Scrubs and other British prisons, James was eventually sent to Frongoch Internment Camp in North Wales. Frongoch had originally been used as a prisoner-of-war camp for German soldiers during the First World War, and it was here that 1,800 Irishmen were lodged in the aftermath of the Easter Rising. Approximately half of this number were released and sent home to Ireland in July 1916, following the ‘Sankey Inquiry’. James was not one of this number, and he was not finally released until Christmas Eve, 1916.
In order to pass the time during their detention the leaders of those imprisoned in Frongoch organised various educational classes,‘drills’ and parades, football and other activities for the men – so much so that the Camp came to be known as the ‘University of Revolution’. This training stood to their advantage in the time after their release, and during of the War of Independence. They also produced many items such as Celtic crosses carved from animal bones.
Another pastime of the men was to record their names, and various messages, in small ‘autograph’ books. James’ entry in the Frongoch autograph book is pictured here. Other similar autograph books exist too, and the custom was still in operation in 1920/1921, during the War of Independence, when – for instance – a printed book (Ballygullion, by ‘Lynn Doyle’), was used by James Hanratty and his comrades in Belfast Jail to record their names.
Having returned home to Dundalk, in early 1917 James continued his involvement with the Volunteers – helping out in various ways, including taking part in military parades, and raising money for the support of the families. Later that year, on instructions from the Sinn Féin ‘Head Office’ he successfully went forward for election to the Dundalk Town Council.
During the Civil War, James was interned by Free State forces for twelve months at Newbridge, in Co. Kildare, in 1922-1923. He continued to write home, always expressing his love of, and his hopes for an independent Ireland.
Many of James’ 1916 co-internees appear in a photograph that was taken in 1956 on the occasion of the unveiling of a plaque in Dundalk to commemorate the 1916 Rising – evidence that he and his comrades remained in contact in the intervening period.
He died in 1962.
The Frongoch autograph book contains 97 autographs, messages and sketches compiled at the Frongoch internment camp during July 1916 by an anonymous internee. The autograph book is on deposit in M&ARL and can be accessed in the M&ARL Reading Room.
Lelia O’Flaherty (née Hanratty)
Niece of James Hanratty