Poet and prisoner

Peter Berresford Ellis reviews As I was among the Captives: Joseph Campbell's Prison Diary, 1922-23, Eiléan Ní Cuillean (ed.), Cork University Press, £8.95 pbk

THERE IS no need to remind readers of the Connolly Association stalwart, the late Flann Campbell. Many will remember that Flann was the son of the important modern Ulster poet Joseph Campbell (1879-1944).

Joseph was one of those Ulster ‘giants’, ranking with Robert Lynd -- Ulstermen who were Irish Protestants, republicans, socialists and Irish language enthusiasts.

Flann will be remembered for his contribution to outlining the real Ulster traditions in his significant work The Dissenting Voice (1991).

Joseph Campbell was in Dublin when the hopes of his generation degenerated, at the behest of Lloyd George’s Cabinet, into the bloody civil war of 1922-23.

Known for his outspoken republican views, and the fact that he was an elected local councillor for Co. Wicklow, Joseph was arrested and spent the next two years as an internee in Mountjoy and then The Curragh’s ‘Tintown’, as it was called.

This diary, which he kept of his imprisonment, is one of the most fascinating little books I have read for a long time. Eiléan Ní Cuillean does a great job with her presentation of this never before published document and with her addition of an equally fascinating introduction.

I found myself going through the gamut of emotions as I read the day by day comments. I felt the tension as the Free Staters entered the prison and it was known they were going to execute prisoners as a reprisal; I felt the disgust when it was learnt that Erskine Childers had been shot (it is obvious now that Erskine Childers was executed at the order of the English Cabinet, says Campbell).

I felt the constant humour that kept Campbell and his colleagues alive. Above all, this is a literary man writing and we have some marvellous little notes on his dreams. I had a strange dream the other night. Shelley came to me and told me not to be fearful. I saw him like a sort of Angel. He said that I was of the company of the poets and not to fear anything. If I had not been drowned, he said. I would have died on the scaffold. Castlereagh would have killed me.

Remember Percy Bysshe Shelley the great English poet who supported Ireland? I met with murder on the way, it bore the mask of Castlereagh.

A great little book. One highly recommended.

February/March 2002

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This document was last modified by David Granville on 2002-10-02 14:54:21.
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