1922. Mount Congreve.
On the last day of our occupancy of the city we had a spirited exchange of fire with the Free State troops across the river who were trying to get a gun into position to start shelling us again. Their troops were already well into the town and getting uncomfortably close to our position in the Prison. Just as we sat down to get a bite to eat a shell landed in with a terrific bang, quickly followed by another. Power poked his head in the door.
“The Staters are quite close outside”.
“Alright, call in the two outposts, we’re leaving, have a look outside first
Power came back shortly to say that we could get away if we left quickly. As we crossed the road outside we were peppered with rifle fire but we soon got to the comparative safety of Barrack Street. Some irresponsible person or persons had set fire to the fine barracks during our absence. John, the chef, was waiting outside the main gate weepily surveying the remains of our former home. He called out to us plaintively
“The galley is burned, the galley is burned.”
The men from the outposts had already arrived so we fell them in and marched away, almost casually, followed happily by the barrack dogs who were delighted to be with the company again.
Everybody felt disgusted.
When we got to Mount Congreve the sergeant major begged me to try and get some rest and the quartermaster went off to see the housekeeper about provisions; she assured him there was enough food in the larders to feed eight men for three days, but no longer.
The four junior officers, the Doctor and the local commandant retired with me to the library and somebody went off to inspect the wine cellar. The cellar was well stocked, mostly with vintage brandy and in a session that lasted three days and three nights we drank it out completely. The library apart from the books was equipped with a gramophone and just one record, Humoresque by Dvorak; we kept playing it until the needle or the record wore out. The Doctor was something of a demoralizing influence as he kept pacing the floor cursing the Civil War and whoever was responsible for it. From time to time runners would come in with reports from “the front” but we immediately chased them out.
The poor Nipper brought me food from the kitchen and begged me to eat or he would help me upstairs, cover me with blankets and try and get me to sleep. One night of our stay I was shaken awake to consult with a pale delicate looking man who said his name was Erskine Childers, in charge of publicity; he wanted an interesting account of “the siege” for a Republican paper he was printing in the field.
The Doctor [Joe Walsh] suggested a game of golf and one of the buglers offered to caddy for us but we were interrupted in our play by two stately looking ladies advancing up the avenue.
“My God” said Joe “It’s the Cumann na mBan.”
Half of the men were at the moment searching through the strawberry beds and the other half were parading before the front of the mansion dressed in a most extraordinary variety of uniforms and costumes borrowed from the big house’s many wardrobes. The house had a tradition of military service going back beyond Waterloo. Some of the men were dressed as admirals, others generals, and one lad was arrayed in a blazer from Eton or Harrow.
The ladies were very disapproving of all this and informed us they were looking after the welfare of the troops. They said the men should have clean socks every day and should have porridge every morning for breakfast. The caused great hilarity and we returned to our play as the two women stalked off looking very angry. It was a scene of tragic comedy. The hilarity was mostly forced and there was a ground swell of disgust, at times almost despairing.
After all the clothing had been returned to the wardrobes and everything put back in place we said goodbye to the household staff and left. We were not at all sure where we were going to next. One thing we agreed on, we were not going to live off the good country people again.