Letter from Lily O'Brennan, April 1923

Lily O'Brennan was a member of Cumann na mBán. In 1921, she was on the secretarial staff at 22 Hans Place, London, during the Treaty negotiations. In January, 1922, she became typist to Arthur Griffith, President of the Provisional Government, while Gearóid O’Lochlainn was his temporary secretary. In the Autumn of 1922, she was on the staff at the Republican Headquarters at 23 Suffolk Street, Dublin, from where she was taken prisoner. She was a founder member of the Catholic Writers’ Guild whose first meeting took place on November 11th, 1947.

Her sister, Fanny (or Aine) married Eamonn Ceannt and later was secretary of the Irish White Cross (1920-1947). She wrote a history of the organisation. 

The bulk of Lily’s collection is correspondence between Fanny and herself, the majority being written from prison. Lily was imprisoned in Mountjoy Jail from 1oth November to 28th December 1922, Kilmainham Jail 24th February to 29th April 1923 and the North Dublin Union until May 22nd 1923. 

The letters describe prison conditions, the state of women on hunger strike, and name various prisoners and discuss current events.  


UCDA P13/58 Papers of Lily O'Brennan

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Letter from Lily O'Brennan to her sister Fanny describing the condition of the women on hunger strike, Kilmainham Jail, 22 April 1923.

Kilmainham Jail

cell no 79



Dearest Fan;

I shall be looking for a letter from you in the morning. I got yours of the 19th. Things are rather dreary here owing to the detention of the hunger strikers. I could not bring myself into see Nellie Ryan for the last two nights. They are having a hard time vomiting now & the grand vigorous Nellie looks so thin. K. Costello is like a little child with her head on the pillow. Just imagine any man enjoying himself over the week end & these women going on to their 32nd day. Mrs O’Callaghan & Madam McBride are already very wasted & Mary MacS. is the same grand spirit but ever so much weaker this time on her 12th day than in MtJoy. The day drags here waiting for the news of their release & I have not been going out but must start doing so tomorrow D.V. When you are writing to R.C tell him I am to the good amongst 270 women of every age and description here. I have stashed the tea cloth and the cushion is well ahead. I wonder does Neonín (?) ever tell you about the wonderful thing Maíre Dregan & I saw in MtJoy at recreation during the novena to St Brigid. If you see her ask her to tell you. Well Grace has put my relic on a wonderful scroll. My mother & son (?) will be simply charmed with it. I think it is the best thing Grace has done since she came in. Ann always asks for news of Ranelagh, but she generally know as much as myself. This date 7 years ago was the anniversary of the famous Easter Sunday. What memoirs! I hope you will have a good week end. It is little use trying for confession – things are just the same. I haven’t tried even here. 

Give my love to Neonín if you see her. Tell her I am sorry I missed her & her friend. 

Better News I hope next time. It was a wonderful coincidence about Austin & Neary (?) the same time as well. I hope you are keeping strong. 

I shall look out for my mother’s photo. Love to you both & all old friends.