We ask you to aid us with your tongue and pen, with your brains and intellect, with your ability and influence, and God will bless your efforts.
– Letter from James Wilson to John Devoy, 1873
The tattoo had caused Cranston more harm than good where prison guards where concerned. If they hadn’t immediately recognized the Irish rebel, a quick glance at the tattoo would tip off any Fenian-resenting guard to give this man the stalest crust or put him on a job that spent long hours knee-deep in sewage or required the workers to shimmy through tight underground tunnels. On the other hand, the cross had been for him a sort of permanent rosary and icon of hope. Sometimes, during prayer I saw him cupping his left hand around his bicep and holding it.
We said prayers for Ireland whenever the silence became too much, and as a result, we prayed quite a lot. We went to mass devotedly, all besides Darragh who, looking upward at the moment, with his head propped against the boat’s port-side wall, was living proof—if barely “living” proof—that that the love of liberty has no prerequisites. He’s a Protestant through and through, but nonetheless an Irishman to the core. Tugging at the mess of a beard on his face, where only a few red hairs peeked out now, his face distorted itself to a sort of pitiful agony. His once round but taut face was now sagging, it seemed, according to the weight of his beard, and his demeanor was sallow. I wondered if he planned to find her. But how, if we are never to set foot on Emerald soil again? Never again. And Darragh, with a wife on the Isle who is to act like a widow and a little girl who is not so little any more.
“9758, what’re ye doin’ here?” Daragh prodded, nudging Hassett, who had been in a sort of daze. We each had gotten a number when we were arrested and we kept it like a name for nine years.
“I t’ought we were comin’ back for ye after tree years. It’s only fair,” a stale laughter rose out of old faces at the tired joke. All of us had been sentenced to life, but Hassett got three years tacked on to his sentence for attempted escape. We all had our theories as to how he would manage to serve those three extra years.
“Maybe dey’d keep his carcass in de cell for tree years after he kicked the bucket.”
“A true Irish wake.”
“A grand old party indeed.”
“Without the whiskey.”
“How in the name of the Holy Mother is it Irish den?”
There was a hint of a smile forming on the faces of Darragh, Cranston, Hassett,
Hogan, and even Herrington. “What do you say, Wilson?”
I say, there will be no wake, but whiskey enough when we’re out of here.
It had been a whirlwind since yesterday, when we’d received a second note, this one telling us that rescue was imminent:
We have money, arms, and clothes,” he wrote. “Let no man’s heart fail him.”
– Letter from Breslin to the prisoners April 15, 1876
Those of us who made it outside the prison walls would have a ride to freedom. Whether or not we would miss that ride depended partly on our assigned jobs, and mostly on our cunning. Darragh and Hogan were given jobs outside the walls that day, Darragh digging potatoes and Hogan painting the superintendent’s house. The rest of us had to make up stories about needing fresh air or having an appointment with the warden. Getting outside wasn’t that much of an issue. It was where to go when you got outside that posed the problem. The rest was all outside work. The telegraph wire from Freemantle to Perth was cut. Breslin met up with us outside the walls with horses and guns. And within minutes we in the small boat destined for the Catalpa. And now we could taste it. Freedom was on our immediate horizon. And likewise, death. And we were impatient, begging God for one or the other soon enough.
Anthony began to rise. “She seems to have taken us for a wrecked ship or a floating raft.” He’d been squatting, his side pressed against the mast and his neck perched at attention, surveying the Georgette’s every movement ever since she’d left the port. He stood to raise the sails and exclaimed, “she’s headed for Catalpa. Row hard!”
Meet me back here next week for the final segment of this series and find out if the Irish rebels succeed in their escape!