Thanks to Ultan Courtney’s research into his 2014 book (note 1 below) we can tell about what must have been great craic for the players and spectators – despite being locked up. Something out of the ordinary prison routine for the Lads in Kilmainham Gaol around this time a century ago. Medals were awarded – not for service to the cause of Irish Freedom on this occasion – but for a sports contest.

Players: Joe Griffin, Larry Finnegan. Bill Donegan, Spivis Dwyer, joint winner Frank Brennan, Frank Bolster and Frank Carberry

The Freemans Journal sports section on Wednesday 24 August included the report reproduced below. How the information was passed to the paper is unknown. But it shows the ingenuity and indomitable spirit of the internees – after all, it was barely three months since their capture at the Burning. It also illustrates that at least one Dublin media outlet was sympathetic to the Rebels to some extent.

Players: Cryil Daly, Jim Gibbons, Tom O’Flanagan, winner Tom Kehoe (joint-winner), Gerry Hughes, Charlie McCabe and Sam Robinson (joint runner-up)

The players included officers and other ranks and were from a variety of units – Squad, ASU, 1st, 2nd and 5th Battalions and the Brigade I.O.

Players: Paddy Swanzy, Dan Rooney, Peter O’Brien, John Muldowney (joint runner-up), Franke Freyne, Jim Foley and Jim Harpur

Thankfully we have photos of 22 of the 24 players (Missing are images of George Dowdall and Michael McEvoy).

Burning of Dublin Custom House 1921
Michael Lane, the youngest player (courtesy Francis Lane)

Given the strong characters and tough warriors involved in the matches we can imagine the intensity of competition was pretty high.

It is interesting that three of the men are reported under the false names given to their captors; while Joe Griffin, who must have used an alias when arrested, appears under his real name.

The scores prove that some of the matches were really close and hard-fought. There were probably bets laid – maybe using cigarettes and other goodies if not cash – by their fellow-comrades watching and cheering. And the bragging rights and slagging must have been mighty.

Inscribed medals were awarded to the winners, Tom Kehoe (Squad) and Frank Brennan (C Coy, 1st Battalion).

Hopefully a mighty good time was had by all. And it’s probably safe to say there were no casualties!

One hundred years on, some echoes of the final have emerged. It turns out that the father of finalist Sam Robinson was a champion handball player, according to Sam’s son Eamonn. However the Kilmainham tournament was news to him. Amazingly, Eamonn also recently discovered that his niece is married to Niall Brennan, a grandson of Frank Brennan who played against Sam in the final. What a coincidence and small country we live in.




A double-handed tournament among the internees in the West Wing, which has just concluded, resulted as follows:

First Round

Thomas O’Flanagan and Frank Carberry beat Larry Finnegan and Paddy Swanzy – 21-19, 15-21, 21-18.

Cyril Daly and Peter O’Brien* beat Jim Harpur and Michael Lane – 21-20, 21-20.

Tom Kehoe and Frank Brennan beat Seamus O’Neill (real name Jim Foley) and John ‘Spivis’ Dwyer – 21-15, 21-18.

Jeremiah (Sam) Robinson and John Muldowney beat Daniel Rooney and Michael McEvoy* – 21-14, 21-17.

Jim Gibbons and George Dowdall beat Charlie McCabe and Hugh Fitzgerald (real name Gerry Hughes) – 21-14, 15-21, 21-14.

Frank Bolster and Joe Griffin beat Francis Lewis (real name Frankie Freyne) and Bill Donegan – 21-14, 14-21, 21-20.


Tom Kehoe and Frank Brennan beat Thomas O’Flanagan and Frank Carberry – 21-16, 21-17.

Jeremiah (Sam) Robinson and John Muldowney beat Cyril Daly and Peter O’Brien – 21-17, 21-20.

Frank Bolster and Joe Griffin beat Jim Gibbons and George Dowdall – 20-21, 21-20, 21-13.


Tom Kehoe and Frank Brennan beat Frank Bolster and Joe Griffin – 21-14, 21-16.


Tom Kehoe and Frank Brennan beat Sam Robinson and John Muldowney – 21-17, 21-17.

Note 1: ‘The Blinding Light’ by Ultan Courtney (self-published), Kilmainhamwood, Co Meath, 2014. The excellent book covers the part played by his father Michael (1901-1993) and the extended Courtney family in the War of Independence and Civil War. It also tells the stories of events which occurred in Co Meath and other people involved from the county. Ultan provides much information about prisoners’ times in Kilmainham Gaol. Many thanks to him for very kindly providing a copy of his book to us.

[* No forenames appear in the newspaper report in these two cases. But there was only one man named O’Brien and, similarly, just a single McEvoy among the captured Custom House Men].