On June 3, 1914, like hundreds of young Cork men had done before him the then 18-year-0ld Mark Wickham, from Merchant’s Quay, signed up to the Irish Volunteers in Cork city.
By Niall Murray
In late 1914, a split in the organisation had left most early members in the city supporting the National Volunteers of John Redmond, who asked young men to join the British Army fighting in Europe.
The Cork Brigade of the reduced Irish Volunteers was at this stage under the command of Tomás MacCurtain. By Easter 1916, Mark was adjutant of C Company in the Cork City battalion, in which his younger brother Michael, just 17, was also a member.
In order to arm themselves for potential conflict — particularly with ongoing threat of Ulster Volunteers resisting Home Rule with violence — fundraisers were held.
This poster above advertises a collection in Cork in October 1915, the proceeds to go towards arming and training local Volunteers, whose numbers were expanding as public support of the war diminished.
The arrest of thousands of Volunteers around the country was ordered after the rebellion ended in Dublin on April 29.
Although Cork Volunteers did not take part in the Rising — when rifles from Germany could not be landed — dozens were arrested in the city and county. In a likely case of mistaken identity, Mark’s tinsmith father — also Mark — was arrested on May 8.
Responding to family inquiries about his status, Lord Mayor Thomas Butterfield’s secretary wrote that he had been told by military in Cork that “he was informed by the police that arms, ammunition, seditious literature and a book on high explosives was found in his possession and further that it was reported that he was a member of the Sinn Féin Organisation.”
Like many prisoners, Mark managed to smuggle this note out to his wife Hannah after being moved to Dublin. It was addressed simply to H Wickham, Merchant’s Quay.
“Dear Wife, Don’t Fret — I am alright with the boys Here in Richmond Barracks. Let Mark & Michael mind the work. I expect to be home soon. Mark. I miss my pipes very much.”
Presumably for the person carrying the message, he wrote on the back: “Dear Tom, Send this to my house & hope your mother is well. Your father was fretting very much but we done our best to cheer him up.”
Attempts to reply to him at Richmond may have proved fruitless, as he had been removed with nearly 300 others to Wakefield in England, as conveyed to his family four days in a letter from Richmond Barracks on May 17.
Mark Wickham senior was transferred to Frongoch in Wales, a prisoner-of-war camp which previously held German soldiers. It was converted to accommodate hundreds of Irish men after the Rising.
The order authorising Mark’s internment stated that “he is of hostile association and a member of an organisation called the Irish Volunteers or of an organisation called the Citizen Army, which have promoted armed insurrection against His Majesty, and is reasonably suspected of having favoured, promoted or assisted in armed insurrection against His Majesty.”
Prisoners’ letters home were all opened and checked by censors, and the envelopes labelled “Prisoners of War.” On this torn envelope that carried a letter to Hannah, the sender information on the back was signed: “Mark Wickham, Irish Prisoner of War, South Camp, Frongoch, Wales”
Like the bulk of those interned at Frongoch, Mark was released in July 1916. This telegram is bringing the good news to his family from another detainee. “Leaving Frongoch for home — with Mark.”
Mark Wickham junior continued his involvement in the Volunteers, as well as being a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. He served as an officer of the city’s 1st Battalion B company, including a time as captain, until December 1920. A month later he was arrested and in February, he was interned on Spike Island.
The family shop on Merchant’s Quay was forced to shut by military order on June 29, 1921, and the family ordered to live in the Bandon district. On July 11,1921, the Truce that ended the War of Independence came into effect.