By: Ray Cavanaugh
Darrell Edmund Figgis was born in Dublin in 1882. His father worked in the tea business and, shortly after young Figgis’ birth, relocated the family to Calcutta, where he established the tea empire A.W. Figgis & Co. When Figgis was ten, the family moved back to Dublin, though the father would often embark on a passage to India.
Having reached adulthood, Figgis headed to work at his uncle’s London tea brokerage. After a while, he began to want something which no teacup could offer. It was 1913. The Gaelic Revival was in bloom. Figgis made the existential choice to forsake the world of teabags and plunge himself into the waters surrounding AchillIsland, off Ireland’s west coast.
This area had become a magnet of sorts for those who wished to immerse themselves in the resurging Irish culture. There, Figgis learned the native tongue and refined his literary interests. Now feeling like a true Irishman, he built his own AchillIsland home, made acquaintance with several weapons dealers, and joined Dublin’s Irish Volunteers.
Such mingling put the ex-broker in a kettle of suspicion and, though he was not a participant in the 1916 Easter Rising, British authorities soon took him into custody. Figgis would spend the next two years in Reading Gaol, the same den of misery which, twenty years before, had broken the soul of Oscar Wilde.
Figgis, however, was apparently still intact after his stint, for he soon took an editorial position at The Republic. By the following year, he was heading the Commission of Inquiry into the Resources and Industries of Ireland. This job seemed promising enough, but while he was participating in a Dáil Court at Carrick on Shannon, the proceedings were interrupted by a British Army raid.
Among the arresting officers was one Captain Cyril Crawford, rumored to have strong anti-Hibernian tendencies. The Captain produced a rope and “condemned” Figgis to death by hanging. However, other officers intervened mid-necktie, and the Captain left in dismay.
Such a sudden brush with mortality reinvigorated Figgis’ literary desires. Exploring many genres, he wrote poetry, commentary on Shakespeare, plays, political essays, economic essays, art criticism, and novels under the pseudonym Michael Ireland. These literary achievements, combined with his political associations, would make Figgis a marked man.
On 13 June 1922, Dublin’s Evening Herald reported that the Figgis home had been invaded by three men who pinned Figgis down and performed the “cutting of his beard.” Among the impromptu barbers was Robert Briscoe, future Lord Mayor of Dublin. Despite Briscoe’s charisma, the home invasion had caused Figgis’ wife to suffer severely from shock.
This trauma, among other complications, contributed to a severe decline in Mrs. Figgis’ mental state. On 18 November 1924, she entered a taxi, asked to be driven to the “Hellfire Club,” then drew a gun and shot herself in the head. Hearing the grim news, Figgis rushed to nearby MeathHospital, where he was informed of his wife’s death and handed a “bloodstained suicide letter.”
The following year, Figgis’ new companion, Rita North, succumbed to complications stemming from an “attempted abortion”. Several days after North’s inquest, Figgis was found asphyxiated, hanging from the splintery grate of a London boardinghouse. In the end, he condemned himself to the same fate which Captain Crawford had so much desired.