A CELTIC TWILIGHT – THE STORY OF NA FIANNA EIREANN

BY HUGH (HUGO) MACNEILL (1900-1963)

Na Fianna Eireann has been described as the ‘Senior Corps of the Old Army. To many readers that will not convey much. We have got to ask ourselves just what was this Fianna Éireann?

It was a Boy Scout organisation, but a Boy Scout organisation with a difference. In the first place it was the first open Irish military organisation in this century. For its strength it probably did more than any other organisation to make the Ireland of today and the army of today possible. That sounds like a tall story but a check back on the facts recorded in this article will, it is believed, prove it. Only facts, not fancies, are recorded.

It is necessary at the beginning that we get a true picture of the Ireland which saw the birth of the Fianna. It is very difficult for young soldiers, who were not born at the time to visualise the Ireland of 1909, the year in which the Fianna was formed. To begin with one lived in what was almost a British province, almost as alien in rule and to some extent in outlook as Lancashire or Yorkshire. There was, of course, no Irish government of any type. A foreign Viceroy ruled in the Phoenix Park, foreign officials governed from Dublin Castle, foreign soldiers occupied our garrisons, foreign controlled police patrolled our towns and villages. Our education, our money, everything of outward significance was foreign. That was just thirty five short years ago.

It is true that our people had never tamely accepted this foreign domination. They had struggled and protested and fought against it for a week of centuries. But there was not much fight left in them in the early part of this century or at least there did not seem to be. In the preceding hundred years no less than four attempts at armed revolt had gone down in disaster. The United Irishmen failed in 1798, Robert Emmet in 1803, the Young Irelanders in 1848, the Fenians in 1867. Ireland seemed tired and weary of fighting.

The people had turned instead to what were known as constitutional methods. The Irish Party, under the leadership of Mr John Redmond were by argument and persuasion, mainly in the British House of Commons, trying to win a limited amount of local government known as Home Rule.

The real national movements were mainly of a cultural, industrial, or sporting nature. Arthur Griffith was preaching his policy of Sinn Fein, but he and his handful of followers were looked on as insignificant cranks. The Gaelic League were struggling to revive interest in Irish, but few listened to them. The Irish Theatre (now the world-famous Abbey) were trying to get people to come to Irish plays, but few went. There was an attempt to revive Irish industry, but few bought home goods. The Gaelic Athletic Association was trying to develop hurling and Gaelic football, but it was a mere shadow of the powerful nationwide organisation we know today. It was not a very thrilling or inspiring country to live in, this island of 1909. It was, in fact a pretty good example of ‘The Celtic Twilight’, the poets used to sing of in another connection.

Birth of the Fianna

Then a little group of people hit on a new idea. They felt that their generation was worn out, nationally at least, and that all hope lay in the future. They realised that Ireland’s greatest trouble in all her struggles lay in her lack of trained leaders. They decided to train the boys of that generation as the leaders of the future. It seemed a mad dream then, but it was dream which was to come true within a few short years.

Who were these far-seeing patriots? Many of their names have since gone down to fame. Padraig Pearse for example, later leader of the Volunteers in 1916, teacher not alone of the boys of Ireland, but of their nation. Roger Casement who was to die seven years later on an English scaffold. Liam Mellows, who was later to die too, but in the tragedy of Civil War.

But strange to say the real inspiration behind the new movement was not a man at all, it was a woman. This was Constance, Countess de Markievicz, Madam’ as she was known and loved by thousands of Fianna boys. It was in her keen brain the idea was conceived, it was she translated the dream into reality. For eleven of the twelve years of its heyday, she led the Flanna as ard fheinnidh or chief scout. In 1918 the position was held by a young Volunteer officer, one Eamon de Valera.

Madam’s name must rank among the great daughters of our race. Born in County Sligo she was a member of the aristocratic Anglo-Irish family of Gore-Booth. Her early upbringing was, of necessity, anti-Irish or at least anti-national. In her youth she was one of the most beautiful girls in society, the belle of the British courts in Dublin and London, the toast of the British garrison Such was her background.

But as she often told her Feinnidhe she never felt happy in it The luxury of her father’s mansion meant less to her than the honest welcome of a countryman’s cabin. Her real childhood friends were the children of the hardy fishermen and farm labourers of the Sligo coast Later on she grew interested in Irish painting and drama, regarded as quite respectable hobbies for a young lady of fashion. It was in these circles she met her husband, Count Casimir Dunin Markievicz, a Pole, and an aristocrat like herself. Living in the fashionable Dublin of those days, she did not forget her poor friends in the west coast. So in addition to her artistic leanings it was natural she should take an interest in the lives of their opposite numbers in the slums of Dublin.

And along this path walked the beautiful young aristocrat to become the pioneer of a National Boys Movement – essentially a movement for poor boys. From this it was short step to the fires of Easter Week, the chill of a prison cell, and her great share in the proud challenge of a resurgent nation in the years that followed.

The Fenian Traditions

The decision, once made, to form the new body constitution was quickly published. The object was stated bluntly to be the re-establishment of the Independence of Ireland’. The means of achieving this were set as the training of the youth of Ireland, mentally and physically, by teaching them scouting and military exercises, Irish history and the Irish language. The real motive as stated was to get the boys of Ireland in their extreme youth and train them as patriot soldiers and prospective leaders of the next generation. The Fianna was, in effect, a cadet corps for a future revolutionary army. When the Flanna was formed that army did not exist. It was to come into existence far sooner than anyone then hoped. And the Flanna was to take its rightful place in its ranks.

The named Fianna Eireann was in itself a happy choice. It was the third great comradeship to bear the honoured name. There was the first Flanna, the Fianna of the second century, Ireland’s original regular army. Not alone a well-trained well disciplined army, but one of the world’s great orders of knighthood. No wonder that admission to the Fianna was regarded as the highest honour in ancient Ireland, that expulsion from its ranks was the greatest disgrace.

But the first Fianna passed away and Ireland entered upon her long period of suffering. The foreigner came in and stayed in. Generation after generation rose in arms in heroic but vain efforts to regain their country’s freedom. History tells how they fought and failed, and in failing handed on the torch of liberty to their sons, right down to our own times.

Then in the middle of the last century the honoured name of Fianna Eireann was resurrected. A handful of young men decided to strike again, to strike with a secret army this time. And they gave their new army the name of the Fenian Brotherhood to show that their movement was based on the age-old ideals of patriotism and valour and comradeship of the ancient Fianna.

Like so many other great movements this too failed, but as often happened before, proved more glorious in defeat than in victory Beaten in the field, thousands of the Fenians were flung into prisons or transported overseas. Many died in their living tombs, many others broke down in body and mind, but those who survived suffered proudly on. And outside, their remaining comrades proved their right to the proud name of the Fianna.

Facing the might of an empire they snatched their suffering comrades out of the prison van in the English city and died on the scaffold with the proud prayer God Save Ireland on their lips. They blew down the walls and burst open gates of English jails in daring efforts to free their fellow soldiers. They sailed across the world and carried their brother Fenians out of Australian convict settlements under the very guns of the guarding warships.

The world had sneered at these Fenians in defeat, now it thrilled to the daring of their exploits and these were the traditions handed down to the boys of the third Fianna back in 1909 when ‘Madam’ and her colleagues chose that ancient name for their young organisation.

Pádraig Pearse himself summed it up in these words:

The Fianna of today are the third heroic comradeship that has borne that name. The first Fianna, the Fianna of Fionn, have been dead for nearly 2,000 years. A few old grey-haired men, the veterans of the second Fianna, are with us still. The lads of the third Fianna, the familiar green-shirted, bare-kneed young soldiers who have prepared the way for our Irish Volunteers inherit the gallant name and tradition of the ancient Fianna and the mighty purpose of the modem Fenians. Were ever boys heirs to such a great inheritance?

Early Days of the Fianna

And it was in this spirit that the boy soldiers of the third Fianna settled down to work. What did this work consist of? In its own youthful way it was as extensive as the training of the modern soldier. The boys learned foot drill, arms drill, scouting, signalling, first aid, fieldcraft, campcraft and a host of other fascinating subjects for impressionable young warriors of twelve to twenty-four.

Mental training was stressed at least as hard as purely military training. The boys were taught to stand up for right at all costs, that lying was not alone dishonourable but downright stupid, that they were to be clean in body and mind, that they should be courteous to women and children, the old and infirm. The movement was strictly non-sectarian but the Fheinnidhe were taught to be reverent and faithful to their religion, to respect the convictions of others, but never to deny their own. It all sounds nearly priggish now, but there was nothing priggish about it to these boy soldiers.

The strong national background to all training probably helped in this. For the first time in their lives the boys really learned Irish history, real living history, not a dry collection of dates and names. To their amazement they found they belonged to an ancient nation with a culture and tradition of its own. They revelled in the stories and songs of the old Gaelic warriors, and in the great deeds of later days. These they never heard of in the schools of those days and so they were trained for their tasks in the Ireland of the future.

Judged by modern standards the training facilities were laughable. An old barn, the use once a week of a Gaelic League or parish hall, a back room in someone’s house, a shed in a yard, even a cellar in a tenement. Such were the ‘barracks’ of a Fianna unit. But youthful enthusiasm laughed at such handicaps.

Saturdays and Sundays the open country was their training ground if the weather was anyway possible. And in the summer the joys of the weekend or longer camps. Camp gear was as up-to-date as everything else. Battered old sewed bell tents, an odd homemade affair of the ‘bivvy’ variety, a bit of tarpaulin against a hedge. But it taught them to take care of themselves.

Organisation was equally simple. The smallest unit was the squad of about six boys commanded by a veteran of fourteen to sixteen, two squads made a section, two or more squads a troop or sluagh under a lieutenant or captain, generally a grey-beard of eighteen to twenty summers. In large centres the various sluaithe in an area were administered by a district council, and the entire movement was governed by a central council sitting in Dublin under the chairmanship of the chief scout. Later on companies and battalions and even brigades were formed, but in the beginning the Fianna was organised on the simple lines set out, and very well it worked.

Many an old soldier of today first learned what it meant to take pride in his uniform as an awkward Fianna boy. Quite a snappy outfit it was. A green double-breasted shirt with brass buttons, and the usual scout hat, also in green, fastened up on the right side. This was supposed to help them to shoot, rather an ironical touch in a force that first carried out arms drill with hurleys. But the guns too came along in time.

Like the modern army, the Fianna had its colours and its specialist and rank badges. Its flag was appropriately based on the old battle standard of the ancient Fianna – a gold sunburst on a blue ground. There were three classes of Fheinnidhe, each of which wore its own distinctive insignia in the shape of coloured whistle cords on the left shoulder. For example a 3rd class Fheinnidhe wore a green cord, 2nd class a white cord, and 1st class a green white and orange plaited cord. This was probably the first occasion the tricolour was used since Thomas Francis Meagher introduced it in 1848.

Rank badges were equally simple. A squad leader bore saffron epaulettes, a section leader red, a lieutenant blue and a captain blue with a white bar. In those early days Captain was the highest rank.

The Fianna had also its own motto, the proud centuries old slogan of the ancient Fianna: “With truth on our strength in out arms, and purity in our hearts we come safe out of every danger.” It sounds a bit high-flown in these cynical times, but it was taken very seriously in those brave young days.

Such was the Fianna in those early years from 1909 to 1913. There was no question of the new movement sweeping the country like the proverbial prairie fire, but it did make steady progress. Starting in the cities, Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway, the green-shirted young soldiers slowly but surely became a familiar sight throughout the country. But no one took the movement very seriously except possibly the boys themselves and their leaders.

Foundation of the Volunteers

Then things began to happen. It looked as if the long promised Home Rule Act was to pass the British House of Commons. The Ulster Orangemen began a strong agitation against it. They were supported by an influential element among British politicians, were lavishly financed, and had the active sympathy of a section at least of the British army. They planned to set up an Ulster Provisional Government and oppose Home Rule by force of arms. With this end in view the Ulster Volunteer Force was organised.

The nationalists all over Ireland promptly replied in kind, and in 1913 the Irish Volunteers were formed. Unlike the Fianna initially, the new force did literally sweep the country like a prairie fire. And now the wisdom of the founders of the Fianna was proved.

The main problem confronting the new Volunteer army was the provision of officers and instructors. A number of ex-British soldiers did come forward and did Trojan work. But naturally the bulk of such people would not look favourably upon such a movement. This applied particularly to the ex-officer class. But another source was available. By 1913 the early Fianna recruits had reached military age. Whenever a Fianna sluagh existed these older lads were transferred to the Volunteers as instructors, and many of them became officers. Three members of the Fianna central council were appointed to the Volunteer Executive. One of these was Liam Mellows, another Seán Heuston who was to die two years later before a British firing squad. The Fianna had met its first big test, the job for which it was formed, and was not found wanting. When the need arose it was ready and stepped into the gap. If this was its solitary achievement the Boy army had fully justified itself. But its record of service to Ireland was in reality only beginning.

The Howth gun-running

The Fianna closed up its ranks and went on with its work of training more soldiers for the future. The older boys stepped into the place of their comrades who had passed over to the Volunteers and carried on.

The Fianna very soon came into the limelight again. In July 1914, a big cargo of rifles and ammunition was run into Howth, County Dublin, on the late Erskine Childers’ yacht. The Dublin Brigade, Irish Volunteers marched out to received the arms. A picked Fianna detachment accompanied the Volunteers with a trek cart, a sort of oversize machine gun ‘pram’. They had the special task of transporting the ammunition.

The cargo collected, the march back to Dublin commenced. At Clontarf a couple of companies of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers and some hundred police barred the way. The British officer in charge demanded the rifles, the Volunteers of course refused. An attempt to seize them was beaten off with rifle butts. The Volunteers clamoured for ammunition and some officers and issued strict orders that no ammunition was to be issued. The men were far too raw to tackle regular troops at this time. It is doubtful if many of them could even have loaded their rifles if they had ammunition.

The Fianna stood firm. Armed with heavy batons they refused to weaken. Not a round of ammunition was issued. Eventually the Volunteers slipped off across country with their riffles, and the precious ammunition was transported to safety by motor. If these lads had wavered for a moment the ball ammunition had got into the hands of the then half-disciplined and semi-trained Volunteers, the results would have been disaster. The bloodless victory of Clontarf would have been turned into a bloody massacre. It would almost certainly have meant the end of that great Volunteer force which was later to win independence for the greater part of our country. Again the Fianna had made good.

The Fianna in Easter Week

Events now moved rapidly. A few days after the gun-running the First World War broke out. In the clash of millions of armed men abroad, the troubles of Ireland were forgotten by the world for the time being. The long promised Home Rule Bill was shelved ‘for the duration’ for ever, as it turned out. Appeals were issued to young Irishmen to go off to fight for the freedom of small nations’. Thousands of Volunteers answered this call.

But those left behind closed up the ranks, they held their job was to win freedom for their own small nation. For two years more preparations continued apace, and the Fianna kept on transferring its older boys to the Volunteers and filling the gaps with their younger brothers.

History records how the Volunteers struck on Easter Monday, 1916, and proclaimed the Republic. The Fianna’s part in this great protest in arms was in keeping with its ideals and traditions. Every Republican post had its detachment of Fianna boys. They acted as scouts, orderlies, runners and despatch riders. Two of them were killed in action trying to get their despatches through – Seán Howard and Joe Healy. Two Fianna officers were shot by sentence of British courtmartial after the Rising, Captain Seán Heuston and Captain Con Colbert. Commandant Liam Mellows commanded the Volunteers in Galway and escaped to America after the Rising. The chief of the Fianna, Countess Markievicz, was second in command in the Stephen’s Green area and was sentenced to imprisonment for life. One of the more spectacular tasks of the entire Rising was carried out by the Fianna. A special detachment of them, under Captain (later Major General) Pádraig Ó Dálaigh, had the honour to be detailed to capture and destroy the magazine fort. They gained admission to the fort by a ruse, rushed and disarmed the guard, set fire to the ammunition stores, and retreated successfully and joined the Four Courts garrison.

The Fianna had faced its second great test, and once again it was not found wanting.

After the Rising

At the time the Easter Rising was regarded as a crushing military defeat. The great Volunteer organisation, built up so patiently, was apparently destroyed. Its leaders were dead or in prison, the bulk of its rank and file in internment camps. Perhaps it was due to their training that the Fianna seemed to be the first to recover from the stupor of despair for that is really what it was. It is a matter of historical fact that within one month of the collapsed Rising, all available Fianna officers who were alive or at liberty met in Dublin to consider the situation.

It was a black look-out. It seemed as if another generation had failed. So it was calmly decided to start all over again, to go back to the original object of the Fianna, to train the boys of Ireland to receive the fight in the next generation. But events moved quicker than that. By 1917 the Volunteers as well as the Fianna were re-organised, by 1918 the entire revolutionary movement – political as well as military – was stronger than ever. A resurgent nation was on the march.

Then arose another crisis, with a special interest for the Fianna, the conscription menace. In 1918 the British government decided to extend the conscription of Ireland. The result was amazing. In tens of thousands the young men of the country flocked into the Volunteers, clamouring to be trained to meet this new threat. Companies grew to battalions overnight, battalions to brigades. Again the call went out for instructors and again the Fianna stepped into the gap. Not alone officers and older lads, but any urchin with training, and these boys stood no nonsense, they knew their jobs and they did it. The threat to impose conscription was dropped, and Volunteers and Fianna settled down again to prepare for the next round’.

It was not long coming. In 1918 the Sinn Féin or Republican Party was returned to power by an overwhelming majority. It set up the Dáil in Dublin and established a Republican government. This government took over the Volunteers as the Irish Republican Army, and the Fianna became a recognised corps of this army, its official training corps. It did not mean much change for the Fianna but it did give it official recognition and financial backing.

The Resumption of Hostilities

In due course the Dáil was proclaimed, fruitless efforts were made to suppress it and all its institutions, including, of course, the IRA. The army was ordered to hit back, active fighting opened in 1919 and reached its peak in 1920-21.

In hundreds the Fianna kept pouring trained recruits into the ranks of the Volunteers. It also carried out much of the scouting and intelligence and communications work. The Republican communication service composed of whole-time despatch riders – the forerunner of the modern signal corps – was recruited almost exclusively from the Fianna. In some areas special Fianna active service units composed of Officers, NCOs were formed, in others the older Fheinnidhe fought with Volunteer columns.

In this manner the Fianna, in addition to providing the Volunteers with their trained recruits and carrying out all sorts of special duties, took more than their share in the active fighting. Many of them made the supreme sacrifice, in action, on the scaffold, before the firing squads. Many others were captured and thrown into prison or internment camps. But like their elder brothers in the Volunteers, they never faltered until the end came.

The Truce and After

And it came at last in 1921. In July that year a truce or armistice was agreed upon between the Irish and British armies. In the following December a treaty of peace was signed, which excluded temporarily it was hoped – six counties of Ulster. It looked at last as if the long struggle was over, that peace with honour had come to Ireland for few thought that partition could last for more than a year or so.

But it was not to be. The government and the Dáil disagreed on the peace terms, the split spread to the Republican army, and almost before anyone could realise what had happened Ireland was plunged into war again, into the horror of Civil War this time.

The Fianna suffered like all other organisations. Many of its officers and boys in disgust remained neutral, others joined the new regular army, others again the Republican forces. History was repeating itself with a vengeance. The ancient Fianna of Fionn MacCumhaill went down to disaster in the welter of civil strife. And in the bitter years of 1922-23 there died another great heroic comradeship.

So ends the story of the third Fianna. It is hoped that it will help the readers to realise what this corps of boy soldiers did to make Ireland of today possible. In this way it may serve as a small tribute to old comrades, living or dead, with whom so many of us first learned our soldiering.

by Hugh/Hugo McNeill (Aodh Mac Neill)

The article appeared in An Cosantoir in 1940.

The author Hugh MacNeill, a nephew of Eoin MacNeill, was a member of Na Fianna Eireann from 1913 until circa 1921. He was Captain (O/C) of the Ranelagh/Rathmines Fianna Sluagh following the Easter Rising, and later went on to become Battalion Adjutant of the newly formed South Dublin 1st Battalion in June 1917. He took part in the clash with the R.I.C. in Rathfarnham in 1918 and was subsequently arrested. He was incarcerated for 3 months in Mountjoy and Belfast prisons. He also joined the Irish Volunteers (‘B’ Coy, 2nd Battalion – Dublin) around this time and combined his new Volunteers role with his increasingly important Fianna duties. He became Commandant of the South Dublin 1st Fianna Battalion in 1919 until around March 1920, when he was transferred to Fianna G.H.Q and appointed National Fianna Director of Training 1920-21. He again spent time in prison in 1919 (approx 6 months), and was also interned in Ballykinlar in 1921. He joined the Irish Free State army in February 1922. He rose to the rank of Major General and Assistant Chief of Staff of the Irish Defence Forces. He died in 1963.

Further reading on MacNeill: https://www.dib.ie/biography/mcneill-hugh-hyacinth-hugo-a5750

Hugh MacNeill


Church Street Barricade, Easter 1916

The remnants of what was the barricade erected by the Irish Volunteers and Fianna Eireann at the end of Church Street in 1916, next to the now renamed, Father Matthew Bridge, but known at the time as Whitworth Bridge.

According to John ‘Jack’ Shouldice 1st Lieutenant in F Company in the 1st Dublin Battalion of the Irish Volunteers:”the barricades were built with a variety of articles taken from adjoining houses, stores, yards, including barrels, boxes, carts, cabs, old furniture, planks, sacks filled with sand and rubble“.

Liam Toibin, also of the 1st Dublin Battalion of the Irish Volunteers recalled being on duty on the first day of the Rising at the “Church Street Bridge [barricade], when I came under fire for the first time, and it was an experience I did not like!!

Early on Easter Tuesday morning, Fianna Eireann Dublin Brigade Commandant Eamon Martin, was stationed at the bridge barricade along with other Volunteers, and succeeded in “repulsing an attack” on Arran Quay coming from the Bridgefoot Street/Queen Street area. Later that day Martin, along with other senior Fianna officer Garry Holohan, was involved in the attack on Broadstone Railway Station.

Image credit: National Army Museum, London https://collection.nam.ac.uk/detail.php?acc=1961-12-594-19

Garry Holahan (1894-1967) and Eamon Martin (1892-1971)

Photograph of two former Fianna comrades and lifelong friends, taken in 1950.

Eamon Martin was the Fianna Dublin Brigade Commandant in 1916, and national Fianna Chief of Staff 1916 – 1920. Garry Holahan became Commandant of the Dublin Brigade Fianna Eireann in 1917, was the national Fianna Quartermaster General, and at one stage acting Chief of Staff in Eamon’s absence.

Both Eamon and Garry had been in the Fianna since the early years and they were, along with Adjutant General Barney Mellows, the driving forces behind the organization in the post-1916 period.

Photograph copyright of Eamon Murphy (from the Eamon Martin Collection)

Christopher (Christy) Lucey (1897-1920)

Story by Fiona Forde

At the November meeting of Cork Corporation, Barry Egan proposed a vote of sympathy for the relatives of a young Volunteer and member of Na Fianna Eireann, declaring, ‘he is one of Ireland’s martyrs – one of Ireland’s heroes.’[1]  Egan was referring to Christopher (Christy) Lucey shot dead at Ballingeary, West Cork, on the 10 November 1920.

Christopher Patrick Lucey was born in Cork City at 8 Grenville Place on the 21 December 1897.[2]  He was the first of three children born to John, a Seed Merchant and Nora (nee Lucey).[3] 

John Lucey died in 1905 and Nora moved to 3 Pembroke Street becoming a vintner, the premises today is Counihan’s Pub.[4] 

Christy, ‘one of a family who for generations made sacrifices for the Irish cause’ joined Na Fianna Eireann, later becoming Section Commander with ‘B’ Company, 1st Battalion, Cork No. 1 Brigade.[5]

In 1919, he was arrested at an IRA training camp in Glandore and charged for offences against Regulation 9 A.A. of the Defence of the Realm.  In the early hours of 13 August 1919, the training camp was raided by British Forces, Christy had been found in possession of ‘a revolver, loaded in four chambers, on which the name of the accused was scratched.’ Also found on his person, were several letters including one which advised that it was a dangerous thing to carve his name on the revolver.  The evidence against Christy was overwhelming and he was sentenced to ‘imprisonment with hard labour for 1 year.’ [6]

Christy began his sentence in Mountjoy, but was released, after joining the hunger strike in April 1920.  Now a fugitive, he returned to West Cork where he ‘stayed with his friends and comrades, the Twomeys of Túirín Dubh’.[7]  The war of independence had grown steadily more violent and in the wake of the death of Cork Lord Mayor, Terence MacSwiney, matters had escalated even further.  The house at Túirín Dubh was located close to the road and was well known to British forces.  Taking every precaution, Christy did not stay there at night. Instead, he had slept in the rough on the opposite side of the road high up on the hillside.

On the 10 November 1920 Christy emerged from his sleeping quarters and descended the hill to Twomey’s house.  There are conflicting accounts as to what occurred.  Cornelius Cronin recounts that as he was crossing the road ‘an enemy convoy of seven or eight lorries … shot dead Christy Lucey’.[8]  Another account reflects that ‘as Christy descended the hill, his view of the road in the valley became more limited. He had actually crossed the road when the Auxiliaries arrived and, seeing him, immediately opened fire on him. He gained the shelter of the house, and had ill-fortune not intervened would have got away from them. Immediately behind the house a mass of rock rose vertically. To provide for such an emergency, as was now Christy’s, a ladder always stood in place against the rock. It had been temporarily removed and Christy had no option but to make a detour of the rock. This brought him again into view of his enemies who shot him down. He was not armed.’[9]

Two days later, ‘the remains of the late Mr. Christopher Lucey were interred … in the Republican Plot in St. Finbarr’s Cemetery.’  The funeral was closely watched by British Forces, but they did not interject when ‘the usual ceremony of firing volleys over the grave was performed’.[10]

The Auxiliary who shot and killed Christy soon faced the same fate.  ‘When the Tans returned to Macroom that evening, they entered the Market Bar and began to celebrate. They were toasting one man in particular, and he described in detail how he had taken aim and fired the fatal shot. The barman, an ex-RIC man named Vaughan, was able to identify the man, and he informed the Macroom Volunteer officers. All companies in Mid-Cork and city were notified about his man, and a few weeks later he was again identified by Volunteers in Cork city when he signed his name to a docket when ordering military supplies. When he returned to collect his order, he was taken prisoner and executed.’[11]

A simple headstone adorns Christy’s grave, the inscription reads, ‘In Dil cuimhne Ar CRIORTÓIR Ó LUARAIG Complacht b,ceád cath. céad briogáda chorcaighe do marbhuigheadh ag arni Sarana im béal-Áta-an-Ghaorthaid Samhain An 10ad la. 1920. A lora, dein Trócaire Air. Jesus have mercy on him.

Story, research and images by Fiona Forde


[1] Evening Echo, 13 November 1920

[2] Civil Registration, https://civilrecords.irishgenealogy.ie/churchrecords/images/birth_returns/births_1898/02089/1796697.pdf

[3] 1911 Irish Census, http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/pages/1911/Cork/Cork_No__6_Urban/Pembroke_Street/394222/

[4] Guy’s Cork city and county almanac and directory (Cork : Guy & Co. Ltd., 1907), p. 524.

[5] Evening Echo, 13 November 1920

[6] Civilians tried by court-martial, 1920-1922, WO35/108/29.

[7] Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin, Where mountainy men have sown (Tralee : Anvil Books, 1965), p. 159.

[8] http://www.militaryarchives.ie/collections/online-collections/bureau-of-military-history-1913-1921/reels/bmh/BMH.WS1726.pdf

[9] Ó Súilleabháin, Where mountainy men have sown, p. 159.

[10] Evening Echo, 12 November 1920.

[11] Dónal Ó hÉalaithe,  Memoirs of an old warrior : Jamie Moynihan’s fight for Irish freedom 1916-1923 (Cork : The Mercier Press Ltd, 2014), p.141.

Tributes to Irish Republican Kevin Barry, November 1920.

In the aftermath of Kevin Barry’s execution on 1st November 1920, tributes and condolences to the Barry family on their recent bereavement came in from around the world. Such was the outpouring of grief that messages of support came in from England, Scotland, Wales, USA, France, Australia and even such places as The Philippines, Trinidad and Catalonia.

While remembrances of the Irish Patriot were taking place in various locations across the globe, the impact of Barry’s death was most strongly felt in his beloved Ireland. Tributes and messages of support came flooding in from Irish organisations such as trade unions, universities and sporting clubs. Religious organisations and institutions expressed their sorrow and solidarity with the Barry family; and Masses were said in cathedrals and churches up and down the country.

Administrative bodies such as Boards of Guardians, Municipal Corporations, Local Authorities and Councils were also among those who expressed sympathies with the deceased’s family.

Following the January and June local government elections earlier that year a significant number of local government bodies were now controlled by Sinn Fein.

Rathdown No.1 Rural District Council, now with a Sinn Fein majority, were one of those local councils who openly, and without fear of repercussions from the British, extended sympathies to the relatives of Kevin Barry.

The Rathdown No.1 Rural District Council administered most of the suburbs within the South and South-Eastern region of County Dublin, with the exception of a number of Urban District Council townships which were clustered along the coastal areas.  

The suburbs included Dundrum, Balally, Churchtown, Milltown, Ballinteer, Goatstown, Stepaside, Leopardstown, Loughlinstown, Deansgrange, Sandyford, Glencullen, Stillorgan, Rathmichael, Kilmacud and Carrickmines.

On 3rd November 1920, two days after the execution of Barry, Fianna Eireann Chief of Staff and Sinn Fein Councillor Eamon Martin, in his capacity as Rathdown No. 1 Council Chairman, presided at the fortnightly Rathdown Council meeting held at Louglinstown Union.

First on the agenda was a resolution proposed by fellow Sinn Fein member and Council vice-chairman Mr. Cullen “expressing regret at the death of Master Barry, who was hanged at Mountjoy”, and the Council tendered deepest sympathy with the mother and family of the deceased. The resolution was passed in silence.

The resolution was subsequently forwarded to the Barry family and published in several newspapers over the course of the following week.

By Eamon Murphy

Top image is a studio portrait of Kevin Barry by photographer Sean Hurley of No. 37 Grafton Street, Dublin. Image is part of a collection of “Commemorative photographic prints of Barry,” held by UCD Archives ©

University College Dublin http://digital.ucd.ie/view/ucdlib:39141

Newspaper extract is the Wicklow People, published on 6 November 1920.

Fianna Eireann, Kildare 1918

A rare image of the Newbridge Sluagh of Fianna Eireann, outside Naas Town Hall on the way to Bodenstown, June 1918.

Included in the image are P. Scanlon, T. Branagan, B. Dempsey, T. Coyle, J. Dempsey, J. Dunne, B. Dillon, E. Grace, J. Barry, M. Monaghan, J. Farrell, J. Dooley, L. Geraghty, P. Dowling, H. Monaghan, J. Walsh and J. Sheehan.

James Sheehan was the Company Captain. The average age of the boys was 17, with a few as young as 14. Most transferred to the IRA upon turning 18.

Photo credit: Local Studies and Archives Department, Newbridge Library, Kildare.

Photo restored by Conchuir O Dulachain from militaria and collectibles group ‘Early Irish Militaria – Focus 1916-1946’

Memories of Na Fianna Eireann in Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford by Thomas Dwyer

Antwerp House, Mary Street, Enniscorthy

“The passing of forty years has dimmed the memory of the events of those history-making days of 1915 and reminiscences of the true facts are somewhat vague. However, I, Thomas Dwyer, resident in John Street, Enniscorthy, at the youthful age of thirteen years, joined the Fianna Éireann organisation in Enniscorthy in November, 1915.

In charge of the Enniscorthy Company at that time was Captain John Moran. The strength of the company at that time was, as far as I can recollect, about thirty-five to forty members. My most intimate friend in the Sluagh was Jim O’Brien, known affectionately as “Jim of the Tracks” because he lived on the railway. Jim was older than me and, consequently, he was my guiding light; and, throughout the eventful years that were to follow, he was my closest and dearest friend. Other members of the Sluagh at that time were Stephen Hayes, Court Street, Paddy Tobin, Boreen Hill, and John Cardiff, Duffry Street.

The Sluagh or Company met two nights weekly and Sundays after Mass, in a club known as “Antwerp”, situated in Mary Street, Enniscorthy, and run by the local unit of the Volunteers. After the formation of the first Dáil Éireann in 1919, this group became known as the Irish

Republican Army. Here, in that historic house, under the shadow of Enniscorthy Castle and overlooking the River Slaney, we were drilled and trained in the use of signals, and carried out manoeuvres in conjunction with the Enniscorthy Company of the Volunteers.

Other activities of the club included the teaching of the Irish language, Irish history, singing and dancing and the holding of concerts. This club was the breeding ground of rebellion, for here was instilled into our youthful minds the hatred of the Sassenach, and there grew in us a burning desire to see our country freed from the chains of bondage. We were told how other Irishmen down through the centuries had fought against overwhelming odds and died in a glorious attempt to rid Irish soil of a foreign foe. We learned of the rebellions of Owen Roe, or Wolfe Tone and the United Irishmen, of Rossa and the Fenians, and we longed for the day when we too might join in the fight against our common enemy.

Even as a boy, I knew that something was about to happen which I could not fully analyse but, with the dawning of the spring of 1916, the scent of another bid for freedom was borne along the breeze. We were detailed to watch R.I.C. manoeuvres and to give the alarm of their approach if they neared “Antwerp”. Gradually, as the month of April neared its close, the word, “rising”, was to be heard, spoken quietly amongst the boys in the Company, and we knew instinctively that the awaited day was near at hand.”

Thomas Dwyer, Quartermaster, Fianna Eireann

Bureau of Military History Witness Statement No. 1198 http://www.militaryarchives.ie/en/home/

Photo Credit: Charley McGuffin

Recollections of the first Fianna Eireann Meeting by Eamon Martin

No. 34 Lower Camden Street, Dublin

“I had left school for about two years, in 1909, but I had continued to pay a weekly visit to the home of my former schoolmaster. It was he, Mr. William O’Neill of St. Andrew’s National School, Brunswick Street (now Pearse Street) who informed me of a new organisation which was about to be launched. He told me he had been approached by a Countess Markievicz, who had asked him to recommend the organisation to his pupils and explaining that it was to be national in outlook and purpose. He told me that he had been very much impressed by the Countess, who was an Irish lady, and he thought I should go along and find out more about the organisation for myself.

Accordingly, I went to the meeting which was held in what I learned later was a small Theatrical Hall at No. 34 Lower Camden Street. I was accompanied by a comrade, Paddy Ward, who later became Treasurer of the organisation. At the time we were attending the Gaelic League together and were also members of the same Hurling Club.

As the meeting had been advertised in the columns of “An Claidheamh Soluis” there was a fairly large attendance, I would say about one hundred boys. I met there, whom I knew already, the Fitzgerald boys from Brunswick Street and the nephew of my schoolmaster, a lad named Paddy Walsh.

Of those present at the meeting, whom I met for the first time, I remember most distinctly, besides the Countess, Bulmer Hobson and Pádraic Ó Riain.

The Chair was taken by Bulmer Hobson who opened the meeting and explained the purpose of the organisation. It was to be national in character and having for its ultimate object the complete independence of Ireland. It would be organised on a semi-military basis, following the pattern of the Baden-Powell Scouts which had been founded the year before, and one of the immediate aims would be to counteract the influence of this pro-British body.

Madame Markievicz also spoke in a patriotic strain and she laid particular stress on the point that the organisation would be governed by the boys themselves who would elect the

Executive Council at a general meeting.

The first group, called An Cead Sluagh, was formed from this gathering and met at the Camden Street Hall.”