Execution of Liam Mellows, 8th December 1922

On 8th December 1922 – Liam Mellows, and three of his republican comrades Rory O’Connor, Joe McKelvey and Dick Barrett, were executed by the Irish Free State government as a reprisal for the shooting dead of TD Sean Hales.

Liam’s last written message was to his fellow republican prisoners in ‘C’ Wing, Mountjoy Prison, and was written shortly before his execution took place at 7.30am. It was delivered by a prison guard to Liam’s cell mate and close friend, Eamon Martin (Fianna Eireann Chief of Staff).

It read as follows:

To my dear comrades in Mountjoy,

God bless you boys and may he give you fortitude, courage and wisdom to suffer and endure all for Ireland’s sake, An Poblacht Abu,

Liam Ó Maoilíosa

(Liam Mellows)

Mountjoy Prison


Dec 8 1922


Reminiscences of Barney Mellows by Anna Kelly

Tribute to Irish Patriot, Herbert Charles ‘Barney’ Mellows

Na Fianna Eireann, Irish Volunteers, IRA/Fianna Composite Council, IRA Intelligence, Irish Republican Brotherhood, Sinn Féin, Dáil Éireann Depts. of Finance, Publicity, Education and Defence and The Irish Bulletin.

“To know Barney Mellows when he was in the early twenties was to share in some of the joy and exaltation which invigorated the national movements upon which this State is built. Barney personified this more than any man I know. I often look back upon that time, trying to find the right word for it. I never have. Perhaps some other language has it.

It was like when the knights rode out with pennons fluttering and lances flashing in the morning sun. It was light and laughter, courage and comradeship, something altogether joyous and true. It was a young country, with a spirit newly released; a young girl, lovely and full in her youth, with men making light-hearted songs about her. It was some magic that is gone, that came with the sun in the east and went down into the west for ever. There is nothing like it now. There is no one quite like Barney either.

He would not have liked me to be heroic about him. He’d laugh, and so would I. Dead men are buried with dead words and patriots with many platitudes. But behind this there is the human side, and friends like me will remember that side of light-hearted Barney of the golden age.

He was the most unsolemn. It was hard to believe that one so consistently full of fun and gaiety could be so wise, so steel-tough, when it came to the main purpose of his life. Barney of the yellow hair, cropping up everywhere in that old history-making factory, Fianna, Volunteers, old’ Sinn Féin in the pre-Dáil days… offices… drill halls… meeting-places… assignations.

His marvellous gift of organisation. His clear-headedness and memory. His sense of human contacts. His easy friendships. The ready hand, the twinkling eye behind the glasses; the salutation. His numerous-his innumerable-friends, pals and buttles. He knew more people than anyone else in the country and more people knew him. It is a name that will ring a bell in every parish in Ireland. It was a time of Christian names. There were no frontiers, pockets, barriers. Distinctions were simple. The movement united everyone. If you weren’t in it, you were either a Unionist or no damn good. And that was that.

Barney at a ceilidh surrounded by a bevy of girls and he playing away to his heart’s content. Barney at the old piano in the Banba Hall singing The South Down Militia, with the whole house in full cry:

“For the South Down Militia

Is the finest in the land….”

His music. His love for good music and his opera-going.

Barney breaking jail from Usk [Wales] and sending home a picture post-card of the front door of the jail, with the inscription:

“I didn’t come out that way.”

Barney, hidden in the Coombe and then being brought out of it, heavily disguised, only to hear the taxi-man say: “Welcome home, Barney.”

Barney, still on the run, and still disguised, on the top of a tram, on a dark night. The tram stops near Mountjoy. The conductor runs to the top, and, with a grin, whispers to the escaped prisoner: “Mountjoy, Barney, I suppose you wouldn’t like to be getting off?”

Of stories like this there are hundreds. People will always tell stories about him. Of his kindness, his abilities and they will say, he might have been many things. But he belonged to his age, and that age was Ireland’s morning.

So long, Barney. These are some of the things I will remember about you. And I will try to forget the day I saw you through the window in the guardroom of Wellington Barracks, when something terrible had happened [December 1922]. You just looked at me and then held down your head. I held down my head, too, and walked away. You did not laugh so heartily after that.”

Homage to Barney Mellows published shortly after his death in The Irish Press, February 1942.

*Anna Kelly was a prominent Irish journalist and also women’s page editor of The Irish Press. A member of Cumann na mBan, she served in the GPO during the 1916 Easter rising. In 1917 she joined the office staff in Sinn Féin headquarters at 6 Harcourt St., Dublin, working as secretary and general assistant to the party’s general secretary. She also worked on The Irish Bulletin (1919-21) and later on with the anti-treaty Republican War News during the Civil War. She was imprisoned during 1922/23 in Mountjoy, Kilmainham (where she took part in a hunger strike), and the North Dublin Union. She died of cancer in June 1958.

Further reading:

Anna Kelly – Dictionary of Irish Biography


Herbert Charles ‘Barney’ Mellows – Dictionary of Irish Biography


Memorial to Nenagh FIANNA EIREANN Unveiled

The Fatima Group Memorial raised to the memory of the members of Nenagh Fianna Eireann was blessed and unveiled on Sunday (26th June 1960), before a large attendance, including representatives of local public bodies.

The group consists of Our Lady of Fatima, three children and their sheep, together with the commemorative plaque which reads: “To commemorate the Jubilee Year of Fianna Eireann, 1909-1959, and in memory of those members who gave their lives in the War of Independence.” 

The memorial was designed by Neff Brothers, Sculptors, Cork. The site was provided by the Co. Manager, Mr. John P. Flynn, and the work of erecting the rockery was carried out by North Tipperary Co. Council workers.

The unveiling ceremony was performed by Mr. Eamon Martin, Dublin, formerly Chief of Staff of Fianna Eireann, who was introduced by Mr. Kevin Bradshaw, Limerick President of the Fianna Eireann Association, as a founder member of Fianna Eireann and former Chief of Staff.

The memorial is erected on a prominent site inside the County Hospital grounds and is a worthy one to the memory of the men, who gave their lives for Irish freedom.

Prior to the unveiling ceremony, a Colour Party from Limerick, Cork and Nenagh, together with a firing party and bugler formed at the church gates and later attended 12 o’clock Mass, which was celebrated for the deceased members of the Sluagh.

Rev. P. O’Connor, CC., Nenagh, was celebrant of the High Mass, assisted by Rev. T. Mullaly, C.C., and Rev. H. Kenny, C.C. Right Rev. Mons. Hamilton, P.P., V.F., presided.

At the celebration of the Mass the colour party dipped the colours and the trumpeter sounded the salute as the guard of honour presented arms. Following the High Mass, the colour party and firing party reformed at the Church Road and marched to the hospital grounds where they were drawn up beside the memorial. The memorial was blessed by Right Rev. Monsignor Hamilton and a decade of the Rosary was recited by Rev Brendan Heaslip, Nenagh, which was joined in by those present.

Prior to the unveiling ceremony the guard of honour presented arms and later fired three volleys over the memorial, an Army bugler sounding the salutes. The Order of Malta (Nenagh Unit) also participated in the ceremony.

The ceremony was watched by many patients and members of the hospital staff from the balcony, and it concluded with the playing of the National Anthem.

Mr. Martin said they “were here today to honour the dead, to remember them, and pay their homage. By paying a special tribute to these men and women who gave their lives in the name of their country’s freedom and by keeping their memories alive each succeeding generation of Irish men has bred new forces of resurgence, never allowing that spark to die entirely.

By their heroism and by the manner of their deaths, these men have given inspiration and new strength to those of whom had followed. It could be said, therefore, that their sacrifice had not been in vain. Sincerely, their attitude to these brave men was shown by this splendid memorial erected here by their comrades by the Nenagh Sluagh of Fianna Eireann.

Equally, their homage was theirs by devoting their lives to the ideals to which they fought and died, and only by adhering to these ideals were they justified in paying the tribute to these men who died believing that they who followed would carry out the final achievement of the task they set their hands to. They of Fianna Eireann were privileged to be the pioneers of what he may say was the greatest of all national resurgence in their country’s history. They would continue that tribute in no small measure until that amount of freedom they enjoy today was achieved. 

They gave many of their comrades to this movement and those they came to honour today would join that galaxy of martyrs enshrined in their country’s history. They, others of Fianna Eireann, were very thankful to the Nenagh Sluagh for inviting them here today. They joined with them in this mark of gratitude to the valour of these immortal men today.”

Mr. Martin then unveiled the plaque and memorial to the memory of the Nenagh members of Fanna Eireann amidst applause.

Mr. George Hurley, Cork was in charge of the firing party and Mr. Paul Shinnors, Limerick, and Mr. P. Clifford, Chairman of the Nenagh Branch of Fianna Eireann, was in charge of the colour party.

Text: The Nenagh Guardian, Saturday, July 2, 1960.

Photograph: Eamon Murphy Fianna Archives ©

An Account Of The Manner In Which Young Boys Are Made Into Soldiers: Na Fianna Éireann and the Making of Irish Masculinity

by Aidan Beatty

In 1911, the Irish Republican Brotherhood’s Irish Freedom newspaper featured an article on the training practices for young recruits used in the Japanese army. The methods used by the Japanese military, Irish Freedom claimed, offered Irish nationalists a useful “Cúntas ar an mhódh ‘na ndéantar saighdiúirí de na buachaillibh óga” [Account of the manner in which young boys are made into soldiers].[1] The article was intended as a commentary on the recently founded Na Fianna Éireann [The Warriors of Ireland]. This militia-style organisation for Irish boys was one of the most important Irish political groupings in the turbulent years around 1916, though they have received far less attention from historians than their adult contemporaries in the Volunteers or Cumann na mBan. Na Fianna Éireann, in their own attempt to turn boys into manly soldiers, displayed a number of anxieties about Irish identity, masculinity and national decline.

Na Fianna was founded in 1909 by Bulmer Hobson and Constance Markievicz. Hobson had already formed an organisation under this name in Belfast in 1902. This earlier Fianna Éireann, dedicated to the promotion of sports and the Irish language, was intended as an alternative to the Catholic Boys’ Brigades that had become a recruiting facility for the British Army.[2] In August 1909, having decamped to Dublin, Hobson chaired a public meeting “to form a national boys’ organisation to be managed by the boys themselves on national non-party lines.” The second Fianna Éireann was the result of this. Shortly afterwards Hobson returned to Belfast and Constance Markievicz assumed responsibility for the organisation. In the years after 1916 its numbers rose to 30,000, the high tide of Fianna membership.[3]

The Fianna were clearly influenced by the British Boy Scouts movement, founded by Robert Baden-Powell in 1908. The Scouts drew on contemporary anxieties about the impact of modern urban lifestyles, something Baden-Powell sought to reverse through healthy and correctly masculine pastimes. Na Fianna Éireann was a product of similar societal fears, and indeed the Fianna, for all their anti-English rhetoric, regularly emulated the Scouts.

Liam Mellows, who graduated from the Fianna to the Volunteers, looked back in 1917 at the arrival of the Boy Scout movement in Ireland and suggested that had they succeeded, Baden-Powell’s organisation would have “completed the attempts made by England” with the help of traitorous “seonini” to make a “happy English child out of the Irish boy.” Thus, Mellows felt, “Some antidote was needed” if the future men of Ireland “were not to be swallowed up in the tide of Anglicisation engulfing the land.”[4] The antidote to the Scouts, of course, was the Fianna, even if the differences between the two were often negligible. The internal structure of the Fianna was remarkably similar to that of the “Baden Powell’s”, their uniforms were also similar and there is evidence that the Fianna competed with the Irish branch of the Scouts for potential recruits.[5]

The Scouts in Britain had emerged during a panic over supposedly inferior military recruits during the Boer War and they sought to promote restorative “good citizenship” among British boys; the full title of Baden Powell’s 1908 handbook was, appropriately enough, Scouting for Boys: A Handbook for Instruction in Good Citizenship. The Fianna similarly sought to make clean-living citizens out of Irish boys, whilst also preparing them for future military activities. The 1914 Fianna Handbook urged each member to “make himself strong in mind as well as in body…. [to] think for himself and be self-reliant and strong.” Fianna members were, on the one hand, “pledged to re-establish a free Irish nation, and their first work must be to train themselves to be fit citizens of a free nation”, whilst also learning lessons “of self-sacrifice and service… to obey and to be self-controlled.” They were urged to be good citizens and to never act in such a way that they would bring Ireland into disrepute. More prosaically, a Fianna boy would take regular baths, would always present himself with “clothes brushed and boots polished.” He would not take alcoholic drinks and, “Wishing to grow up strong in body and mind” he “smokes seldom, if at all.”[6] On a basic level, this was not all that different from the ideas of Baden-Powell.

Notwithstanding their obvious similarities, however, the Fianna did markedly differ from the Boy Scouts in the manner in which their activities served to imagine a liberated postcolonial Ireland. Writing from the perspective of 1959, their former chief of staff, Eamon Martin, spoke of how the Fianna was founded at time “when pride of nationhood was at its lowest ebb in Ireland”. Thus, the “new-born resurgence” of the Fianna stood out even more against this pathetic background.[7] Patrick Pearse similarly feared that “centuries of oppression” had erased Ireland’s military spirit and that the country was on the verge of becoming “a land of contented slaves.” It was in this context that he positioned his call for Irish boys to acquire, via the Fianna, military training and habits of clean living, both of which would be palliatives to national decay.[8] When Constance Markievicz spoke of the Fianna as “an educational organisation”, she went on to elaborate that it was “an organisation that teaches and trains Irish boys to work for Irish independence.” Arguing that the preservation of “national independence and strength and unity” were universal concerns, and that generations of Irishmen had sacrificed themselves for national sovereignty, Markievicz concluded that “it is fitting that Irish boys should be trained to take their place in the national struggle for freedom.”[9]

Indeed, the Fianna Handbook’s talk of re-establishing Ireland as a “free nation” and the task of making Irish boys into “fit citizens for a free nation” points to some deeper concerns not only of Irish degeneration under British rule, but also of the need for individual bodily reform as a precursor for national sovereignty. A “self-reliant and strong” nation of free citizens was the clearly desired goal of this. Mellows had argued that the Fianna was the only organisation in the country producing “real live earnest Irish rebel boys” and in its early years he felt that “A splendid spirit of camaraderie pervaded the movement, which was rapidly becoming a boy’s community, the embryo of the Republic. It was remarkable what a few years had done in forming the character of the members. No longer were they mere boys. They felt men, if not in years, then in strength of purpose.” More overtly, an editorial in an early issue of the Fianna’s self-titled newspaper spoke of Irish youth as being “like a green-stick, you can bend without breaking it. That is why this paper exists, to assist the Fianna in educating and bending, as it were, Ireland’s youth in the right direction.”[10]

Na Fianna were always an avenue for social reform as much as it was a military organisation. Much like the Volunteers, the G.A.A., and even the Gaelic League, they displayed marked anxieties about national decay, about Ireland’s lack of formal political sovereignty and about the effects of British colonialism on Irish men’s virility. When Na Fianna spoke of making men out of boys, they were tapping into deep veins of meaning within nationalist culture and thought.

[1] ‘Saighdiúrí na hÉireann’ [Irish Soldiers]. Irish Freedom, November 1911.
[2] Marnie Hay. Bulmer Hobson and the Nationalist Movement in Twentieth-Century Ireland (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2009) 28.
[3] Marnie Hay, ‘The Propaganda of Na Fianna Éireann, 1909-26.’ Mary Shine Thompson, ed., Young Irelands: Studies in Children’s Literature (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2011) 49.
[4] NLI 1A 2302, Donnchadh O Seaghdha, ed. Liam Mellows. The Irish Boy Scouts: A History of Na Fianna Eireann, 1909-1916 – Reprinted from the Gaelic American (1917).
[5] NLI 5A 3521, Na Fianna Eireann Historical Documents No. 1: Sean Healy O/C/ Cork, 1916 – Transcript of an interview with Sean Healy of 24thAugust 1974 by Donnchadh O’Seaghdha.
[6] Fianna Handbook (Dublin: The Central Council of Fianna Eireann, 1924). This is a reprint of the 1913 handbook, with some minor changes made to reflect the post-Civil War political context.
[7] A message from former Chief of Staff Eamon Martin’. In NLI IR 300 P49, Cathal O’Shannon, ed. Souvenir of the Golden Jubilee of Fianna Éireann, 16 August 1959.
[8] ‘To the Boys of Ireland.’ Irish Freedom, February 1914. In the original Irish Freedom article, no author is listed. In the 1959 Souvenir of the Golden Jubilee of Fianna Éireann, however, the author is listed as Pearse, and the content is certainly consistent with his work.
[9] ‘Fianna Handbook’ (1924).
[10] ‘From the Editors’. Fianna [Warriors], Vol. 1, No.5, June 1915.

Link to original article:

Markievicz oration at second anniversary of murder of Fianna members Sean Cole and Alfred Colley

“Comrades in the Republican Army and friends, fellow Republicans, we meet here today to do honour to two young lads who gave their lives for Ireland two years ago.

Standing by their graves today, where the green grass and flowers hold up their heads, I thought of that sad day two short years ago when I stood by the side of their two poor mutilated bodies lying in the mortuary of the Mater Hospital, and when we followed them – just a few of us – followed their bodies up to this graveyard and heard the sods falling, one by one, like drops of lead, on the bright hopes, courageous hearts, and noble characters of these two young lads.

Somehow it seemed so tragic as we stood there and the same prayer rose to the lips of all, the prayer to worthily carry on – carry on what these boys had died to accomplish.

At this anniversary we who honour them, who love them, who knew them, renew that prayer to God in our hearts; and we will be given the courage to dare if we must dare, to stand by if we must stand by, and the courage to undergo death and torture even as Cole and Colley underwent it.

May we be worthy to be followers of these noble boys.  May their deaths rally this generation as Emmet’s death rallied the generations that followed him.

Today we look back over the two blackest years Irish history has ever known.  Men of our own Republican Army deserted us, were bought, tricked and cajoled by England, took up the British fight, and carried on the treacherous part at the bidding of England.  It is the noble deaths of lads like these that have cleansed Ireland from this sin and given us hope for the future.  The green grass and flowers that spring from their graves shows us how hope springs even from death, tells us that all duty, love and courage, spring from the graves of dead heroes.

Today, just two years after their deaths, we see a grand rally of young lads in Ireland who are carrying on their work in the Fianna.  The courage of many of them has been tried in jail; many went out in the flying columns taking their lives in their hands.

So today let us carry from these graves a message of hope to Ireland.  We will carry no bitterness for their murderers.  We of the Fianna still stand by the old chivalrous ideals of the Gael.  We will say, as our two martyrs would say, in the words of Christ, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

The men who murdered these boys did not know what they did it for.  We pity them, we despise them – we abhor the qualities that made them do such a deed, but we must not on an occasion like this think of them bitterly.

The honouring of the two martyrs that lie here has today marked another turning point, and we of the Fianna stand pledged to go out and work and devote our lives to the full ratification of the Irish Republic.  That pledge we renew here today, and we in the names of the dead heroes and martyrs, pray God to give us strength to act as they did, and if needs be to fight as they did, and to die as they died, in defence of the Republic of Ireland.” – Madame Markievicz, Glasnevin Cemetery, 31st August 1924

Sinn Fein, 13 September, 1924

The perils of adolescent activism during the Irish Revolution

In this podcast Dr Marnie Hay provides an introduction to uniformed youth groups during the Irish Revolution and highlights some examples of the potentially perilous activities undertaken by adolescents during the years 1916-23 and the serious consequences these teenage activists faced.


‘The perils of adolescent activism during the Irish Revolution’, a podcast by Dr Marnie Hay, DCU School of History and Geography.

During the Irish Revolution, the nationalist activism of adolescents was often channelled through the conduit of uniformed youth groups such as Na Fianna Éireann, the Clan na Gael Girl Scouts and the Scout Corps of the Irish Citizen Army. In this podcast Marnie Hay provides an introduction to these youth groups and highlights some examples of the potentially perilous activities undertaken by adolescents during the years 1916-23 and the serious consequences these teenage activists faced.

Marnie Hay’s most recent book, Na Fianna Éireann and the Irish Revolution, 1909-23: Scouting for Rebels (Manchester UP), is now available in paperback.

Barney Mellows Portrait by Jimmy Wren

In 2016, to mark the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising, renowned author and artist Jimmy Wren published a book to commemorate the participants of the Easter Rising from the Four Courts Area.

The unique book was a limited edition publication and, as far as I know, sold out shortly after its launch. It includes short biographies of all the known participants who took part in activities within the Four Courts area, including the Magazine Fort and Mendicity Institution. The biographies include details of known activities, occupation, political allegiance, membership of the GAA or Gaelic League

Jimmy, well known as an accomplished artist throughout Ireland, and Dublin in particular, included hand drawn illustrations for the majority of the entries in the book.

Quite a number of the listed participants in the remarkable book are members of Na Fianna Eireann, who bravely fought alongside their Irish Volunteer, Irish Citizen Army, Cumann na mBan and Hibernian Rifles comrades during Easter week 1916.

I was lucky enough to get a signed copy of the book after it was released, and even more fortunate to kindly receive from Jimmy a number of the original hand drawn illustrations of prominent Fianna participants.

The featured image here is of Herbert ‘Barney’ Mellows, who was a crucial player during the events of that week, where he took part in activities at the Magazine Fort, Phoenix Park and afterwards reported to Captain Frank Fahy of C Coy, 1st Bn, who occupied the Four Courts. Fahy appointed Mellows his aide-de-camp, with responsibilities for issuing supplies and ammunition.

At that time Mellows was an important part of Fianna hierarchy and sat on the Fianna ard-choisde (central council); he was also national Fianna director of finance.

After the surrender, Mellows was arrested and sent to Stafford Prison, England, and eventually on to Frongoch, Wales.

The Four Courts Garrison and Mendicity Institution Easter Week 1916 – A Biographical Dictionary by Jimmy Wren

Published in Ireland by Jimmy Wren Publishing

Copyright (c) 2016 Jimmy Wren

ISBN 978-1-5272-0447-8

The book was published in association with Dublin County Board GAA and the Dublin City Council Area Committee.

In addition to this valuable book, Jimmy also published a similar volume of work on the GPO Garrison. Jimmy’s father, James Wren was a member of the GPO Garrison during Easter Week 1916.

He also authored several other books on the history of Dublin and the GAA.