Belcamp Park, Raheny.
by Eamon Murphy
In late 1909 Countess Markievicz took up a lease on Belcamp Park in North Dublin.
Belcamp Park was a large farmhouse with twelve bedrooms, outhouses, stables, a walled garden and was situated on seven acres of farmland. It was once the home of parliamentarian Henry Grattan; and his father James Grattan had been born there.
The aim was to set up a self-sufficient commune for herself and her Fianna boys. A place where they could partake in outdoor exercises, away from the harsh realities of inner city Dublin and grow enough food to survive without outside assistance. Markievicz and Bulmer Hobson had been inspired by several agricultural and market garden communes and cooperatives which had previously been in existence in Ireland; in particular they were impressed with the commune in Ralahine in County Clare, set up by Arthur Vandeleur. Even though Vandeleur’s experiment had ended in failure, they were captivated enough to contemplate setting up their own. At the time, James Connolly even advocated such projects; writing about it in ‘Labour in Irish History’, in the chapter entitled ‘Irish Utopia’.
They enlisted the help of their friend Helena Moloney in setting up the Fianna cooperative but unfortunately all three had no farming skills nor did they know how to run such a scheme. Faced with this lack of knowledge they recruited Donnchadh O’Hannigan, a recent graduate from the Glasnevin Agricultural College, as head gardener to help them in their new venture. Donnchadh, along with his brother Donal, set about transforming the gardens and fields so they could produce crops to feed the commune. They also had chickens and a few cows. The scheme was a failure almost from the beginning. The large group of Fianna boys who settled at Belcamp had no interest in agriculture and were more interested in camping in the grounds, drilling and shooting practice. In addition to this lack of interest they were plagued with other problems, such as no electricity, poor water supply, damp conditions, and worst of all, over grown fields and gardens.
Photograph of members of Fianna Eireann at the Belcamp Park ‘Commune’ in early 1910. Con Colbert is on the right. The two older ones are possibly the O’Hannigan brothers. Source: Eamon Murphy
Markievicz and Moloney were too busy with Inghinidhe na hÉireann to take control of the project and most days they cycled to Dublin to attend meetings and assist with organizing. Markieivicz had also recently been elected to the Sinn Fein executive, which took up more of her time. When Markieivicz and Moloney did have time to spend the day at Belcamp, they spent most of it cooking and cleaning up after the Fianna boys. Bulmer Hobson was always either busy in Dublin at meetings or was away in Belfast. Within a short period, the cooperative had serious financial difficulties.
The end of the scheme finally came when Constance’s husband Casimir arrived back in Ireland after spending time in Poland. He was angry to discover that that his wife and the ill-conceived commune were the butt of jokes around social circles in Dublin. Others, such as Sean McGarry, called the trio ‘idiots’ for getting involved in a scheme that was destined to fail. Casimir was further incensed when he discovered the financial woes of the ill-fated venture. He soon managed to put an end to the commune despite having some difficulty getting out of the five year lease arrangement of £100 per year. The scheme lasted less than a year in total and had losses of almost £250.
Despite all this the Fianna boys enjoyed their short time at Belcamp. Future revolutionaries such as Con Colbert, Eamon Martin, Paddy Ward, Garry Holohan, Seamus Kavanagh and the Reynolds brothers were all part of the ‘Belcamp Commune’ and it was one of the places where they first learned the military side of things with daily lessons in the use of firearms, camping and drilling. Along with 34 Camden Street, it is one of the most significant addresses and locations of the early independence period and one which should not be forgotten.