On 26th August 1922, during the Irish Civil War, two senior Fianna Eireann officers, 19 year old Sean Cole, Commandant of the 2nd Battalion – North East (Dublin Brigade) and 21 year old Alfred Colley, newly promoted to Vice-Commandant of the Dublin Brigade, previously Commandant of the 1st Battalion – North West (Dublin Brigade) were arrested by intelligence members of the National Army at Newcomen Bridge on the North Strand and taken to Yellow Road, Whitehall in North Dublin and shot dead. It was believed to be an act of reprisal for the shooting of Michael Collins, which took place four days previously.
Senior Fianna officer Frank Sherwin recalled hearing about his fellow officers and friends deaths “I made contact with some of my Fianna comrades, when Alfred Colley and Sean Cole, two Fianna officers, were murdered in a lane at Whitehall, near Dublin On the same day, another IRA man was found riddled with bullets at Raheny. They were all murdered by the Free State murder gang. They were the first to be murdered. These three men were shot while Collins body lay in state at City Hall, Dublin; the date was 26th August 1922. Cole and Colley were engaged in trying to reorganise the Fianna when they were shot.”
An inquest into their deaths recorded that “the dead body of Colley contained one bullet wound in the head, another in the spine, and two others in the body. Death was instantaneous. Cole had four bullets wounds, one in the head and three in the body.”
A letter from Fianna Adjutant General Barney Mellows to Sean Cole’s family was read out at the inquest by Mr Comyn, Kings Counsel, appearing for both next of kin and G.H.Q Fianna Eireann. It read:
The G.H.Q. Fianna Eireann offer their deep sympathy on the loss that you have sustained by the murder of your son Sean. He had been for a long time a steady worker in the Fianna and had been promoted from time to time, his last post being that of commandant, 2nd Battalion, Dublin Brigade. The staff have investigated as far as is possible the circumstances of the deaths and find that Sean and his comrade, Alf Colley, attended on the 26th August at an ordinary parade of the Northern city section of the Dublin Fianna fixed for 3pm, the place being Charlemont House, Marino. At the conclusion of the meeting Sean and Alf Colley were picked up by armed men in the vicinity of Newcomen Bridge, taken near “The Thatch’ and there without an preliminary, were foully and callously murdered……………. The fight for the Republic is not waged on the basis of the assassination in cold blood of mere unarmed boys. Sean Cole and Alf Colley owe their deaths as Republicans soldiers to the enemies of the Republic. Le Meas, B. Mellows, Adjutant- General.
The inquest returned a verdict that both men died from wounds described in the above medical testimony and that the killing of the deceased was considered as wilful murder. The jury at the inquest tendered their sincere sympathy to the relatives of the deceased.
Their deaths were a terrible blow for the Fianna Eireann organization at a time when the tide was rapidly turning against them. Many senior officers, including those on the GHQ, were by now arrested and detained by the Free State government so the loss of such experienced and active members of the Fianna caused significant damage to both the moral and running of the organization.
Alfred Colley’s family requested a small private funeral and he was buried with a Fianna Guard of Honour. Sean Cole’s burial was a larger affair and he was given a full military funeral, with a firing party. Countess Markievicz delivered a graveside oration.
Today a plaque commemorates the spot where the two young men lost their lives.
Story and research by Eamon Murphy.
Photo credit: Dublin North East Eirigi
Na Fianna Eireann emblem from a 1959 ‘Golden Jubilee’ publication.
“The Fianna League of America”
In early 1914, senior Fianna Eireann officer Michael Lonergan emigrated to New York in America.
Lonergan had been one of the most active of all the Fianna officers since its inception in 1909. He was one of those at no. 34 Camden Street on August 16th 1909 and since that historic day he worked hard and devoted his life to the cause.
When he made the journey to the United States he didn’t give up his passion for Ireland or the boys of Fianna Eireann.
In a letter sent to his old comrades on the Fianna executive he tells of being inspired by watching the annual Bodenstown pilgrimage in 1914 on a newsreel in a movie theater and he recalled that “the Fianna got a good cheer as they marched past on the screen”. He went on to say that their “kinsfolk in America have learned of our doings in connection with the Howth gun-runnings, and immediately the value of our organization jumped in their estimation”.
With this momentum, he set about establishing an honorary Fianna organization to be known as “The Fianna League of America”. He contacted as many prominent Irish-Americans as he could to assist in this new movement. Among those who he contacted, and who eventually agreed to help, were John Kenny, President of the Irish Volunteers committee in New York, Joseph McGarrity of Clan na Gael, P.J. Conway President of the Irish American Athletic Club, Patrick Kavanagh, President of the New York Gaelic League, Michael Murray, President of the Shamrock Club, John Carroll, President of the Irish Republican Veteran’s association, and a host of other well connected Irish Americans.
Michael became the new organization’s first treasurer and secretary and John Kenny of the Irish Volunteers Committee was elected president.
The annual subscription was one dollar and all funds were sent back to Fianna headquarters in Dublin.
The organization was a huge success, even attracting members from non-Irish backgrounds. On September 7th 1914, not long after the establishment of the league, a ‘Monster Athletic Carnival’ was organized by the Fianna League and held at Celtic Park to raise awareness for their own association and the Fianna and Volunteers back in Ireland. The event also proved to be a successful fundraising exercise, raising thousands of dollars of much needed funds for the movement back home.
by Eamon Murphy
In February 1912 a unionist MP asked in the House of Commons, whether the ‘War Office’ would suppress a new organisation known as the ‘Irish National Boy Scouts’.
The boy scouts he referred to were, of course, also known as Na Fianna Eireann, and had been in existence since 1909 so it is interesting that concerns were raised at this particular time. The timing of these parliamentary questions can probably be explained by the fact that unionists and members of the Orange Order were forming local militias in Ulster around the same time, in early 1912.
The unionists were probably sensing the potential of these ‘boy scouts’. No doubt they feared that the Fianna could possibly act as a counter-balance to their own intentions. Thankfully, and rather naively, Chief Secretary Birrell laughed off Sir C. Kinloch-Cooke’s fears and claimed he had nothing to worry about with this ‘trivial’ organisation.
The Fianna were at this stage, already secretly preparing for future military action and were drilling and engaging in target practice and other military training. Most of the senior Fianna officers were, at this time, members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) and were not long after this, training other members of the IRB in military procedures in preparation of the formation of the Irish Volunteers in 1913.
I think the Fianna had the last laugh!!!!