A remarkable photo of Patrick Pearse and Na Fianna Scouts at the Wolfe Tone pilgrimage to Bodenstown in June 1913.
According to an edition of ‘An Phoblacht’, published in the 1930’s, “the pilgrimage to Bodenstown in 1913 was, it is generally held, the most historic one.”
M. J. Kelly in his book “The Fenian Ideal and Irish Nationalism’ described how:
“2,000 communicants gathered at Bodenstown (in 1913). Twenty-five Fianna stood guard at the graveside armed with guns and bayonets. Pearse made a speech that celebrated Tone’s ardour, valour, purity, tenderness and gaiety, and repudiated the divisions within Irish nationalism. Sinn Fein distributed anti-enlistment pamphlets. J. T. Jameson made a film of the proceedings, which was later shown at the Rotunda and at Rathmines. Tom Clarke was greatly enthused. ‘At last we see tangible results from the patient, plodding work of sowing the seed’, he told Devoy. ‘The tide is turning strongly in our direction. We have the Rising generation”
The Leinster Leader published an article on 28th June 1913 with an account of the day.
“On Sunday last the annual pilgrimage to the grave of Theobald Wolfe Tone took place Bodenstown churchyard. This year the numbers who attended exceeded those of last year, about a thousand coming from Dublin and another contingent from Tullamore, Clara, and Athlone. The procession formed outside Sallins station was a most imposing one, being made up of St. James’ Band and the Lorcan O’ Toole Pipers’ Band and the Athlone Pipers’ Band, The National Boy Scouts [Fianna], the Daughters of Erin and members of the Wolfe Tone Memorial Club.
At the graveside demonstration Mr. Thomas, J. Clarke presided and said it was a gratifying thing that numbers of their fellow countrymen were swinging back to the old fighting line and taking pride in the old Fenian principles. He introduced Mr. P. H. Pearse, B. A.
Mr. Pearse then came forward and delivered an eloquent and impressive oration, first speaking in Irish.
Speaking in English, he said they had come to the holiest place in Ireland, holier to them than the sacred spot where Patrick sleeps in Down. Patrick brought them life, but Wolfe Tone died for them. Though many had testified in death to the truth of Ireland’s claim to Nationhood; Wolfe Tone was the greatest of all that had made that testimony; he was the greatest of Ireland’s dead. They stood in the holiest place in Ireland, for what spot of the Nation’s soil could be holier than the spot in which the greatest of her dead lay buried. He found it difficult to speak in that place: and he knew they all partook of his emotion. There were no strangers there for they were all in a sense own brothers to Tone (hear, hear).
They shared his faith, his hope still unrealised and his great love. They had come there that day not merely to salute this noble dust and to pay their homage to the noble spirit of Tone, but to renew their adhesion to the faith of Tone, and to express their full acceptance of the gospel of which Tone had given such a clear definition. That gospel had been taught before him by English-speaking men, uttered half articulately by Shane O’ Neill, expressed in some passionate metaphor by Geoffrey Keating and hinted at by Swift, in some better jibe, but it was stated definitely empathically by Wolfe Tone and it did not need to be over again, stated anew for any new generation. Tone was great in mind, but, he was still greener in spirit. He had the clear vision of the prophet; he saw things as they were and saw things as they should be. They owed more to this dead man than they should he ever able to repay him by ‘making pilgrimages to his grave or building the stateliest monument in the streets of his city. They owed it to Eire that there was such a thing as Irish Nationalism; to his memory and the memory of ’98 they owed it that there was any man-hood left in Ireland (hear, hear).
The soul of Wolfe Tone was like a burning flame, a flame so pure, so ardent, so generous that to come into communion with it was as a new optimism and regeneration. Let them try in some way to get into contact with the spirit of Tone and possess themselves of its ardour. If they could do that it would be a good thing for them and their country, because, they would carry away with them a new life from that place of death and there would be a new resurrection of patriotic grace in their souls (hear, hear). Let them think of Tone: think of his boyhood and young manhood in Dublin and in Kildare; think of his adventurous spirit and plans, think of his glorious father at the bar, and his healthy contempt for what he called a foolish wig and gown, think how the call of Ireland came to him, think how he obeyed that call; think how he put virility into the Catholic movement; think how this heretic toiled to make freemen of the Catholic helots (applause).
Think how he grew to love the real and historic Irish Nation and then there came to him that clear perception that there must be in Ireland not three nations but one; that Protestant and Dissenter must close in amity with Catholic and Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter must unite to achieve freedom for all (applause).
Let them consider the sacrifices Tone had made; he had to leave so much. Never was there a man who was so clearly endowed as he was, he had so much love in his warm heart. He (speaker) would rather have known Tone than any other man of whom he ever read or heard. He never read of any one man who had more in him of the heroic stuff than Tone had; how gaily and gallantly he had set about the doing of a mighty thing. He (speaker) had always loved the very name Thomas Russell because Tone so loved him. To be Tone’s friend, what a privilege; for Tone had for his friends an immense love, an immense clarity. He had such love for his wife and children. But such was the destiny of the heroes of their nation; they had to stifle in their hearts all that love and that sweet music and to follow only the far faint voice that called them to the battlefield or to the harder death at the foot of the gibbet. Tone heard that voice and obeyed in and from his grave today he was calling on them and they were there to answer his voice; and they pledged themselves to carry out his programme to abolish the connection with ‘England’, the never-failing source of political evils and to establish the independence of their country, to abolish the memory of past dissensions and to replace for the denominations of Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter; the common name of Irishman (applause).
In that programme was to be found the whole philosophy of Irish Nationality; that programme included the philosophy of the Gaelic League and of later prophets, and it was for that programme they pledged it now at the grave-side of Tone; they pledged themselves to follow in the steps of Tone; never to rest by day or night until this be accomplished, until Ireland be free (applause); fighting on; not independency, but in great joy as Tone fought; prizing it above all privileges, and hoping for the victory in their own day. And if it should be granted to them in this generation to complete the work that Tone’s generation left unaccomplished. But if that was not their destiny, they should fight on still, hoping still, self-sacrificing still, knowing as they must know that causes like this did not lose for ever and that men like Tone did not die in vain (applause).
The address having concluded wreathes were placed on the grave by the National Boy Scout’s [Fianna] and the Inghinidhe na hÉireann.
During the afternoon an Aeridheacht was held in an adjoining field which music, songs and recitations were contributed, and a thoroughly enjoyable Irish-Ireland evening was spent.”
Many thanks to Jill O’Connell of Kildare County Libraries, for transcribing the Leinster Leader article. Thanks also to Mark Dawson of ‘An Phoblacht’ for providing the amazing photograph.
In 1923, Markievicz wrote an article about the founding of Na Fianna Eireann. It is re-produced here in full:
“It was in 1909 that we started out to organise the Fianna. The inspiration to do so came from reading in the Dublin daily papers of how a number of Boy Scout organisations and Boys Brigades had been reviewed at Clontarf by an English viceroy and addressed by him. Reading this I realised vividly and suddenly that Ireland was being attacked at her most vital point, the minds of her children.
The early impressions that a young mind receives become part of his subconscious self. These impressions create the instincts that guide him and make him; the driving forces, that, quite unrealised by him, goad him into action, make him voice opinions. The grown person is moral or unmoral according to the emotions and principles that moved his youth. His class prejudices grow out of his childish experiences, his religion is usually much the same as that which he was taught almost before he could speak. The same love of country and the same respect for laws and rulers inspire him as those which inspired the people amongst whom he grew up and the teachers by whom his impressionable mind was first cultivated.
It is only the rare exceptions among human beings who, when they reach maturity, go through their mental equipment and discharge or change any of the ideas or beliefs that they find themselves voicing.
It was therefore horrible to me to read of regiments of little Irish boys learning to salute and to respect the flag that has been for so long the emblem of foreign rule, misery and oppression in Ireland.
I could vision them listening to the hypocritical kindly speeches from the mouth of the representative of a foreign king, each little man’s eyes growing round with admiration at the sight of so much wealth and pride and military state all displayed for his own benefit and for the benefit of the cringing awestruck little lads marching beside him. Cringing and obsequious organisers herded them deftly, carried on the work of inspiring admiration for a tyrannical Empire, and forgetfulness of their country’s and class’s needs. I could see these children growing to manhood and gaily enlisting in the British army or police forces, and being used either to batten their own class into submission into a class war at home, or giving their lives in an Imperial war made to hold Ireland as a slave state within the British Empire, fighting always the battles of the international financier to hold in subjection India and Egypt and to fight other capitalist empires and states for the right to steal their valuable properties belonging to defenceless and undeveloped peoples.
Yet another thing was troubling my mind. Already I had sensed the coming war with Germany. War with Germany must bring troubles in its train for England. The words, “England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity” kept beating in my brain, and the question ever arose, how are we going to profit by this opportunity: will it slip by as did the Boer War with no man ready to strike a blow for Ireland’s freedom.
The idea of fighting England with arms for Ireland’s freedom had been carefully eradicated from our national programme. Clergy, publicans and other men of property had all combined to vilify and belittle those who in a former generation had risked all and taken up arms. Excommunication and banishment was what the Fenians gained. Hunted by the enemy, sneered at as “tin pike men” by the men of position and property, excommunicated by the Hierarchy, yet these “tin pike men” were loved by the people and helped by the people while they lived, and on their deaths were taken to the very heart of the nation as the heroes and lights of valour to the generations who would come after them.
It was the people who forced their recognition on the Irish members of the British parliament, who were busy “fighting for Ireland”, “on the floor of the House” by swearing allegiance to the British king, and by endeavoring to make Ireland a happy West British Province. The people believed in the old fighting men, and so the names of the dead rebels were taken and used by the Party, and banners gay with the portraits of Tone, Emmet or the Manchester Martyrs, were carried round by them when-ever they wished to contest a local election or to keep together an organisation for job procuring. But although the names of the dead rebels had the strongest appeal to the people of Ireland, the fighting spirit of the Gael was gone. The reverence offered by the people to their dead was of that aloof and mystical quality which builds shrines to a Joan of Arc without any desire to emulate her. The people then had no thought of following the footsteps of those heroes, and of one day having to share their fate.
But I believed the fighting spirit of the Gael to be only dormant, for the love and reverence of the hero was with us. Love and reverence gave birth to thought; thought leads to hope, and hope once born can only find her full expression in action. I understood, too, that instinctive love for all that is great and brave and honourable, and the great spiritual courage and genius for self-sacrifice that lie deep in the hearts of our young people; the heritage of the Gael that has been passed to them from dead generation after dead generation who each in their turn served Ireland with loyalty and self-sacrifice.
Having thought all this out I made up my mind to start a Boy Scout organisation as quickly as possible, with the object of training the boys mentally and physically to achieve the independence of Ireland. Their minds were to be trained in the true principles of Nationality, and to understand the mistakes that has been made, and so to fortify themselves against falling into the same errors. As Pearse put it: to vision an Ireland “not free merely, but Gaelic as well; not Gaelic merely, but free as well.” They should be Irish in their knowledge of Ireland’s history; Irish in their use of her language; Irish in their adoption of the fine code of honour of the old Fianna; and Irish in their prowess in arms and attitude of honourable soldiers waiting faithfully for the hour to come when they too should serve Ireland with all the passion of their glorious youth.
I first brought my project for forming a rebel Boy Scout organisation to the Executive of Sinn Fein. Sinn Fein at that time was almost entirely under Mr Griffith’s influence and control, but an agreement had been arrived at with the IRB, and a great many Republicans belonged to it. Mr Griffith’s ideal for Ireland was the status what she held in 1782, during the short period when Grattan’s parliament succeeded in bringing a certain amount of prosperity to the manufacturers and tradespeople of the Irish cities. Mr Griffith was not only monarchist and capitalist in his ideas, but he disliked Republicanism and did not want anyone to talk of fighting for Ireland’s freedom. In fact, the only difference between him-self and the “Party” were his disapproval of men going “hat in hand to Westminster”, his scorn of those who took an oath of allegiance to a foreign king, and his personal dislike and distrust of the individual members of the Parliamentary Party. It was only on our release from prison in 1918 that a great convention unanimously, and against Mr Griffith’s wishes – voiced on the Executive, but not put forward by him at the convention – changed the Constitution into a Republican one.
Under Mr Griffith’s regime the Sinn Fein organisation was a pacifist one. The Sinn Fein programme contained no provision for organising an army, every other activity through which a nation functions was to be built up inside the British constitution. The Irish MPs were to be withdrawn from Westminster, we were to set up our own government, courts etc, as we did later, after the general election of 1918. But to me the whole scheme was rendered impossible because it did not include provision for the building up of an Irish army.
Our policy with regard to military matters was entirely a negative one, and even that was not loved by Mr Griffith. It was “anti-recruiting”. By meetings, pamphlets and bills, we tried to prevail on Irishmen not to join the British army. This anti-recruiting programme was pushed forward vehemently by the Republican members of Sinn Fein, and was very effective, but Mr Griffith never advocated it in my time, and always met our propositions with arguments that it was not a judicious moment to push forward the campaign.
When I suggested that they should include in the Sinn Fein programme the formation of a rebel Boy Scout organisation with the openly avowed purpose of laying the foundation of an Irish army to fight for freedom, the idea was not met with the enthusiasm that I, in my innocence, had expected. The proposition was gently but firmly turned down. The organisation could not undertake this work, it would be most unwise for it to do so, but of course the members would all help me individually if I decided to start myself. I was very disappointed and upset at the time, but quite soon afterwards I realised what a lucky escape I had had, and how the only chance that the Fianna had of being successful was if the boys themselves built it up, bringing all the high ideals and inspiration of youth with them, and pushing on with youth’s indomitable self-confidence and tireless energy, that can laugh at mistakes, and begin again every other day.
We got amazingly little support from the young men, and the public for the most part laughed at us; but the few who counted turned up as they always do. Miss Helena Molony and two ardent young Fenians, Dr McCartan and Sean McGarry, were very much taken with the idea, and came along and helped. Miss Molony is staunch and true to the Republic, but, alas for human weakness and gullibility, both Mr McCartan and Sean McGarry have now taken an oath of allegiance to his Britannic Majesty and are now busily engaged in hunting down Republicans, and straining every nerve to make 26 counties a contented and slavish West British Province. They have taken the ideals and aims of the old Parliamentary Party as their aims and ideals, betrayed the Republic that they had helped to establish, and are now trying to force Ireland to accept the position and status of a British colony by making war on the Republic, in the course of which they encourage and support the most appalling acts of cruelty by their Free State soldiers; while their base treachery to their country and to the people who trusted them and their mean deception of the people of Ireland are unparalleled in history.
But enough of unpleasant memories. The Fianna was started; and good and bad idealists and materialists joined up. Colbert, Heuston, Liam Mellows, and many other noble boys who grew to noble manhood really made the Fianna what it is, and are responsible for the work it has done for Ireland”.
– Eire, June 9, 1923
*Special thanks to Philip Ferguson who transcribed this article from an old edition of the ‘Eire’ magazine/newspaper which is in the National Library. He hand-copied the text and typed it up the Old Dublin Resource Centre back in the 1980’s. Philip has very kindly made this available and has given me permission to publish it here on the Fianna History Blog. Please give credit to Philip if you want to share this text.
Philip’s excellent blog can be found here: http://theirishrevolution.wordpress.com/
The Tralee Fianna Eireann Sluagh was one of the largest and most active of all the Fianna branches throughout Ireland during the War of Independence. A senior Fianna officer, known only by the initials ‘T.M.’ later stated that:
“No mere account of routine scout work is the story of the Tralee Fianna Eireann. It is an integral part of the history of the entire resistance movement in the town, during the Anglo-Irish War. Boys of the Fianna, all of them in their ‘teens’, stood shoulder to shoulder with the men of the Republican Army in many big engagements. They fought bravely; some died leaving to the survivors the rich legacy of their inspiring example of courage and self-sacrifice”.
Colbert, born in Limerick in 1888, was a founding member of Na Fianna Eireann. He attended the inaugural Fianna meeting on August 16th 1909 in 34 Lower Camden Street and was subsequently elected to the first official Fianna committee shortly after its foundation.
Colbert was one of the first drill instructors of the Fianna, along with Eamon Martin and Michael Lonergan. He was also a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and became ‘centre’ of the exclusive Fianna-IRB circle. Colbert was responsible for inducting many future prominent Irish revolutionaries into the IRB; some of those included Liam Mellows and Garry Holahan. He also introduced many of the pupils from Pearse’s St. Enda’s school to the Fianna and the IRB.
He was the first Captain of the original Fianna ‘An Cead Sluagh’ in Camden Street and later became Captain of the Rathmines branch. Upon the formation of the Irish Volunteers in 1913, Colbert was appointed to its ‘Provisional Committee’ and later to the Volunteer Executive. He was also one of the first drill instructors for the Volunteers in its early days. Colbert became Captain of ‘F’ Company in the 4th Battalion of the Irish Volunteers.
Despite being heavily involved with the Irish Volunteers from 1913 onwards, Colbert remained a central figure within the Fianna organization until 1915, when he resigned to dedicate himself fully to the Volunteers. However, he retained his links to the Fianna through the Fianna-IRB circle, where he remained ‘centre’.
During Easter Week, Colbert was in charge of a unit of men tasked with occupying Watkin’s Brewery, he later moved his men to Marrowbone Lane where they remained until the end of the week.
Following the surrender he was tried by court-martial and sentenced to death. He was executed on May 8th 1916. He was twenty seven years old.
*Photo courtesy of the National Library of Ireland
John Joseph Heuston (also known as Jack to his family) was born in Dublin in 1891. In 1908 he moved to Limerick City to work for the Great Southern and Western Railways (GSWR). In 1911 he played a significant role in establishing Na Fianna Eireann in Limerick. Within a year, thanks to Heuston’s efforts, the Barrington Hall Sluagh was one of the largest Fianna branches in Ireland. Around this time he was appointed to the National Fianna Council (or Ard Choiste) as Limerick representative.
By 1913 Heuston had returned to Dublin and began working at Fianna HQ. He was given command of a Fianna Sluagh, which was based in Hardwicke Street in the City. The following year Heuston took a prominent role in the Howth Gunrunning. Sean also joined the Irish Volunteers and became Captain of ‘D’ Company in the 1st Battalion.
Following the restructuring of the Fianna organization in 1915, Heuston was appointed to the National Fianna Executive and became ‘Director of Training’. He was appointed as Captain of the 6th Dublin Company (No. 6 Coy) and was vice-Commandant of the Fianna Dublin Brigade.
In 1916 Sean Heuston and a small group of young Irish Volunteers took over the Mendicity Institution on the Dublin Quays. Several of the Irish Volunteers at the Mendicity Institution with Heuston were also (or had been) members of Fianna Eireann including P. J. Stephenson, Sean McLoughlin, Liam Staines and Dick Balfe.
Following the surrender he was tried by court-martial and sentenced to death. He was executed on May 8th 1916. He was twenty five years old.