Four prominent members of the Cobh Fianna Eireann branch in 1917.
They are Daniel Healy, Joseph Reid, Ernest ‘Ernie’ Fowler and Robin (or Danny) Leahy.
Daniel Healy was involved with both the Fianna and the Irish Volunteers/IRA and took part in a daring daytime hold up of a party of Cameron Highlanders in Cobh in August 1920. The raid was a joint Fianna and IRA operation and was a success with many rifles obtained. Senior Cobh Fianna officers Kevin Murphy and Owen Lynch were also involved in the raid.
Joseph Reid was one of four Cobh section leaders. Reid died accidentally in 1918 aged only 17 years. He was cleaning his revolver in preparation for the funeral of prominent Cork City Fianna member, Seamus Courtney*, when he accidentally fired a shot into his own body. He died soon afterwards as a result of the wound. A large funeral was held and was attended by the Fianna, Irish Volunteers and Cumann na mBan. A terrace of houses in Cobh, ‘Joe Reid Place’, is named in his honour.
Ernie Fowler was 2nd Lieutenant of the Cobh Fianna and later its Captain.
Robin Leahy was a younger brother of prominent IRA/Volunteer officer Mick Leahy. Mick Leahy was one of the most senior IRA men in the Cobh (and indeed the entire Cork) area and was also a prominent local member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. He was Captain of the 4th (Cobh) Battalion, Cork No.1 Brigade and later Vice-Commandant of the Brigade.
These men were part of a group of eleven Cobh men and boys who mobilized on Easter Saturday in 1916. They marched all the way to the Volunteers Hall in Sheares’ Street in Cork City. Others who marched that day were James Fitzgerald, Patrick Whelan, John Stack, James O’Connell, William O’Regan, William Ralph and Bunny Reid. It is likely that all of these were, or had been, members of Fianna Eireann.
*Senior Fianna Officer Seamus Courtney was arrested in 1917 and was in Cork jail where he went on hunger strike. On his release his health broke down and he subsequently died.
In the aftermath of the 1916 Rising, the issue of communications and moving around important documentation and messages between republicans in Dublin was becoming a major problem and one that needed significant measures in place to ensure the lines of communications could stay open.
Correspondence sent through the regular postal service was, more often than not, opened and checked by the military censors. Anyone suspected of being a republican or even being connected to one could expect to have their post opened and checked by the postal service on orders from the military authorities.
A new system was devised in 1917 by Fianna HQ that would replace the British postal service with a new secret arrangement called the ‘Fianna Post’. This new operation was suggested to the leaders of the Volunteers, the IRB and Sinn Fein as a means of combating the damaging censorship occurring in the regular post. The Fianna Eireann organization was already demonstrating their importance by providing couriers for Sinn Fein leaders around Dublin and also through their very important intelligence work which was being carried out and proving very vital to the movement. This new ‘Fianna Post’ was the next obvious step in defeating the stringent measures put in place by the British administration.
The new post office service had several ‘post offices’ throughout Dublin, mostly in shops or businesses owned by republican supporters such as Maurice Collins’ newsagents in Parnell Street or Doyles newsagents in Charlemont Street. Private homes and places of work were also used as centres where letters could be dropped off for delivery. Specially selected members of the Fianna were chosen to distribute this important post.
The fee for using the service was the same rate as the regular postal service and as it became more successful, not only were Volunteers/IRA and Sinn Fein members using the ‘Fianna Post’ but soon members of the wider nationalist community were beginning to avail of the discreet and speedy service provided so well by the young men of the Fianna. This ‘opening up’ of the service to a wider public suited the republicans as it was acting as a boycott of the British service and thus depriving them of revenue. The money generated by the service went towards Fianna HQ funds to assist in purchasing guns, ammunition, regular supplies, uniforms etc. and the ‘postmen’ were occasionally paid expenses. A proportion of the money also made its way to Sinn Fein’s election budget and the running of its own headquarters in Harcourt Street.
By 1919, the service was being used by Dail Eireann, alongside Ministers personal Fianna couriers, and the various departments were utilizing this vital service. In particular the Department of Local Government, one of the most active, was relying on the ‘Fianna Post’ to communicate with the various Councils across the country.
The ‘Fianna Post’ arrangement became a trusted and valuable service throughout the War of Independence fought over the following years; it soon spread to other major cities such as Cork and Limerick. It was initially known as the ‘Fianna Post’ but soon became known as the ‘Republican Post’ but it was still run predominantly by the young men of Fianna Eireann. The role they played in ensuring communications were kept open and secure during these years should not be forgotten or downplayed in the story of the struggle against British rule.
By Eamon Murphy
On June 17th, 1914 a statement was issued to the national press by eight members of the provisional committee of the Irish Volunteers (including two Fianna officers) who opposed the acceptance of John Redmond’s twenty five nominees on the governing committee.
They were Eamon Ceannt, Michael J Judge, *Con Colbert (Fianna), John Fitzgibbon, *Eamon Martin (Fianna), Patrick Pearse, Sean MacDermott and Piaras Beaslai (They were all I.R.B. members except Judge and Fitzgibbon).
There were actually nine who voted against the proposal but the ninth, *Liam Mellows (also still connected to Fianna Eireann) in his capacity as general secretary of the Irish Volunteers, felt he should keep his name out of the public statement to avoid further destabilisation. He had the full backing of the other eight committee members.
Interestingly Plunkett, The O’Rahilly, MacNeill, *Hobson (Fianna) and *Padraig O’Riain (Fianna) were among those who voted in favour of Redmond’s nominees. They later stated that they believed they had no other choice, as to vote against the motion would split the movement. It was this incident that caused the falling out between Tom Clarke and Bulmer Hobson.
Sean Fitzgibbon recalled the meeting in his witness statement:
“The Provisional Committee met in a strained atmosphere. There was a full attendance with the exception only of one absentee, Thomas McDonagh, who was down presiding over a centre for the Intermediate Examinations which were at the time taking place, but who wrote a letter to the meeting expressing his views which were not favourable to Mr. Redmond’s proposals. MacNeill presided at the meeting in the Volunteer Office, Pearse Street, and the Committee were arranged around the table, Colonel Moore, Roger Casement, being on MacNeill’s left, followed by myself, Eamon Martin and Liam Mellows, who was Secretary of the organisation. The position on MacNeill’s right was occupied by Bulmer Hobson. He told me that he deliberately took up that position so that he would be able to wind up the debate, as MacNeill asked each member of the Committee in rotation starting on his left, for his views.
MacNeill read a statement in which he proposed the admission of Mr. Redmond’s nominees, but it was clear that it was with his reluctance and with the intention of avoiding a split at a very critical stage in the national movement. Colonel Moore and Roger Casement followed with reluctant support. Then I spoke in opposition, followed by Eamon Martin and so on round the table – Pearse, Ceannt, M.J. Judge (to our surprise he was a member of the Ancient Order of Hibernians), Piaras Beaslai, Con Colbert, Liam Mellows and Sean McDermott (we were scattered round the room). All these were members of the I.R.B. with the exception of M.J. Judge and myself.
These men opposed it. The vote was taken and the proposal passed by a large majority, Hobson, winding up the debate in a speech in which he made it clear their decision was being taken not merely for the purpose of avoiding a national split at this time, but leaving nobody under any illusion as views on Mr. Redmond’s dictatorial attitude.”
Redmond’s proposal of his own nominees, was an attempt to take control of the organisation and while it was grudgingly accepted and passed by the rest of the committee, the strains and tension had been put in motion and it was not long until the split occurred on Thursday, September 24th following Redmond’s fateful speech at Woodenbridge in Wicklow a few days previously (20th September), where he called upon all available Irishmen (including all Volunteers) to enlist in the British army and participate in the war which had just begun.
This was a step too far for the original Irish Volunteers and they issued another statement asserting that Redmond and his nominees were no longer entitled to any place in the Irish Volunteers. Those twenty five nominees and any other supporters of Redmond would now cease to belong to the Irish Volunteers. The committee would now consist of those who were members prior to the addition of his candidates.
A new statement was signed on September 24th after a meeting at 41 Kildare Street and the signatories were:
Eoin MacNeill, The O’Rahilly, Thomas MacDonagh, Joseph Plunkett, *Eamon Martin (Fianna Eireann), Piaras Beaslai, Michael Judge, Peter Macken, John Fitzgibbon, Patrick Pearse, *Padraig O’Riain (Fianna Eireann), *Liam Mellows (Fianna Eireann), *Bulmer Hobson (Fianna Eireann), Con Colbert (Fianna Eireann), Eamonn Ceannt, Sean MacDermott, Seamus O’Conchubhair, Colm O’Loughlin, Liam Gogan and Peter White.
This group of twenty men were part of the original twenty seven member provisional committee in 1913.
‘Nodlaig na bFiann’ – The Fianna Christmas ‘Annual’ went on sale at Christmas 1914 costing only one penny.
Patsy O’Connor* was editor and Percy Reynolds, sub-editor.
Included in the festive book were articles by Countess Markievicz, James Connolly, AE (George Russell), Bulmer Hobson, Maeve Kavangah, Seamus O’Sulivan and Padraig O’Riain. Illustrations were by Grace Gifford, Ernest Kavangah and Louis O’Connor.
A review of ‘Nodlaig na bFiann’ in ‘The Irish Volunteer’ by ‘Willie Nelson’ congratulated the ‘pluck and enterprise’ of its staff in publishing the annual and said ‘those lads would tackle anything’. According to Nelson there was a great rush on the sale of the annual and it was a financial success. Although he was to some extent disappointed by what he called ‘irrelevant articles’. He felt that there should have been more emphasis on Fianna related articles rather than what transpired.
The ‘Annual’ was expected to be a yearly publication but did not re-appear after 1914. However following the financial successful of the Christmas annual, a decision by O’Connor and Reynolds was made to publish a monthly newspaper called ‘Fianna’ which ran for about a year.
*On June 15th, 1915 Fianna editor Patsy O’Connor died of wounds he received two years earlier from the police during the ‘1913 Lockout’. He was hit on the head by a police baton while giving first aid to a wounded old man. Reynolds carried on editorship on the Fianna newspaper until January 1916.
Sean McGarry was part of the small dedicated group of Irish Nationalists who came together in 1909 to form the Irish National Boy Scouts, also known as Na Fianna Eireann. McGarry was a prominent member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and along with Countess Markievicz, Bulmer Hobson, Helena Moloney and Dr. Pat McCartan formed the first ‘unofficial’ Fianna Committee.
It was McGarry who accompanied Markievicz to see Mr. O’Neill, the headmaster of St. Andrews School in Great Brunswick Street to discuss sending the first batch of boys to form the new organization. Among the first group of boys sent by O’Neill were Eamon Martin, Paddy Ward, and the Fitzgerald Brothers.
It was claimed that McGarry was the one responsible for shooting Tom Clarke in the elbow accidentally in January 1916. McGarry, who was evidently close to Clarke, later fought in the GPO during the Easter Rising as his Aide de Camp.
He was imprisoned in Frongoch camp following the Rising and afterwards became President of the Supreme Council of the IRB and General Secretary of the Irish Volunteers in 1917.
McGarry was one of those ‘well-known’ Republicans who were rounded up and imprisoned in the ‘German Plot’ of 1918. He later escaped from Lincoln Jail in February 1919 with Eamon de Valera. He fought in the War of Independence and became a Sinn Fein TD in 1921.
He supported the Treaty and became one of those targeted by the anti-Treaty side during the Irish Civil war of 1922/23. In December 1922 his house was set on fire, allegedly by anti-Treaty men. His son Emmett sadly lost his life in the blaze.
Following the Civil War he briefly remained in politics, first with Cumann na nGaedheal, then with the National Party. He was one of the main instigators of the 1916-21 Club which was set up in the 1940’s to heal the divisions brought about by the terrible Civil War. He served two terms as President of the ‘Club’ before his death in 1960.
Eamon Martin (1892-1971) and Garry Holahan (1894-1967).
Photograph taken just after Garry was released from Frongoch and before Eamon travelled to the United States in late 1916. Eamon Martin was the Fianna Dublin Brigade Commandant in 1916, Fianna Director of Training and Fianna Chief of Staff 1916 – 1920. Garry Holahan took over as Commandant of the Dublin Brigade in 1917 and was also the national Fianna Quartermaster General. 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)