“In the years of 1920 and 1921 when the War of Independence, as it has come to be known, was at its peak period, I was a schoolboy of 14 or 15 years of age attending the Patrician Brothers’ school in Fethard. My father was at the time actively associated with the Sinn Fein and the Irish Volunteer Movement. He was President of the East Tipperary Sinn Fein Executive, and he represented the Fethard electoral area on the Tipperary (South Riding) County Council in the interests of the Sinn Fein party.
Early in 1920 I became attached to “B” (Fethard) Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Tipperary Brigade, as a boy scout. This came about through my association, and that of eight or ten other boys, with an officer of the Volunteer Company named Jeremiah Whelan.
Soon Whelan commenced to take us a little further into his confidence, and he began to entrust us with dispatches to take to various places and people. Other minor little jobs, but which we looked upon at the time as being very important, were allotted to us and other Volunteer Officers came to use our services. Possibly on account of my family’s association with the Movement, I was the boy generally picked on to go with the dispatches, and to do scouting work.
The question of forming a ‘Sluagh’ or Company of Fianna Eireann in Fethard may have been contemplated by Jerry Whelan or some of the other Volunteer Officers. However during 1920, the late Countess Markievicz visited Fethard. I cannot say what the object of her visit was but she remained for a few days as the guest of my father and mother. On hearing of my activities and of the other boys who were associated with me she suggested that to put the Boy Scout movement on a proper footing in Fethard we should organise a Fianna Eireann Sluagh, and affiliate with the National Organisation. Acting on her suggestion a meeting of twelve or fifteen boys was arranged and the Sluagh was formed. I was elected as Captain of the Sluagh and I subsequently received a letter from the Countess confirming my appointment and acknowledging our affiliation.
One day early in 1921 Jerry Whelan sent for me and told me that himself, James Keating and another Volunteer named Thomas Healy had gone to the railway station in Fethard the previous night to seize the outgoing mails, but that they could not find the mail bag as the postman had hid it somewhere on the station. They proposed to try again that night, and Whelan told me to go to the railway station early and when the postman arrived with the mail bag to watch him and see where he hid with. I did as instructed and when the postman arrived he went to the ladies’ toilet and hid the mail bag then. I passed on the information to Whelan and his two pals who were waiting in an outhouse close to the station. They then donned masks, held up what few people were about the station platform, myself included, and went to the ladies’ toilet where they got the mails. I can still see the postman’s face as he exclaimed, “How in hell did they find out where I had put it!” – Captain William O’Flynn, Fethard Fianna Eireann.
*Photograph of Fethard Train Station (year unknown). Courtesy of the National Library of Ireland.
Text courtesy of the Bureau of Military History.
“In the year 1912, during the many walks I had with Willie Walsh, my uncle, he hinted occasionally that things might be soon stirring in Ireland again and that even young lads like myself would be catered for. Naturally enough, I did not realise the full significance of my uncle’s words at the time, but later on in that year I had reason to remember what he said when I learned that a ‘Sluagh’ of Fianna Eireann was being established in Waterford city.
My first connection with the Fianna occurred in the latter half of the year 1912, when I attended a meeting in the Gaelic League hall, William Street, Waterford, to inaugurate the movement. Amongst those present at that first meeting were Tom Walsh, a son of the proprietor of the “Munster Express” newspaper, Paddy Heron, Tom Barr and John (Bismark) Power. There were about sixteen of us lads in the ball where we were addressed by Liam Mellows who explained the objects of the Fianna, after which the Sluagh officers were appointed. So far as my memory serves me, the first officers were: Captain, Tom Barry; Second Officer, Paddy Heron; and myself as Secretary, or perhaps more correctly described as Adjutant.
Our first public appearance was on the occasion of a procession in the city to honour the Manchester Martyrs in November 1912. We paraded in the Fianna uniform, it being the first time that uniform was seen in public in Waterford city. By that time, Tommy McDonald, afterwards O/C of the Fianna in the city, had joined us. We met for weekly drills in the hall in William Street, and at a Feis held in Waterford in July, 1913, gave a drill and first-aid display in the grounds of the Presentation Convent.
Liam Mellows used to visit Waterford regularly at this time, giving instruction to us in first-aid and general organisation. In the course of his organizing duties, he brought me with him to New Ross, Co. Wexford, Carrick-on-Suir, Co. Tipperary, and Dungarvan, Co. Waterford. In the latter town, the Fianna organizer was George Lennon who was, in later years, to become 0/C of the West Waterford I.R.A. Flying Column. As a result of these frequent visits by Mellows, I got to know him well. He told me that, sooner or later, we of the Fianna would be called upon to continue the work where the Fenians had left off.” – James Nolan, Fianna Eireann, Waterford.
*Photograph of William Street, Waterford City in 1913. Courtesy of the National Library of Ireland.
Text courtesy of the Bureau of Military History.
Click on image for larger version. Courtesy of the Liam Langley Collection
“A short introduction and guide to Semaphore signalling” from the 1914 Fianna Eireann Handbook
“Signalling is an important service in the modern warfare. In the days when troops went into battle in close formation the commands were passed by word of mouth or carried by messengers from point to point. Such a course is nowadays impossible, for great distances often separate the various units of an army operating in the field. Signalling by heliograph or flag during the day and flash signalling by lamps at night is one of the many methods of communications now used. Both the Morse and Semaphore should be learnt by every boy who wishes to become an efficient scout.
This rapid and simple means of signalling ought to be learnt by every fiannaidhe. The youngest boy scout can, after a little practice, easily read the semaphore, if correctly sent, at a rate of up to twenty letters a minute. This system will be found useful in camp, on scouting expeditions, etc., in communicating short distances. The alphabet, numerals and numerals and various signs are determined by the positions of the arms to one another. These positions are made visible to the distant observer by flags held in each hand.
A leader should teach the Semaphore to his section, taking care that the boys under him pay attention to the following points:
Prepare to signal – All boys stand to attention, holding the flags in a perpendicular position against the arms.
Ready – Carry the left foot about ten inches to the left, at the same time drop the flags in front of the legs at the full extent of the arms, the pole of the right flag crossed in front of the left.
The signaller must stand exactly facing the person or station he is sending to.
The flags must not be allowed to incline to the rear. Do not send too fast. Twenty letters per minute (which is all that is necessary to pass first-class test) is quite fast enough, and if properly sent will be easily read. Sending messages too quickly will confuse a poor reader, and will therefore, mean extra work and a waste of time.
When signalling the sender should have someone to read aloud the message to him at the same rate as he is able to send it. The reader should have someone to write down the message as he receives it. Never guess a letter or a word, it only leads to confusion, and might lead to disastrous results.”
– Handbook text courtesy of Eamon Murphy
Veterans of Na Fianna Eireann, the Irish Volunteers, the Irish Citizen Army and Cumann na mBan at Arbour Hill in 1966. Fianna Eireann Chief of Staff Eamon Martin stands in the centre (left side) with a former comrade by his side, as they prepare to lay a wreath in memory of the executed leaders of the 1916 Rising.
This photograph Is a production still from the 1966 documentary ‘An Tine Bheo’. A copy of the image was used in the commemorative 1916 booklet ‘Cuimhneachan 1916-1966’.
‘An Tine Bheo’ was a documentary by Louis Marcus about the 1916 Rising. The documentary was released on the Golden Jubilee of the Rising in 1966 and features a score composed by Seán Ó Riada. The documentary can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cEIFjUdAhU4
Click on image for larger version
Signalling, both semaphore (shown here without the flags) and morse code, formed a major part of the standard Fianna training routines, along with drilling, first aid, rifle exercises, knot tying, tent pitching, lighting fires, cooking and even swimming.
Here is an extract from the 1914 Fianna Handbook on ‘Signalling’
Photo courtesy of the Liam Langley Collection.
“When the GPO was abandoned, Henry place became the site of the final retreat. A young volunteer – Sean McLoughlin – found himself suddenly promoted to lead the retreat under heavy gunfire.” (Storymap Dublin)
A great account by historian John Gibney of the retreat from the GPO to Moore Street in Easter Week and the role played by Sean McLoughlin in those final moments.
As well as being a prominent Irish Volunteer, Sean McLoughlin was also a senior member of Na Fianna Eireann.
He joined the Fianna in 1910 and became a Lieutenant at the Sluagh based at Blackhall Street. He went on to become a Fianna Captain in 1915. During Easter week he held both Fianna and Irish Volunteer rank.
Following his release from Frongoch in December 1916, he became acting Chief of Staff of the Fianna while Eamon Martin was in the USA. He also held the post of Director of Training during the same period. Upon Eamon Martin’s return, Sean acted as his assistant at Fianna HQ until around 1919. As well as his duties at Fianna headquarters, Sean was also one of those responsible for Fianna inspections, training and organising outside the Dublin region.