Click on image for larger version
The iconic photograph of ‘The Men of the West – 1916-21’, comprising of IRA and Fianna officers from West Mayo Brigade Flying Column.
The first Fianna Sluagh in Mayo was established in Castlebar in 1914. The Castlebar Fianna often went on camping exercises to Westport and this led to local boys taking the initiative to form their own branch of the Fianna. The main instigator behind the Westport branch was a young man named Tom Derrig. In October of 1914, the Westport Sluagh was finally formed. Others of note during the early period of the Westport Fianna included Willie (Liam) and Sean Malone.
The Westport Fianna chose the official branch name of Sluagh Pádraig Sáirséal. According to local Westport historian Vincent Keane, the Westport Fianna quickly became very active in the area and worked closely with neighboring branches of the Flanna, including the Castlebar Sluagh, and also the Irish Volunteers. Following the split of the Irish Volunteers in September 1914, the Westport Volunteers branch stayed intact. Fianna veteran Brodie Malone claimed that “despite the survival of the Irish Volunteers company, the Fianna became the principal agent of radicalism in Westport after the split”. James Chambers also remarked that in Castlebar “some of the most radical younger members actually transferred from the Irish Volunteers to the Fianna following the split”.
By the end of 1915 the Westport Fianna had about 60 members. The Sluagh was made up of O/C Willie ‘Liam’ Malone (Tom Derrig had now moved to Galway), section leaders, a corporal and four troops/sections.
Following the Easter Rising in 1916, the local RIC arrested eighteen local suspected rebels; five of these were Fianna officers. These five officers eventually ended up in Frongoch in Wales. Following their release and the re-organisation of the Westport Fianna, many members graduated to the IRA/Volunteers, however a lot of experienced senior members still remained with the Fianna.
The West Mayo Brigade of the IRA set up an active service unit and it became known in the area as the ‘The Flying Column’. In the famous photograph ‘The Men of the West’ (featured above) twenty two out of the thirty one men were from Westport and of those twenty two seven were current or former members of the Fianna. They were Tommy McKettrick, Willie ‘Liam’ Malone, Dan Gavan, Rick Joyce, Joe Walsh, ‘Brodie’ Malone and John McDonagh. Founder member of the Westport Fianna, Tom Derrig, had by now become Commandant of the West Mayo Brigade.
Article by Eamon Murphy. Photograph courtesy of Irish Military Archives. Thanks also to Vincent Keane, local Westport historian, whose valuable research on the IRA and the Fianna in Westport was particularly helpful in this compiling this article. Other useful sources include the Bureau of Military History witness statements, Military Archives pension records, and several books on the period.