On 4th May 1916 Cornelius ‘Con’ Colbert, prisoner No. 70, faced a Courts Martial at Richmond Barracks. Those presiding at the Courts Martial were Colonel D. Sapte, Major W.R. James and Major D.B. Frew.
The charge was that he “did an act to wit did take part in an armed rebellion and in the waging of war against His Majesty the King, such act being of such a nature as to be calculated to be prejudicial to the Defence of the Realm and being done with the intention and for the purpose of assisting the enemy”.
Colbert replied: “I have nothing to say”.
Con Colbert was found guilty and sentenced to death
This was not the first time Colbert was before a British Court, although sadly it would be his last. In October 1913, Colbert was on trial for threatening behavior and acts of intimidation.
The following article is an account of the court proceedings which took place at Dundrum, Co. Dublin on October 20th, 1913. It appeared in the Freemans Journal, the following day (October 21st 1913).
At Dundrum Petty Sessions yesterday before Mr. R. H. Davis (in the chair), Dr. Usher, Mr. White-King, Mr. John Mooney C.V.O., Mr. Westby and Mr. H McComas. District-Inspector Murphy charged a young man named Cornelius Colbert, 7 Clifton Terrace, Ranelagh with having on the 31st August threatened Charles Rance at a camp in the townland of Kingston*, near Dundrum, and with having performed acts of intimidation.
Mr. John O’Byrne, B.L (instructed by Mr. John Gore, Solicitor) defended.
The court was crowded during the hearing of the case.
District-Inspector Murphy said defendant was a member of the Irish National Boy Scouts organisation (also known as Na Fianna Eireann) and Mr. Rance was a member of the Imperial Cadet Corps. On the 31st August some 20 or 30 of the Boy Scouts went to the cottage at Kingston occupied by the cadets. At the time Rance was the only person in the cottage, and the crowd gathered around and made a demonstration of a threatening nature. They tore down the Union Jack which was flying nearby, and, generally speaking, behaved in a violent manner.
Mr. Henry N. Roberts, 20 Cabra Road, stated that he is a member of the Imperial Cadet Corps. Five or six of them were coming back to camp on the 31st August from St. Columba’s College, where they were having a bathe, Rance having gone back earlier. Witness on nearing saw a party of Boy Scouts (Fianna) numbering about 40. They were in front of the cottage. The flag was missing. When the Scouts saw them coming “they faced about and broke ranks” and witness went after them and asked who was in charge. There was no direct answer given to him, but one of the party called for a show of hands of the ones who were the leaders and defendant was one of those who raised his hand. They rescued portions of the flag from some of the Scouts.
Replying to the Chairman as to the probable cause of the attack by the scouts, witness said he thought it was because the Cadets wore the British uniform. The Scouts were armed with French bayonets, which they drew outside the cottage.
Mr. O’Byrne, B.L. (to Mr. Roberts) – You take this matter very seriously? Yes
Did you see the defendant in the camp or with any portion of the flag? No
Were you threatened by him? Yes, he threatened us, the flag, and the cottage.
Were they any unpleasantness between the two organisations before? Not on our side.
You say it was your uniform? Do you remember in August last when a number of Cadets captured a Scout and tried to force him to say “I am a happy English boy”?
Witness: That did not happen.
Did defendant ever annoy you before? No, not that I know of.
Chares Rance stated that he was alone in the cottage on the 31st August. He saw about forty Scouts outside, and about twelve of them, mostly officers, came up the avenue to the cottage. Defendant was with them. Witness said, “What are you going to do?” and defendant said, “If you want any satisfaction, I’ll give it to you.” Then a rush was made for the flag, which was pulled down, and witness saw defendant with it under his arm. The Scouts had swords drawn, and defendant seemed to be the ringleader.
Then how do you recognise him? Well, to tell you the truth, it was by his appearance.
In reply to Mr. O’Byrne, defendant said he had no hand, act or part in the taking of the flag, nor did he threaten anyone. He was on the avenue at the cottage.
The Chairman – Did you see the flag being torn down? Yes
And did you think that was proper conduct? I thought it wasn’t a very wise thing to do. He further said he was an officer (of the Fianna), as a rule but was not one that day (laughter in the court).
Mr. O’Byrne having addressed the bench, the magistrate decided to bind the defendant to the peace for twelve months in his own security for £5.
*Kingston, also known as Kingstown (not to be confused with Kingstown/Dún Laoghaire) is in the parish of Taney in South County Dublin, close to Ballinteer. A housing estate in the townland is also named ‘Kingston’. However, despite also being referred to as ‘Kingston’ in the Freemans Journal, it is referred to as ‘Kingstown’ on Ordnance Survey maps and in surviving civil records. I would be interested to hear any views on the correct name for the area.
Research and story by Eamon Murphy.
“Marching Song of Na Fianna Eireann”
by Irish poet, writer and lifelong Republican Brian O’Higgins (1882-1963)
Hark to the tramp of the Young Guard of Eireann!
Firm is each footstep and erect is each head.
Soldiers of Freedom, unfearing and eager,
To follow the teachings of her hero dead.
On for Freedom, Fianna Eireann!
Set we our faces to the dawning day —
The day in our own land when strength and daring
Shall end for evermore the Saxon sway.
Strong be our hands, like the Fianna Eireann,
Who won for her glory in the days that are gone;
Clean be our thinking and truthful our speaking,
That we may deserve her when the fight is done.
Soldiers and champions of Eireann, our mother,
Fear we no Sasanach — his schemes or his steel;
Foes of the foeman, but comrades and brothers
Of all who are striving for our Eire’s weal.
The first edition of the ‘FIANNA’ newspaper, published in February 1915. This ‘unofficial’ monthly newspaper ran for about a year and cost one penny per edition.
It featured many articles about Ireland, and Irish history, including a series of stories from Patrick Pearse. Many of these articles were in Irish. It also contained instructions on camping, drilling, signalling etc, and adverts for scouting supplies shops. From time to time it featured adverts for the ‘Irish Volunteer’ and ‘The Worker’ newspapers. It also published details of Fianna meetings, events and parades held throughout Ireland.
The newspaper was managed and edited by Percy Reynolds and Patsy O’Connor. Its target readership was initially Fianna members but after five issues, it was realized that the direction needed to change to attract more readers and it was decided to combine adult and boys stories.
In the June 1915 edition, the editor stated that:
“the difficulties in running this paper are great, the paper has not received the support it deserves nor the support expected when we started it. Some boys read it, the men have not taken the interest they should, and businessmen say it does not pay to advertise in such a paper. Therefore, a boy’s paper as FIANNA has been running – is an impossibility. The question now arises: have we been a failure? We know what is needed, and what is better, we can supply what is needed, and we therefore intend to have FIANNA appear next month not as a boys’ paper, but as a journal for man and boy combined. Without tampering with the boys’ paper, except to enlarge it, we will supply the Irishman’s demand with articles attaining a high literacy standard dealing with all classes of Irish problems. FIANNA will from next month (July) be two separate papers combined, and where there was a possibility of a failure with the boys’ paper alone, there can be none when it emerges a man and boys’ monthly combined”.
This change in format proved a partial success and the FIANNA at its peak was selling about 1000 copies a month. However in less than a year the FIANNA folded due to financial difficulties. Some of the failure may be attributed to the fact that it was not an ‘official’ Fianna Eireann journal and was not given support, financial or otherwise, from Fianna HQ. Another factor is undoubtedly the death of co-editor Patsy O’Connor who died in June 1915 and it was then left to Percy Reynolds to carry the literary torch on his own until the paper eventually ceased.
Despite the lack of financial success, which was needed to sustain the operations, it nonetheless proved a hit with Fianna scouts and younger readers, and was influential in attracting new Fianna members and spreading the message of separatism and patriotism. In fact it was even cited by Dublin Castle as a threat to the recruitment push for the British military and a police report at the time referred to it as a “disloyal journal which spread dissension”.
The Sinn Fein organisation was vastly different in 1911 to the one that emerged as a political force in 1917. In fact by 1911 Sinn Fein was in decline as a political party, despite only being a few years in existence.
Arthur Griffith, at that stage, had radical views on the direction the party should take (such as a dual monarchy solution and an alliance with the Unionists), and this did not sit easy with many of the more advanced nationalists of the organization, including Hobson, McCullough, O’Hegarty and Markievicz. Many others also complained of the challenge and struggle of working alongside such a difficult and stubborn man.
As a result of Griffith’s stance Fianna organizer and founder Bulmer Hobson fell out with Arthur Griffith in 1910 and had left the Sinn Fein party at the end of the year. Hobson cited ‘political and temperamental differences’ with Griffith as the cause of his departure.
Hobson’s departure from Sinn Fein, and Sinn Fein’s policies at the time, can probably explain the Fianna’s reluctance to become associated with Griffith. Hobson was, in 1911, a major influence in Fianna Eireann and was its vice-president. It is likely that the letter emanated from Hobson’s himself but was ‘sent’ in by Lonergan to avoid any controversy. Alongside the Fianna, Hobson was also heavily involved with the IRB at this time.
Michael Lonergan, who signed the letter, was one of the most senior and prominent Fianna officers in the early days. He was a founding member, was one of those who designed the Fianna uniform and was also elected to the Irish Volunteers provisional committee upon its formation in 1913.