This photograph was taken at a Dublin Brigade reunion in the 1930’s and was published in the ‘Dublin Brigade Review’ in 1939. Many of the members of the 1st Battalion came from the ranks of Na Fianna Eireann. In fact some of the most senior officers had also been senior Fianna Eireann officers as will be shown here.
Commandant Paddy Holahan joined the Fianna in 1910 and was a member of Sluagh Emmett. He subsequently became a senior Fianna officer as his leadership skills became apparent. He was also a leading member of the Fianna-IRB circle. In 1914 he took a prominent role in the Howth gunrunning. He was also attached to ‘C’ Company 2nd Battalion of the Irish Volunteers around this time and later with the 1st Battalion. In the 1916 Rising he took part in the Magazine Fort raid, with other senior Fianna officers, and went on to command Irish Volunteers at Clarke’s Dairy in the North King Street area. In 1917 he assisted in reorganizing the Fianna in Dublin. He then began to devote more time to the irish Volunteers; however Paddy still maintain close links with the Fianna. During the War of Independence he was appointed as Commandant of the 1st Battalion Dublin Brigade IRA. He later fought on the anti-treaty side in the Civil War.
Captain Sean Prendergast, joined Fianna Eireann in 1911 and was also a prominent member of Sluagh Emmett. He joined the Irish Volunteers in 1915 and quickly rose up through the ranks. In 1916 he fought in the Four Courts area. In 1917 he was made a Lieutenant in the 1st Battalion and in 1920 he was appointed O/C of ‘C’ Coy 1st Battalion Dublin Brigade IRA and held this position for the remainder of the War of Independence. He received a personal commendation from Oscar Traynor for his efforts in the attack on the Custom House in 1921. He later fought on the anti-treaty side in the Civil War.
Captain Seamus Kavanagh joined Fianna Eireann in 1909 and attended the inaugural meeting in Camden Street in August of that year. In 1914, as a senior Fianna officer, he was tasked with instructing new Irish Volunteer recruits in drilling at the Fianna Hall in Camden Street. His experience was also called upon by Cumann na mBan and he was appointed as instructor to the Central Branch of that organization. In 1915 he was transferred to the Irish Volunteers as O/C of ‘D’ Company of the 2nd Battalion. In 1916 he fought at St. Stephen’s Green. Following the reorganization of the Volunteers in 1917, Kavanagh was appointed as Captain of ‘H’ Coy 1st Battalion Dublin Brigade IRA.
Lieutenant Thomas McGrane, joined Fianna Eireann in 1912 and took part in many missions including the Howth gunrunning. In 1914 he was transferred to ‘C’ Coy of the 1st Battalion Irish Volunteers and was made a Section Commander. In the Easter Rising he was part of the Jacob’s factory Garrison. From 1917 he was appointed 1st Lieutenant of ‘H’ Coy, 1st Battalion, Dublin Brigade IRA and retained that rank right up to the Truce. He fought on the anti-treaty side in the Civil War.
This pattern of Fianna involvement, and as a recruiting ground for the Irish Volunteers and later the IRA, was a regular occurrence throughout the revolutionary period. The Fianna officers brought with them bravery, loyalty, experience, skills, determination and passionate desire for Irish freedom. These qualities and attributes were readily utilized by the leaders of the movement, some of whom were ex-Fianna officers themselves. Examples like the four men mentioned above, serve to prove the significant involvement, and value, of the Fianna during the Independence period. They were not the ‘junior wing of the IRA’ as they are sometimes referred to but they were a hugely important organization in their own right and always maintained their separate identity. As we have seen, many did progress to the Volunteers, most of them on reaching the age of eighteen, but many also stayed on in the Fianna to steer that vital organization towards Irish independence. Men like Garry Holahan (Paddy’s brother), Barney Mellows, Frank McMahon, Eamon Martin, Seamus Pounch, Liam Langley, Joe Reynolds, Sean Saunders and many others remained part of Na Fianna Eireann and ensured they were a force to be reckoned with.
As Markievicz, Pearse, Casement, Hobson and others have said, without the Fianna’s huge contribution and pioneering actions from 1909 onwards, it is doubtful the Volunteers would have been established.
Article and research: Eamon Murphy
Photograph source: Irish Military Archives
In 1913 the regular local branch in that area was called simply ‘Sluagh Rathmines’ and Con Colbert was O/C.
In 1915 the Dublin Fianna was reorganized into a Battalion of nine companies and No. 4 Company was based at Ranelagh/Rathmines with Niall MacNeill (Eoin MacNeill’s son) as O/C.
Following Eoin MacNeill’s countermanding order, Niall MacNeill failed to mobilise in Easter week 1916 and was subsequently courtmartialed by Barney Mellows and Countess Markievicz for his ‘no-show’. He was exonerated and many at the time felt the court martial was just a ruse by GHQ to re-stamp their authority on Fianna Eireann following the disarray and disorganization in the aftermath of the Rising.
From May 1916 until June 1917 a minor re-organisation of the Fianna movement took place, No. 4 Company became No. 7 Company, which covered the Ranelagh and Rathmines area. Niall’s Cousin Hugo MacNeill was now O/C.
*(No. 4 by then was based in the Blackhall Street area)
A new Company was also formed in Rathfarnham, and was called No. 9 Coy. Niall MacNeill (apparently back in favour) took over this Company.
In June 1917 a more substantial re-organisation took place with the Dublin Brigade being organized into two Battalions (North and South Dublin). Garry Holohan was the overall Brigade Commandant. Barney Mellows, Hugo MacNeill and Joseph Reynolds commanded the South Dublin Battalion at various stages through the next four to five years.
By this stage the Company in the Ranelagh/Rathmines area (also covering Harold’s Cross) was known as ‘E’ Company and was part of the South Dublin Battalion. Between 1917 and 1920 the Captains of this ‘E’ Coy were T. Lee, D. MacNeill, P. Dunne and P. Dalton.
In January 1921, the Fianna organisation was re-organised to correspond with the IRA/Volunteers structure and the two existing Battalions (North and South Dublin) were formed into five Battalions (1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 6th Battalions). The 3rd Battalion area covered Rathmines.
*The 5th Battalion of the IRA was an Engineers Battalion and the Fianna did not form a 5th Battalion. (Incidentally Fianna Officer Garry Holohan was also a Captain in the IRA’s 5th Battalion).
Most of the 3rd Battalion of Na Fianna Eireann took the Anti-Treaty side in the Civil War of 1922/23, as did most of the National Fianna organisation, with a few exceptions.
Joseph Robinson was one of the founders of Na Fianna Eireann in 1909, and went on to become its first national organizer, and treasurer of the governing Central Council. As well as organizing many branches in Ireland, he also organized the Fianna in Scotland and became Glasgow O/C. In 1911 he was appointed as National Fianna Vice-President. He was also one of the main instigators of the Irish Volunteers in Glasgow. Throughout the Irish Revolution he was imprisoned several times but each time he was released he went back to fight for the freedom of Ireland. Bulmer Hobson later said he was one of the “most active workers of the movement”.
For a more detailed look at Joseph Robinson’s life click here:
Photograph courtesy of Stephen Coyle and the Irish Press Archives.
“During the summers of 1912 and 1913 we camped at Malahide, opposite the Martello Tower. This was a great spot at that time, as the crowds from Dublin had not yet started to frequent either Portmarnock or Malahide.
In the year 1913 a number of the members of Sluagh Emmet broke away from the Fianna. I think they did not take the organisation seriously and were just in it for a good time. They were about ten in number and were getting to the age of about 17 or 18, when it was considered in those days childish to be a Scout. However, they took a tent or two with them that they, rightly or wrongly, considered they were entitled to, as they were in this Sluagh from the start.
The Sluagh was in charge of Frank Reynolds and I was a Section Commander. Amongst the lads who broke away were Willie and Fran O’Brien, Fred Holmes, who afterwards went to the Great War as a dispatch rider and became a great motor cycle racer, and Brendan Gillan, who is now on the Library staff in Pearse Street. You can understand that this was a procedure that could not be tolerated by an organisation that believed in physical force, so we bided our time until we heard they were enjoying a camp opposite the Martello Tower at Malahide.
We then organised a nice party, which consisted of some I.R.B. members; Peadar McNally, who worked with Sean McDermott in the “Irish Freedom” office in Findlater place, Jimmy Dundon, who was a member of the Michael Dwyer Club, Paddy Byrne, a tailor and also a member of the Dwyer Club, later a Captain in the National Army at Islandbridge, Eamon Martin, Pádraig Ó Riain, my brother Pat, Paddy and Harry Ward and myself.
We took the last train to Portmarnock at about eleven o’clock. We took our time along the coast road and arrived about two o’clock in the morning, when they were nicely settled down. There was a royal battle. We pulled down the tents and tore them up. We cut the tyres off their bicycles so that they could not call the police. Eamon Martin and Jimmy Dundon were our best boxers and they took on the heaviest of the party. We then retired victoriously across country to Balgriffin and arrived in Dublin tired but happy on Sunday morning. We were expecting to hear from the police but nothing happened.
The following week I was passing over Butt Bridge on my way to Eamon when I met three or four of the other crowd. They came over to me immediately, and Gillan, who was stronger than I was, challenged me to fight. We started to box straight away, and, while I gave as much as I got, I arrived at Eamon’s with a fine black eye.
At that time Brendan Gillan was working in the Kevin Street Library and we knew the gang would be there to meet him coming out at ten o’clock. We organised a party and waited for them in Kevin Street. When they came out Eamon Martin challenged Brendan Gillan as he was the biggest and gave him a fine beating, and that was the last trouble I got from them. I made friends again with Willie O’Brien when we were locked up in Knutsford after 1916, and Brendan Gillan and I have been friends for years. We never referred to this affair.” – Garry Holohan, Fianna Eireann Officer 1910-1923
Photograph courtesy of Valentine Photographic Collection at the NLI