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