Monthly Archives: April 2016

The role of Na Fianna Eireann in the 1916 Easter Rising

Fianna Cert Eamon Martin from Mairin Burke - Copy

‘The role of Na Fianna Eireann in the 1916 Easter Rising’ by Commandant Eamon Martin.

“In the plan of campaign [for the Easter Rising] the Fianna officers were given certain assignments. The Magazine Fort, as it turned out, owing to the chaos arising out of MacNeill’s countermanding order for Sunday’s “manoeuvres” was not an all-Fianna job. We had to borrow men from the Volunteers but the larger percentage were Fiannaidhe and after the attack they all returned and took positions in the fighting areas.

This group, in Commandant Daly’s area, was in the line of defence along the Quays and in the Four Courts they participated in the attack on the Broadstone Station and Captain Garry Holohan’s part in the capture and burning of Linen Hall Barracks has already been recorded and is too well known for me to dwell upon here. His brother Paddy was by his side all during the week and his cousins Paddy and Hugh were with Tom Ashe at Ashbourne. Towards the end of the week Sean McLoughlin was given the command in the Post Office and led the retreat from that area after the burning of the buildings.

Commandant Seán Heuston’s defence of the Mendicity with both Volunteers and Fianna under his command and Commandant Con Colbert’s part in Watkins Brewery and afterwards at Marrowbone Lane Distillery have also been recorded elsewhere. Madame Markievicz, although fighting as an officer of the Citizen Army was still a member of the Fianna, and fought as second in command at the College of Surgeons. An order of the day signed by Commandant Connolly and dated 28th April states: “Captain Liam Mellows in Galway fresh from his escape is in the field with his men”. Captain Séamus Kavanagh, who had been second to my own command in An Cead Sluagh fought in the Stephen’s Green area. How many of the Fianna who were by this time in the Volunteers it would be impossible to name.

I could go on reciting name after name, it is sufficient, however, for me to say that there was not a single fighting post in the city or country, which had not its quota of the Fianna. Let me say in conclusion, partly paraphrasing Pearse’s statement of 1914, that no history of the resurgent movement, which preceded and culminated in the Rising and no history of the Rising itself can claim to be complete if it ignores or fails to adequately acknowledge the enormous contribution made by Fianna Éireann to the struggle for our country’s freedom.”


Garry Holohan and MacNeill’s countermanding order in 1916

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Gearoid Ua h-Uallachain (Garry Holohan), Na Fianna Eireann National Deputy Director of Equipment, and also O/C of No.5 Coy Dublin Brigade Fianna (Merchant’s Quay) in 1916.

When Eoin MacNeill discovered that a group within the Irish Volunteers organisation had secret plans to launch an armed rebellion against British Rule, and after receiving news of Roger Casement’s failed attempt to import arms from Germany, he tried to prevent the planned mobilization for Easter Sunday. He hand-wrote several copies of a countermanding order, on headed notepaper at his home – Woodbrook, in Rathfarnham, Co Dublin – and dispatched men to deliver copies to local commanders nationwide. The countermanding order also appeared in the Sunday Independent on April 23rd, the day of the planned Rising. The countermand was only partly successful and caused confusion, especially outside Dublin.


In the following account, Senior Fianna officer Garry Holohan recalls the confusion caused by Eoin MacNeill’s countermanding order:

 “The following morning, Easter Sunday [April 24th], I got up and went to nine o’clock Mass at Haddington Road and received Holy Communion. I then heard the news about MacNeill [and the countermanding order] and hurried back to Eamon to discuss the situation. He decided I should go at once to Hardwicke Street and find out how things stood. When I knocked at the door one of the Tobins opened it; he was in a state of hysteria and started to talk about all the trouble that had been brought on us. I asked him where were the leaders, and he told me they were at Liberty Hall.

 I rode down O’Connell Street and along Eden Quay where I met Nora and Ina Connolly. I asked them was everything over and they said the leaders were inside. I went up the main staircase in Liberty Hall, and as I reached the top of the stairs I saw Pádraig Pearse and Sean McDermott coming along the passage on my right-hand side from the large front room. I immediately asked Sean what was the position and he told me that everything was postponed for twenty-four hours and gave me a dispatch for the officer in charge of Father Mathew Park.

I was to come back and take a message to Wexford, but I told him I would have to go to Phoenix Park first to tell Molly Byrne to go home, as she was watching the Magazine Fort in order to obtain immediate information if there was any unusual activity or precautions being taken by the guard.

I went to Father Mathew Park, and on my way met a carpenter named Jim Hunter at the junction of Seville Place and Amiens Street. Jim worked with me on the Dublin Port and Docks Board and was an old I.R.B. man who left the time of the split. He had promised to take part in the attack on the Magazine Fort, so I told him everything was off for the present.

I then went back to Liberty Hall and on my way I met my aunt and uncle at O’Connell Bridge. When I got to Liberty Hail I found the leaders gone and the Citizen Army were just going out for a march round the city; that was about six o’clock. I met Eamon Martin and some of the men who were to take part in the Magazine Fort attack, and we decided to meet again at No. 8 Rutland Cottages at 8 p.m. to renew our arrangements. We held a meeting and it was decided to meet next morning at my house at 12 o’clock. Eamon Martin, my brother Pat and I slept at No. 8 Rutland Cottages, Lower Rutland Street.”


Photograph courtesy of Eamon Murphy and the Eamon Martin Collection.

Garry Holohan’s account from his Bureau of Military Witness Statement No. 328

Memorial plaque in memory of the executed 1916 leaders.


Memorial plaque in memory of the executed 1916 leaders at the stone breakers yard in Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin.

Na Fianna Eireann March

Fianna BH Collection

Another fantastic rare photograph of Na Fianna Eireann Scouts marching, no date or location but possibly to Bodenstown 1912/13. It’s certainly pre-1916.
Photograph from the Bulmer Hobson Collection at the National Library of Ireland

Fianna Eireann, Westport, Co. Mayo in 1915


Na Fianna Eireann Westport 1915

“This magnificent photograph was taken in Westport in 1915, one year before the Easter Rising in 1916. The group assembled in Reilly’s meadow, which is now the site of Doctors Rossa and Siobhan Horgan’s medical practice. The photograph was taken by Mrs. P Walsh, McLoughlin’s Studio, Westport.”

Left to Right

Back Row: Willie Malone, High St.; John Tom Walsh (drill instructor), High St.; Tom Derrig (scout master), High St.; Joe Gillivan, James St.; John Malone, High St.; James “Broddie” Malone, The Fairgreen; James “Broddie” Carney, Mill St.; James McKenna, “The Pound”, Carrabawn; Joe Walsh, Mill St.; John Hastings, High St.; Tommie Ketterick (recruiting sergeant), High St.; Charles Hickey, Castlebar St.; William Lyons, Quay Rd.; Dan Gavin,  High St.;Michael O’Malley, Carrabawn; Eamonn Gannon, High St.

Second Row: Austin Hoban, Mill St.; Peter Mutch, Castlebar St.; Wille Duffy, The Fairgreen; Martin Duffy, The Fairgreen; Francis Quinn, Lower Peter St.; Peter Kelly (troop bugler), Tubber Hill.; Jack McDonagh, High St.; Wille Joe Ainsworth, Castlebar St.; Tom Sheirdan, Mill St.; David Walsh, High St.; Paddy Haran, Bridge St.; Jack Breheny, Castlebar St.

Front Row: Matt Heraty, Altamont St.; Paddy Blaney, Altamont St.; Teddy Walsh, Bridge St.; Paddy McGreal, Bridge St.; Mick Breheny, Castlebar St.; “Champ” McGreal.

Photograph, caption and names courtesy of the Westport Historical Society

Fianna Eireann’s Betsy Gray Sluagh


The girl’s branch of Na Fianna Eireann was called the Betsy Gray Sluagh.

The above photograph features some prominent members of that unique branch of the National Scouting organisation. They are as follows: Lily (Kempson) McAlerney (front centre), Marie McKeown, Aideen Ward, Kitty Shells, Ina Connolly and Alice Kavanagh.

The Betsy Gray Sluagh met weekly at St Mary’s Hall, and later at the McGuinness buildings in Berry Street on Tuesday nights.

This branch formed in 1911 and was the first, and subsequently, the only female branch of the Fianna in Ireland. It had only about 20 members initially but rose to about 50 girls at its height. Ina (shown above) and Nora Connolly were senior officers in the Sluagh; Annie O’Boyle was its first O/C.

The girls from Betsy Gray Sluagh attended the national Fianna Ard Fheis in 1912, 1913 and 1914. Their first appearance at the national convention in 1912 caused a bit of controversy amongst their male counterparts in Dublin and prompted a heated debate amongst delegates on whether girls be admitted to the organisation.

Nora Connolly-O’Brien later recalled those years in her 1949 witness statement to the Bureau of Military History:

“The Fianna had the only girls’ branch in Ireland in Belfast. My sister, Ina, and I joined the Fianna – the ‘Betsy Gray’ Sluagh. We came down to the Fianna Convention every year in Dublin. There was always a big Belfast contingent. We always wore our uniform. The girls had the uniform, as well as the boys; we had green linen shirts instead of their hopsack shirts. Great numbers came from Belfast. It was usually held in July; and July was the time they had holidays in Belfast. A lot would come down to attend the Convention, and later go camping with the boys. The girls were usually under Madame Markievicz’ charge, when we came down here.”

Nora’s sister Ina also recounted her time in the Betsy Gray Sluagh:

“Shortly after we arrived [in Belfast], I got to hear about Na Fianna Eireann who used to meet and drill in St. Mary’s Hall. I went down there one evening by myself and joined as a member. The entrance fee was nominal, a couple of pence a week. Joseph Robinson – a brother of Seamus – both of them were afterwards very prominent in the independence movement – was one of the people in charge of the Fianna. Sean Kenny, now a solicitor in Belfast, was the drill master. Cathal O’Shannon used to lecture and give lessons in the Irish language .

 It was at St. Mary’s Hall that the Gaelic League also met and gave the Irish classes. My father used to take us to céilidh there. We learned drilling, Irish dancing, Irish history, Irish language and first aid. At the weekend we used to march and parade up to Sean’s Park at Whiterock Road. All the Labour supporters, as well as Nationalists, used to march there on Sundays.

I was appointed secretary to the Betsy Gray Sluagh of the Fianna which was named after a heroine in the north in the struggle of ’98. Our headquarters were old wooden army huts that had been built long years before to house soldiers who kept the peace, as they called it, when there was much rioting in Belfast. To the huts came many prominent people to enlighten us on aspects of the fight for Irish freedom. My father, though in full sympathy, had not joined the National Movement. It was through the Fianna that he met those noble young souls, Liam Mellows, Sean Heuston and Con Colbert, who later sacrificed their young lives for Ireland. Liam Mellows, in particular, became firmly attached to my father and family. Here, too, I met Eamon Martin who, in troubled times, out of sincere admiration for my father, became a firm friend of the family. My father would come, when his work permitted, to our plays and lectures.”

The Betsy Gray Sluagh remained in operation until about 1915 when most of the girls joined Cumann na mBan.

Photograph source: The National Museum of Ireland, Collins Barracks and

Research and text by Eamon Murphy.

Historic Fianna Eireann Bugle Unearthed in Naas in 1967



“A Bugle of Historic and sentimental value was retrieved by a Naas man on Sunday after it had been buried for 44 years. It is a bugle which rallied the youth of the district at their parades during the struggle for freedom in the eventful years between 1918 and 1921 and, later, sounded calls for the men of National Army in the early days of the Irish Free State. The man who retrieved it is Mr. Laurence McGarr, St. Michael’s Terrace, for whom it holds many treasured memories because its life story, to the time it was buried, is to a large extent in the life of Mr. McGarr during the same period. As a youth of about 12, Laurence McGarr joined the 1st Batt, Kildare Brigade, Fianna Eireann, in 1918, and was selected Bugler to his Troop as he was able to sound the bugle having practiced the calls on his father’s coronet. His father, Mr. Maurice McGarr, who died a few weeks ago, had been a member of Naas Brass and Reed Band and was delighted to see his son take an interest in music and gave him every encouragement and help.

At all the parades and functions of the Fianna Troop the bugle sent forth its call but it abode after such events was unsettled. It sounded its last “illicit” call on the eve of the taking over of Kildare Barracks in 1922. “Lights Out” was sounded by the British Army bugler in the Barracks and, from a respectable distance, Bugler McGarr sounded a similar call on the Fianna Bugle. The following day the Provisional Government Troops took over the barracks from the British and at that important function Larry McGarr sounded the General Salute on the Fianna bugle, no longer an illegal instrument but an official instrument of the Army of the new State. It again sounded all the calls when Naas Barracks was taken over from the Highland Light Infantry. But alas! All its calls while attached to that barracks and all its functions were not pleasant ones, for it also sounded the Last Post and Reveille at the graveside of young soldiers and of former members of the Fianna. Not long after the occupation of the barracks a young soldier, Peter Roche, Droichead Nua, was fatally injured in an accident at Plupluck Bridge and the bugle sounded the calls at his funeral in Droichead Nua cemetery. Later that year it sounded at another military funeral of J. Whelan, Dublin Road, Naas, who had been a member of Fianna Eireann. When No2 Depot of the First Eastern Divisional Head Quarters was established in Celbridge, in March 1922, under Capt. (later Colonel) J. V. Joyce, who died a few years ago, Bugler McGarr was transferred there and sounded the General Salute at the Trooping of the Colours. For a time it sounded all the usual calls there. Its next big occasion was in August 1922 when it sounded the General Salute on the visit to Naas of General Michael Collins on his fateful journey to the South. Its tones brought every member of the garrison to the barracks square where the General shook hands with each of them and wished them well. Mr. McGarr cannot recall if he sounded the bugle, a few days later, at the funeral of the General in Glasnevin Cemetery. He was at the graveside and thinks it is almost certain that he had brought the bugle with him. Mr. McGarr ceased sounding the bugle when he was transferred to clerical work in the Army about the end of 1922 or early in 1923 and buried it in the garden of the ancestral home at Craddockstown in 1923. Why? Wireless transmission and receiving was then in its infancy and receiving sets had no resemblance to the sets of the present day.

His parents had, on a loan, a crystal set, or what was known as a “2 LO”. Reception was spasmodic and unsatisfactory. While visiting them he discovered that no earth was attached and being informed that a copper pipe or object was the proper thing to which to attach an earth wire he immediately thought of the bugle. He set to work, fitted the earth wire to the set and attached it to the bugle which he buried in the garden. It was only a temporary fixture and he had intended to take up the bugle as soon as he found a suitable piece of copper piping to replace it. But the years went by and each year brought its own problems and commitments resulting in the bugle being unattended to, though not forgotten. A few weeks ago his father’s death reawakened Larry’s desire to retrieve the bugle as he wished to retain it as a memento of his father’s interest in his welfare and of the help which he had given him in the adventurous years. He also wished to have it as a souvenir of his days in Fianna Eireann and to cherish it in memory of the comrades of those days, many of whom are now gone to their eternal reward. Another reason – it will remind him of the days, when his father and his uncle, Tommy McGarr, were Army buglers. For an hour and a half on Sunday, he searched for the spot where he had buried it, dug at several places and in the end it was his brother, Louis, who resides in the family homestead, and who was very young when the bugle was buried, who remembered the exact spot who was able to say how deep he would have to dig for it.

The only part of the bugle missing is the mouth-piece but that may have been removed before he put the bugle in the earth. It can be easily be replaced, he says. What is he going to do with it now? He is undecided. He is getting his son who is an expert copper worker to clean and, if possible inscribe it. Then he may present it to a military museum as an instrument which saw service in a dual capacity.”

Article appeared in the Leinster Leader 21 January 1967

Thanks to Co Kildare Online History Journal and Lynn Potts.

NOTE: Bugle depicted above is not the actual bugle featured in the story.

Harry Walpole



Fianna Eireann veteran Harry Walpole.

Harry Walpole, a member of Fianna Eireann since its foundation in 1909, was one of those who attempted to rescue Peter Doyle on Three Rock Mountain in 1913. Walpole was also ‘one’ of those credited with hoisting the flag on the roof of the GPO on Easter Monday, 1916.

This photograph of Harry was taken in 1959 during the Fianna’s ‘Golden Jubilee’ celebrations.

Dundalk branch of Fianna Eireann Veteran’s (1916-1923) Association

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“The Dundalk branch of Fianna Eireann Veteran’s (1916-1923) Association, held a dinner in the Gaelic League hall, Dundalk, at which 25 veterans were presented with Fianna jubilee medals by Mr. Eamon Martin, former Chief of Staff, Fianna Eireann. At the dinner were (L-R): Mr. E. Kelly, Mr. A. Heeney, Chairman, Dundalk branch, Mr. E. Martin, Mr. F. Sherwin and Mr P. Hearty.”

Year unknown but possibly 1959.