Category Archives: The History of Na Fianna Eireann 1909-1923

Sean Heuston’s Fianna Certificate of Service

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Irish Independent article on Sean Heuston’s ‘missing’ Fianna Certificate of Service

November 1966


Senior Fianna Officers circa 1913/1914

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Photo of Senior Fianna Eireann officers.

Front Row (L-R): Paddy Holohan, Michael Lonergan and Con Colbert.
Back Row (L-R): Garry Holohan, Padraig O’Riain.

*Often inaccurately captioned as the “Fianna Eireann Council 1915”.

This photo is most probably from late 1913 (or possibly very early 1914). It is listed on the NLI site as a ‘Keogh Bros’ photograph from circa 1915 and this date has since been incorrectly used in various books and websites. It is also not the Fianna Council but rather a photograph of some senior members of that organization. At that time (1913) the Fianna leadership had an ‘Ard Choiste’ and the full Ard Choiste in 1913 comprised of Countess Markievicz, Bulmer Hobson, Padraig O’Riain, Con Colbert, Alfie White, Frank and Sean Reynolds, Michael Lonergan, Eamon Martin, Liam Mellows and Jimmy Gregan, Joseph Robinson, Sean O’Kelly, Sean Heuston, Sean Sinnott and Eamon Leahy.

In fact Garry and Paddy Holohan were not yet members of the Fianna hierarchy at that early stage (they were shortly afterwards) although Garry was second in command to Frank Reynolds at Sluagh Emmett at that time. After a proposal by Eamon Martin at the Fianna Eireann Ard Fheis in July 1915, the Fianna were reorganized along military lines to work more efficiently and in tandem with the Irish Volunteers and a formal headquarters staff was elected. Eamon Martin called for the Ard Choiste to be replaced with a military style headquarters staff. Following the meeting a new staff structure comprising of Chief of Staff, Adjutant General, Director of Training, Director of Equipment and so on, was elected.

Michael Lonergan had emigrated to the United States in early 1914. Con Colbert had also left Fianna Eireann by 1915 to concentrate on his Volunteer duties but he remained a member (and ‘centre’) of the Fianna IRB circle right up until the Rising.

Three of the men in this photo were also on the original Irish Volunteer Provisional Committee; Lonergan, O’Riain and Colbert.

It is one of the finest Fianna Eireann photographs from that period still in existence.

Photograph: Keogh Brothers, National Library Ireland NLI


Inaugural meeting of the Irish Volunteers in 1913

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Rare photograph taken at the inaugural meeting of the Irish Volunteers in 1913. Left to right: Professor Eoin MacNeill, Thomas MacDonagh, Michael Davitt, Patrick Pearse and Laurence Kettle.

Patrick Pearse said at the time that “when men come to write the history of the freeing of Ireland, they shall have to record that the boys of Na Fianna Éireann stood in the battle gap until the Volunteers armed…..and if the Fianna had not been founded in 1909, the Volunteers of 1913 would never have arisen“.

Photograph credit: F.X. Martin’s biography of Eoin Macneill ‘The Scholar Revolutionary’


‘Recollections of the 1914 Kilcoole Gunrunning’ by Garry Holohan

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“I think it was the week after the Howth gun-running, the following Saturday, I had another experience at gunrunning. This time it was at Kilcoole, County Wicklow, where a yacht-load of arms [were landed] which were collected from a German boat near the Roetigen Lightship.

At this time the Volunteer Headquarters were in Great Brunswick Street, now Pearse Street, near the Queen’s Theatre. I remember cycling [from there] with Eamon Martin to where Countess Markievicz lived at Surrey House, Leinster Road, Rathmines, where a number of Fianna delegates to the Árd Fheis were staying, and then proceeding to the Scalp, County Wicklow. When we reached the Scalp we met a large number of I.R.B. men having tea at Butler’s tearooms – I should say about forty. They had arrived by charabanc. There was also a number of cyclists. We had our tea. The cycling party moved off in the Wicklow direction. Up to this it had been a glorious summer day. We had not gone far when we got a heavy shower, and took shelter for a few minutes because we had no coats.

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When we resumed our journey we were on a very steep hill, and I was holding on to the shoulder of Paddy Ward as I had bad brakes. For some reason I released my grip for a moment and shot away from his side. I gathered speed at a frightful rate, but I had no way of stopping myself. When I was on the steepest part of the hill I met a horse and cab coming towards me, but I managed to avoid it. Eventually the ground levelled and I escaped without an accident. I dismounted and waited for the party.

When they arrived they told me that they expected to find me smashed up. Shortly afterwards we met Liam Mellows, he was in the sidecar of a motor-bicycle, and was examining the maps’ with the aid of an electric torch. He was evidently in charge of operations, and instructed us as to the route we would take. I was told by Eamon Martin some years ago that the young man riding the motor-bicycle was Eamon de Valera. It was dark and I did not recognise him at the time.

I think we passed through Newtownmountkennedy, and eventually Paddy Ward and I were posted on a road which I was told connected Bray and Kilcoole. We had only one revolver between us, and our instructions were that if one or two R.I.C. men approached we were to allow them pass, but that if a large force arrived we were to fire on them.

It was now quite dark and we were very uncomfortable because we had no top coats, but the night was fairly warm. After a short time we heard the sound of approaching footsteps, and we decided to up-turn one of the bicycles, release the air, and pretend to be mending a puncture. The newcomers were two R.I.C. men on patrol from Bray.

Paddy Ward told them we were cycling from Wexford to Dublin, and asked them where we were and if there was any place we could put up for the night. They were very nice, directed us on to Bray and told us to go to a house opposite the barracks and say they sent us and we would get lodgings for the night. They then continued on patrol, after giving Paddy a supply of matches for his pipe, which was a part of himself and from which he always enjoyed the greatest satisfaction. When the two R.I.C. men reached the main party further on they were held up and kept prisoners for the night.

We had no other experience during the night, until a cyclist came to us at the dawn of day and told us to get home. I remember we cycled through the Glen of the Downs.

With the dawning of the day I saw a sight that made my heart jump with joy. I saw a large party of I.R.B. swinging along the road at a good pace in splendid marching order, with a rifle on every man’s shoulder. It was our dream coming true, “Out and make way for the bold Fenian men”.

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Garry Holohan – Image courtesy of Eamon Murphy and the Eamon Martin Collection.

Paddy and I cycled on to the Scalp, where a motor-load of rifles passed us. Bulmer Hobson was sitting in the back, and was very happy and satisfied looking. Eamon Martin was at the actual landing. The guns were brought in in small boats, and Eamon hurt his knee against one of them, as it was necessary for the men to wade out into the water to unload. The guns were brought to the home of Pádraig Pearse, at Scoil Éanna, Rathfarnham, and later distributed.” – Senior Fianna Eireann Officer Garry Holohan

 

Plaque image by Chris Dobson – Greystones Guide

The Scalp image – South Dublin County Library


The Fianna at the Kilcoole Gunrunning, 1st August 1914

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It should be mentioned too that the Fianna were asked to take an important part in this operation. About one hundred of the Fianna were mobilised, and were given the job of scouting the Kilcoole area. They were to watch all the crossroads within a radius of four or five miles, and to give us warning of the approach of the police in case any police did happen to be in the neighbourhood immediately before or during the operation. I remember visiting a number of the posts held by the Fianna boys during the hour or two we had to spare before the guns actually were due to arrive. I remember alas being struck by the alertness and the efficiency of these young lads and remarking to my colleagues how well these young fellows carried out their important duties.” – President Sean T O’Kelly,  5th March 1952

Image: Wicklow Daily Photo Blogspot http://wicklowdailyphoto.blogspot.com.au/


“The part the Fianna played at Howth” by Corporal ‘Willie Nelson’

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“The part the Fianna played at Howth”

By Corporal ‘Willie Nelson’ From Nodlaig na bhFiann, December 1914

“I was awakened by a loud knocking at the hall door. I awoke slowly and wondered who the disturber of the Sabbath morn was. I yawned, stretched myself and finally looked at the clock. It was five minutes to seven.

I then began debating with myself (for, being a member of the Sluagh committee, I have an aptitude for debate) as to whether the disturber was the post, a seller of the Sunday Freeman, or an early-rising milkman.

I pride myself for having a logical mind, a gift which Madame [Markievicz] was the first person to discover I possessed. I reasoned like this. It cannot be the post for he only gives two short raps and departs; neither can it be a milkman, for every sane milkman supplements his knocking by melodiously rattling his can on the kerb. I was about to turn over and leave the honour with the seller of newspapers when the knocking grew louder and more persistent. Curiosity impelled me to get up and, on looking out of the window, to my astonishment, I saw my leader, Paddy Holohan, renewing his attacks on the knocker with great vigour.

“Hello, Paddy,” said I. “What’s the row about?”

“You lazy beggar!” he shouted back. “I have been knocking here for the last half-hour and I might as well have been knocking at the morgue for all the notice was taken of it.”

Then, in sterner tones, he commanded:

“You are to parade in the Hardwicke Street Hall at half-past nine, and bring rations for a day’s march with you.”

And, muttering something about sealed orders from the Military Council, he bolted off.

When I arrived in Hardwicke Street, I found nearly all the older members of the Sluagh present; also members from An Cheud Sluagh and the Sluagh in Inchicore. They were all speculating about the march. Some argued that we were going to Lucan to start a new Sluagh, whilst others asserted we were going on a day’s manoeuvres with the Volunteers. This view was generally accepted when we subsequently joined the Volunteers at Fairview.

Pádraig Ó Riain, who was in command of the Fianna, in a few words gave us to understand that strict discipline was to be maintained throughout the day. Seán Heuston had charge the transport section. The trek-cart was heavily loaded and closely covered. I was in this section and understood Seán to say that the cart contained minerals and refreshments for the Volunteers.

We were allotted a position in the centre of the column, where we held until we were very near Howth, where we proceeded to the head of the column. We entered the village at the head of the Volunteers and halted at the pier near the foot of the hill.

Fianna Bulmer Collection 1912

Photograph Source: National Library of Ireland

We went up the pier at the double and outran the Volunteers. Some men were already unloading a yacht. The Fianna were ordered to assist.

Our section, under Seán Heuston, at once unpacked the trek-cart, which disgorged not minerals or sandwiches but large wooden batons. These were rushed down and distributed to the companies which blocked the entrance to the pier. The object of our march was now obvious – rifles had at last arrived.

The coastguards sent up rockets for help and the Volunteers sent up great triumphant cheers which re-echoed from the Hill of Howth to Dublin Castle and soured the champagne of the Kildare Street Club.

When I returned to the top of the pier, the Volunteers and Fianna were feverishly unpacking the rifles. There was an intense and silent activity. We quickly loaded our trek-cart with rifles and transferred them to the companies of the other end of the pier. I was engaged in this work until all the Volunteers were supplied.

The Volunteers and Fianna now carried rifles on their shoulders. Ammunition and rifles were also packed in our trek-cart and the remainder were dispatched in motor cars. We were ready to depart and awaited orders.

The long lines of armed men stretching the whole length of the pier was the most entrancing sight I have ever witnessed. We were filled with great joy and our souls were thrilled with the spirit of freedom.

As we left the pier, the people of Howth came out in great crowds to greet us. A priest from top of a tram blessed the rifles as we passed and we cheered response to his benediction.

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Photograph Source: Trinity College Dublin

I was beginning to feel tired as we neared Dublin. The long march to Howth and back, the pulling of our heavily-laden trek-cart, the running and exertion on the pier now began to tell against me. But the thought of a triumphal march through the streets of Dublin with a rifle on my shoulder buoyed me up and made me feel extremely happy.

I had not taken Dublin Castle into consideration and did not believe our friendly Government would permit her to play her last stroke in as villainous a manner as events afterwards proved.

On the Howth Road, a few hundred yards from Clontarf, I saw a company of soldiers with fixed bayonets blocking our way to the city. As if to avoid the military, we turned to our right along Charlemont Road and on to the Malahide Road.

Before we were a hundred yards on the Malahide Road we knew that the first companies of Volunteers were in conflict with the military. The sounds of rifles clashing, revolver shots and shouting made a terrific din.

We got the order to “Halt!” and were told we had got to defend the ammunition at all costs.

The Captain of Ceud Sluagh drew an automatic pistol and, with some of our fellows, dashed off to join in the fray. It was with difficulty Seán Heuston and Pádraig Ó Riain restrained others.

We clustered around the cart with our rifles gripped tightly in our hands. Suddenly we saw the Volunteers scatter and run. Some of the men were bleeding from the head but most of them seemed uninjured and still clung to their rifles. As they passed us we appealed to them to stand. We shouted and called them cowards. Our commander, not knowing that they had received orders to retire and get off with their rifles, shouted: “By God! We won’t. run away.”

Before I had time to realise what had happened, the road in front of us was almost clear and I saw the police with batons and rifles rushing in upon us. Then Pádraig rushed out in front and shouted to us to come on. His voice was harsh and he shouted and cursed most horribly.

We dashed out to meet the police.

I was near Paddy Holohan and O’Connor. They, too, were cursing and shouting defiantly. Everything was confusion. I saw the police and the soldiers and the glitter of their bayonets as in a maze. A huge policeman with a rifle swooped towards me. I was seized with a sort of frenzy and, putting forth all my strength, I made a deadly blow at his head.

I think my last ounce of strength went into that blow for I do not remember what happened after till I heard Seán Heuston calling me to lend a hand to pull the trek-cart. I distinctly remember his shrill voice when he gave the order. “Take strain – quick march!”

We were now retreating back along the Malahide Road. Joe Robinson was clinging to the back of the trek-cart in which the ammunition and rifles were still safely packed. There were only ten or twelve of us. Eamon Martin, Garry Holohan and some others were left behind. They were enjoying the sport too much to leave till all was over.

We wheeled to our left off the main road and were soon clear of immediate danger. We passed a couple of old men chatting near a pump. They seemed to be enjoying the summer’s evening and apparently knew nothing of the bloody episodes that were being enacted only a mile away.

We turned up a country lane near a big house and concealed ourselves in a bit of a wood on our right. It was now dusk so we decided to make a pretence of camping out and to conceal the rifles and ammunition until we could have them safely removed after dark. Our commander went up to the house and got permission to camp near the wood.

We buried the treasure, which was removed after dark in a taxi, and is now safe.”

The above account was written by ‘Willie Nelson’, a pseudonym used by Padraig O’Riain who was the Fianna Chief at the time of the Howth Gunrunning, and it appeared in the Fianna Christmas publication Nodlaig na bhFiann in December 1914. The story was republished several times over the following years in various Fianna publications.

O’Riain also regularly contributed articles and notes to The Irish Volunteer newspaper in 1914-1916. O’Riain, was a founder member of the Fianna and one of its principal organisers in the early years; he was also a senior IRB member and a member of the Irish Volunteer Executive.


Carlow Fianna Eireann

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Members of Carlow Town Fianna Éireann proudly pose alongside their symbol, the Fianna Sunburst Flag with their Sluagh mascot lying underneath at a local Christian Brothers School in 1915.

Included in this photograph are Christian Brother McKenna seated alongside the noted Republican priest Fr. Thomas Burbage and to the right Brother Foran. According to Michael Purcell of Carlow Scouting, “they are about to leave the school grounds in College Street and march to the sound of bagpipes and drums to the Cathedral to have the flag blessed.”

Records for the Fianna in Carlow both pre-1916 and post-1916 are scant and the military pensions records confirm that “no records of Carlow Fianna were submitted to the referee for the purposes of the 1934 [Pension] act”, and “nobody got a pension under either the 1924 or the 1934 Act in respect of pre-truce Carlow Fianna  membership” .

Despite this, five applications were received under the 1924 Act as follows:

  • Peter O’Farrell , O/C of the 1st Battalion, Carlow Fianna was credited with non-pensionable Fianna service for the critical [Pre-Truce] period.

 

  • Frank Hutton, Lieutenant and captain of 1st battalion Carlow Fianna, was also credited with non-pensionable Fianna service for the critical [Pre-Truce] period.

 

  • John Walsh, membership of ‘A’ Company Carlow Fianna. His superior officer, Peter O’Farrell, commented in his pension statement that he was “not a very useful member”. Regardless of this, he was still credited with non-pensionable Fianna service for the critical [Pre-Truce] period.

 

  • Denis Hogan also claimed membership of A’ Company Carlow Fianna, and received references from Peter O’Farrell. He was credited with non-pensionable Fianna service for the critical [Pre-Truce] period.

 

  • James Rice claimed membership of the Carlow Fianna. The records indicate that the verification form was sent to the wrong officer, who claims he did not know Mr. Rice. He was consequently not credited with either pensionable or non-pensionable Fianna service. He did appeal but it is not known if he was successful.

*The records also point to a Peter Branagan who claimed he was a member of the Carlow Fianna and later applied under the 1934 Act. He was unsuccessful.

It is also noted that some of the above applicants did receive a service medal and because of this, the board of assessors did “implicitly accept the existence of the Carlow Fianna” in the pre-Truce (Tan War) period. They, however, indicated that “it was possible, and indeed likely that in Carlow the Fianna had become moribund or brushed aside at the critical period, [with] the Fianna officers continuing to work for the IRA”.

A note in the pension records also remarked that “Carlow was not very warlike”.

While the above alludes to limited Fianna activity in Carlow during the Tan War, there is no hard evidence of pre-1916 Fianna activity, in either the witness statements or the military pensions. Despite this the above 1915 photograph attests to the fact that they did exist albeit on a small scale.  Although I would hazard a guess that the photograph may be dated from 1914 (rather than 1915) prior to the Volunteers split; in Carlow’s case most sided with Redmond.

The image with (1915 date) appeared in local historical journal ‘Carlow Now and Then’ in 1998


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