NA FIANNA ÉIREANN was founded in 1909 with the object of educating the youth of Ireland in national ideas and re-establishing the independence of the nation. After more than 700 years of enforced English rule, Ireland seemed to be in danger of slowly becoming a contented British province. Unemployment was widespread, poverty rampant and apathy the general condition of the people. Hopelessness seemed the birthright of every boy and girl born in those lean years. The older generations seemed embittered and dispirited. Pride of nationhood was at a low ebb.

In 1909 Countess Constance Markievicz decided to found an organization for Irish boys.

The boys would be held together by the bond of their great love for Ireland. What mattered was honesty and willingness to undertake a life of self-sacrifice and self-denial for their country’s sake. It was to be primarily an educational organization. She began at the Westland Row Christian Brothers School and in time became convinced that it would have to be run more on the basis of a “Boys’ Republic” with a military-style organization. She invited Bulmer Hobson to assist, as he had previous experience of handling boys, having run a boys’ organization in Belfast. At his request, inspired by the Fianna of third century Ireland, as John O’Mahony had been in 1858 when he named the Fenian Brotherhood, she called the organization Na Fianna Éireann. An Chead Sluagh was formed in Dublin on 16th August 1909, marking the actual founding. Con Colbert joined and soon rose to the rank of Captain; Colbert was also Centre of the John Mitchel Circle of the IRB, devoted to support of Na Fianna. The Fianna established hurling and football teams, pipe bands and ambulance-corps, in every part of the country. The Belfast Sluagh, wearing Fianna uniform, climbed Cave Hill, and standing at McArt’s Fort just as Wolfe Tone had done, promised to work unceasingly for the independence of Ireland. In 1911 Liam Mellows joined; Seán Heuston was then O/C of Limerick Sluagh. In 1913 Seán Heuston took charge of Sluagh Robert Emmet, and Liam Mellows became a full-time Fianna organizer, and never relaxed his ceaseless activity for the Republic until his death, with fellow Fianna Headquarters staff member Joe McKelevey, by a Free State firing squad on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, 8th December 1922.

Na Fianna played an active part during the 1913 strike. When the Irish Volunteers were formed in the same year, the value of the work undertaken by Na Fianna became obvious. The senior boys were ready and competent to train the Volunteers and accustom them to discipline and, in short, to transform raw recruits into disciplined soldiers, much as West Point Cadets helped train the expanded US Army during America’s Second War for Independence (1812-1815). Four Fianna officers were elected to the first Executive Council of the Volunteers and Liam Mellows became the first effective secretary. The Fianna drill halls and equipment were at the disposal of the Volunteers and they grew rapidly in strength, along with Na Fianna. Na Fianna was well represented at Bodenstown the same year when Pádraig Mac Piarais led the historic pilgrimage to the grave of Wolfe Tone. This remains an annual event for Na Fianna.

The year 1914 saw further progress for Na Fianna when the first handbook was put in the hands of the Organisation. 1914 also marked Na Fianna’s first event of national importance, the Howth gun running. They marched from Dublin with the Volunteers, bringing their trek-cart with them, and were the first to reach Erskine Childers’ yacht The Asgard. A Fianna officer was in charge of the cycle detachment at the Kilcoole gun running, which took place soon afterwards.

From 1915 onwards Na Fianna Éireann threw themselves wholeheartedly into anti-British activities; the funeral of O’Donovan Rossa was the occasion of a great display of strength. In 1915 the Fianna re-organised the Sluaighte into Brigade and Battalion formations to bring it into line with the Volunteers.

Seven years of intensive effort and dedicated service to the nation culminated in the glorious Rising of Easter Week, 1916, when Fianna officers were given command of important sections of the operations. A party of Fianna and Volunteers successfully attacked and destroyed the arms and munitions in the Magazine Fort in the Phoenix Park, thus signaling the start of the Rising. This party then proceeded to the Broadstone Railway Station, where the O/C of the Dublin Fianna was severely wounded in the attack. They also participated in the capture of the Linen Hall Barracks and the fierce fighting in North King Street. Seán Heuston was in charge at the Mendicity Institution on Usher’s Island, and with his small garrison, defended his position for three days. Liam Staines, a member of “F” Sluagh, was severely wounded during the fighting there. Con Colbert was second in command in Marrowbone Lane and assumed command at the surrender. Madame Markievicz with Michael Mallin, held the College of Surgeons with Citizen Army and some Fianna boys. Members of Na Fianna were engaged in the fighting in other parts also, and, in addition, carried out the dangerous work of dispatch carrying and scouting. Six Fianna boys were killed, several were wounded and Seán Heuston and Con Colbert were executed on May 8, 1916.

Liam Mellows, the Fianna organiser, led the Rising in the West. He was in command of the Western Division of the Volunteers and planned to drive the British out of the West by capturing all posts and barracks there and then marching on Galway City. They captured the barracks at Clarenbridge and marched to Oranmore.

With the end of the Rising, Liam Mellows, with two loyal comrades, fled to the mountains – hunted outlaws. After four months on the run Mellows was instructed to go to America to campaign for funds for the Movement. His safe passage, and return, was arranged by Charlie Holt (father of Mary Holt Moore), who worked on a ship carrying Guinness to New York. Mellows worked ceaselessly for the cause in America until his return to Ireland in 1920.

With the release of the bulk of the internees in December 1916, Na Fianna Éireann HQ Staff was re-constituted under Ard Fheinne, Countess Markievicz (still in prison). Fianna took an active part in all militant activities, which included marching at the funeral of Thomas Ashe, the anti-conscription campaign and several raids for arms. The Annual Ard-Fheis in 1919 at the Mansion House pledged its allegiance to the Irish Republic, as the Fianna of today continue to do.

From 1919 to 1921, Na Fianna took an active part in the Irish War for Independence, the fight for freedom, throughout the country. They carried dispatches for the Irish Republican Army (IRA), reconnoitered barracks, etc., engaged in intelligence work of all kinds, rendered first aid to the wounded. Officers and senior scouts succeeded in securing arms and actively engaged the enemy on numerous occasions. The heroism of the boys of Ireland during this period would require many volumes.

At the Ard-Fheis held after the Truce, the Director of Organisation gave the strength of the organization as around 25,000; it had begun in 1909 with eight boys from a CBS in Dublin. At the general parade of all national bodies which took place in Smithfield, Dublin, to celebrate the Truce, the Fianna who paraded from the Dublin Brigade, under Garry Holohan, numbered 2,100 all ranks. But Ireland’s sorrowful tale was to continue and many more were to die in the “second defence of the Republic”. The voice of Ireland’s youth again spoke fearlessly through the GHQ of Na Fianna Éireann, proclaiming their allegiance to the Republic and offering their lives in her defense; their sacrifices were very real.

Na Fianna Éireann remains true to the Irish Republic, proclaimed in arms during Easter Week 1916, ratified by the Irish electorate 14th December 1918 (in a virtual national self-determination plebiscite), and by democratically elected representatives, Teachta Dála Éireann (TDÉ), Declared its Independence to the world through An Chéad Dáil Éireann (the First Dáil Éireann) on 21st January 1919.


26th June 1902, aged 19, Bulmer Hobson founded a boy’s organisation in Belfast and christened his organisation ‘Na Fianna Éireann’ after the mythical army of Ancient Ireland. The Fianna were thought of by many historians as “native professional soldiers in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD.” Gaelic traditions of Ireland and Scotland contain many legends of that ancient warrior band whose leader was Fionn Mac Cumhail — “the fair son of Cumhail”.

Fionn’s exploits are the subjects of several long narrative poems — the collective name being “The Fenian Cycle” — the earliest version of which dates from the 8th century. He is also the hero of many ballads traditionally ascribed to Ossian — his son.

Ossian is known primarily through the work of the Scottish poet James Macpherson, who in the 1760s published several volumes purporting to be translations of Gaelic poems. The descriptions of scenes of wild grandeur and the prevailing melancholy tone exerted great influence on the Romantic poets and inspired the writing of Gaelic poetry in the Ossianic vein in late 18th and early 19th century Scotland. The dominant strain of these tales, mostly in ballad form, is nostalgia for the heroic past; tinged with Christianity, they are more romantic than epic. Among the better-known stories are The Pursuit of Diarmuid and Grainne and the lengthy Dialogue of the Old Men.

Some scholars believe that Macpherson’s translations were actually original compositions based on genuine Gaelic fragments. While some are convinced they are fakes. The traditional Ossianic material, consisting of about 80,000 lines, deals with the exploits of Finn and of another legendary Irish hero, Cú Chulainn, and expresses nostalgia for the heroic pagan past — the poems in this tradition date from the 11th to the 18th century. Ossianic ballads are preserved both in Ireland and in the highlands of Scotland; 28 of them were included in the 16th century Scottish anthology “The Book of the Dean of Lismore”.


As stated previously on the 26th June 1902, aged 19, Bulmer Hobson founded a boy’s organisation in Belfast and christened his organisation ‘Na Fianna’. The idea was to make the boys nationally sound and that the group was to be managed by the boys themselves. It has been argued that he was influenced by the boy-scout organisation of Bayden Powell and wanted to give Irish boys an Irish instead of a British model.

The Fianna he founded in Belfast never had military character, they did not drill or wear a uniform and each branch in the city took its name from one of the mythical Fianna heroes. He made “use of the huts which had been built for British soldiers during the Belfast riots”. Classes were formed for boys and girls for the study of the Irish language and Irish history. Gaelic games were encouraged and a junior hurling league was formed. Hobson, in 1902 was not yet a member of the IRB, and even before he was sworn into the IRB in 1904 his interest in the Fianna began to wane. Na Fianna in Belfast continued to function for some years and died soon after his move to Dublin in 1908.


While British Army commander in South Africa during the Boer War, Col. Robert Baden-Powell was unhappy with the attitude of his troops. He said that the men lacked character, acting as if they expected to be tucked into bed at night. To help solve this problem he published ‘Aids to Scouting’ (1899), a military textbook that was later adapted for training boys in British schools. Unintentionally, Baden-Powell had launched a world wide movement for boys and girls, known as scouting. The word scout comes from the French verb ecouter, which means “to listen.” Armies have long used scouts to gather information about the enemy.

British school officials asked Baden-Powell to adapt his program for boys. After much preparation, he conducted the first Boy Scout camp on Brownsea Island in 1907 and by 1909 the idea had spread to Dublin. Soon the citizens of Dublin were continually being subjected to the sight of many Irish Children parading for British “royalty” and its representatives in Ireland under the Union Jack.

Bayden Powell wrote to Pádraig Pearse to write a book suitable for use by an Irish branch of English boy scouts. Pearse refused, and many national voices were raised against it, but none of them thought of the possibility of forming an Irish national boys’ organisation as a counter blow to the English one.


Countess de Markievicz was a member of an Anglo Irish County family, the Gore-Booths of Lissadell, Sligo. She studied art at London and Paris and then returned to Ireland, settling in Dublin in 1903 with her husband Casimir Dunin-Markievicz, whom she had met in Paris. Constance was to spearhead the first real concerted move toward the foundation of a Republican boy-scout body.


It was a newspaper report that reputedly riled her and made her all the more determined to start what she termed a ‘rebel boy scout organisation’. Clontarf saw ‘800 little Irish boys being paraded in brigades and sections before the Lord Lieutenant’ and Constance saw that the Irish youth were being perverted politically. She recognised that the Bayden Powell movement in Ireland would be a form of indoctrination, which would eventually be turned against the Irish themselves.

Constance was convinced that the British would train Irish youth who in turn would readily enlist in the British Army when they were of the age, that they would be “used to batten their own class into submission” — “I could see these children growing into manhood and gaily enlisting in the British Army or Police Forces and being used to batter their own class into submission.” (Éire, 9th June 1923) So it was time she thought that the Irish trained their own youth.

In the ‘Fianna’ magazine she wrote “surely nothing sadder could be seen that the sons of men who thrown in their lot with the Fenians, whose forebearers had been out in ’48, suffered with Emmet, taken the word of command from Tone, cheered when Sarsfeild or Owen Roe O’Neill lead them to victory — “nothing could be sadder than to see these boys saluting the flag that flew in triumph over every defeat their nation had known, and from that day it was planted in their country has stood for murder, pillage, injustice and treachery.”


Markievicz was already a member of Sinn Féin when she raised the idea of a national boy-scout movement with Arthur Griffith — she brought the idea up at every private and public Sinn Féin meeting. He totally opposed the Fianna because he disagreed with the concept of physical force. Constance said “he always came to meetings with his mind made up, only being concerned with forcing his own part of view…he did not want anyone to begin to talk of fighting for Irelands freedom…the Sinn Féin programme contained no provision for organising an army” Her requests for the Sinn Féin programme to at least include provision for rebel boy scouts was turned down. As no positive support was forthcoming she pressed ahead under her own steam.


Constance “had the inspiration of finding a sympathetic schoolmaster who would surely find recruits…she approached the only school master she knew, who was a staunch Unionist. Constance asked him to give her the name of any colleague of the other creed who would help her. Very obligingly he gave her the name of a Nationalist — a school teacher at St. Andrew’s National School. She had some difficulty in convincing him that she was not an ’emissary of Lady Aberdeen’, once reassured he agreed to hand over eight pupils whom he thought most suitable for the work. He asked all his pupils to do their exercises as a display for Constance and Sean McGarry, who had accompanied her, after which he called out the chosen eight and introduced them to her. The teacher was William O’Neill, the principal teacher of St. Andrews National School, South Great Brunswick Street. She took them to her house in Rathgar and ‘The Red Branch Knights’ were born.

The very name ‘Red Branch Knights’ is a reminder of the Cú Chulainn legends. He was a legendary hero in ancient Irish Gaelic folklore and mythology, and the greatest of the Knights of the Red Branch. He is also the principal hero of the Ulster Cycle of early Irish Gaelic literature of about the 1st century BC.

With the help of Helena Moloney, Dr. Mc Cartan and Sean Mac Garry they explained their objectives and set to work teaching drilling, signalling etc. — possibly from Bayden Powell’s own manual — ”it was rather funny because none of us leaders understood boys in the least and no one knew anything about the subjects we set out to teach,’ It was all very depressing until someone had ‘the brilliant idea of a camp”. Six of them went to the Dublin Mountains — a little valley on the side of Three Rock Mountain. Despite their setbacks she actually enjoyed herself as did the boys. (Their full account of the venture is in the 1914 Christmas issue of Fianna).


Here is what she said about that first Camp: ”When we left the road for a rough boreen we felt we had almost arrived, and started gaily up the rugged way. We lifted the wheels over the big stones and pulled them through narrow ruts, helping and easing the gallant little pony in its struggles; sustained by the thought of the cool little stream and the soft green sward so far up the hill. After long hours of pushing, pulling and resting again we arrived at the last gate at the end of the track. A few more minutes saw us in the valley, kneeling on the soft green sward and bathing our dusty faces in the little stream.

“We dawdled over a delicious tea and dragging out poetry books and sketching things we lazily drowsed away the evening. Twilight woke us to the necessity of fixing up things for the night. We started to pitch our tents on a green grassy slope where the hill slid down the stream. It took a long, long time. Tents are very hard to pitch if you don’t know how, especially at night. Whenever you trip over a rope in the dark the peg comes out, you probably fall onto the tent, and it collapses. Anyhow the peg flies out and is lost. Next comes the task of trying to disentangle jam from blankets, frying pans, cushions, poetry books and all other indispensable articles that we brought. Candles were the only important things we had forgotten. But at last everything found a place, the boys were comfortably settled and we turned in and drifted into dream land. We woke very early to find a bright pleasing morning with a cheerful sun shining through the flaps of the tent. Early as we were, the boys were still earlier, and one was already improving his mind with Yeats’ poems.

“The others were mostly blackening their boots, and quite ready for breakfast. I did not wonder that they looked so fresh when at last I found my soap and towel — a brown dripping rag, wrapped round a sticky mess. It was the only towel in the camp. After long experience I have come to the conclusion that the only thing you can be quite sure that every boy will bring to camp is boot polish. After breakfast the boys went to Mass, we put things straight and settled ourselves snugly to read. Suddenly some heavy drops of rain sent us scurrying into the tent. We hastily grabbed all the blankets, coats, rugs and cushions that we had spread around us in the sun to air. We piled them into a snug nest, from which we defied the elements. Down came the storm, the thunder crashed above us, sharp blades of lightning cut through the rain beside us, menacing our fragile shelter.

“The boys came rushing up — and then — oh horror — we had not thought of digging a ditch around the tent, which was pitched on the side of the hill. The rain shed poured right through the fragile wall over the ground sheet. Our snug was one soppy sponge. Luckily the rain stopped as suddenly as it began. The sun came out and did its best to dry our things…The boys anyhow slept in dry coverings that night, and no one took cold. The next evening saw the end of our holiday. We had some trouble in catching the pony. A kind neighbour had allowed us to turn it into his park and graze with his own cattle and young horses. The pony found camp as much to his taste as we did, and would not allow itself to be caught and harnessed into bondage again. Whenever we got near him, off he went with the other horses, dancing and kicking, and dodging in and out of the trees. It took hours to secure him. He succumbed to a feed of oats in the end”


Later she told Hobson what happened. He in turn told her of his Fianna in Belfast and said “I told Constance…about my adventure in Belfast. She suggested we should start again in Dublin” It was agreed that any attempt to reorganise the venture would have “to be run more on the lines of a boys Republic and an army. There would have to be a hall taken and an organisation formed more on the lines that Irishmen were accustomed to work in…(and that) the English loose system of organisation and patrols would not work”.

Hobson said they would have to find a meeting place for the boys, not to mention finding the money to pay the rent. Markievicz was comparatively “well off” and volunteered to pay the money — 10 shillings a week thus becoming the tenant of ‘Fianna Hall’ — 34 Lower Camden Street.


A notice appeared in the “Claidheamh Solius” and “Sinn Féin” of 14th August, announcing that a meeting of boys would be held at the Camden Street address on Monday evening, 16th August to form “a national Boys Brigade”. It attracted 100 boys. Markievicz and Helen Moloney were present and Hobson presided. There was an awkward incident when one of the bigger boys stood up and declared that “this is a physical force organisation, and there are two women in the room. There is no place for them; they must be put out” Hobson pointed out that without the Cons generosity the hall would not be available for the meeting and that in these circumstances membership of the Fianna could not be reasonably denied her — his argument was accepted. Hobson was chosen as President; officers — who included Markievicz as one of its secretaries — a committee who included Helena Moloney — were provisionally elected. It was decided to Christen the organisation “Na Fianna Éireann” in memory of Hobson’s Belfast boys and girls.

Following the initial Fianna meeting a girl sluagh called the “Betsy Gray” was founded in Belfast by Annie O’Boyle. One of the recruits was a little girl calledNora Connolly — her father being James Connolly. Constance was never passionately interested in forming girls’ sluaghs. She preferred taking the boys off to camp, teaching them how to shoot. She might have believed that it was the men that done the fighting and that the women were just there to tend the wounds.


Sinn Féin issued a statement on August 21st disassociating them from Na Fianna. The sole organisation to give unqualified support for Na Fianna was the “Inghinidhe” and gave their activities full coverage in ‘Bean na h Éireann’. Lady Gregory called them “the boy scouts she trained against English troops”. P.H. Pearse remarked that had Na Fianna not been founded, there would have been no volunteers, and by implication no Rising. It can be argued that much of the professionalism of the Irish Volunteers can be accredited to Na Fianna — when untrained men enlisted in the Volunteers they found waiting for them Na Fianna trained drill-masters and disciplined handlers of guns who could teach them to shoot straight.

A colleague of those days said “the real value of the Fianna, with their thorough training, only became apparent when the Irish Volunteers were started. Except for British soldiers — who were viewed with great hostility and suspicion — there was no one who could drill or handle firearms. But the Fianna, whose original members were by this time young men of 17 to 20 years, formed a valuable nucleus of readily trained officer material”.


Na Fianna was organised in several parts of Dublin and spread to several towns and cities in Ireland, eventually even to Glasgow. A sluagh would start up with enthusiastic kids, all wanting to start fighting at once. One by one many drifted of when they found they would not be fighting the English in the next few days. But out of each sluagh started, a couple of really sincere, clever boys would come to the surface and these boys formed the nucleus of the real Na Fianna.


Na Fianna was not formed by Constance to perform good deeds for British organisations — or the Irish who joined them. She wanted it “to weld the youth of Ireland together to work and fight for Ireland…an organisation that would be broad enough, through love of county, to include all workers for Ireland, in whatever camp they might be…All that will count in the end is their willingness to undertake a life of self-sacrifice for their country’s sake”. Its means were to be “the training of the youth of Ireland, mentally and physically by scouting and military exercises, Irish History and Language…” Both Na Fianna and Bayden Powell disciplined their boys and encouraged Patriotism — this being the only similarity between the two.


At its foundation none of its members had military instruction, but Colbert and Eamonn Martin, who had left school two years previously, were deputised to learn the drill. From studying copies of the British army manual, they became military instructors of the boys and young men. The services of ex British soldier, Sean Kavanagh was secured. Con Colbert devised drills himself, with the commands in Irish.


Drilling and military manoeuvres in the country side was combined with instruction in the use of firearms. As she was the best shot in the whole organisation she naturally taught the boys the craft. A loop hole in the existing laws governing the use of weapons, exploited-people were allowed to use them in their ‘own compound’. They were taught to carry, clean and strip the Winchester Rifle, service rifle and revolver. She placed great importance in safety — she would not tolerate the boys messing around with or even pointing weapons at each other if only in fun. “A newspaper report, that was really an advertisement, said ‘the youths learned to respect discipline'” and part of her appeal was that she was very strict when it mattered, such as in the safe handling of guns”.

One such story about the Fianna prowess with guns is as follows; “For three days after the Rising when everybody else had surrendered or had been lifted, accurate sniper fire from a Dublin rooftop continued to hold of a British squadron. Eventually reinforcements were brought in and the sniper’s position stormed. The snipers were discovered to be three boys — all under 16 years old. They were asked by the British Capt. ‘who taught you to shoot like that?’. The answer was ‘Countess Markievicz.’ The British Officer then said ‘I wish she’d taught my men'”.


She soon learned the difference between the rural and city boys. While the country boys practised their tracking, woodworking, first aid, drill and signalling, the city boys were encouraged in other directions. They were instructed to improve their knowledge of the streets and back alleys of their particular district in order to facilitate the effective moving of messages, weapons etc. as well as dodging the crown forces — basic training for urban guerrilla warfare.


She designed a uniform — it was a saffron kilt, a dark green jacket with a sash over it and a bush hat. Many of them dressed in an ensemble as close as they could get – dark green shirt, black trousers and green ‘crusher’ hat which they bought themselves if they could afford it. Most stole a hat from a Bayden Powell scout. This stealing was justified by Con because it was as valid a part of training as the shooting range was. Funds were raised for uniforms by holding ceilis. She also designed a badge, it was a white sixpence sized circle enclosing a green circle and a yellow sun crossed by a sword. A present badge has a slight variation — a white circle with the words ‘Fianna Éireann’ encloses a green disc, in the middle of which is an orange sun crossed by a pike.


In the first August of the ill-fated Raheny experiment Con held a large Fianna camp were Gaelic sports were played and a “thorough Irish National atmosphere throughout was maintained” Later in the same month she presided over the first full-scale annual conference of the Fianna — in the Mansion House in Dublin. The first annual conference of the Fianna was held in August 1910 at which the Countess was elected President and Hobson vice-president. Secretary, Padraig O’Riain, reported that there was five sluaite in Dublin, one in Waterford and one in Glasgow and Roger Casement had sent to buy ‘kilts for the boys’.


Na Fianna demonstrated in July 1911 when George V and the British queen Mary were in Dublin, “most of the crowd had Union Jacks and were very loyal. We had a black flag, and as soon as the procession was audible we produced it and began to hand out our bills. We timed it well, for just as the first carriage came along the row started. It was a very tame one. An irate old gentleman started whacking me with a stick on which his flag was mounted…it created a disturbance and the same sort of little disturbances occurred all down the line of the route so we congratulated ourselves…everything had been so tame for many years that they came to believe that they had succeeded in pacifying Ireland”.


A photo of a convention in 1912 or later shows the Countess surrounded by the boys and with two flags displayed in the background — one the green harp flag — the device had a winged maiden on the fore pillar of the harp – the other was the Fianna Flag. The latter shows the device of a rising sun in the lower part of the field and the inscription ‘Fianna Éireann’ across the field above the rays of the sun. The flag of ‘Company B’ of the Fianna is in the National Museum of Ireland. It is a blue flag with a rayed sun in yellow in the lower part of the field. ‘Company B’ is placed in black lettering on the face of the Sun. Mrs. Van Morris, Con’s biographer says the flag was designed by Con. Robert Monteith recalled with the ‘pride and amazement’ of Dubliners who saw the Fianna boys ‘marching down O’Connell St. across the bridge, pipes playing, colours flying, rifles, with bayonets fixed, glittering in the sun’ a year before either the Volunteers or Irish Citizen Army had been formed.

At the Fianna Convention of 1912, Con and two of James Connolly’s daughters — Nora and Ina — demanded the admittance of girls into the Fianna. The IRB influence in the fierce opposition to the motion which was eventually carried — though only by one vote!! But the same influence seems to have prevented the girls Fianna — Clann Maeve — ever flourishing, except in Belfast and Glasgow.


Liam Mellows helped form Na Fianna into the nation-wide organisation that it was to come. He was reputed to have gone up to the Countess on her doorstep fully prepared to give up his job to go all over Ireland on his bike to start up sluaite. The financial remuneration was to be 30s to begin with, as well as 10s per week expenses for food and board etc. should sympathisers not be found. Another version has it that ‘on the 13th April 1913, Liam Mellows was appointed ‘Travelling Instructor and Organiser’ for na Fianna Éireann.’

Part of his journal was first published by Bulmer Hobson in the ‘Irish Freedom’ 1913.


“…April 27th Wexford, met by body guard of ‘Sluagh Father John Murphy’. Afternoon drilling in preparation for Feis. 7.00 – 10.30 taught bayonet practice.

April 28th Went to Killurin.

April 29, Ferns, then to Enniscorthy. Poor attendance’s. Bad weather. Rooms in Gaelic League premises.

April 30th, went to Gorey and Courtown. Arklow back Wexford.

May 1st Rode to New Ross and Waterford. Made arrangements to start next Tuesday. Christian Brothers promised to help.

May 2nd. Rode to Clonmel via Carrick. Arrangement for next day.

May 3rd, Clonmel Sluagh non est owning not being able to get rooms. They hope however to reorganise ‘Slaugh Kickham’ very soon.

May 4th Rode to Cashel. Everybody away at a hurling match in Dublin. Distributed literature and returned to Clonmel. The weather all week has been most miserably wet and so am I.

May 5th Rode to Kilkenny from Clonmel — 31 miles — arrived late at night wet through. Heard body of Scouts existed but not contacted.

May 6th, wet. Returned to Waterford for pre-arranged meeting at 8.30pm, 30 boys present. Fixed further meeting for Wednesday 14th.

May 7th, Busy all day in Kilkenny. Arranged meeting for next Friday evening.

May 9th Rode out to Castlecomer — 10 miles. Roads knee-deep in mud. Met several local Gaelic Leaguers but could get none of them interested in Fianna. Returned to Kilkenny arranged one for following Friday the 16th.

May 10th Intended riding to Wexford but still raining. Bodyguard met at station.

May 11th Wexford Feis — met man re Ardmore.

May 12th Wexford Feis.

May 13th Holiday in Wexford. Drilling, signalling, marches through town with band. 5pm, lecture by Miss Browne on ’98 at Exhibition Hall. Bull Ring at 8pm. L.M. spoke on ‘British Empire’. Arranged to start Sluagh at Castlebridge, four miles from Wexford.

May 14th Rode to Wexford — 34 miles– to keep appointment re meeting. Owing to some misunderstanding this did not take place.


May 15th Meeting 8pm 26 present, spoke until 9.30. Arranged meeting for May 19th.

May 16th Rode to Kilkenny — 32 miles. Held meeting of ‘James Stephen’s Boy Scouts’ — (independent of Na Fianna Éireann)

Drilled and inspected and spoke about ‘British Empire’.

May 17th Rode to Gowran, Co. Kilkenny — 10 miles — then Dungarvin. Rode to Borris, County Carlow. Arrived 6.30 arranged to return next Tuesday. Left Borris 8.30 to ride back to Wexford — 38 miles — across Blackstairs Mountains. It was black and no mistake. Rode through night. Arrived Wexford 12.10 total miles for the day 62.

May 18th Marched with ‘Sluagh Fr. John Murphy’ to Castlebridge. Found most of local people away at a hurling match. Damn. Gathered together all the village we could find. Delivered an oration. Wexford Sluagh gave a display of skirmishing etc. At 8pm a little history chat with Wexford Sluagh. There was great enthusiasm and proceedings terminated at 11o clock with the singing of the National Anthem…”


The following is an example of the adverts used to recruit new members to the Fianna. “The principles learned while members of the Corps will make them good and patriotic men and will help to soon win the glorious future fate has in store for our land.

What is the future, boys of Ireland? Commerce will be rife in our multitude of harbours — industry alive at every mill-site on our abounding streams — labour hopeful, cheerful, abundantly profitable — peace in every district — comfort and contentment on every peasant hearth.

The religious, the generous, the high spirited, the admirable Irish people, at length freed from foreign interference, will make their own wise laws, by their own freely chosen, responsible and real representatives. The friend of human freedom abroad, the example of it at home — the benefactor of nations in having shown the way to rise from the lowest depths of thraldom and degradation, to the highest pinnacle of prosperity and liberty, without the shedding of one drop of blood — respected, feared, loved, admired — all this our country will be; all this we shall have”.


1913 found Hobson and the IRB with a selected number of young men already accustomed to drill, military instruction and the use of fire-arms. The problem was to pick the right moment at which to announce a national volunteer movement.


Bulmer Hobson was a quite retiring Belfast Republican, he was a member of a Belfast Quaker family, and his father was a follower of Gladstone in politics and a Liberal Home Ruler. Young Hobson while still at school turned toward Irish Nationalism as expressed in its literary form in Ulster by Alice Milligan and Ethna Carbery. Having been initiated in the Nationalist atmosphere through his own reading, by being a member of the Gaelic League and the GAA, he progresses to the IRB and was sworn in by Denis Mc Collough in 1904. They revitalised the IRB in Belfast, then moved to Dublin 1908 with Sean Mc Dermott. Come 1913 Hobson was the most powerful of the IRB leaders in Dublin — the key figure in IRB politics. He became a member of the IRB Supreme Council, chair of the Dublin IRB and editor of the IRB paper ‘Irish Freedom’.


He kept an eye on the national and international situations ever since the return of the English liberals to power in 1910, followed by the revived and greatly intensified Orange agitation in the face of a new Home Rule Bill. He was so convinced that affairs would come to a head in the Autumn of 1913 that he took his summer holidays early in the season in order to be back in Dublin for what he foresaw would be the crisis in the latter part of the year. Driven by this conviction, he held a meeting of the Dublin board of the IRB Centre’s in July and informed them that the time was nearly ripe for the foundation in public of a national military volunteer organisation. With this in view he proposed that members of the Brotherhood should begin to drill immediately in order that they would be ready to and if possible control the volunteer organisation as soon as it was founded. It was of course some what ludicrous that the members of the IRB, a secret oath bound society formed to over throw British Rule in Ireland by physical force, had for over 20 years abandoned military training, the study of revolutionary methods, the use of fire-arms and explosives.


The annual Coercion Act for Ireland passed in the British Parliament, had proved effective in smothering militant nationalism, but the whole atmosphere was now charging due to the anti-Home Rule agitation in Ulster. The IRB acted promptly on Hobson’s proposal.

Drilling began in the INF Hall, Parnell Square, Dublin, where the caretaker, O’Riain, was the father of one of Hobson’s young friends and admirers, Padraig O’Riain. The IRB was able to supply it’s own drill instructors, and this again thanks to the foresight of Hobson.

The instructors were men such as Michael Lonergan, Padraig O’Riain, Con Colbert and Eamonn Martin, were also senior members of Na Fianna Éireann, in whose foundation and subsequent history he played a central role.


When she consulted Hobson about the foundation of a Republican Youth Organisation he was a simple member, not an officer, of the IRB. He decided to use some members of the IRB for a new project, and with this in view got Con Colbert and Padraig O’Riain, two younger members of his IRB circle, to attend the meeting. At least one other IRB man, Sean McGarry, a friend of Hobson was present. At the time of the first full Fianna election in Oct. 1909, when Hobson was re-elected President, Colbert was to be a treasurer, O’Riain co-secretary with Markievicz and Mc Garry was on the Committee. Hobson had not officially consulted the IRB about the foundation of the Fianna, but the IRB was pleased with his intervention, and he began recruiting the older boys of the Fianna from 17 years into the IRB.

When he became chair of the Dublin Centre Board of the IRB in 1912 he formed a special circle for the Fianna under the name of the ‘John Mitchel Debating Club’, with Colbert at its centre. By 1912 every senior member of the Fianna in Ireland, except Markievicz, was a member of the IRB. Before each Ard Fheis of The Fianna a caucus of the delegates who were IRB members would meet, with Hobson present as a ‘visitor’ from the IRB authorities, ‘fix’ the elections and agree on whatever important proposals were to be raised at the meeting.


Na Fianna were masters in hassling and haranguing the British Army and the anti-recruiting campaign was Constance’s special baby. Margaret Skinner, in ‘Doing My Bit For Ireland’, New York, 1917, said that during the first two years of W.W.I the Fianna became the scourge of the RIC and British Army — ‘whenever we passed a British soldier we made him take to the gutter, telling him that the streets of Dublin were no place for the likes of him’. They whistled and sung rebel tunes at the peelers, and disrupted the British Army Recruiting Offices by singing anti-recruiting songs, they heckled, dived under platforms, upset them and made their escape through the crowd. She also said ‘this sounds like rowdyism, but it is only by such tests of courage that the youth of a domineered race can acquire self confidence for the real struggle”.

During darkness Na Fianna put up posters that read ‘Irishmen Beware. Enlistment in England’s Armed Forces is Treachery to Ireland’, or even ‘Be True to Ireland , Do Not Join the Bayden-Powell Scouts’. They were torn down — only to be put up higher. When many houses were being raided the Fianna continually harassed the raiders by singing and heckling them.

There was a play in Dublin called ‘An Englishman’s Home’, a crude piece of anti-German propaganda, depicting many atrocities that would take place if the German Army invaded England. Constance took a full troop of the Fianna to the opening night, occupying the pit and the gallery while the rest of the theatre was full of British Officers and their wives. The audience watched peaceably until the Germans came on the stage — at which point the Fianna stood up and sang ‘The Watch on the Rhine’ in German !!!


The speeches she made concerning the Fianna were full of nationalism and the need for self sacrifice. The following piece came from the ‘Fianna Handbook’ — “we have heard the imperious demand of Kathleen Ni Houlihan, her call to those who serve her, to give her all, to give her themselves. It will take the best and noblest of Irelands children to win freedom, for the price of freedom is suffering and pain. It is to the young that a nation must look to for help; for life itself. Ireland is calling you to join Fianna Éireann, the young army of Ireland and help to place the crown of freedom on her head”.

The Following is from ‘C.M. – Irish Revolutionary’ Anne Haverty — “That year 1914, the first Fianna handbook was produced and Con supplied the illustration for the cover, her favourite motif of a Celtic Goddess posed before a sunburst. The handbook was both a training manual and a collection of inspiring sentiments. It was the best source of instruction in soldiering available and Eoin MacNeill recommended it, not only for the Volunteers but also for use in boys’ schools throughout the country. At Christmas, Con helped produce a Fianna Christmas annual in which the tome is both ‘Boys Own’ and seditious at the same time. It reflects the curious atmosphere and circumstances of the epoch. Next to Con’s account of the first Fianna camp and a piece by Patrick Pearse on “The Fianna of Foinn” were adverts for shops and businesses. McQuillans offered cutlery, scouts equipment and revolvers; Whelans advertised their official status as outfitters to the Fianna; tailors offered to make uniforms for the Volunteers, and readers were advised, when buying books for Christmas, to get ”Sheaves of Revolt”, verses by Maeve Cavanagh dedicated to the Fianna”.


Needless to say that the Fianna was to become the object of Unionist vilification. The following is the text of one such poster that appeared

“Nationalist Boy Scouts…

An Irish school for young rebels. As the twig is bent the tree is inclined. The Irish Nationalist Boy Scouts (Na Fianna Éireann — to give them their title in the Irish Language — instead of being taught to be loyal are required to make the following declaration; I PROMISE TO WORK FOR THE INDEPENDENCE OF IRELAND, NEVER TO JOIN ENGLAND’S ARMED FORCES, AND TO OBEY MY SUPERIOR OFFICERS.

A large portion of the issue of Irish Freedom for February 1914, is devoted to the task of winning new juvenile members for this Irish Nursery of sedition and disloyalty. It writes — ‘We believe, as every Irish boy whose heart has not been corrupted for foreign influence must believe, that our country ought to be free. We do not see why Ireland should allow England to govern her, either through English men, as at present, or through Irishmen under an appearance of self government. We believe that England has no business in this country at all, — that Ireland, from the centre to the zenith, belongs to the Irish. Our forefathers fought for it; Hugh O’Donnell, and Hugh O’Neill and Rory O More and Owen Roe O Neill, Tone and Emmett and Davis and Mitchel. What was true in their time is still rue.’

There is not much regard in this manifesto for the Redmonite love of the Empire and loyalty to Empire exploited on the British platform. If Mr. Redmond, as Irish Nationalist leader, is honest in his professions of loyalty, why does he not make the Irish Nationalist Boy Scouts loyal? Why does he not insist upon their declaration being the same as the promise being made by English boys and all the loyal boy scouts in Ireland when joining the ranks of the organisation?

That promise is as follows — ‘On my honour I promise that I will do my best

(1) To do my duty to God and the King.

(2) To help other people at all times.

(3) To obey the Scout Law.

Although bitterly opposed to enlistment in the Army and the Navy, the Irish Nationalist Boy Scouts, so far from being deficient in a military spirit, glory in the attributes of a soldier; ‘The brave Irish who rose in ’98 in ’48 and in ’67, went down because they were not soldiers; we hope to train Irish boys from their earliest years to be soldiers, not only to know the trade of a soldier — drilling, marching, camping, signalling, scouting, and — when they are old enough — shooting, but also, what is far more important, to understandand prize military discipline and to have Military spirit’.

Such are the sentiments and ideals of this school for young Nationalists, in the year in which Home Rule is expected to become a reality and to fulfil its promise of being ‘a final settlement’. With such evidence of the real spirit of Irish Nationalism passing before their eyes from day to day is it any wonder that Irish Unionists should be so steadfastly remain Unionist?”


The following is the recruiting poster referred to above — it was issued in 1914

“To the Boys of Ireland

“We of na Fianna Éireann at the beginning of this year 1914, a year which is likely to be momentous in the history of our country address ourselves to the boys of Ireland and invite them to band themselves with us in a knightly service. We believe that the highest thing anyone can do is to serve well and truly, and we propose to serve Ireland with all our fealty and with all our strength.

Two occasions are spoken of in ancient Irish story upon which Irish boys marched to the rescue of their country when it was sore beset — once when Cuchuluian and the boy troop of Ulster held the Frontier until the Ulster heroes rose, and again when the boys of Ireland kept the foreign invaders in check on the shores of Ventry until Fionn had rallied the Fianna; it may be that a similar tale shall be told of us and 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.

We believe, as every boy whose heart has not been corrupted by foreign influence must believe, that our country ought to be free. We do not see why Ireland should allow England to govern her, either through English men, or at present through Irishmen under the appearance of self government. We believe that England has no business in this country at all — that Ireland, from the centre to the zenith, belongs to the Irish. Our forefathers believed and this and fought for it; Hugh O’Donnell and Hugh O’Neill and Rory O’More and Owen Roe O’Neill; Tone and Emmett and Davis and Mitchel. What was true in their time is still true. Nothing that has happened can ever alter the truth of it. Ireland belongs to the Irish. We believe, then, it is the duty of Irishmen to struggle always, never giving in or growing weary, until they have won back their country again.

The object of Na Fianna Éireann is to train the boys of Ireland to fight Ireland’s battle when they are men. In the past the Irish, heroically thought they have struggled, have always lost, for want of discipline, for want of military knowledge, for want of plans, for want of leaders. The brave Irish who rose in ’98, in ’48, and in ’67, went down because they were not SOLDIERS; we hope to train Irish boys from their earliest years to be soldiers, not only to know the trade of a soldier — drilling, marching, camping, signalling, scouting, and (when they are old enough) shooting — but also, what is more important, to understand and prize military discipline and to have a MILITARY SPIRIT. Centuries of oppression and of unsuccessful effort have almost extinguished the military spirit of Ireland; if that were once gone — if Ireland were to become a land of contented slaves – it would be very hard, perhaps impossible, ever to rouse her again.

We believe that Na Fianna Éireann have kept the military spirit alive in Ireland during the last four years, and that if the Fianna had not been founded in 1909, the Volunteers of 1912 would never have arisen. In a sense, then, the Fianna have been the pioneers of the Volunteers; and it is from the ranks of the Fianna that the Volunteers must be recruited. This is a special reason why we should be active during 1914.

The Fianna will constitute what the old Irish called MACRADH, or boy-troop, of the Volunteers, and will correspond to what is called in France an Ecole Polytechnique or Military School.As the man who was to lead the armies of France to such glorious victories came forth from the Military School of Brienne, so may the man who shall lead the Volunteers to victory come forth from Na Fianna Éireann.

Our programme includes every element of military training. We are not mere ”Boy-Scouts”, although we teach and practice the art of scouting. Physical culture, infantry drill, march, the routine of camp life, semaphore and Morse-signalling, scouting in all its branches, elementary tactics, ambulance and first aid, swimming, hurling and football, are all included in our scheme of training; and opportunity is given to the older boys for bayonet and rifle practice. This does not exhaust our programme, for we believe that mental culture should go hand in hand with physical culture, and we provide instruction in Irish and in Irish History, lectures on historical and literary subjects, and musical and social entertainment’s as opportunities permit.

Finally, we believe that Thomas Davis that ”RIGHTEOUS men” must ”make our land A Nation Once Again”. Hence we endeavour to train our boys to be pure, truthful, honest, sober, kindly; clean in heart as well as body; generous in their service to their parents and companions now as we would have them generous in their service to their country hereafter.

We bear a very noble name and inherit very noble traditions, for we are called after the Fianna of Fionn, that heroic companionship which, according to legend, flourished in Ireland in the second and third centuries of the Christian era.

Is it too much to hope that after so many centuries that old ideals are still quick in the heart of Irish youth, and that this year we shall get many hundred Irish boys to come forward and help us to build up a brotherhood of young Irishmen strong of limb, true and pure in tongue and heart, chivalrous, cultured in a really Irish sense, and ready to spend themselves in the service of their country?


na Fianna Éireann…”


A measure of the faith Hobson put in Na Fianna was seen when he used some members to look after the ammunition on the Asgard. Mellows and Hueston led the Fianna who were pushing a cart full of oak batons — one of the told Nora Connolly that “when we came near Howth two chaps came running towards us to come on the double. The Volunteers were a bit fagged, but when we heard the word ‘rifles’ they simply raced. When we got to the harbour we saw the rifles being unloaded from a yacht. You ought to have heard the cheers when we first saw them. It was then the clubs were given out to a picked number of men…they were to use them if the police attempted to interfere. The rifles were handed out to the men, but there were more rifles than men, so the rest were sent into the city in motor cars. Most of the ammunition was sent in the same way, but our trek cart was loaded with it. None of it was served out to the men”.

The Fianna boys pushing the ammunition filled carts had been warned by the shouting that there was a stoppage ahead, and had swerved into a side lane to get away unseen and bury their treasure. Then, according to Nora Connolly, “like the loyal boys they were, six of them went to Constance’s cottage at Balally to tell their chief about it, with a guess what we have been doing. Constance had been holding a Fianna Convention at the time, and amongst the ones there was James Connolly’s daughters Nora, Ina and Agna, all members of the Belfast Sluagh. Tell us about it they were told — Constance must have been hurt, not only missing out, but more that the boys had been in an action of which they knew nothing about. But she was to show only pleasure for the achievement of her boys and Ireland. As far as the Howth Gun Running was concerned, Constance ended up being involved with it after all. One of her Fianna Scouts turned up at her house in Balally the next day with 20 rifles that had yet to be smuggled into Dublin — the task was completed”.


The following version appeared Marreco’s “Rebel Countess” — “a big parade of volunteers was arranged for that Sunday in the Father Matthew Park at Fairview. A company of the Fianna boys were summoned at the last moment, that is to say on the Sunday morning, having no idea why they had been suddenly ordered to report at their head quarters with a days rations. They made their way to Fairview with a closely covered and heavily loaded trek-cart. They then proceeded in the centre of the column of some 700 Volunteers to Howth, where they were ordered to the head of the column. Meanwhile, the Asguard in spite of the failure of the agreed signal from the shore — the appearance of Darrell Figus in a small boat — was brought into harbour after some hesitation on Childers part.

The O’Rahilly was amongst those on the Quay. He wrote afterwards that ‘when the white yacht, the harbinger of Liberty, suddenly appeared out of nowhere, and on the stroke of the appointed hour, landed her precious freight at Howth, history was in the making’. The Fianna contingent rushed forward with the trek-cart which they were told to unload at the double. They found that far from containing ‘minerals and refreshments’ for the Volunteers as they had been told, the cart contained nothing less than large wooden batons for the protection of the gun running party. The coast guards realised something was extremely amiss so they sent up rockets for help.

The volunteers broke into cheers of triumph. The Volunteers broke into cheers of triumph. The guns were safely distributed, the trek-cart was loaded, together with motorcars belonging to sympathisers, and the now armed men prepared to march back to Dublin.

Crowds appeared to watch them; a priest blessed them from the top of a tram. The volunteers went ahead of the Fianna who were now weary with the strain of pulling a heavy trek-cart. Nearing Clontarf the Fianna party saw a company of soldiers which fixed bayonets blocking their way — this was a contingent of the ‘Kings Own Scottish Borderers’ brought on the scene through the medium of the Assistant Commissioner of the Dublin Metropolitan Police — the Fianna swerved and went down Charlemont Road and out onto the Malahide Road. A Fianna member who was there wrote ‘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 got the order to halt and were told that we had got to defend the ammunition at all costs. The captain of Cead Sluagh drew an automatic pistol, and with some of our fellows dashed off into the fray…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 set off with their rifles, shouted ‘By God! We won’t run away.’

The Fianna contingent found themselves in the middle of a police baton charge. The narrator continues, ‘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.’

Twelve of the Fianna made off with the trek-cart and left the main road. They passed two old men gossiping near a pump, who appeared quite oblivious of the affray nearby. The trek-cart party turned up a lane near a big house; they decided to pretend they wanted to camp out and then to bury the ammunition until it could be safely removed. Permission was granted by the unsuspecting owners; the ammunition was buried, and so far as that group of nationalists was concerned their day ended happily. On Sunday 26th July Constance was at her cottage withNora Connolly, having held a successful Fianna convention there. That night Nora Connolly and her Fianna girls, who had come from Belfast, were just about to make a dash in the rain to their tents when about half a dozen Fianna boys appeared in a state of great elation, waving their clubs and demanding that Constance should guess what they had been doing, ‘its too much to guess ‘ she said, ‘tell us about it and we’ll know all the quicker’. The next morning Constance and the boys departed early in the sunshine for Dublin, leaving Nora Connolly and the girls to clear up. That morning, Cons young friend, Maurice O’Connell Fitzsimons was out for a walk with his father when he seen three cars pull up the entrance to the grassy track which leads to the cottage — in fact a Fianna Captain who spoke to Nora Connolly. Soon other men cam out of the cars carrying rifles and boxes of ammunition which they then rushed into the hiding place the cottage afforded. Maurice’s father remarked that it was time to go home for tea, and he told his son never to speak of what he had seen. It seems likely that this consignment was all or part of the trek-load — since the Fianna member who wrote the account of the gun running states that the buried arms were got away safely by taxi — and who but Constance would they have first thought of as providing the safe repository for their booty?

Nora Connolly and the girls took the rifles, but they were quickly warned by a neighbour that it was most risky to have the rifles there because a retired policeman lived up the road. Nora Connolly sped to Dublin to get advice. She went to the Volunteer office where Liam Mellows was temporarily in charge. He arranged to send out a taxi with two men to collect the rifles. The taxi travelled back with the rifles, men and Nora Connolly and some of the girls had to sit on the rifles in order to hide them”.


James Connolly’s daughter, Ina, wrote “in the Summer of 1914 Nora and I were camping with the Countess Markievicz at her cottage on the Three Rock with a number of boys from the Fianna. They had all disappeared on Sunday Morning saying they had been out and no girls were welcome. We were to pass the day as best we could and they would be out in the evening to see us. This was most unusual; even Madame had not been asked. We put in our time nicely with Madame, listening to her stories. In fact we were pleased to have her to ourselves for the day, as she was usually surrounded by young people making demands on her in one way or another.

When we heard that guns had been run in at Howth and us sitting pretty a few miles away, it nearly broke our hearts. How could we face up to Belfast and Father and say we knew nothing and did less? It looked as if we could not be trusted — we, who had been called upon at all times and under circumstances, and had always turned to when wanted. Nora took me by the arm and led me away from the boys, telling me not to show my feelings so plainly. ‘A good soldier takes disappointment and defeat with his chin up. Perhaps they wanted to leave somebody at the cottage in case they were all arrested’, it was poor comfort, but she did her best to heal the wound. ‘Had I been a boy’, I said, ‘I would not have been overlooked’, ‘Hush’, Nora said. ‘There is still tomorrow’.

The next day we were on the go from dawn till midnight, here, there and everywhere, delivering orders regarding the safety of the guns. When I heard I was to take small arms to Belfast and was told of the consequences if we were stopped, it more than made up for the earlier disappointment. The dear Countess said ‘you are the first woman to run guns to the north. Show them what you are made of. Deliver them safely is all I ask. I have confidence in you’. He would pretend to know nothing of what we were bringing and deny anything we said, ‘you must be prepared to take full responsibility’, Madame told us, ‘and if you’re caught, you know nothing, heard nothing, but only got the chance of a lift home from your holidays with this stranger you met at a dance. Is that clear ?’ I told it was and I assured her I would do my best. How I counted the miles !!! Motoring was new to me and this was my first long journey…we arrived safely and it was dark and bringing the guns to our house was simple. Father was there to greet us and slap us on the back…In a couple of days we knew how to handle a gun”.


A HQ Staff was formed in July 1915, with Hobson as Chief of Staff and Padraig O Riain as Chief Scout. Con was retained as president; with her colourful background and personality, her panache, her histrionics, her courage and her private income, she was in the circumstances an ideal head for the organisation. However, she gradually came to suspect that the real control had remained from the beginning in Hobson’s hands, this was one of the factors which eventually turned sour her friendship with him.

Picture shows (from left: Patrick Holahan , Garry Holahan , Michael Lonergan or Liam O’ Maoiliosa , Padraig Ryan or Sean Houston , Con Colbert)


After 7 years of intensive effort and dedicated service to the nation, Na Fianna was ready to play its role in the 1916 Rising. Fianna Officers were given command of certain important operations. It was the joint effort of the Fianna and Volunteers that successfully destroyed the arms and munitions in the magazine fort at Phoenix Park, this signalling the start of the Rising. During this operation the 17 year old son of the forts officers was killed – one of the Volunteers said ‘we had no choice, he had to pay the penalty’. This same party proceeded to the Broadstone Railway Station where the OC of the Dublin Fianna was severely wounded, they were also involved in the capturing of the Linen Hall Barracks and the fighting in North King Street.

Na Fianna were also engaged in the fighting in other parts of the country as well as carrying out the work of dispatching, carrying and scouting. Six Fianna boys were killed during Easter Week; Sean Heuston and Con Colbert were executed in May 1916.


Sean Heuston was at the first public Fianna meeting, and with Liam Mellows lead the Fianna when the Asguard was being landed at Howth as they took much of the ammunition to a dump. During Easter Week his garrison, though small, retained their position for three days. When the building was completely surrounded, Heuston and his men had been playing a deadly game of catching / retrieving the grenades thrown at them through the window and hurling them back. Four Volunteers were seriously injured. Out numbered and exhausted they eventually surrendered – the British were infuriated to find out that there were less than 20 there. He was executed by British firing squad May 8th 1916 – before he died he said “whatever I have done, I have done as a soldier of Ireland and I have no vain regrets”. The priest who was attending his execution said that ”his face looked ‘transformed and lit with a grandeur and brightness I had never noticed before”.


Con Colbert, another Fianna member was second in command in Marrowbone Lane while Constance and Michael Mallin held the College of Surgeons with the Fianna and the Irish Citizen Army. It is reputed that Constance embraced the Catholic faith during the week she spent in the College of Surgeons — and thereafter was a devoted Catholic. Constance also fought at St. Stephens Green Park. As the week wore on at the College, many of the Fianna Boys were injured — twelve year old Tommy Keenan and a boy who was going blind refused to obey Constance’s order to leave and stayed — they would occasionally sally through the walls in order to get food and medicine for the wounded. Con Colbert was also executed for his part in the Rising — he was only 19.


Liam Mellows, the Fianna organiser, led the Rising in the West of Ireland and took command of the Western Division. His plan was to drive the British out of the West by capturing each post and barracks there and then marching Galway City. They marched as far as Danmore having captured several posts on the way but while demolishing a bridge they were forced to retreat in the face of the enemy. Liam Mellows did not want to give up the fight and deserted by all but two of his comrades had to flee to the mountains and after four months on the run he was instructed to go to America to campaign for funds for the movement, which he did so ceaselessly until his return to Ireland in 1920. There are more actions that sadly remain unrecorded as Na Fianna were engaged in the fighting in other parts of the country.


Constance was sentenced to death after the Rising — this was then commuted to penal servitude for life, mainly because she was a woman !!! Constance was released in the general amnesty, June 18th 1917.


After the rising, a meeting of all available Fianna Officers was held — a provisional committee was appointed. With the release of the majority of internees in Dec. 1916 the HQ was restructured with Constance as Fian in command — even though she was still in gaol. Positions remained static until the truce in 1921.


At the funeral of Thomes Ashe in September 1917, 9000 volunteers assembled to escort the cortege to Glasnevin. At the graveside Fianna Boy Scouts sounded the Last Post, then a volley of shots was fired in the air. There was to be no oration as Michael Collins said to the crowd ‘Nothing additional remains to be said. That volley we have just heard is the only speech which is proper to make above the grave of a dead Fenian.’


In May 1920, Con wrote to a friend that “we held our Fianna Aeroght on Sunday — the annual commemoration of our Fianna Martyrs, and it was a tremendous success…the boys made Aunt Sallies in the forms of hideous caricatures of Police and Soldiers painted on the boards – these were a great attraction as well as being an educational form of amusement. It gives a boy a great sense of his own capabilities to shy sticks at a Peeler, even if it’s only a wooden effigy”.


In 1920 Constance was in gaol on a ‘conspiracy’ charge — conspiring to form Na Fianna Éireann. The Fianna had been performing openly for the previous 11 years. She said “I asked them to point to one ‘cowardly attack”’ on the armed forces of the Crown by little boys. It was an awful performance, after being shut up alone for two months to be suddenly brought up before eight ‘judges’ plus prosecutors, bewigged barristers, enemy witnesses etc., and surrounded by bayonets, it was very bewildering”. She was sentenced to two years hard labour. She commented, “for starting boy-scouts in England B. Powell was made a baronet…I bet he did not work as hard as I did from 1909 until 1913”.

Another version of the above goes that “in early September, after being on remand for over two months, she was finally court-martial on a charge of conspiracy; conspiring to ”promote a certain organisation (Fianna Éireann) for the purpose of committing murders of military and police, the drilling of them, the carrying and use of arms”. In her usual spirited self-defence, she took issue with the witness report of her arrest. She pointed out that the Fianna was never a proclaimed organisation, even now, and frankly told the Court; ”I started the Fianna because it came to me that it was the duty God gave me to teach the boys of Ireland to be like the Fianna of old, to…make them feel it was their duty to give their lives for Ireland if she stood in danger’.’


From 1920-21 Na Fianna took an active part in the fight for freedom throughout the country, they carried dispatches for the Volunteers, reconnoitred barracks etc., engaged in intelligence work of all kinds, rendered first aid, officers and senior scouts succeeded in securing arms and actively engaged the enemy on numerous occasions — any noble Irish boys laid down their lives to achieve freedom.

At the Ard Fheis in 1921 the strength of the organisation was approx. 25,000. It was a year filled with hope. England had called a truce, the stage was set for negotiations. But Irelands struggle was to continue and many were to die in the ‘Second Defence of the Republic’. Once again Irelands Youth — Na Fianna — were ready to proclaim their allegiance to the Republic by offering their lives to its defence.


In December 1922, two TD’s on their way to the Dail were shot at — one fatally. As a reprisal, the Freestaters executed 4 political prisoners, Mellows was one of them. He had been held without trial since the surrender at the Four Courts. He was woken in the middle of the night and was told he was going to be shot in the morning. He was to die forgiving his enemies. On the first anniversary of his death, Constance gave the oration in her capacity of Chief Scout of The Fianna. He was ‘one of the most loyal and honoured commandants. He was a great soldier, as brave as could be found’.


She had been hoping to start the Clan Maeve — the female version of the Fianna Scouts – in Ireland, and had actually done so in Scotland during a speaking tour in 1923. Conditions in Ireland were against the founding of a new nationalist youth group; the 26 county government are doing its best to suppress the original.


In 1923 the Republican Army laid down its arms after two years of fighting but its principle never surrendered. In the 6 Counties an Orange Govt. was established and Fianna Éireann became an illegal organisation.


In 1925 Constance spent much of her time on the Fianna, which like Cumann na mBan, needed re-organising. The new emphasis was away from gun practice and towards physical training and education with lesson in Gaelic literature, history, archaeology, art, music, games, botany, first aid and wood craft — naturally signalling and drilling were still included. But the drilling brought down the wrath of the 26 Co govt., which regarded any group that retained Constance at its head with suspicion.


In December 1925, under the Treasonable Offences Act, 12 Fianna boys were arrested in Wexford on the charge that they did ‘assemble together with the purposes of being trained and drilled.’ One 15 year old was released, but the others were brought to trial two months later. She was incensed. The Fianna had helped Ireland gain her ‘independence’ and it was the supreme betrayal of that achievement that Bayden Powell scouts were allowed to use public grounds to drill in, as well as being allowed revolver and musketry practice, while the Fianna were not.

She went down to Wexford to appear as witness for the trial, when she was sworn in, she added to the conventional oath ‘I will swear the truth on my allegiance to the Irish Republic’. The judge told her to act with ‘propriety’. She replied, ‘I always behave with propriety, for I am a most proper person, I assure your honour.’

The defence case was that they had merely been drilling to get ready to march to Liam Mellows grave on Dec 13th and that everyone who marched in a funeral procession was arrestable under the Act, the gaols would not be big enough to hold them all. The jury came back with ‘Not Guilty’ — but those were not the last Fianna Boys to be lifted.


In July 1927 she attended a Fianna Executive, a friend noticed that she seemed unwell — she died before the end of the month. The Frontier Sentinel, in Newry, recorded her death as follows — as was the practice the paper would include a number of reports, culled from various other papers and stringers, so accounting for a great deal of repetition in the article. “Madame Markievicz, TD, died in St. Patrick’s Hospital, Dublin, at 1.25 on Friday Morning. Although her condition had shown signs of improvement, about 9pm she took a turn for the worse, and Sir William Taylor, Doctor Kavanagh and Doctor Kathleen Lynn, who had been attending her where called in, and the patient, who had become unconscious, died at the time stated. There were present at the time her husband, Count Markievicz, his son, Mr. [Éamon] de Valera, Mrs Sheehy-Skeffington. and some other friends.”

On the day of her funeral, the approaches to Glasnevin were fairly crowded from an early hour in the forenoon, numbers took up positions commanding the place of interment.


Somewhat of a sensation was caused when, shortly before 2 o clock, 2 companies of soldiers, fully armed, marched up Finglass Road, wheeled in through the main gate, and halted close to the plot in which are interred members of the National Army killed during the civil strife of 1922-23. The grave of Michael Collins is in this plot.

About the hour when the advance units of the funeral procession began to appear the troops moved forward. Additional bodies of soldiers had driven up meanwhile and these where posted at points around the cemetery. About this time also Civic Guards in uniform and plain clothes arrived, and many detectives took up position close to the open grave. The assumption was that the intention was to prevent the operations of a possible firing party.

While these preparations where in progress the remains had been placed in the vault and the orations delivered unknown to the waiting crowds. The soldiers marched away from the cemetery at 4.30.


The funeral procession was of large proportions and was participated in by many public representatives, labour bodies being strongly in evidence. Large crowds collected outside the Rotunda, where the remains had been lying in state since Saturday, and a remarkable spectacle was the display of wreathes, which were carried on light motor lorries.

There was a practically full attendance of Fianna Fail and Sinn Féin TDs, and several ex-TDs, including Mary MacSweeney. Before the remains were finally confined, Rev Dr. Ronayne, O.C.O. Rome recited the Rosary. The only wreath placed on the coffin was from Count Markievicz and his son, and Maeve Markievicz (daughter).

At Glasnevin Father Fitzgibbon, C.C. Chaplain, headed the procession to the vault in the O Connel circle. When the coffin, which had been borne on the shoulders of Fianna Fail and Sinn Féin leaders, including Mr De Valera and Mr. Art O Connor, and boys of Fianna Éireann in uniform, was placed in the vault, the De Profundis was recited by Rev. Gregory Clery, O.F.M. , and later prayers in Irish were recited by Rev. T. W. O’Ryan, P.P. Rolestown, Co. Dublin.


After the chief mourners had visited the remains, a bugler of the Fianna sounded the Last Post, and then Mr. de Valera, delivered his oration. ”Madame Markievicz is gone from us; Madame, the friend of the toiler, the lover of the poor. Ease and station she put aside, and took the hard way of service with the weak and the downtrodden. Sacrifice, misunderstanding, and scorn lay on the road she adopted, but she trod it unflinchingly. She now lies at rest with her fellow champions of the right — mourned by the people whose liberties she fought for; blessed by the loving prayers of the poor she tried so hard to befriend.

“The world knew her only as a soldier of Ireland, but we knew her as colleague and comrade. We knew the kindliness, the great women’s heart of her, the great Irish soul of her, and we know the loss we have suffered is not to be repaired. It is sadly we take our leave, but we pray high heaven that all she longed and worked for may one day be achieved.”

The chief mourners were: Count Casimir Dunin Markievicz and son, Stanislaus; Sir Jocelyn Gore Booth (brother) and Lady Gore Booth.


Countess Markievicz was buried in the Republican Plot at Glasnevin, Dublin, in a grave beside that of O’Donovan Rossa, and adjacent to the Fenian Circle. A number of the deceased ladies political friends were in the graveyard at an early hour. The coffin was borne on the shoulders of Fianna Fail deputies from the vault to the grave, and a long line of mourners followed, headed by Count Markievicz (husband), and his son Stanislaus.

Those present included Mr. De Valera and Count Plunkett. The prayers at the graveyard were recited by Rev. J. Fitzgibbon. C.C. cemetery chaplain, and the Last Post was sounded by buglers of Fianna Éireann, after which followed a decade of the Rosary in Irish.

No attempt was made to discharge a volley over the grave, and the majority of those present left after the recital of the Rosary, though a goodly crowd remained on, and there were streams of visitors all through the afternoon.

As was the case on Sunday, military were in force in the cemetery, and occupied positions dominating the grave. Large numbers of uniformed guards and detectives were stationed all over the graveyard. The soldiers and guards remained on duty throughout the day…”


A ‘Free-State’ was set up in the 26 Counties to misrule that part of Ireland. On October 20th 1931 Na Fianna was declared illegal, along with Óglaigh na hÉireann, Cunabb na mBan, Saor Éire, Irish Labour Defence League, Workers Revolutionary Party, Irish Working Farmers Committee, Workers Defence Corps, Workers Research Bureau, Irish Tribute League, The Friends of Soviet Russia, Women Prisoners Defence League.

In 1933 George Plunkett was Chief Scout of the Fianna, while Séamas Mooney was Ard Runai. Between them they had made a great success of the Fianna which had troops in nearly every county of Ireland.


In 1935 Brian O’Higgins, addressing an aeridheacht at Mullaghea paid special tribute to the Fianna troop present. ”You have been 25 years in existence…and in that time you have never strayed from the path of Independence”.


As mentioned earlier, many Fianna boys were lifted in the 6 and 26 Counties and were sent to gaol. Many were given the ‘Cat’ and Birch. Accounts on how this barbaric punishment was applied are scarce, but we have the following ;”Liam Burke (Belfast) was OC Republican Prisoners when James Mooney received 12 strokes and Joe Doyle and Arthur Steele, a nephew of Jimmy Steele, received 12 strokes of the Birch. These three were members of Fianna Éireann at the time of their capture on an outdoor Fianna parade…a hand gun was captured on that occasion, but to have administered the Cat and Birch was very much over the top and says much of the bigotry of loyalist judges when they were sentenced on August 4, 1943.

On arrival in A. Wing there were already men there who had received the Cat, including Pat McCotter, Ned Tennyson, Pat Donnelly and John McMahon. The Cat in their case was administered by a warder who was ex-British Navy Pat McCotter…his comrades told me that the physical pain was negligible, and that in his opinion the whole scenario demeaned those who inflicted it more than the victims.

It was laid down that the punishment be carried out within a limited period after sentence; it was supposed to unnerve the man, leaving permanent physical scars on the body. The three Fianna boys could not expect any merciful intervention from the Unionist regime and they therefore hoped to have the ordeal finished sooner rather than later.

The weeks dragged on from August to December and most of us began to feel that the loggings were either cancelled or forgotten. Such, however, was not the case, for on a cold night near Christmas, we heard doors opening and unusual activity in A. Wing. We knew then that the floggings were beginning. Each of the three Fianna members were taken from his cell and brought to an empty cell in C. Wing, warders being locked in with them. They were then ordered to strip off their shirts. They were left alone then to listen to the sounds of warder activity in the Wing. Each had no idea of the consequences or how long they would have to wait for their turn.

It was extremely cold without shirts or jackets and each one told me afterwards that their worst ordeal was to try not to shiver with the cold in case the warders would boast that they had been afraid.

Eventually they were escorted singly by their jailers between ranks of assembled off-duty warders — onlookers, I suppose — down steps to a boiler-house where they were suspended by rings, hands and feet, inches over the ground. A man with a hood over his head then administered the whipping. Each stroke was counted by the prison Governor while the doctor present checked the heart beat after each stroke. The boiler-house was filled with warders; it was not clear if their attendance was on the Governor’s orders or if they had volunteered. After each flogging each victim was taken down, and escorted back to his cell.

The only medical treatment received was a thin gauze bandage over the bleeding parts. The following morning, continued Liam, I examined the men and found each bleeding. James Mooney who had received the Cat was quite badly cut upon the chest, while Joe Doyle and Arthur Steele were lacerated on the buttocks. I complained to the Governor on the next day about the barbarity of this punishment; about the unnecessary attendance of so many warders, the lack of proper medical attention, but his answer was that he had acted in accordance with Home Office instructions…”


Frank Ryan was training officer of Fianna, then Chief Scout at the time as well as being on the H.Q. staff of the Irish Republican Army.


Another Fianna member was Brendan Behan. Born Dublin, 9th February 1923 — Died March 20th 1964. His literary activities were a function of his dedication to the creation of an Irish Republic — as member of Na Fianna Éireann, he contributed patriotic verse to the magazine ‘Fianna; The Voice of Young Ireland’. He was trained in the use of explosives but waited in vain to be called up for active service. In November 1939 he went to Liverpool and was lifted in February 1940, given 3 years in Borstal. He served two years and was transported by to Ireland, but was in court again for firing at detective on April 5th 1942 — he got 14 years, only to serve 5 years before being released after a general amnesty in 1946. When he died he was given a military style funeral as befits any Republican activist by the Republican Movement.


On December 29th 1972 the Brits published and accepted the report of ‘Lord’ Diplock’s Commission into the administration of Law in the North Of Ireland. Stemming from Diplock, an Emergency Provisions Bill was introduced at Westminster the following April tightening up the conditions on which bail was granted, shifting the burden of proof of innocence to the accused in what they described as ‘terrorist — type’ cases and enabling such cases to be heard without a jury because of fear of intimidation. The IRA, Cumann na mBan, Fianna Éireann, Saor Éire, Sinn Féin and the UVF were included in this bill.


In 1978 a re-organisation of the Republican Movement into a cell system — not unlike the old IRB model – was carried out. As Tim Pat Coogan in his book, “The IRA”, said, “A blue print was to be drawn up incorporating changes transforming the IRA into a more deadly, more secretive organisation. By a double irony, the blue print became public — being seized at the time of Twomey’s recapture on December 2nd 1972.’ The section concerning the Fianna was reported to have included the sentiment that ”Na Fianna Éireann should return to being an underground organisation with little or no public image. They should be educated and organised decisively to pass into IRA cell structure when of age”.


Na Fianna Éireann, through An Phoblacht commented on some of the points made in a letter from the Connolly Youth Movement of April l5th. In it they state that “…It is factually incorrect to claim, as they did, that there was no economic campaign in the Zimbabwean war of national liberation. Either the Connolly Youth have very short memories, or else very selective ones, when they can forget instances like Joshua Nkomo Laughing on TV when questioned about the shooting down of an Air Rhodesia plane carrying civilians, and the subsequent killing of those who had not already died in the crash. Atrocities, apparently, can be ignored if they happen far enough away. Revolutionaries are all without blemish — as long as they are foreign.

As for ‘economic war’, it was the stated policy of the Patriotic front to attack white farms, to disrupt, as far as possible, the white economy, and thereby to strangle white Rhodesia. That strategy is being played out today in EI Salvador — bridges are blown up, buses are burnt, lorries are hijacked and electricity installations are destroyed. This is war. There has not yet been a war where innocent people have not been killed. And comrades, there never will be.

The Connolly Youth Movement attacked the Republican Movement for its ‘extremely narrow base of support’, and for ignoring and alienating the Protestant working class.

Our position is this: republicans have never claimed that the majority of people in Ireland support the armed struggle. The IRA’s mandate to wage war comes in the first instance from the nationalist community in the North. Their right to live in the land of their birth with full civil rights is fundamental. The statelet of Northern Ireland has proven, itself over and over again to be incapable and unwilling to guarantee even this much. A united socialist Republic is the only feasible settlement in which everyone can live in equality and justice. The contrived majority in the North however, means that armed struggle is the only way to achieve that aim. On top of that is the wish of the majority of the Irish people for self determination as a whole — a wish that can only ever be realised by the armed destruction of the Northern statelet.

As for ignoring and alienating the unionist working class, perhaps both we, in na Fianna Éireann, and the Connolly Youth Movement, had best turn to James Connolly who wrote in ‘Forward’ on August 2nd, 1913;

It also serves to illustrate the wisdom of the Socialist contention that, as the working class has no subject class beneath it, therefore to the working class of necessity belongs the honour of being the class destined to put an end to class rule; in emancipating itself, it cannot help emancipating all other classes.

Individuals out of other classes must, and will help as individual Protestants have helped in the fight for Catholic emancipation in Ireland; but on the whole, the burden must rest on the shoulders of the most subject class.

Let the truth be told however ugly. Here the Orange working class are slaves in spirit because they have been reared up among a people whose conditions of servitude were more slavish than their own. In Catholic Ireland the working class are rebels in spirit and democratic in feeling because for hundreds of years they have found no class as lowly paid or as hardly treated as themselves’.

The CYM also attacked the Republican Movement, saying that ‘no serious attempt has been made to win the labour movement in Britain to an anti-imperialist strategy’. This is not true. The CYM’s misconception arises, no doubt, more from ignorance than malice. The work done by Sinn Féin Cumann in Britain, by the Troops Out Movement, the Prisoner’ Aid Committee, Information on Ireland, the Labour Committee on Ireland and by many other comrade organisations has been very successful. They work in a very difficult environment — one which is not made any easier by the blocking tactics and hostile attitude of the Communist Party of Great Britain (comrades to the CYM/CPI).

To stop the war in order to win British workers over to an anti-imperialist strategy, as the CYM suggest, would be fatal. It would bring us back to the 60s situation when the North was ignored and forgotten about. The Viet Cong did not stop for the American peace movement. Why should the IRA? Likewise, the Viet Cong had no compunction about shooting working class GIs — indeed, the CYM did not shed too many tears when they were killed. Why the political about face when it comes to working class British ‘squaddies’ being shot in Ireland? Consistency, obviously is not strong point with the CYM.

The Connolly Youth Movement end off their letter by proclaiming themselves anti-imperialists. That must warm the cockles of Connolly’s heart. But I think what he would say is that there is no such thing as socialist who is not an anti imperialist, who does not support the Provos. There is a war of national liberation going on, and people must decide on which side they stand. If you are for national liberation and democratic socialism then you must stand and fight with us. If you refuse, then you stand in the way of freedom, justice, and equality and you have placed yourself in the imperial camp. The choice lies with you. The future, however, lies with us.

Sean O’Riain.
Na Fianna Éireann”


%d bloggers like this: