No boy became a member of the Fianna until he passed the Preliminary Test, and took the Fianna Pledge. He remained on probation for three weeks, during which time he was taught the subjects necessary to pass the test. These subjects were as follows:
- Understand aims and objects and how the name of the organization was derived.
- Know his name in Irish.
- Be able to count up to twenty in Irish.
- Be able to perform the few simple drill movements taught him.
- Read and send the first circle in the semaphore system of signalling.
- Have saved a small amount of money, according to his means, towards his uniform.
At the end of the three weeks having passed the test, he took the following pledge: ‘I promise to work for the Independence of Ireland, never to join England’s armed forces, and to obey my superior officers.’ He was then a fully fledged member and entitled to wear the Fianna badge and uniform. The badge was a representation of the rising sun in gold on a green background with a white border on which were the words ‘Cuimnige ar Luimneac agus ar fheall na Sasanac’―meaning ‘remember Limerick and English faith.’ The Fianna also wore the colors of the Irish Republic and carried the Republican flag in addition to their own flag. There were two uniforms. Kilts were originally intended as the only uniform, but as it required tremendous moral courage at one time in some parts of Ireland to appear in kilts, another uniform was authorized in addition. The present writer well remembers his first appearance in the old Irish dress. He was the cynosure of all eyes, and many and varied were the comments that greeted his ears on all sides, and being like most Irish boys, self-conscious, it was a long while before he got used to wearing them. Nevertheless all who adopted the kilt uniform grew to like it very much. This consisted of a green kilt and green knitted woolen jersey with blue cuffs and collar, of Irish manufactured material. The second uniform was an olive green double-breasted shirt and knee pants, of Irish manufactured material also.
Each Sluagh or branch was governed by rules in conformation with the general principles of the organization, with such additions as local circumstances demanded. One of the branch rules was that ‘no Anglicizing influences will be tolerated’. Usually when a boy joined he knew nothing of Irish Ireland and the first song or air he usually whistled or sung was something not Irish. The method adopted by his comrades to correct his ignorance was effective if arbitrary. The first warning he received that he was transgressing the rules would usually be some rough handling by his fellows, who themselves perhaps had only learned better some months before. And the new member in turn was generally the hardest on the latest recruit. Of course such methods were not countenanced by the officers, but nevertheless they were of regular occurrence.
The first convention of the Fianna was held in July 1910. The attendance was small as the organization was only in its childhood. The Countess de Markievicz was elected President and Bulmer Hobson Vice-President and Pádraic Ó Riain, Hon. General Secretary. In November of this year, Irish Freedom was started. The paper was the strongest and best written national journal published in recent years. It appeared continuously until its suppression in 1914. Its columns were open to the Fianna, and through the publicity the movement thus received, became an important factor in its progress. That the Fianna well knew the seriousness and had counted the cost of the task they had set themselves, is apparent in the following which appeared in the first number of the paper:
‘To those of us who are growing up boys and girls will probably fall the task of finally settling the Irish Question. Now is the time therefore for us to consider the course we are to follow and the methods to be adopted to insure success. As we are not skilled enough in the use of platitudes we interpret Irish freedom liberally, and as we are not old enough to hide our cowardice behind a mask of so-called wisdom, we realize that Irish freedom must be won by one method by which it is won in every other part of the world―the sword and its allies.
‘In these days of practical patriotism we, of the Fianna, without any exaggeration, can justly claim to be the most practical element in the population, though we are but a small factor of it. We turn our eyes from the loaf, which in one form or another, we see on all sides held up as a standard of nationalism, and have firmly fixed our gaze and concentrated our attention on the dreary cell where Tone was base murdered; the gibbet which the blood of Emmet consecrated, and on the chains which the bleeding limbs of Mitchel and the Fenians turned into garlands. Not only that but we have set ourselves the task of preparing mentally and physically for the great day, on the eve of which those of us who have survived will see, with gladsome eyes, Cathleen Ni Houlihan launch Fair Freedom’s ship with the Republican colors at the mast in the blood of the Saxon.’
The movement made considerable progress during 1911. It began to extend to several places in the country. Clonmel, Listowel, Rathkeale, Maryborough, Athlone and Limerick fell into line. Through the generosity of the late John Daly a splendid hall was built in the latter place for the Fianna. Sean Heuston, who was afterwards executed in Dublin after the Easter Revolution, was in charge there and did herculean work in bringing the organization to a high state of perfection. In Dublin the number of branches increased from four to seven, while Belfast established six within a year.
On June 22, George V. was crowned King of England. A huge meeting was held in Dublin on this date to protest against his being crowned King of Ireland also. Twenty thousand people are estimated to have attended and the Fianna were strongly represented. The meeting was addressed by Sean MacDiarmada, Dr. Patrick MacCartan and several others.
A fortnight later occurred the ‘Royal visit’ to Ireland. Saturday, July 7, the day of George V.’s entry into Dublin was proclaimed a public holiday. The garrison strained every nerve to make the occasion appear as if the Irish people were intensely loyal. The streets were decorated on a lavish scale and night turned into day with illuminations. The school children were bribed with buns and lemonade to be present, while all the ‘Peelers’ from the country that could be spared were drafted up in plain clothes to Dublin to swell the mob as honest workmen and cheer as the King passed.
The whole reception was engineered and did not represent the Irish people at all. The Nationalists left Dublin that day in two special trains on a pilgrimage to Wolfe Tone’s grave at Bodenstown. The Dublin Fianna, numbering about three hundred, with their pipers band formed an inspiring spectacle in the procession to the graveyard. There round the grave of Ireland’s noblest dead all pledged their loyalty to the cause for which Wolfe Tone’s life was given: ‘To subvert the tyranny of our execrable Government, to break the connection with England, the never failing source of all our political evils, and to assert the Independence of my country’.
Padraic Pearse, afterwards first President of the Irish Republic, took a deep interest in the movement. He gave the use of his grounds surrounding St. Enda’s College at Rathfarnham, in the County Dublin, to the Fianna for camping and manoeuvres, and established a Sluagh among the boys of his school. Con. Colbert used to train these, cycling out from the city once a week for the purpose.
The second Convention (Ard Feis) was held in July and was much more largely represented than the first. It was a splendid success, earnestness being the distinguishing feature. It was decided to form an Executive (Ard Coiste), to meet every three months, to direct the organization during the year. A Constitution was drawn up as follows:
The Constitution of Na Fianna Eireann as drawn up by the Ard Feis, 1911.
Object―To establish the independence of Ireland.
Means―The training of the youth of Ireland, mentally and physically, to achieve this object by teaching scouting and military exercises, Irish history, and the Irish language.
Declaration―I promise to work for the independence of Ireland, never to join England’s armed forces, and to obey my superior officers.
General―(1) Na Fianna Eireann (Irish National Boy Scouts Organization) shall consist of a President, two Vice-Presidents, an Honorary Secretary, an Honorary Assistant Secretary, an Honorary Treasurer, an Ard Feis (Congress), an Ard Coisde (Central Council), Coisde Ceanntair (District Councils), and Sluaghte (Branches). The officers of the Ard Coisde shall be members ex-officio of all the Coisde Ceanntair, and committees of the organization.
(2.) Membership of Na Fianna shall be open to all boys who endorse its Constitution and make the Declaration of the Fianna.
The remainder of the Constitution dealt with the composition of the Ard Feis, Ard Coisde, Coisde Ceanntair and Sluaghte, and defined their work and powers.
The new Ard Coisde came into being immediately after the Convention and proceeded to outline Winter programmes for the branches all over Ireland. These included scout craft, signalling, knot tying, first aid and ambulance work, Irish language and history. District Councils were formed wherever branches existed close to each other. These did great work in consolidating and making uniform the work of the organization as the following official report of the Dublin District Council, published in September, 1911, will show:
‘The Dublin District Council has, in response to the resolution passed at the Convention (Ard Feis), came into being during the last month. Captain C. Colbert (An Cheud Sluagh), was elected Chairman, Lieutenant M. Lonergan (Sluagh Emmet), Honorary Secretary, and Mr. Heffernan, Inspector for Dublin District. Since its inception the Council has been very active, and every Sluagh has been visited by the energetic inspector. Marches of the combined Sluaghte were arranged weekly to St. Enda’s College, Rathfarnham where the Fianna were taught field drill. The Council will present a tableaux entitled ‘Fainne an Lae,’ at Sunday’s Language Procession.
‘An Cheud Sluagh (First Dublin Company).―An elaborate programme is being arranged for the members of this Sluagh. It includes first aid, scout craft, signalling, map making and surveying.
‘Sluagh Michael Dwyer (Second Company).―A splendid series of camps were organized by the committee of this Sluagh in North County Dublin. Many members spent several weeks of the beautiful summer weather under canvas.
‘Sluagh Emmet (Third Company).―Notice: Boys wanted for the rebel manufacturing works. Apply Lieutenant Lonergan, Beresford Place.
‘Sluagh John Mitchel (Fourth Company).―Under the leadership of Seumas MacCaisir, this Sluagh is progressing favorably.
‘Sluagh Wolfe Tone (Fifth Company).―Meetings of this Sluagh are held twice weekly at Hall, 4, Lower Sandwith Street. Drill, knot tying, signalling, scout craft, are taught by Lieutenant Prionnsias MacRaghnaill, on Mondays and Friday evenings, from 8 p.m.
‘Sluagh Lord Edward (Sixth Company).―Leader Sean Keating is working hard to organize the boys of Blackrock for the Winter’s work. He is being assisted by Captain C. Colbert (An Cheud Sluagh), who attends twice weekly.
‘Sluagh Owen Roe O’Neill (Seventh Company).―Jack Bisset is still urging the boys of Malahide to join the Fianna. Another Sluagh is being organized at Donabate.’
A Fianna branch of the Gaelic League for the Dublin Fianna was started in October. Padraic Pearse addressed the boys at the opening meeting and none of those present ever forgot his inspiring words. Quoting Thomas Davis, he said: ‘We want to win Ireland, and keep it; but to be able to keep it, and use it, and govern it, the men of Ireland must know what it is, what it was and what it can be made.’
APRIL 21, 1917.