The next year was the brightest in the history of the movement, as it was also the brightest in the history of the country for many years. It witnessed a great change in opinion among the people. At long-last some result was seen of the years of drudgery and ‘spade work’ on the part of the small minority who had stood true to Ireland through thick and thin. Slowly but surely the country was being roused from the lethargic and disorganised state into which constitutionalism had thrown it. The tide was beginning to turn.
A census of the movement was taken early in the year, and it was found to number over a thousand members. An excellent handbook covering every phase of Fianna activity, written by officers of the movement, was put on the market and sold at one shilling. It contained lucid and instructive articles on drill, first aid, knot-tying, rifle exercises, camping, signalling and swimming. The constitution, and hints on the management of Sluaighte gained by hard experience were given. An introduction was written by the Countess, a few passages of which are given here:
‘As President of the Fianna I am glad of this opportunity to pay tribute to those boys who have built up the Fianna with their brains and their self-sacrifice, their courage and their energy. I know what it has cost them, how hard the work has often been and how many discouraging failures have been faced, and how our success has grown up out of the ashes of dead hopes and buried illusions.
‘It will take the best and noblest of Ireland’s children to win Freedom, for the price of Freedom is suffering and pain. It is only when the suffering is deep enough and the pain almost beyond bearing that Freedom is won. Through the long black record of England’s tyranny and oppression, empire building and robbery, many names stand out of noble souls whose lives were given in a passionate protest against their country’s wrongs. France won free, but many suffered and died nobly before the conquering sacrifice of Joan of Arc turned the tide against the oppressor and the English were swept by a flood of national love and indignation out and across the Sea.’
Prophetic words these, ‘the price of freedom is suffering and pain.’ She, Ireland’s Joan of Arc, at this moment is paying the price of our freedom.
P.H. Pearse contributed to the handbook a splendid article on the ‘Fianna of Fionn’ and Roger Casement wrote on ‘Chivalry.’ The latter was deeply interested in the movement and contributed to its funds in a generous and anonymous fashion. Padraic O’Riain edited the book; indeed, a great many of the technical articles were his and the illustrations throughout were done by Michael Lonergan, another prominent member.
The rapid growth of the organization now demanded an organiser should be appointed, to devote his whole time to the work of inspecting and instructing sluaghte and forming new sluaghte all over Ireland. The want of proper instruction was keenly felt in most parts of the country outside Dublin, and the appointment of an organiser to instruct and push propaganda was a big step forward. A guarantee fund was opened to enable the Ard Coisde to meet the strain this imposed on it.
The services of Liam Mellows were secured for the position. He was at this time in charge of two branches in Dublin―Inchicore and Dolphin’s Barn. He started off through the country full of enthusiasm and ere a month was over had got Enniscorthy, Ferns, Waterford and a few other places going, as well as visiting and instructing the branches already existing in South Leinster.
A great anti-enlisting crusade was carried on all over the country during this year, and the Fianna did their share of this holy work of keeping the young manhood of Ireland out of the clutches of the Government that ground them down. There was a special reason why the crusade was so vigourous. The British Government were busy conducting a tremendous recruiting campaign in Ireland. They were feverishly enlisting and training an army in view of a struggle with Germany. And the following year, when war broke out, England had the gall to say that she was unprepared and that the war was sprung on her.
No methods were too mean or low or despicable to induce the Irishman to enlist. Airs associated for generations with the Irish cause were played by British recruiting bands. Fancy England ordering her paid murderers to stimulate the circulation of the Irish fighting blood by rendering ‘O’Donnell Aboo,’ ‘The Wearing of the Green,’ and ‘The Boys of Wexford.’ A few years back and the playing of such airs was a treasonable offense. Irish warpipe bands, with the ‘swaddies’ decked out in Irish kilts, was another feature. All this, of course, was done in order to impress the Irish with the ‘toleration’ existing within the bounds of the British Empire.
Posters and bills appeared frequently on the walls and telegraph poles all over the country, warning young Irishmen of the dangers, both nationally and morally of joining the British Army. During June, the whole of Ireland was placarded in one night. The authorities instituted a vigorous inquiry, but failed to arrest anyone for it.
In some places the anti-recruiting crusade was carried beyond this line of action. In Athlone, two military bands were busy playing for dupes. The local Irish Pipers Band and the Fianna marched out one night as a counter attraction. After a good deal of jostling the soldiers at last had to fly to their barracks followed by the victorious lads, who had now been joined by the populace, who demonstrated their hatred by booing and shouting. A meeting was held outside the barracks and a vast crowd was addressed by several speakers, who applauded denunciatory statements against the British army. The soldiers were removed from the town by special train next morning.
MAY 5, 1917.
In Limerick matters were going ahead very well, thanks to the energy of Sean Heuston and the fatherly interest taken in the movement by the late John Daly, the grand old Fenian veteran. There were now 250 boys in the Sluagh. In May competitions in the various branches of Fianna work were held. In presenting the prizes, John Daly, who presided, said that fifty years had elapsed since he joined the Fenian Brotherhood. In 1863, his comrades and he believed that they were about to go into a fight which would leave the present generation an inheritance of a free Ireland. They had succeeded in attaining their ideals, and many had paid the penalty of not succeeding, but thank God, the country was not conquered yet. He well remembered the days of his boyhood, and knew that it was not always pleasant to spend the evening hours after school in study, but he appealed to the Fianna of Limerick not to rest content with physical exercises. He asked them to remember that mind must be trained as well as muscle, and urged them to endeavour to acquire a thorough knowledge of the history of Ireland, for unless they knew the story of their country they could never love her as they ought. They should learn the language of Ireland. When Ireland spoke Irish the days of the British Government in this country would be numbered.
In the meantime it was their duty to assert their right to the ownership of their own country and to protest by every means against foreign usurpation. He had protested, and English brutality had paralysed his limbs, but England had failed to paralyse his mind or his heart, and he still defied her.
Is it any wonder that with such a splendid patriot as John Daly in their midst, Limerick’s boys were intensely national, and that the story of his sufferings and faith enkindled in many a young breast feelings that will yet express themselves on that day when all the pent up love and hatred will hold sway in the last and winning fight for freedom?
The Rathkeale branch suffered a heavy blow in their death of their young captain, Bruno Whelan, in March. His valuable services were sadly missed by the members. At the funeral of their dead leader the scouts formed a bodyguard and laid a wreath on his grave as a slight token of their appreciation of his services to their little branch of the Irish Boy Scouts and to the Cause he loved.
In the meantime, the newly-appointed organiser had been busy. It was hard work trying to get branches of a boys’ movement like the Fianna started throughout the country, when no one outside the ranks of the Gaelic League took an interest in anything Irish, or, for the matter of that, in anything but what concerned their individual selves. Very few, indeed, realized what an asset to Ireland the boys were. He had many rebuffs from people who were held up as great Nationalists and who posed as such. Very few of the clergy gave the movement any support, and those who did were nearly all what Canon Sheehan described as ‘the young bicycle riding curates’ who had been influenced in Maynooth by the Gaelic League. Indeed, it was the one small group of men and women upon whom all National work fell. The Gaelic League carried the cross of Ireland on its shoulders for many years.
Some of the would-be nationalists whom the Organizer interviewed and appealed to to help, spoke of the movement with sarcasm and pointed out how, in their worldly wisdom, it was doomed to failure. ‘What can a handful of boys do against the great British Empire?’ was the question frequently put. Oh! ye of little faith, did you dream then that a time would come when you would eat your words and talk instead of the decadence of the Empire, not because you believed in Ireland but because it was the popular thing to do. Others, notwithstanding the pledge that every boy took never to join England’s armed forces, said that the boys were only being trained for the British army, that they would get a taste for such a life from the military exercises and that no pledge would keep a boy from indulging his desires in that line. Oh! God, to such a pass had things reached in Ireland when men no longer believed in honour or principle. They could not understand the triumph of mind over matter. Eighteen months later a great many of these people were on the recruiting platforms appealing to the young men of Ireland to join the British army and fight England’s battle against Ireland’s friend. There were some, too, who said the movement was ‘too strong,’ meaning by that, that its principles were ‘too Irish’ for their tastes. Something with less milk and more water suited their palates, but the boys would not deviate. Today, all such are separatists, extremists and Sinn Feiners; nothing is ‘too strong’ for them now. Appended here are some extracts from the Organizer’s reports, which may be of interest as showing how the work went on. Nearly all his travelling was done on an ordinary bicycle and even then, 1913, the police took a rather warm interest in his welfare.
WITH THE ORGANIZER.
(EXTRACTS FROM HIS REPORTS.)
Sunday, April 27, 1913.—Went to Wexford, arriving at 1:30. Was met by a bodyguard of Sluagh Father John Murphy. Employed afternoon drilling the Sluagh in preparation for the Wexford Feis. In the evening, from 7 to 10:30, taught bayonet exercise.
Monday, 28.—Proceeded to Killurin, six miles, to see what could be done there. Made appointment to meet local band committee at 9 p.m. Went to Enniscorthy and arranged meeting to revive defunct Sluagh Vinegar Hill on Tuesday 8 p.m. Returned to Killurin. Nothing tangible resulted.
Tuesday, 29.—Shocking wet day. Went to Ferns. Returned to Enniscorthy. Very poor attendance owing to weather, but drew on all my oratorical powers and once more got a move on the Sluagh. The officer in charge is Sean Moran, and rooms have been secured for the Sluagh in the Gaelic League premises.
Wednesday, 30.—Went to Gorey and Courtown. Saw ———, who also promised to do all he could to start a Sluagh. Made appointment to see him at Feis. Went to Arklow but could do nothing. Returned to Wexford.
Thursday, May 1.—Rode to New Ross and thence to Waterford. Arranged meeting to start Sluagh in Waterford for the following Tuesday. Christian Brothers promised to help.
Friday, 2.—Rode to Clonmel via. Carrick-on-Suir. Made appointments for next day.
Saturday, 3.—Clonmel Sluagh non est owing to not being able to get rooms. They hope, however, to reorganize Sluagh Kickham very soon.
Sunday, 4.—Rode to Cashel. Everybody away at hurling match in Dublin. Distributed literature and returned to Clonmel. The weather all week has been most miserably wet and so have I.
Monday, 5.—Rode to Kilkenny, from Clonmel, 31 miles. Arrived late at night wet through. This was a terrible wet day—one of the worst I ever experienced. Could do nothing that night. Heard that a body of scouts existed in the town but could obtain no definite information regarding them.
Tuesday, 6.—Wet! Returned to Waterford for prearranged meeting. Arrived at 1:30. Interviewed Christian Brothers in afternoon, who promised to help. Held meeting at 8 o’clock; thirty boys were present. Explained aims and objects of Fianna and arranged for further meeting on Wednesday, 14th inst.
Wednesday, 7.—Wet! Saw two teachers, who promised to see what they could do for Fianna during coming year. Returned to Kilkenny. Visited Gaelic League premises and heard that scouts existing at present in Kilkenny were now acting independently as ‘The James Stephens Boy Scouts.’
Thursday, 8.—Very wet. Busy all day in Kilkenny. Arranged meeting for next (Friday) evening.
Friday, 9.—Rode out to Castlecomer, 10 miles. Roads deep in mud. Met several local Gaelic Leaguers but could get none of them interested in Fianna. Returned to Kilkenny to keep appointment. No meeting, but arranged one for following Friday, 16th inst.
Saturday, 10.—Left for Wexford 6 p.m. On arrival found boys getting ready for Feis.
Sunday, 11.—Wexford Feis. This was a great day here. Tremendous crowds. Met a number of people interested in movement who promised to get branches started. Wexford Fianna gave a display of drill, signalling and skirmishing as part of Feis programme, and acquitted themselves very favorably. Crowd much impressed. Most of them never knew of the movement before. Con. Colbert, Eamonn Martin, Garry Holohan and several others of Dublin Fianna down for Feis.
Monday, 12.—Wexford Feis.
Tuesday, 13.—This was a holiday in Wexford, so I took advantage of it in instructing Sluagh Father John Murphy in drill, signalling, first-aid, bayonet and physical exercises, till 3 o’clock. At 5 we marched through the town, headed by St. Brigid’s Band, and proceeded to the Aonach and Exhibition Hall, Bull Ring. Here the boys were treated to a lecture on ’Ninety-eight by Miss Browne.* The lecture was rendered the more interesting because of the exhibits of relics of ’Ninety-eight, which the boys were allowed to handle and examine. At 8 o’clock we again met, when I gave a little chat about the ‘British Empire.’ I should have stated that earlier in the day we made arrangements to start a new Sluagh at Castlebridge, four miles from Wexford on the following Sunday.
Wednesday, 14.—Rode to Waterford, 33 miles, to keep appointment re meeting. Owing to some misunderstanding this did not take place. Disgusted!
Thursday, 15.—Still in Waterford. Held meeting at 8 o’clock; 26 boys present. Harangued the multitude till 9:30 and sent them home. Arranged for next meeting on Monday, 19th inst.
Friday, 16.—Rode to Kilkenny, 28 miles. Held meeting of James Stephens Boy Scouts; twenty boys present. Drilled and inspected them and spoke about the ‘British Empire and Ireland.’ Made arrangements to visit Goresbridge at some future date.
Saturday, 17.—Rode to Gowran, County Kilkenny; thence to Dungarvan. On to Borris where I met Dr. Dundon, who thought a branch could be started there and promised to help. I promised to return there on Tuesday. Left Borris at 8:30 to ride to Wexford, 38 miles, across the Blackstair Mountains via Sculloge Gap (shades of Father Murphy and Myles Byrne). Rode through the night, arriving in Wexford at 12:10. Mileage covered during day, 62 miles.
Sunday, 18.—Marched with Sluagh Father John Murphy to Castlebridge. Found most of local people away at hurling match. Disappointed! Gathered together all of the boys of the village we could find. Delivered an oration. Wexford Sluagh gave a display of skirmishing, etc. in the village street. Returned home a sadder and a wiser, etc. At 8 o’clock we had another little history chat with Wexford Sluagh. There was great enthusiasm and proceedings terminated at 11 o’clock with singing the National Anthem.
In June a great fete in aid of Padraic Pearse’s school at Ratherfarnham was held. It was known as St. Enda’s Fete and lasted a week. The school, run as it was on such Irish lines, was greatly handicapped for want of funds, and of course it was only from the Gaedheals that help was forthcoming. The Fianna did what the could to make the fete a success and gave a very fine display which made a great impression on the onlookers. At the end of the week a fire occurred on the grounds at Jones’s Road, where the fete was held, and the Fianna showed the value of the training and discipline imparted them by overcoming the flames. They kept their heads while everything was in a state of confusion and uproar and by their steadiness and courage saved the situation. Another display was given at this time at an Aeridheacht organized by the Wolfe Tone Memorial Committee. Everywhere the services of the Fianna were in great demand at this time and they were always ready to help wherever the Cause was at stake.
The pilgrimage to Wolfe Tone’s grave at Bodenstown this year, on June 22, showed how great was the revival of the old spirit. No longer was it the few faithful souls who yearly went to pay their devotion to the ideals of Ireland’s apostle of Freedom. How the hearts of the old Fenian veterans beat high with the old hope this year when they saw rank on rank of the young manhood and youth of Ireland marching to the holiest spot in the land. There were pipers’ bands from Dublin, Tullamore, Athlone and Brownstown. The Fianna numbered several hundred and at their head a big banner on which was inscribed ‘Boys will you enlist? Not in the English army, but in the Irish one. Join Na Fianna Eireann’. They formed a guard of honor round the graveside while P.H. Pearse delivered the oration.
The fourth Ard-Fheis (Convention) was held on July 13. It was the largest and most representative yet. Delegates were there from all parts of the four provinces. The Countess as usual presided. The Hon. General Secretary, Padraic O’Riain, in his annual report remarked: ‘Perhaps the surest sign of the progress made by our movement during the past year is the fact that our organization has now (with the full recognition of all political and non-political adult organizations) taken an important place in the national life of our country. A large section of our people look with hope and confidence to us to win that achievement for which so many generations have worked and for which we have all pledged ourselves to continue to work.’
A report was read by the Organizer giving an account of his work since his appointment, extending over the counties of Wexford, Waterford, Carlow, Kilkenny, Tipperary, Kings County, Kildare, Westmeath, Roscommon, Galway, and Louth. One good sign of the times was that several of the delegates spoke Irish only in addressing the Convention. The Ard-Coisde for the coming year was as follows: President Countess de Markievicz; Vice-Presidents, Bulmer Hobson and Joseph Robinson; Hon. General Secretary, Captain Padraic O’Riain; Assistant Secretary, Lieutenant A. White; Treasurer, Lieutenant Frank Reynolds; Organizer, Captain Liam Mellows; other members, Sean Sinnott (Wexford), Captain M. Lonergan (Dublin), Captain Con. Colbert (Dublin), Lieutenant Sean O’Kelly (Belfast), Edmund Leahy (Listowel), and Lieutenant Sean Heuston (Limerick).
A camp for the delegates who cared to spend their vacation in the Dublin Mountains under canvas, was held on Three Rock Mountain after the Convention. The Organizer was in charge and many availed themselves of the opportunity and spent a really splendid holiday amid such beautiful surroundings. Matters were anything but dull where a group of such lads congregated. The Countess had a cottage on the mountain and had several members of the girls’ branches from Belfast staying with her. The troops of the Dublin garrison carried out extensive manoeuvers in Carlow and South County Wicklow this Summer. Several battalions returned to the city through South County Dublin, passing close to the Fianna camp on their march. They got a very good reception from the boys as they marched by. Boohing and jeering them, they were followed by crowds of the lads down the road. Several soldiers fell out of the march, and approaching the Countess’s cottage, handed in their canteens asking for water. Some of the girls inside took the canteens, but instead of filling them with water, put anti-enlisting bills in them and handed them back. The soldiers must have been greatly astonished when they opened the lids to take a drink and found something not to their taste at all.
A sad drowning accident occurred before the camp broke up, in which the Fianna boys gained considerable notoriety. The boys went every day to bathe in a very deep and big quarry-hole near the camp. One Sunday afternoon, a young man from the neighborhood, named Doyle―not a member of the Fianna―got in to bathe. He was unable to swim and getting out of his depth went under. A companion brought word to the camp and immediately all hands rushed to the scene of the accident. By this time the poor fellow had disappeared. Immediately a number of the boys started diving for him, but without success. This continued for a couple of hours until all were exhausted. Then a raft was built and four took it in relays to search for the body. By this time several police had arrived and immediately produced note books and proceeded to ‘investigate’. They were reminded of their duty, however, but none of them showed the slightest anxiety to aid the search. They were taunted with cowardice and one of them, in desperation, after admitting he could swim, actually went as far as to take off his pants―and promptly stopped there.
At length the body was recovered and artificial respiration was applied but without avail. The police officiously then interfered but were repudiated by the boys, who carried the body home across the mountain in their own stretcher to the grief-stricken parents.
At the inquest, the jury highly commended the action the Fianna and paid a compliment to the efficiency of the boys. An intimation that the Royal Humane Society was about to bestow medals on some of the lads for their bravery was received, and it was decided that the Fianna could have nothing to do with anything to which the word ‘Royal’ was appended. The people round the district where the fatality occurred took the matter up themselves, however, so struck were they with the conduct of the scouts.
A very interesting meeting was held at Balally, Sandyford, County Dublin, on August 10, when Harry Walpole, Thomas Crimmins, Edward Murray and Thomas McCabe, four members of the Fianna who particularly distinguished themselves, were presented by the people of Barnacullia with gold medals and certificates for bravery in their unsuccessful efforts to rescue Peter Doyle.
Mr. Charles Hanlon of Dundrum, who presided, said that the people of the neighborhood who had witnessed the sad death of Peter Doyle and the gallantry of the Boy Scouts were anxious to pay tribute to these boys for their manly and courageous conduct. The people, he assured the boys, had nothing but esteem for the Boy Scouts. Mr. Joseph Campbell, the poet, who made the presentation, read an address, and drew a very interesting analogy between the Fianna and their old time prototype.
Countess Markievicz returned thanks on behalf of the Fianna Eireann, and thanked the people of Barnacullia and the Three Rock Mountain for their kindness in permitting the National Scouts to use their lands for scouting and camping purposes.
Mr. Tom. McCarthy pointed out the extreme ‘usefulness’ of the police—how they were ever to the fore when there were families to be evicted or strikers to be batoned; how with their endless notebooks and informations they haunt us. ‘But,’ said he, ‘when it comes to a really dangerous job, they are content to watch while four boys risk their lives.’
A vote of sympathy was passed with the parents of Peter Doyle, who attended at the presentation.
Mr. C. Mulligan, of Balally Cottage, suggested to the meeting that they ought to start a troop of National Scouts among the boys of the district. The suggestion was greeted with applause, and over twenty boys promptly handed in their names.
Another fatality, in which a member of the Fianna lost his life occurred in Limerick at this time. A number of small boys were fishing in a pond near the railway when one of them named Killeen fell into deep water. A Fianna boy named Willie Davern, aged thirteen, jumped in to rescue him and succeeded in getting his comrade into safety, but fell back exhausted himself and was drowned.
Two of the boys in Belfast, James Toomey and Patrick Dempsey were arrested soon after this on a charge of posting up anti-enlistment notices. They were brought before the Resident Magistrate at Belfast Court, who returned them for trial at Belfast Assizes. When the case came up, it fell through for want of evidence and the boys were dismissed.
MAY 12, 1917.
* The Miss Brown referred to above was afterwards among those women of the Cumann na mBan who were arrested after Easter Week and held for some time before being released.