It must not be supposed that the movement progressed all this while uninterruptedly. The Castle authorities viewed with alarm the growth of a boys’ organization, the spirit of which was rebellious. They knew that in a very short time boys became men, and if when men they lived up to the teachings and ambitions of their boyhood, why, the work and plotting of centuries to reduce and subdue Ireland was undone. None knew better than they the effects of early training on the minds of the youth of the country. The system of education in Ireland proves that. Here, then, was an educational movement that threatened to upset the carefully planned results of their ‘National Board.’ It must be got rid of. Therefore, while officially ignoring the Fianna they went further than instructing their police to keep an eye on it.
The Baden-Powell Boy Scouts, as has been mentioned before, had got a foothold in the country previous to the Fianna being started. The latter had left them without a leg to stand on, but now a very determined effort was made to revive them. A council for this purpose was formed with the Earl of Meath at the head. Lord Powerscourt and several other ‘noblemen’ and ‘gentlemen of influence’, including several ‘Cawtholic’ gentlemen, were identified with this council. Letters appeared frequently in the press from these gentlemen pointing out the advantages the boys would derive from membership in the Baden-Powell organization. One note pervaded all these effusions―that their movement was open to Catholic as well as Protestant boys, and in this they demonstrated their ignorance of the reason of the Irish Question; that it was not a case of Catholic versus Protestant, but Irish against English.
Money and patronage were lavishly bestowed on this new form of political souperism. No expense was spared in order to induce the Irish boy to join. Everything that would appeal in a material way to the average boy was there. The gymnasiums in the barracks were at their disposal, as were also the instructors. The boys were at no expense whatever. Uniforms were issued free and regular attendance was sought by means of tea-parties (or bun-fights, as the Fianna contemptuously called them), outings and excursions and the entree to all sports and amusements of the military. The older boys were called Cadets and eventually were drafted into the Officers Training Corps. In fact the whole system had a twofold object―to make Irish boys English and entrap them in the British Army. But the game did not work.
Conflicts between the boys of the Fianna and the enemy―the Baden-Powell’s―were of frequent occurrence. It was indeed a rare occasion on which the former returned from a march without bearing khaki hats, badges, poles or other B.-P. equipment as trophies of the fray. Victory lay usually with Fianna in these ‘scraps’ because the B.-P.’s found recruits only among the sons of ‘seoinin’ and ‘respectable’ people and the genteel, and naturally were no match for their hardy opponents.
In August of 1913 a big effort was made to draw attention to the B.P. movement. A big camp near Dublin was planned and several hundred English scouts from Lancashire and Yorkshire were to come over and wake up the Irish. The advance guard of these landed at the North Wall. They numbered about two hundred and were equipped with all the up-to-date scout outfits and camping paraphernalia that money could buy. The rotten Dublin press that would not give the Fianna any show, devoted considerable space to these visitors; described the fine training they received, their smartness and spic-and-span appearance, their wonderful equipment and a minute description of the splendid cooking apparatus and electric light installation they brought over for the camp, and wound up by hoping that the Irish people, with their proverbial hospitality, would bid them a hearty cead mile failte.
This galled the Dublin Fianna. To think that they, an Irish organization with Irish principles, could get no support from the so-called Nationalist press while a subsidized gang of English boys were boomed so much! And then the wonderful camp equipment! It made their blood boil when they remembered the rough and ready way they camped, the hard struggle to pay expenses and the little encouragement they got. They shouted for action, but it was officially decided that none would be taken.
This did not suit a crowd of the younger boys, known as the ‘hard skins’. They decided on action; prompt, decisive and very much unofficial. Under the leadership of three of the best lads among the younger members, Edward Murray, Patrick Sarsfield Smyth, and Tom, otherwise Brian Boru, McCabe, twelve of them, with vengeance in their hearts, marched one Saturday afternoon on the B.-P. encampment, which was situated at Kimmage, just outside the city.
Arrived at the camp they found it was occupied by only about twenty scouts, the remainder being away in the city seeing the sights, but those who remained behind were all older than the Fianna boys. Murray bumped into the first B.-P. he met, a fellow much bigger than himself, and was surprised that the deliberate insult was not instantly avenged by a blow. He could not understand this, knowing what would happen if the case was reversed and he had been insulted. The jostle was followed by another with the same result and Murray, very much disgusted, marched into the nearest tent and commenced throwing outside the equipment it contained. His example was followed by the others and the camp was speedily wrecked. The tents were unpegged, the equipment, including the electric light installation, was thrown round the place and hedges decorated with pots and pans. The B.-P.’s offered no resistance at the start, but some of them hurried off for reinforcements. These arrived just as the attacking party was about to leave and a battle royal ensued, from which the Fianna emerged victorious. They carried away as trophies a tent pole and a Union Jack.
This killed the attempt to revive the English Boy Scouts in Dublin. The main body of the visitors from England whom the Freeman hoped the Irish people would give a hearty cead mile failte to, never came over, evidently thinking discretion to be the better part of valor. Singing was the general way in which the boys amused themselves in camp or on the march. The favorite marching songs were: ‘The Soldier’s Song,’ ‘Step Together,’ and ‘The Green Flag.’ Brian O’Higgins, the well known and popular Irish-Ireland poet, wrote a marching song specially for the Fianna. It was set to music and published in Irish Freedom. The words are given here:
MARCHING SONG OF THE FIANNA EIREANN.
By Brian O’Higgins.
Hark to the tramp of the Young Guard of Eire!
Firm is each footstep and erect is each head!
Soldiers of freedom, unfearing and eager
To follow the teachings of her hero dead.
On for freedom Fianna Eireann!
Set we our faces to the dawning day,
The day in our own land when strength and daring
Shall end for evermore the Saxon sway.
Strong be our hands like the Fianna Eireann
Who won for her glory in the days that are gone
Clean be our thinking and truthful our speaking
That we may deserve her when the fight is done!
Soldiers and champions of Eirinn, our Mother,
Fear we no Sasanach, his schemes or his steel,
Foes of the foeman! but comrades and brothers
Of all who are striving for our Eire’s weal.
During all this time the political situation was changing rapidly. The Home Rule controversy, the formation of the Ulster Volunteers, the Curragh Mutiny and, above all, the growing National spirit in the country as a result of the teachings of the Gaelic League, paved the way for the foundation of the Irish Volunteer movement. Here the utility of the Fianna movement was demonstrated. It was represented on the Provisional Committee of the Volunteers by Con. Colbert, Padraig O’Riain, Eamonn Martin, Michael Lonergan, and Liam Mellows. The latter acted as Honorary Assistant Secretary to the Volunteers for the first three months and later, when the post became a permanent one, was elected to the position. The Fianna acted as instructors to the Volunteers and many afterwards rose to important commands in the new movement.
Later on in the following year, when Redmond, at the bidding of his Imperial taskmasters, got control of the Irish Volunteers, of the nine who voted against his interference, three, Con. Colbert, Liam Mellows and Eamonn Martin, were of the Fianna.
JUNE 2, 1917.