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 purpose 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 Cú Chulainn 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 Irish 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 Englishmen, 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 believed this and fought for it: Hugh O’Donnell and Hugh O’Neill and Rory O’More and Owen Roe O’Neill: Tone and Emmet and Davis and Mitchel. What was true in their time is still true. Nothing that has happened or that can ever happen can alter the truth of it. Ireland belongs to the Irish. We believe, then, that 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 though 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 far 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 arouse her again, We believe that Na Fianna Éireann have kept the military spirit alive in Ireland during the past four years, and that if the Fianna had not been founded in 1909, the Volunteers of 1913 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 the MACRADH, or boy-troop, of the Volunteers, and will correspond to what is called in France an École 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 Irish Volunteers to victory come forth from Na Fianna Éireann.
Our programme includes every element of a military training. We are not mere ‘Boy Scouts’, although we teach and practise the art of scouting. Physical culture, infantry drill, marching, 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 entertainments as opportunities permit.
Finally, we believe with 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 in 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.
We, the Fianna, never told a lie, Falsehood was never imputed to us,
Said Oisín to Saint Patrick; and again when Patrick asked Caoilte Mac Rónáin how it came that the Fianna won all their battles, Caoilte replied: ‘Strength that was in our hands, truth that was on our lips, and purity that was in our hearts.’
Is it too much to hope that after so many centuries the 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?
Sinne, Na Fianna Éireann