History of Na Fianna Èireann
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, promi sed 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