Emma Dewhirst (Liverpool) on the interaction between Irish republican organisations, 1912-1923

A number of Irish republican volunteer groups participated in the events that made up the Irish Revolution from 1912-1923, including the Easter Rising, War of Independence, and the Irish Civil War. My PhD thesis does not focus solely on one organisation but the myriad of organisations active during this period: the Irish Citizen Army (ICA), Na Fianna Éireann (Irish Nationalist Boy Scouts), Irish Volunteers, Cumann na mBan (Irishwomen’s Council), Irish Republican Brotherhood, National Volunteers, and Hibernian Rifles. My aim is to examine interactions, networks, kinship ties, and political identity between and within these groups.

Irish Labour History Society Archives, Beggars Bush, Dublin.
Irish Labour History Society Archives, Beggars Bush, Dublin.

The ICA, a working-class organisation formed during the 1913 lockout, is one of the most interesting organisations in this respect as volunteers who joined this organisation, women in particular, had a number of possible overlapping and often changing political identities including feminism, trade unionism, socialism, and republicanism. The ICA is also one of the most neglected organisations of the Irish revolutionary period and its role and existence after 1916 is not given attention by most historians of the Irish Revolution. For instance, the secondary literature frequently notes the tension and conflict between the ICA and Irish Volunteers within the period before 1916, whereas after the Easter Rebellion against British Rule in Ireland this relationship has not been fully explored. Earlier online research revealed, for example, that some ICA members had family members in the Irish Volunteers and/or Cumann na mBan.

My research trip to Dublin in August 2018, funded generously by the Society for the Study of Labour History, allowed me to consult a number of archives to further my pursuit of examining Irish Irish Labour History Society Archives, Beggars Bush, Dublin. nationalist interactions and networks including: the Kilmainham Gaol archives, the University College Dublin Archives (UCD), National Library of Ireland (NLI), and Irish Labour History Society Archives.

The Irish Citizen Army Minute Books held at the Irish Labour History Society Archives were particularly helpful in tracing the decline of the militia after 1916. The minute book, which spanned 1919 and 1920, revealed that the organisation had lapsed into a social club rather than continuing on as a republican militia after the Easter Rising. The book was invaluable for accounting for the ICA’s activities: it gave a more personal and contemporaneous account of the inner workings of the ICA Council as well as an insight into the ICA’s priorities after the loss of its leader, James Connolly.

The UCD and NLI archives also held a useful collection of material including personal papers and other minute books from organisations such as the National Volunteers. Letters and newspaper reports further revealed the amount of collaboration between nationalist and republican groups in the organisation of O’Donovan Rossa’s (an eminent Fenian) funeral. In addition to this, various newspapers offered fresh insight into the relationships between republican volunteer groups with many members writing to newspapers to air their concerns and give frank opinions. The newspaper, the National Volunteer, the organ of the National Volunteer, for instance, condemned the Irish Volunteers in its passages by dubbing it a ‘Sinn Féin -Larkinite Pro-German Section.’ Thus, seeking to discredit the Irish Volunteers by likening it to James Larkin and socialism as well as Arthur Griffith’s Sinn Féin (a separatist political party which sought a Hungarian style Dual-Monarchy for Ireland), in an attempt to slander a number of individuals and organisations. Not much is known about the National Volunteers, let alone their relationship with other volunteer organisations, and such an insight will provide solid groundwork for my research.

Overall, this research trip was instrumental in furthering my understanding of how republican organisations in this period interacted.

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