Irish nationalists founded Na Fianna Éireann in 1909 to help educate youth in Irish national ideas as a step in achieving independence. At the time Ireland was still under British rule as part of the United Kingdom. England ruled Ireland for about seven centuries. Ireland and Catholic enfranchisement had become contentious issues in British politics during 19th century. The Irish Potato Famine killed huge numbers of Ireland and driving large numbers to emmigrate, many to America (1845-50). of the 1850s had been a Holocaust for the Irish people, radicalizing some. Most Irish by the early 20th century seemed apathetic despite the dreadful economic conditions, high unemployment and wide-spread poverty. Many were despirited seeing no option to British rule. At the time there was no Irish youth organization. The Boys' Brigade which had been founded in Scotland had spread to England, but because of its Protestant orientation had little appeal to Irish boys--except in Ulster. The Boy Scouts founded by Baden Powell (1906) was a different matter. It had a more non-denominational origin. Irish nationalists were concerned about the impact of Scouting on Irish boys. The Scouts were a strongly patriotic group, emphasizing loyalty to Britain and the monary. Irish nationalists were concerned that this would further weaken the national identity of Irish boys. They wanted a program
that would promote Irish identity and national feeling and to help boys envision a future independent Ireland.
England ruled Ireland for about seven centuries. It had been Irish raiders that had terrorized Roman Britain. St Patrick in fact had been a Britain captured by Irish raiders and brought back to Ireland as a slave. This changed after the Norman conquest of England. For the first time a strong centralized Englisg state was able to projects its power on a Ireland that had not yet coalesed into a nation. After the Reformation the power calculations changed. A still Catholic Ireland was used as tool by a succession of Catholic monarchs (Philip II, Louis XIV, and Napoleon) to threaten England. Catholic power in Ireland was finally broken by William III at the Battle of the Boyne and the last challenge of James II to regain the throne. The Catholic Irish were disenfranchised and lost tutle to their land, become a landless peasantry. The central event in the Irish-English relationship was the Potato Famine (1845-60). English relief efforts wre inadequated and even these wereec abandoned in the midst of the famine. Work houses because of inadequate nutrition and unsanitary conditions were death traps. The Irish famine has been seen by many as the greatest humanitarian disasaster of the 19th centuy. This was in part because so many died and others forced emmigrate. Over 1 million are believed to have actually sucumbed to statvation and disease. But most tragic of all was that it was preventable. Throuhout the Famine, Irish, and English landowners were exporting food. One author points out that a quarter of the peers in the House of Lords owned land in Ireland and failed to act. Ireland and Catholic enfranchisement had become contentious issues in British politics during 19th century. Most Irish by the early 20th century seemed apathetic despite the dreadful economic conditions, high unemployment and wide-spread poverty. Many were despirited seeing no option to British rule.
The Christian Brother are a Catholic Order that focused extensively on education. They ran many schools in Ireland in an effort to provide a quality education to Catholics during the years of British rule. They were active in the North of Ireland after the south achieved independen and Ireland was divided. The Christian brothers had a reputation for strict discipline and giving a really high standard of education (almost like the protestant grammar schools) and in
addition to the usual subjects taught the Irish Language. Many think this is an important reason why - in the big cities - Belfast in particular - the Irish
language is still known by many. . Anyone who went to a Christian Brother's School in the 20th century would tell you that they got a very good education - but that it was underpinned with a ferocious discipline so many have mixed memories.
The Irish language in the 19th century Irish was banned in official circles. Many think the Christian Brothers helped stop it from dying out. It was still spoken in the rural areas of the South but even in these Irish speaking areas (Gaeltacht) people had to use English for conducting official business - education, official forms etc. Priests used to run "Hedge Schools" - unofficial schools out in the countryside and in the open air where the Irish language, culture, and history was passed on. This attempt to wipe out Irish culture followed the 1798 rebellion and was similar to the
supression of Scottish culture after Culloden. When Catholic education was allowed again the Christian Brother's School arose naturally out of these Hedge Schools
Priests also used to hold mass in the open and hidden from the English - all over Ireland you will see "Mass Rocks" - natural rocks used as alters for these secret masses. There is a famous song "The Mass Rock of the Glen".
In the early 20th century, there was no Irish youth organization. The Boys' Brigade which had been founded in Scotland had spread to England, but because of its Protestant orientation had little appeal to Irish boys--except in Ulster. The Boy Scouts founded by Robert Baden Powell (1907) was a different matter. It had a more non-denominational origin. The idea of Scouting proved very popular in England, Wales, and Scotland and Ireland was no exception. Scout troops were formed in Dublin and sometimes used in offical events to parade befor important visitors. Baden Powell was in fact interested inn promoting Scouting in Ireland. Powell wrote to Pádraig Pearse encouraging him to write a book that could be used for Irish Boy Scouts. Pearse declined. [Mitchel]
Irish nationalists were concerned about the impact of Scouting on Irish boys. Pearse and others were concerned about the Scouting movement, seeing it as a British attempt to gain the loyalty of Irish boys. The Scouts were in fact a strongly patriotic group, emphasizing loyalty to Britain and the monarchy. Irish nationalists were concerned that this would further weaken the national identity of Irish boys. They wanted a program that would promote Irish identity and national feeling and to help boys envision a future independent Ireland.
Interestingly women played a key role in organizing the Na Fianna Éireann. (As far as we know, women had no important role in organizing other early boys'
groups like the Boys' Brigade, Wandervogel, and Boy Scouts). The most important but not the only woman was Constance Markievicz. She was was the major
force behind the foundation of Na Fianna Éireann. The Countess was the offspring of an Anglo-Irish County family--the Gore-Booths’s of Lissadell, Sligo. She was
a cultured woman brought up in a privlidged environment. As a youth she studied art at London and Paris. She met Casimir Dunin-Markievicz in Paris and married
him. She became a passionate nationalist. [Haverty] Couuntess Markievicz was a member of the Sinn Féin Executive and a popular speaker at weekly public
meetings that they sponsored in Dublin. The Countess read a local newspaper article describing a loyalist parade in which 800 Irish boys paraded in front of the
King's representative and saluted the Union Jack, the symbol of British rule in Ireland. It was at this time that she decided to found a domestic Scouting movement
as a patriotic organisation for Irish boys. [Haverty] It is interesting that within the United Kingdom that Baden Powell faced compettion with Francis Fletcher Vane in England that thought he was too militaistic and Markievicz in Ireland that want a militarized Irish Scout movement. Powell and British authorities were unaware as to just what she and the Na Fianna Éireann were all about.
Na Fianna Éireann was founded as a primarily educational group. Irish nationalists founded Na Fianna Éireann in 1909 to help educate youth in Irish national ideas as a step in achieving independence. At the time Ireland was still under British rule as part of the United Kingdom. Constance Markievicz formed an informal committe other interested Irish nationalists (Helena Molony, Pádraig Mac Artain, and Seán Mac Garda) to discuss a patriotic group for boys. The Countess and the Committee did not really know how to begin. Another concern was how British authorities would react. She talked about forming a Boy Scout troop. A schoolmaster at St. Andrew's National School in Dublin recommended eight boys who the Countess invited to her home for a meeting. Here I am a bit confused. We also note a reference to the Westland Row Christian Brothers School (CBS). The Countess called her new group the Red Branch Knights. The problem was neither the Countess or the boys were skilled in Scouting activities like drill. Military drill at the time was considered a beneficial activity for boys and an important activity persued by Both the Boys's Brigade and Boy Scouts. The Countess decided to try a experiment with a camp experience. The Countess as a result of the camp became more convinced that such an organization had real possibilties. It was at the camp that the Coutess conceived of the organization for the new group, a kind of "Boys' Republic" and army rather than the Scouting approach of sections and patrols.
Countess Markievicz obtained a hall in Dublin (I'm not sure about this) and obtained the assistance of an experienced youth leader (Bulmer Hobson). It was Hobson who suggested calling the group Na Fianna Eireann as he had previously attempted to found a group and used that name. [Mitchel] "An" is simply The (singular - The plural is "Na" - hence Na Fianna Eireann -- The Warriors of Ireland). The first meeting was held August 16, 1909 and was well attended by interested boys and An Chead Sluagh was formed. Thus "An chead sluagh" means the first battalion/troop. (Notice the plural of sluagh is sluaite - the Irish language is difficult to learn from scratch. "Cead" means first, you aspirate it to "Chead" before a noun.) Con Colbert joined the group during that first meeting and soon begame the group Captain. This meeting was overseen by Hobson who was elected President.
After the first group, other groups were formed throughout Ireland. The next sluaite was organized in Dublin (Drumcondra and North Dock units). The first sluagh formed in Belfast was the result of the work by Annie O'Boyle. "Sluagh" means a crowd or gathering in Irish - here it would translate as Battalion or (by analogy with the Scouts) Troop. Soon sluaite (plural of sluagh) were formed in Dublin and other Irish cities (Limerick, Derry, Cork, Belfast and Clonmel) within a few years (December 1910). Subsequently sluaite appeared in other Irish cities (Dundalk, Newry, and Waterford).
Na Fianna Éireann is an Irish organization, but the group was no limited to Ireland. There are substantial Irish populations in both Scotland and England. Thus Fianna was located outside of Ireland among these communities. The Irish in Glasgow organized a sluagh of Na Fianna Eireann named for Willie Neilson the Irish boy patriot of 1798 (April 1910). Another sluagh was subsequently organized in the Govan neighborhood. Many activities were the same as Scouts: drill and flag signalling. Other activities were oritented toward Irish patriotism. There were, for example, patriotic lectures on Irish history and Gaelic classes.
Countess Markievicz was invited and gave a llecture, asking “When will the next time be to strike a blow for Ireland, and will they be ready when
that time came?” There were also comcerts, I'm not sure what kind of music was offered. The boys proudly marched through the city center in their uniforms.
The Sluagh was uniformed in green shirts wit brass buttons and saffron kilts rather than knickers like the boys normally wore. The Irish Fianna boys at times protested the British establishment in various ways. Eamon Mooney who was in 1911 a Fianna boy, remembers such a protest. King Edward VII had died and King George V was crowned (1911). As part of the celebration the city provided school children a free trip to the Scottish Exhibition of Natural History, Art and Industry. The schools had to come with a Union Jack (British flag) and the children had to sing the British national anthem. Mooney reports, “Some Fianna boys obtained a large Green
Flag with Gold Harps and carried it right through to our school. My father wrote the following ditty which all the schoolchildren learned and sang for this occasion, much to the consternation of all the other loyal schools, but to the
secret delight of our headmaster, Mr Horgan, a Corkman.” The ditty went, "God save old Ireland Long may she prosper and defend her rights Damn all English Union Jacks Likewise all her loyal quacks And Hurrah for the Green." A few years later during World War I one observer notes that a "uniformed troop of Glasgow Fianna scouts" attended the funeral of the Fenian leader O’Donovan Rossa (August 1915). [O’Cathain] I'm not sure what Fianna Scouts means, but presumambly is a Fianna unit. Nor am I positive about the uniform, but was likelt the green shirts and saffron kilts. Observers in Scotland then (as opposed to Ireland) would see these lads as just another form of Boy Scouts, a throughly accepted British patriotic group. Thus the Fianna boys would probably portray themselves as such. It would have been a bit dangerous for an organisation to be calling itself "Na Fianna Eireann"--The Warriors for Ireland - in Britain then - especially as she was at war with Germany.
Some Irish looked to Germany for aid in their struggle for independence. In fact in 1916 just before the Rising a German battleship - The Aud - did land a supply of rifles (which turned out to be old and of little use) on the Banna Strand in County Kerry. A poular slogan in Ireland during World war I was "England's Difficulty Is Ireland's Opportunity". Same as earlier Scotland had looked to France (and Spain before that) to assist in the struggle with England.
Na Fianna Éireann held its Ard Fheis in Belfast. The Ard Fheis of a political party or organisation is like it's A.G.M. or annual conference.It literally means "High Assembly" and goes right back to the old tribal gatherings of the Kings of Ireland - like "the gathering of the clans" in Scotland. "Feis" (again it's aspirated to "Fheis" after an adjective like "Ard") can also mean "festival" - but that's the Irish for you - in the old days the Ard Fheis would mix political business with pleasure - plenty of food and drink taken once an agreement is
reached.Probably still true today. We notes that Irish feises today are festivals with competitions, commonly dancing competitions. The The Belfast Sluagh outfitted in Fianna uniforms. (I'm not sure what these uniformswere.) The boys climbed Cave Hill outside Belfast. The boys stood at McArt's Fort just like Wolfe Tone (1763-98). Tone was a notable Irish revolutionary. He worked to get the French to intervene in Ireland. He organized several failed rebelions. The english captured him (1798). He was found guilty of treasoin, but comitted suiside before he could be executed. The boy's in the tradition of Tone pledged to work for Irish independence. A second Ard Fheis was organized in July 1911.
The Na Fianna Éireann held conventions at the Mansion House before 1916.
The Na Fianna Éireann wascimpeded by the lack of financing. Liam Mellowes was appointed to organize a fund raising campaign. Mellows worked for 10 years and left the organization in good financial shape. He played a major role in putting Na Fianna Éireann on a solid footing as well as opening new units in other cities.
Mellowes was ordered shot by the Irish Free State (1922).
The Fianna promoted a wide range of activities. Here our information is limited. Some of the activities like Scouting were activities that would be of unterest to boys. Other activities were designed to build sckills that would be useful in the independence struggle. The organization and drill halls and other facilities throughout Ireland. Activities included hurling and football teams, pipe bands, and ambulance-corps throughout the coubntry. The Fianna ws also heavilyh involved in organizing marches and protests against the British. They also were involved in gun running as resistance to the British escalated. Fianna boys not only learned drill, but also were given fire arms training. Both written and photographic accounts show boys with guns, at least the older boys. Some of the photographs show a very cavallier attitudes toward the guns. The program varied for boys in rural and urban areas. Often the country boys persued many Scout-like activities: tracking, woodworking, first aid, drill and signalling. The city boys were encouraged to become very familiar with the their neighborhoods, the streets and back alleys so as to be able to descreetly carry messages and move guns.
Na Fianna played an imortant part in the 1913 strike. The Fianna offered a organized group to help sponsor resistance to the British.
Four Fianna officers were elected to the first Executive Council of the
Volunteers which helped organize operations aginst the British. Fianna halls were used bt the volunteers. Pádraig Mac Piarais at Bodenstown led a pilgrimage to
the grave of Wolfe Tone. This became an annual event. Na Fianna published a handbook (1914). Fianna also began Howth gun running (1914). Fianna boys were also active in the Easter Rising (1916). Youthful Fianna boys were involved in sniping at the British. Fianna boys also were active in the Civil War over the Treaty with Britain. Presumably the Fianna as other nationalist groups were split on the issue, but I have little information about the group at this time.
Countess Markievicz designed a flashy uniform. It consisted of a bush hat, presumably to clearly destinguish the boys from the Boy Scouts. The hat was worn with a dark green jacket and sash and a saffron kilt. We do not know how widely this worn. Some accounts do indicate some groups wore it, but apparently many boys could not afford the uniform. Some boys secured the bush hat by stealing a Boy Scout's hat and wearing it differently. This apparently was considered a coup and demonstrated profisency in some of the skills use ful to the group's clandestine operations. Thus Fianna boys often appeared in a mixed array of uniforms. Some boys had some of the items and often not the same items. We note some boys weating breecjes rather than kilts. There were fun raising ceilis for the boys. The Countess also designed a badge to be worn with the uniform. The badge was white and about the size of a sixpence coin. It was a green circle and a yellow sun crossed by a sword. A modern variant is a white circle with the words 'Fianna Éireann' enclosing a green disc and in middle an orange sun crossed by a pike. [Mitchell] The uniform has changed over time. More modern photographs show the boys weating campaign caps, neckerchiefs, and trousers.
The Irish Free State (IFS) was a compromise by which the Irish secured the withdrawl of the British. The IRA played a major role is bringing the British to offer the Anglo Irish Treaty which offered a withdrawl of British troops and establishment of the Irish Free State. The IRA was, however, bady split. The public at large strongly supported the Treaty, but the IRA was a more radical element of the population. A minority, but substantial element of the IRA oposed the treaty because it left Ireland still under the British Crown and partitioned the norths. Elements of the IRA resisted the Treaty by force of arms and a brief, but brutal civil war developed. We have no details on other groups like Na Fianna Éireann. While a youth group, many of the members were armed. The anti-Treaty element of the IRA managed to kill Michael Collins who had played a key role in armed resistance to the British. The IRA finally decided to cease the armed resistance to the IFS (April 1923). The IFS was left in control of the 26 Counties.
A Loyalist Government set up in the six northern counties. Ulster officials designated Na Fianna Éireann an illegal organisation. The orgabization continued to function underground.
Iam not sure what happened to Na Fianna Éireann after the formation of the Irish Free State. Some of the boys may have joined a new Irish Scout movement. I am not sure if the organization still exists in any way. Hopefully our Irish readers will provide us some information here.
An Irish reader tells us, "Na Fianna still exist in some capacity as two separate groups, although they are illegal in the North and have had several incidents with the Gardai in the South. Their uniform now is dark trousers, boots, a British Army Commando Sweater, and a beret." Fianna has continued to split along the lines of the Republican groups in Ireland. Due to the Provisional IRA's ceasefire Óghra Sinn Féin, aligned with Provisonal Sinn Fein, are no longer as militant and now channel their efforts into democratically campaigning for a united Ireland. Meanwhile the two groups calling themselves Na Fianna Éireann are aligned with the 32 County Soverignity Movement / Real IRA and another are aligned with Republican Sinn Fein / the Continuity IRA.
Both have a similar uniform:
Haverty, Anne. Constance Markievicz - Irish Revolutionary.
Mitchel, John. "A Brief History of Na Fianna Éireann" Irelan's Own History wevsuite, February 14, 2004.
O’Cathain, Martin. "The Fenian Movement in Scotland 1858-1916" (PhD Thesis, University of Ulster, 2001).
"Our History - Na Fianna Eireann," An Phoblact/Republican News probably from the late 1980s. the author is not given as was the case in
many articles in that paper. In the 1970s Gerry Adams (the current leader of Sinn Fein) used to write articles for the paper under the pseudonym "Brownie".
Navigate the Historic Boys' Uniform Chronology Pages:
[Return to the Main chronologies page]
[The 1900s] [The 1910s] [The 1920s] [The 1930s] [The 1940s]
[The 1950s] [The 1960s] [The 1970s] [The 1980s] [The 1990s] [The 2000s]
Navigate the Historic Boys' Uniform Web Site:
[Return to the Main nationalist organization country page]
[Return to the Main Irish country page]
[Activities] [Biographies] [Chronologies] [Countries] [Essays] [Garments] [Organizations] [Religion] [Other]
[Introduction] [Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Questions] [Unknown images]
[Boys' Uniform Home]
Navigate the Historic Boys' Uniform Web organizatiion pages:
[Boys' Brigade] [Camp Fire] [Hitler Youth] [National] [Pioneers] [Royal Rangers] [Scout]