Current Affairs

Belfast’s Fianna Éireann During The Irish Revolution

Members of the Fianna Éireann, an Irish Republican scouting movement, unload sea-borne weapons which would go on to arm the Irish Revolution, Howth, Ireland, July 26th 1914
Members of the Fianna Éireann, an Irish Republican scouting movement, unload sea-borne weapons which would go on to arm the Irish Revolution, Howth, Ireland, July 26th 1914 (I’ve lightly cleaned this very famous image in Photoshop)


Due to the baleful influence of the Neo-Unionist lobby in the Dublin press corps since the 1970s popular culture in Ireland has tended to overlook the truly national character of the War of Independence. The volunteer-soldiers of the Irish Republican Army who sought to liberate our island nation in the first half of the 20th century did so by waging an insurrection not just on the streets of Dublin, Cork and Limerick but on the thoroughfares of Belfast, Derry and Armagh too. In the penultimate contest for Irish freedom and democracy there was no border, no demarcation line between north and south (or east and west). It was one country and one struggle. The July Truce of 1921 may have ended official hostilities between the forces of the Irish Republic and the United Kingdom in four-fifths of the nation but in the remaining fifth the war continued unabated for another two years. Unfortunately the conflict worsened as the military, paramilitary and terror components of the British Occupation Forces exploited divisions in the ranks of their Irish opponents to press home a diplomacy-gifted advantage. The worse days of the Northern Pogrom took place during this period as thousands of Irish men, women and children fled their homes for southern refugee camps and exile with family and friends in what was to become the so-called Free State. Arguably it was not until May of 1923 that Ireland’s War of Independence came to an end as the Republican Army declared a ceasefire in its struggle with the “Stater” regime in Dublin (though in reality most operations against the British Occupation Forces in the north-east of the country had petered out by the winter of 1922). This makes studies and articles examining the history of the Irish Revolution through the experiences of those who lived and fought in the “Ulster cauldron” very welcome indeed. So here is John O’Neill with a short account of the Fianna Éireann, the remarkable revolutionary scouting movement, in Belfast from 1917 to 1924. Without the youthful and committed enthusiasm of the Fianna Éireann branches or sluaite across Ireland the struggle to reassert Irish independence would have been very different indeed.

2 comments on “Belfast’s Fianna Éireann During The Irish Revolution

  1. As always you generalise and over emphasise “the baleful influence of the Neo-Unionist lobby in the Dublin press corps since the 1970s”. A wild statement with rarely anything other than occasional selected extracts to “justify” the claim.
    In fact the Dublin press was critical of all ongoing violence and was vocal on the original causes of the conflict which was the Unionist hegemony in N Ireland. The cause was clear. The solution never lay in a 30 year continuation of slaughter.
    Therefore your attempt to portray the critics of needless violence and tragic waste of life as “Neo-Unionist” is sordid and shallow.


    • I could have also pointed the finger at a more general, decades-old “partitionist” sentiment or apathy in southern (for which read, establishment) society allied with the ideological struggles of the early Free State and its desire to establish its legitimacy as the causes of the assumed belief that the War of Independence was, to borrow a selected extract, “a very southern affair”. However such views were not given wide-spread dissemination and a sort of pop-culture stamp of approval until the 1970s onwards. The most influential national newspaper in the country since the demise of the old Irish Press has been and remains the Irish/Sunday Independent. It’s politics are at best republican-sceptical, at worse unionist-lite (and no, I don’t mean PIRA or PSF sceptical. I mean sceptical, hostile and antipathetic to pretty much every aspect of Irish republicanism since 1916. Or perhaps 1798). Its editors and leading journalists have gained access to the corridors of power regardless of who held office throughout the last twenty years and more.

      Being hostile to “needless violence and tragic waste of life” is perfectly legitimate. If that was all that was involved. You know full well that the politics went well beyond that and into a form of ideology that continues to the present.

      I think to sum up the well-known “columnists” and journalistic clans who have made a living from publishing single-thought politics for the last few decades as a “baleful influence” and “lobby” in the Irish media in general is not too bad, all things considered. If the United States’ press can have recognised (and self-declared) “Neo-Cons” why not the Irish press with “Neo-Unionists”. In some cases they share remarkably similar economic and Rightist views. Yet we recognise one set of ideologues in one context while denying the existence of another set in a different context?


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