“Gone were all awkwardness and self-consciousness, and the men looked like soldiers”: 17.3.16

Ever since the Volunteers were formed in 1913 detectives or police accompanied all marching  parties of Volunteers, and when the split came the same system of observation was maintained in both sections, viz. Irish Volunteers and National Volunteers. In the beginning and for some time the Volunteers looked self-conscious in their uniforms, most of which were not too well tailored. As the men were of all shapes, sizes and ages, some with beards and others with spectacles, they often presented a rather “gawky” appearance as compared with the police or British military.

There was, however, a gradual improvement in appearance and police who accompanied the St. Patrick’s Day, 1916, parade of the Irish Volunteers commented on the remarkable turn out of  the men on that day. Gone were all awkwardness and self-consciousness, and the men looked  like soldiers, no longer dominated by their uniforms, and, with rifles and bayonets, had acquired  a workmanlike and purposeful air comparable to the best British infantry battalions of the time.

Full reports were made by the police on that day’s marches, and again nobody seemed to give the matter much thought in British Government circles.

All this time, however, police raids were continuously being made on newsagent’s shops, and mosquito printing plants, and what they styled “seditious literature” was constantly being seized, accompanied frequently by arrests for disloyal activities.

The Castle authorities never appeared to anticipate a rising by the Volunteers. They did expect resistance to arrest or disarmament and believed they held the initiative as to whether there would be a clash or not. The British at this time purported to be fighting for democracy and small nationalities on the continent and appeared to be unwilling to admit to themselves or anybody else that they were really holding down Ireland against the wishes of the Irish people…

Bureau of Military History testimony of Eamon Broy, I.R.A. Intelligence Agent, Dublin Castle, later Garda Siochana Commissioner

Galway: “The vast majority had shotguns and a few had rifles; others had long-handled pikes”

On St. Patrick’s Day 1916, a parade of all companies of the Irish Volunteers in Co. Galway was held in Galway City. The Clarenbridge Company, under Captain Eamon Corbett,  marched from Clarenbridge to Oranmore railway station and went by rail to Galway. All the members of the company carried shotguns. On arrival at Galway we marched to the rere of the County Buildings which was the assembly point. Practically every man on the parade was armed with some kind of weapon. The vast majority had shotguns and a few had rifles; others had long-handled pikes. The parade moved off through Shop Street, circled to the right and through Newcastle hack to the assembly point. En route, we were subjected to cat-calls and jeers from the ‘separation women’, i.e., the wives of British soldiers who were serving in France, etc. R.I.C. men from every barrack in the county were present and placed themselves at different points along, the route, and in their notebooks wrote the names of men they knew who carried arms. It was from the lists so compiled that the Volunteers were arrested after the Rising. later, when the Galway prisoners were being questioned by the Sankey Commission, the chairman of the Commission told them the type of weapon they carried on the parade.

Bureau of Military History testimony of Martin Newell, Volunteer, Galway

McDonagh approached and said to me… “I’ll stay at your house on Easter Saturday next”

For the parade on St. Patrick‘s Day 1916, I got orders from McDonagh to parade in uniform at Father Mathew Park. When I reported there in uniform there: was a group of officers of the 2nd Battalion present, which I joined. I was there a few minutes when McDonagh approached and said to me: “I didn’t recognise you at first in uniform” and he asked me where I lived. I told him I lived at 45 Lower Gardiner Street and he said; “I’ll stay at your house on Easter Saturday next”…
Subsequent to the parade on 17th March definite preparations were made for the parade of the Volunteers on Easter Sunday. Every man got instructions to fully equip himself as much as possible and McDonagh went round all the Companies and addressed the men. Whilst he did not specifically say so, most of us inferred from all this that the hour was at
Bureau of Military History testimony of Thomas J Meldon, Brigade Musketry Officer, Dublin Brigade, 1915-1921

“Fully armed, with shotguns and about 5 or 6 rifles, we marched into first Mass in Galbally”

On St. Patrick’s Day, 1916, church parades of Irish Volunteers took place in many areas. The Dublin Brigade attended Mass in the city churches and marched to College Green, where they were addressed by Padraig Pearse. Cork and Limerick city also had their parades. My most vivid recollection, however, is of our little Company’s parade, with arms, at the local Catholic church. We lined up outside the Volunteer hall, which was next door to the local R.I.C.barracks. We were headed by our Company Captain, William Quirke, and fully armed, with shotguns and about five or six rifles, we marched into first Mass in Galbally. Immediately after Mass we formed up outside the church. Our strength I would say was between fifty and sixty, roughly about fifty-five. We went for a route march and then came back to the hail, after which each man took his rifle or shotgun, as the case may be, with him to put it in safe keeping.

Edmond O’Brien, Member of Galbally Company, Galtee Battalion Irish Volunteers, 1916;

“On St. Patrick’s Day, 17th March 1916, an event of great importance took place in Dublin.”

On St. Patrick’s Day, 17th March 1916, an event of great importance took place in Dublin. It was the parade and review of the Dublin Brigade Irish Volunteers in College Green. A scene that was reminiscent of another memorable occasion when another set of Irish Volunteers paraded in the same place. It was a far cry between the days of Grattan and that March day 1916. The contrast was also more striking, more pronounced. Then, Ireland had the semblance of a parliament of its own; even allowing for its many severe disabilities, and that it was prescribed in various ways, but in 1916 the Parliament House did not exist – it was the Bank of Ireland and Ireland was governed from London where the Home Rule Bill, the charter of self-government resided nice and smug on the Statute Book.

Bureau of Military History testimony of Seán Prendergast, Officer Commanding ‘C’ Company 1st Battalion, Dublin Brigade Irish Volunteers and Irish Republican Army

“The first clash with the British authorities took place on March 15th 1916”

BMHThe first clash with the British authorities took place on March 15th 1916, when we prevented the holding of a British recruiting meeting at Stuake. The members of the neighbouring Courtbrack Company were with us in this venture. When the car in which the speakers for the meeting arrived at the meeting place, the crowd gathered round. We were now ordered to “fall in” in the vicinity and, having formed up, we were marched between the car and the audience – surrounding the car. The Courtbrack Company arrived at this stage and took up positions with us. The crowd now scattered and the speakers only audience was our combined units of Volunteers and a few members of the R.I.C. There was no prospect of getting any recruits for the British army from this gathering, so the speakers for the British drove off without attempting to address us.
Bureau of Military History Testimony of Maurice Brew, 2nd Lieutenant, Donoughmore Company