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2 June 2014 Edition

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Redmond tries to take over the Irish Volunteers

Remembering the Past

• John Redmond

Redmond’s Irish Party was becoming alarmed at the growth of the Volunteers and wanted to control them

THE GROWTH of the Irish Volunteers from their founding in November 1913 up to the summer of 1914 was phenomenal. Tens of thousands of men enrolled and the founding of Cumann na mBan in April 1914 brought thousands of women into the movement.

The threat to Home Rule for Ireland posed by the Tory/unionist alliance was the principal factor driving the growth of the nationalist Volunteer movement. On 24 April 1914, the Ulster Volunteer Force landed a cargo of 35,000 rifles and two and a half million rounds of ammunition at Larne. Unionist leader Edward Carson reviewed the armed Belfast UVF on 6 June and urged them to “stick to your arms”.

The Irish Volunteers became more militant in the wake of Larne gun-running and the Curragh Mutiny in March, when British Army officers at the Curragh Camp said they would refuse to obey orders to go to Ulster if Home Rule was passed.

The front page of The Irish Volunteer declared on 6 June:

“Come what will, the Volunteers must win Ireland’s freedom by peaceful methods if they may, by war if they must; and, having won it, the movement must keep on and on, an Irish army for Irish rights. We were slaves indeed not to realise before the Curragh debacle that he who looks to others to protect him will often be in need.”

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Behind the scenes, John Redmond’s Irish Party was becoming alarmed at the growth of the Volunteers and wanted to control them. On 10 June, Redmond issued a public ultimatum demanding that 25 of his nominees and supporters be added to the original Provisional Committee which founded the Volunteers. Tom Clarke and Seán Mac Diarmada were determined to oppose this and all Irish Republican Brotherhood members on the Committee were urged to vote against the proposal. But senior IRB member Bulmer Hobson acted behind their backs and facilitated the Redmond takeover.

On 16 June 1914, the Provisional Committee voted to accept Redmond’s ultimatum. The minority group of mainly IRB members (including four of the leaders executed in 1916) protested but agreed to carry on in the Volunteers. One of them, Pádraig Pearse, explained in a 19 June letter to Joe McGarrity in the USA:

“You will have seen that the Provisional Committee has had to swallow Redmond’s 25 nominees. I voted against surrender, and I think I was right in so voting. But I do not regard the cause as lost — far from it. We all remain in the movement and shall be watchful to checkmate any attempt on Redmond’s part to prevent us from arming. This is the real danger. The future of the movement depends upon our remaining at our posts, to see to it that the Volunteers are a real army, not a stage army.”

Redmond would go on later that year to split the Volunteers when he urged them to join the British Army. But in June 1914, at the annual Wolfe Tone commemoration in Bodenstown, the Irish Volunteers were joined by the Irish Citizen Army, and Tom Clarke chaired the event. The movement had been shaken by Redmond’s attempted takeover but already the forces that would make the 1916 Rising were coming together.

John Redmond imposed his 25 nominees on the Irish Volunteers in June 1914, 100 years ago this month.

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