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16 April 2009 Edition

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Fascinating focus on Fianna Éireann

Book  Review
Na Fianna Éireann and the Irish Revolution, 1909 to 1923
By Damian Lawlor
Price €15.50

Reviewed by
Matt Treacy

AN UNCLE of mine once arrived home as proud as punch in his new Fianna uniform, complete with slouch hat, only to find that one of the Blueshirt aunts was in the house. She grabbed him and proceeded to re-enact the Civil War or possibly one of the many friendly encounters between republicans and Free Staters on Dublin streets in the 1930s. It was a history lesson that was not lost upon him.
This history provides a fascinating insight into Na Fianna Éireann, the republican youth scouts movement, and the role played by the organisation from its founding in 1909 through the Tan War and the Civil War. Making extensive use of statements made by former Fianna members who were active at that time to the Bureau of Military History, Lawlor combines their testimonies with a detailed history of the organisation from other sources.
It also, for the first time, gives a proper understanding of the role of Na Fianna as an integral part of the military organisation of the Republic, in the lead-up to the Rising and in the dangerous years of the Tan War.
The IRA was strict on young people becoming directly involved in actual fighting, certainly more so than the British and their Irish allies, who were enticing teenagers to the killing fields of France at the time, but Na Fianna did act as a conduit for people becoming Volunteers as well as providing other assistance.
Members of Na Fianna were out in 1916 in Dublin and one, Seán McLaughlin, was put in command of the remnants of the GPO detachment as they attempted to make their way through Moore Street just prior to the surrender. Two of the executed leaders, Seán Heuston and Con Colbert, had been key organisers in Na Fianna. Colbert was just 20 years old when he faced the firing squad.
Fianna members were also interned after the Rising and recalled how, far from being the object of hostility from ordinary Dubs, were marched under military escort to the boat at North Wall through crowds of well-wishers who cheered them and tried to pass them money and food.  
In the aftermath of Easter, Na Fianna set about reorganising itself and one of its first public acts was to tear down and burn a huge recruitment banner which the British Army had hoisted over the ruins of the GPO.

There are also some interesting anecdotes about local members of the Dublin Metropolitan Police passing information on planned arrests to the families of Fianna members. Such contacts formed the basis of the intelligence network that allowed the Active Service Unit of the Dublin Brigade to basically close down the Dublin Castle spying apparatus which had crippled the national movement for generations.
There are many other interesting nuggets in this book from the transcripts of the interviews which former Fianna members gave to the Bureau of Military History. This book is an excellent example of the use that can be made of that source and helps provide new insights in that period of Irish history and it’s well worth a read by republicans of all ages.

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