30 August 2019
110 years of youth in struggle; anniversary of the founding of Na Fianna Éireann
"Na Fianna Éireann were founded with the aim of ‘re-establishing the independence of Ireland through the training of the youth of Ireland - mentally and physically - and to achieve this objective by teaching scouting and military exercises, Irish history, and the Irish language."
This month marks the 110th anniversary of the founding of Na Fianna Éireann; a significant moment in the development of the Republican Movement and the struggle for Irish freedom.
On 16th August 1909, around one hundred boys attended a meeting at 34 Lower Camden Street in Dublin, organised by a Committee including Constance Markievicz and Bulmer Hobson, to establish an Irish scouting movement to rival the scouting organisation established by Baden Powell.
Na Fianna Éireann were founded with the aim of ‘re-establishing the independence of Ireland through the training of the youth of Ireland - mentally and physically - and to achieve this objective by teaching scouting and military exercises, Irish history, and the Irish language’.
Members of Na Fianna Éireann in training
Na Fianna would go on to play a major role in many of the historic moments in the years that followed their establishment, with Fianna members active in support of workers during the 1913 Lockout and the following year they played a key role in the Howth gun running, helping to land rifles and ammunition from the Asgard and helping to transport them safely to the city.
Members and former members of Na Fianna were prominent throughout the Easter Rising and the attack on the magazine fort in Phoenix Park - the first of the Rising, and a sign for the Rising to begin - was carried out by Fianna members led by Fian Paddy Daly.
Younger members of the Fianna worked throughout the city, dispatching, scouting, sourcing food and ammunition, and acting as first aiders and cooks.
Two Fianna boys, Séan Howard and Seán Healy, were killed during the Rising while carrying messages, and Con Colbert and Seán Heuston - both with backgrounds in Na Fianna - were amongst the sixteen leaders executed in the aftermath of the Rising.
The skills gifted to Fianna members equipped the IRA with a committed pool of activists from which to recruit, and many Fianna members went on to lead the IRA; devising strategy and tactics throughout the Tan War and the Civil War that followed.
Cork Fianna Éireann members at the 1987 Bodenstown Commemoration
Liam Mellows wrote from Mountjoy in 1922 that the “Fianna ideal can save the future” and Na Fianna continued to play an important role in the difficult years following partition as Republicans were persecuted by the Free State and Orange State regimes.
They continued as an integral part of the Republican Movement and in the early 1930s their National Organiser was Frank Ryan, with Brendan Behan amongst those who joined Na Fianna around this time.
This month also marks the 50th anniversary of the Belfast pogrom and the Battle of the Bogside, with Fianna members on the frontline during both events.
Fian Gerald McAuley became the first Republican activist to die during the modern phase of conflict on the 13th August 1969 whilst defending his home area of Clonard from sectarian attacks. He was the first of twenty members of Na Fianna who died for Irish freedom between 1969 and 1981.
A mural painted in tribute to fallen volunteers by Ógra Sinn Féin activists
Membership grew following the 1981 Hunger Strikes and the organisation continued through the 1980s; recruiting, educating and training young activists until the organisation came to end in 1992.
The political growth of Sinn Féin attracted increasing numbers of young people to the Movement who demanded their place within the party and the result was the gradual development of Sinn Féin Youth and later Ógra Shinn Féin.
The contribution of Na Fianna Éireann to the struggle for Irish freedom has been immense, and on the 110th anniversary of their founding it is important to remember and acknowledge their proud tradition and lasting legacy; particularly the legacy of the many Fianna members who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the pursuit of Irish freedom.