The following are two versions of the history of Na Fianna Éireann. One comes from the 1988 Fianna Éireann Handbook, published by the Provisional Fianna organization. The other is from a centenary booklet put out by Na Fianna Éireann (aligned with Republican Sinn Féin) in 2009.
We hope to be able to offer an account of the Official Republican Movement’s Fianna Éireann in the near future.
- History of Na Fianna from 1950s-1988 (from 1988 Fianna Éireann Handbook)
- History of Na Fianna 1960s-2009 (excerpt from Centenary booklet)
History of Na Fianna from 1950s-1988 (from 1988 Fianna Éireann Handbook)
The 1950’s was a period of growth, development, and expansion for Fianna Éireann. However, harassment of the Fianna by the Fianna Fáil and coalition governments in the 26 Counties and the Stormont regime in the Six Counties continued, fluctuated in accordance with the rise and fall of republican activity.
During the IRA Border Campaign of 1956-1962, despite the increased harassment of the Fianna, the organisation continued to play its part in the campaign of resistance.
Fianna members were regularly harassed, arrested, imprisoned, and interned on both sides of the border. In March 1959 interment was ended in the 26 Counties. The Last of the internees in the Six Counties were released in March 1961, although the IRA campaign did not officially end until February 1962.
POLITICAL YOUTH MOVEMENT
Following the end of the Border of Campaign, Fianna Éireann reorganized and grew rapidly throughout the country during the early years of the 1960’s.
The official organ of the organisation, Fianna, made its appearance once again in 1963 and later that year the Department of Associate Membership, founded in 1922, was revived. In 1964 the new Fianna Éireann handbook, The Young Guard of Erin, the first handbook in forty years, was published with a forward by the veteran Belfast Republican, Jimmy Steel, who had a special interest in the Fianna.
In the 1960s disagreements grew in the Republican Movement over the policies being pursued by the leadership which were eventually to lead to a split in the Movement. Disagreements and the split inevitably emerged in Fianna Éireann. The emphasis of the organisation began to change from being a scouting and military organisation to being a political youth movement and in the mid-1960’s it was proposed that Fianna be disbanded and absorbed into the Connolly Youth Movement.
When the eventual split came in 1970, however, most of the rank and file members of the organisation stood by the Fianna constitution and the IRA’s ‘Provisional’ Army Council.
During the periods of national resurgence, Fianna Éireann has always been ready, willing, and able to play its part in the struggle for freedom. In every generation the boys, and later the girls, of the Fianna have been in the front line of resistance and the present generation is no exception.
In August 1969, following the joint attacks by the ‘B’ Specials and loyalist mobs on the nationalist areas of Derry, Belfast, and other places throughout the north, the members of Fianna Éireann stood shoulder to shoulder with the Volunteers of Óglaigh na hÉireann. The present and final phase of the long struggle for freedom had begun. The first casualty on the republican side was a fifteen year old member of the Belfast Brigade, Fianna Éireann, Fian Gerald McAuley.
On August 14th, 1969, the Divis area of Belfast was attacked by Loyalists and the notorious and hated ‘B’Specials and nationaist families living between the Shankill Road and Divis were burnt out of their homes. St. Comgall’s Catholic School and Clonard Monastery were attacked, but the mob were beaten back by the nationalist community with the assistance of the IRA and members of Fianna Éireann.
When daylight broke on the morning of August 15th, six people were dead and 150 homes (including the whole of Bombay Street), all nationalist-owned, had been destroyed. Amongst the dead was young Fian Gerald McAuley who was shot dead while defending his community.
Since his death, 19 other brave and courageous members of Fianna Éireann have given their lives in the cause of Irish Freedom. Many more are being held in juvenile detention centers, remand jails and prison camps throughout the county.
The majority of Volunteers on the Roll of Honour are former members of Fianna Éireann, and the majority of current republican prisoners in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh are ex-Fianna members. Three of the Volunteers who died on hunger strike in 1981, Raymond McCreesh, Patsy O’Hara (INLA), and Kieran Doherty, were all former members of Fianna.
During the H-Block/Armagh Campaign – from the start of the blanket protest in 1976 to the end of the campaign in 1981 – Fianna played their part.
Fianna were particularly active in the 26 counties during the 1981 hunger strike in mobilising the support of young people behind the prisoners’ demands. Members involved themselves in Youth Against H-Block/Armagh groups and the Fianna independently organized a number of successful youth marches and staged several protest occupations, some of them particularly spectacular.
Today, because Fianna Éireann is an effective organisation of young people working among young people to promote the ideals of Irish republicanism, many of its members are regularly harassed by the Special Branch and on many occasions arrested and even imprisoned because of their activities. In the North, Fianna still remains a proscribed organisation while in the South slua meetings are almost always kept under observation by the Garda Special Branch.
Yet, in spite of this, Fianna Éireann continues to be a strong, active, and expanding organisation with a membership of over 600 youngsters and with sluaite in many of the cities and major towns throughout the 32 Counties.
Fianna Éireann continues today as the revolutionary youth organisation of the Republican Movement. It has a proud history of sacrifice, dedication, and courage, working today for Irish freedom by spreading the message of militant republicanism among the youth to end the continued British presence in Ireland. Fianna will continue to serve Ireland honourably by endeavoring to fulfill, in their generation, the republican aspiration, the establishment of a 32-County Democratic Socialist Republic.
Over the years, the proud record of Fianna Éireann has remained inspiring and unsullied as they continue the glorious heritage bequeathed to them by Countess Markievicz, Con Colbert, Seán Hueston, Liam Mellows, Seán Sabhat, and their fallen comrades. Today, Fianna Éireann is forging a future for itself worthy of its past. Ar aghaidh le Fianna Éireann.
History of Na Fianna 1960s-2009 (excerpt from Centenary booklet)
*The following is an excerpt from: Na Fianna Éireann: 1909-2009 Centenary Comemmorative Booklet, published by Irish Freedom Press, Dublin 2009.
When sectarian attacks flared up in Belfast in the late 1960s Na Fianna were often on the barricades in defense of Nationalist people. During the siege of the Short Strand Na Fianna ran ammunition and supplies to the IRA members under the command of Billy McKee, replicating their role in the Rising over fifty years earlier. On August 15, 1969 Fian Gerald McAuley was shot through the heart and killed while defending Clonard from loyalist attacks. He received a Fianna guard of honour at his funeral in complete dress uniform with kilts, capes and hats.
Throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s Na Fianna continued to operate alongside the Volunteers of the Irish Republican Army. Unfortunately due to the longer duration of the intense fighting this resulted in more Fianna being killed on active service during this period than in the previous 60 years. Not all of those who died did so while on “active duty”; Fian James Francis McCaughey was killed by a UVF bomb on St. Patrick’s Day 1976 in Tyrone aged just 13. Fian John Dempsey was the last to be killed, shot during the hunger strike period of 1981.
From its heights post hunger strike Na Fianna was gradually run down by a counter- revolutionary element within the Republican Movement and began to come under more central control from Sinn Féin. In retrospect it can be seen that Na Fianna were regarded as an ultra Republican organisation who were unlikely to “play ball with a clique within the Sinn Féin leadership that sought to centralise control in the Sinn Féin party, where they could exert more influence, rather than other Republican groups.
During this period of the early-mid eighties Na Fianna in the Six Counties, where they were an illegal body, were stood down. Members north of the border were encouraged to join a pre-nascent Sinn Féin youth where supporters of the clique could keep an eye on them and influence their education and political direction.
In the 26 Counties Na Fianna were not outlawed and it remained a public body but was only strong in areas like Dundalk, Cork, Tralee and to a lesser extent Dublin, where there was a Republican mentor available to advise and guide the slua. Due to funding difficulties there was not much coordination between the various sluaighte. This is exemplified by the Fian John Dempsey Slua from Dundalk parading at a commemoration in Drogheda only to find that there was a local slua in existence that had somehow slipped off the radar. Sluaighte varied in capacity; some had over a dozen members and engaged in the full gamut of scouting activities while others could manage only to appear at Easter parades.
National camps made up of all the sluaighte did not take place during this period. It was up to each individual slua to organise their own activities or to organise coordination with another. There was a high reliance put on Na Fianna attending commemorations by the rest of the Republican Movement. This led to a shift in emphasis away from scouting activities and consequently there was a deal of confusion over the role of Na Fianna.
Ard-Fheiseanna continued to be held annually during this period and due to the small numbers of delegates involved the premises at 44 Parnell Square in Dublin were adequate. These annual meetings were usually quiet affairs, all the delegates usually being in agreement. In 1985, the first contentious Ard-Fheis in years, the most controversial topic for discussion was the change of the Fianna uniform from the traditional bottle green tunic to a cavalry cut green/grey shirt. Complaints came from a delegate from Munster who pointed out that all of the shirts that had been ordered were of medium size and some Fianna, the delegate included, were of large size.
Despite all the ups and downs of the previous few years Na Fianna celebrated the 70th anniversary of the Easter Rising by parading together as one unit, as is their custom, at the Republican Movement’s main celebration outside the GPO that year. Sluaighte from over the country marched together and they were congratulated on the smartness of their appearance and the precision of their drill.
In 1986 when the Provisional leadership made their constitutional move they prepared well. Many members of the Ard Choiste of Na Fianna were in support of this move away from Republicanism. The water was tested and all sluaighte were visited early that year by someone from GHQ staff. Consequently there was no Ard-Fheis that year to put the matter before the membership. Uniforms and equipment were seized by Provisional supporters and Republicans were sidelined.
It took some months for Na Fianna to reorganise itself after the shock of the defections. Units did stay intact to a varying degree. Unlike when under Provisional influence membership once more became open to people from the six counties. This allowed for a wider geographical spread of Na Fianna, Dundalk linking up with members from Newry and South Armagh for instance.
The 1988 Easter Statement from the GHQ staff of Na Fianna Eireann addressed the issue of those who followed the provisional line. The statement said that they had “altered Na Fianna constitution without consulting the rank and file members of the organisation, to allow them to support participants in usurping institutions. By so doing, they have automatically expelled themselves from Na Fianna Éireann.”
Na Fianna paraded as usual at Bodenstown and thanks to assistance from supporters in the Republican Movement it was able to organise a camp in the Dublin Mountains during the Summer of 1989.
Perhaps due to the fact that the Provisionals still had an army in the field it was very difficult to encourage membership during those years of the late ’80s and early ’90s.
Towards the end of the century and into the early 21st membership again began to increase dramatically. Na Fianna Eireann now released its own magazine once more called Young Republican and launched a website.
Na Fianna today continues to organise for the benefit of the All-Ireland Republic. It raises funds for the prisoners and highlights their cause on the streets through leaflets and demonstrations and on the internet. Na Fianna assists the Republican Movement in whatever way it can and whenever it is called upon to do so.
Na Fianna is still dedicated to the education of the youth of Ireland in the Republican history of our country. Fianna from Limerick recently attended an educative tour of Kilmainham Jail where the leaders of the 1916 Rising were imprisoned and executed, organised by members of the Republican Movement in their home city.
The importance of having someone to mentor the slua can easily be seen in Limerick where Na Fianna have paraded every year in honour of Seán South who was killed on New Year’s Day 1957. In areas where there was no mentor operating and the slua was left to its own devices membership and by extension activity waxed and waned with little consistency.
This year, their centenary year of 2009, junior and senior Fianna from Limerick and Dublin sluaighte paraded proudly behind the Gil Gréine to the graveside of the father of Irish Republicanism, Theobald Wolfe Tone, in Bodenstown. The sight of the well turned out and well drilled next generation of Irish Republicans was a great morale boost for the Movement and was commented upon by many.
Na Fianna as an organisation is one hundred years old, but so long as they remain true to the spirits of Mellows and Heuston of Colbert and Healy, McAuley and Dempsey then they will remain young, energetic and vibrant. The Fianna ideal can and will save the future.