Saturday 20 July 2013

The Hibernian Rifles

When we think of the Easter Rising and the groups who took part in it many of the micro groups are forgotten about. The Irish Volunteers and The Irish Citizen Army tend to garner much of the attention. This is understandable for a couple of reasons.

1) All the signatories of the Irish Proclamation came from both these organizations.

2) The version of our nation’s history espoused by the Free State has left many people and many things that happened written out of our nation’s history.

As republicans it will always be our duty to pass the message and the lessons of the past onto the generations to follow. Groupings such as Clann Maeve, Clan na nGael girl scouts or, and in this instance The Hibernian Rifles have had little or no mention in the years that have passed Easter Week. However at the very successful “Who fears To Speak Of Easter Week” seminar given by the Republican Movement on April 21st last year the name of this group and their involvement in the Rising was alluded to.  Hence the following piece seeks to cast a little more light on a group who has hid in the shadows of history somewhat in the years that have since passed.

Originating from a split in the Ancient Order Of Hibernians (A.O.H.) around 1907, The Hibernian Rifles ultimately became the military wing of the Irish American Alliance (I.A.A.). By December 16th 1914 the groups ideology was illustrated through its Commandant JJ Scollan when he gave a lecture entitled “Treason in Ireland” to members of the Michael Dwyer Sinn Fein cumann. He said the following "Many more of us through God's grace shall live to see the Union Jack of England down in the dust and our own immortal green interwoven with the yellow and white of the Irish Republic waving proudly and victoriously over the land."

Both the ICA and the Irsh Volunteers denied them affiliation to either organization as a unit however. The Irish Volunteers were suspicious of them, with the exception of Thomas MacDonagh. It was more than likely through this connection that they participated in the funeral of O’Donovan Rossa.  They paraded 150 men strong with 50 rifles to hand. They also allowed their HQ on North Frederick Street to be used as a stopover for Irishmen fleeing to England to avoid conscription. Also in this same year British intelligence estimated membership to be approx. 140 men with 25 rifles. By 1915 they began to release a weekly newspaper “the Hibernian”, and in it was serialized 'Ireland's Roll of Honor' - a list of those killed or wounded at Harrel's 'Battle of Clontarf' and Bachelor's Walk, imprisoned, deported or served with exclusion orders under the Defense of the Realm Act.

By Easter 1916 the lack of trust between The Hibernian Rifles and the Irish Volunteers meant that they did not hear of the planned rising, this information would be learned by them through one James Connolly. On Easter Sunday they held a Sunday parade outside their HQ on North Frederick Street and carried out their routine training. They had received no mobilization orders from either Connolly or the I.R.B. military council. After learning of McNeills countermanding order for the Irish Volunteers JJ Scollan ordered the Dublin units of the Hibernian rifles to parade again at midday the following day. That evening Patrick Pearse, his brother William and Thomas Mac Donough met in Number 28 North Frederick Street and sent courier’s with new mobilisation orders to Volunteer companies, however the Hibernian Rifles had still not been informed of the planned Rising.

By Easter Monday JJ Scollan and about sixty members of the Hibernian Rifles again paraded at the hall on North Frederick Street. It was then that Scollan learned about the volunteers seizing the G.P.O. upon this news he remarked “I addressed them and told them that as far as I knew this fight which was just starting was unofficial, but as it had started we should join in and take our place in it.  At the same time I said that if any man did not wish to volunteer for the fight he was at liberty to go home”. By midday Connolly sent word to the Hibernian Rifles to proceed to the G.P.O. The Hibernian Rifles were put under the temporary command of The O’Rahilly who ordered the group to break and barricade all the windows on the upper floors. On Tuesday morning a contingent of Nine Volunteers from Maynooth, arrived at the G.P.O..
JJ Scollan and eighteen riflemen accompanied them downstairs to the armourer’s department where they were issued with home-made tin can grenades by Jim O’Neill a member of the Irish Citizen Army. Connolly addressed the mixed party and instructed them to go towards the Haypenny Bridge. They then occupied the roof of the Exchange Hotel in Parliament Street and barricaded houses immediately around it. The area around City Hall was under British control and the Hibernian Rifles and Volunteers engaged superior numbers of British forces in rooftop sniping. That afternoon groups of the Irish Fusiliers and Enniskilling Fusiliers advanced and prepared to storm the Exchange Hotel.  The attack was repelled with rifle and shotgun fire. From the roof JJ Scollan estimated they had inflicted over twenty serious casualties on the British military forces. During the attack Edward Walsh a member of the Hibernian Rifles sniping from the roofs was shot through the stomach.  The remaining members of the Hibernian Rifles retired back to the G.P.O. and ultimately surrendered on Parnell Street on the 29th of April. Many of the Hibernian Rifles that were arrested were interned in Frongoch internment camp in Wales, among them was Scollan.

In conclusion although they were small in number the Hibernian Rifles should not be forgotten in any celebration of the Rising. The events of Easter 1916 may not have been within their planning but once things begun they willfully joined in. They were prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice for the freedom of their country, for this they must never be forgotten.