Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Pearse, Hyde, Casement, Markievicz and na Fianna Éireann


Cover of Na Fianna Handbook
An item of interest to historians of numerous aspects of revolutionary Ireland will be this volume from the collections of the Hardiman Library -  the Fianna Handbook, issued by the Central Council of na Fianna Éireann, the forerunner to the Boy Scouts of Ireland and published in Dublin by E. Ponsonby, Limited, 116 Graftom Street.
The foundation of this boy-scout movement can be traced back to prior the foundation of the Irish Volunteers, to 1913. Bulmer Hobson, having managed a successful version of the group in Belfast was keen, along with Helena Moloney and Seán McGarry, Countess Markievicz and others to recreate a new Fianna Éireann movement in Dublin in 1909.
Though not clearly or directly indicated in the volume, the Handbook is thought to have been issued in 1913, which would again coincide with increased engagement and involvement with youth organisations and the formation of the Volunteers in that year and in the run-up to events such as the Easter Rising in 1916. Though it is interesting to spot that on the inside front title page, the image on the left includes an artist’s signature of ‘C de M, 1914’, perhaps indicating this could be a later printing or edition.
Title pages of na Fianna Handbook

The volume is striking for many reasons but when one considers the list of contributors, there are very few publications of any kind that feature contributions from so many major protagonists and social and cultural figures of this time. The volume features an introduction from Countess Markievicz, President of na Fianna and who describes:
“the army of young people who are daily taking the Declaration of Na Fianna Eireann and banding themselves together in a glorious brotherhood of youth and hope to win Independence and Freedom for their country.”
Introduction by President of na Fianna, Countess Markievicz

Following this is a chapter entitled ‘Filleadh na Feinne” by An Craoibhinn Aoibhinn (Douglas Hyde); a statement on the mission and objectives of na Fianna, which reference its commitment to the re-establishment of the Independence of Ireland and the declaration of Na Fianna which every boy had to give but only after three weeks of training and that declaration reads:

“I promise to work for the independence of Ireland, never to join England’s armed forced and to obey my superior officers.”
As well as chapters laden with diagrams for support of information on topics such as drilling, rifle exercises, camp life, knot-tying, signalling, first aid and swimming, there is also an essay on ‘Chivalry’ written by Roger Casement, who though writing for an audience of young boys was no less forthright and philosophical in his ideas on this topic:
“Chivalry dies when Imperialism begins. The one must kill the other. A chivalrous people must respect in others what they strive to maintain in themselves. Hence it comes when the age of empire begins the age of chivalry dies.”
Padraig Pearse, signing himself here as P.H. Pearse, B.A., Barrister-at-Law, invokes the folklore and history of the past Fianna, linking the recruits of ‘current historic companions’ to the first Fianna of over two thousand years ago. Pearse adds that “the story of those old Fianna of Fionn should be part of the daily thought of every Irish boy, and especially of every boy in the new Fianna.” Pearse relays in detail the story of the Fianna of Fionn and ends by reproducing Dr. [George] Sigerson’s translation of text from the book of Lismore which includes Acallam na Senórach, translated to English as The Colloquy of the Ancients, Tales of the Elders, etc. a Middle Irish narrative dating to the last quarter of the 12th century and an important text of the Fenian. It contains many Fenian narratives framed by a story in which featured the Fianna warriors Oisín and Caílte mac Rónáin. Following this poem, Pearse  issues this rallying cry to the boys of na Fianna:
‘Centuries afterwards an Irish poet said mournfully: “All the Fianna have passed away/There remains to them no heir.” – But what say the boys of na Fianna Eireann?”.
This volume is an incredible record of its time, when the leaders of this period and being contributors to this handbook were clearly focusing a lot of attention on the youth of the country.


Constitution of Na Fianna

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