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Chaotic scenes at Cork Volunteers launch

Uproar as MacNeill describes Ulster Volunteers as the ‘essence of Nationalism’

Published: 15 December 1913

A meeting at Cork City Hall last night, which had been organised to establish a city corps of the new Volunteer movement, ended in chaos. Violence erupted after a call was made for the crowd to give three cheers for Edward Carson.

The meeting was presided over by Mr J.J. Walsh, Chairman of the Cork GAA County Board and supported by, amongst others, Sir Roger Casement, Professor Eoin MacNeill of the National University of Ireland, Liam De Róiste of the Gaelic League and J.L. Fawsitt of the Industrial Development Association.

An air of disunity pervaded the meeting from the very start. Voices of dissent were raised even as the chairman set out the objects of the meeting which called for enrolment into the Irish Volunteers, but the real trouble only began when Proffessor MacNeill began to speak. MacNeill cited Sir Edward Carson and the Ulster Volunteers as examples of ‘self reliance and grim determination to stand up for what they believed to be right’ and he mentioned that when he said something similar at a Volunteer launch in Galway the previous week, the building rang with cheers for Carson and his Volunteer movement. The action of those men, he said, deserved praise for ‘breaking the ice for our ship to pass through. They had set the model and standard of public duty for us'.

(L) A letter to Liam De Róiste anticipates local opposition to a Volunteer unit in Cork and suggests the establishment of a Rifle club as an alternative (National Library of Ireland, MS 44,680),
(R) A confidential report by the county inspector on the Volunteer meeting held in Cork. (National Archives of the UK, 904-91)

Professor MacNeill went so far as to interpret the actions of the Ulster Volunteers as the ‘very essence of Nationalism. They showed that whatever English parties may say, they are going to have their own way in their own country...’

MacNeill’s speech ended with a rhetorical flourish. ‘The North began, The North held on, God bless Northern Ireland.’ With that, he asked the audience to do as they had in Galway and give three cheers for ‘Sir Edward Carson’s Volunteers’. The audience did anything but. 

MacNeill could hardly have read the mood of the meeting more dismally. Instead of cheering, the mere mention of the cheering of Carson led to hisses and groans and loud cries of denunciation. ‘Shut up’, they yelled at the Professor, before some of those in the front row seats, armed with seats and sticks, stormed the platform and attacked the speakers. The Chairman, Mr J.J. Walsh, was knocked to the ground by two blows of a chair, while rank and file members of the Volunteers, as well as a troop of the Boys Brigade, gathered around Mr Casement, Prof. Mac Neill and others to protect them from the attacking group.

Bulmer Hobson reflects on the influence of Edward Carson and the Ulster Volunteers on nationalist action in 1913. Speaking at Cork City Hall at the launch of the Volunteer movement in Cork, Prof. Eoin MacNeill also highlighted the influence of Carson's Volunteers, remarking that they had 'set the model and standard of public duty for us.' However, MacNeill's call for three cheers for Carson was not well-received. (Óglaigh na hÉireann-Bulmer Hobson Interview, R.T.É, 1963, R.T.É Archives)

In the commotion, the chairman’s table was broken and thrown into the body of the hall. To add to the confusion and mayhem, at one point, with the scuffle ongoing, someone turned off the light, only for someone else to restore it shortly after. It was a ‘wonder’, The Irish Times observed, that MacNeill and his followers ‘were not maimed for life.’

According to The Irish Independent, a ‘free fight’ appeared imminent until the refrain of ‘A Nation once again’ was struck up and the meeting abandoned. 

RTÉ

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