Roger Casement issued a rousing plea in the first issue of The Irish Volunteer newspaper which was launched one hundred years ago this week. He was calling for volunteers to compete in the 1916 Olympics as Irishmen in their own right.
The Games which were planned for Berlin, of course, never did take place.
The Irish Volunteer which was first printed on the 7th of February 1914, marked an important milestone in the history of radical newspapers and military movements in this country. UCD historian, Conor Mulvagh joined Myles to discuss its objectives and impact.
The Irish Volunteer [newspaper]
By Conor Mulvagh
[Centenary of the first issue’s publication is 7 Feb. 2014]
Origins and personalities
The idea of publishing a newspaper for the Irish Volunteers was mooted to its provisional committee in January of 1914 by William Sears, editor and one of the directors of the Enniscorthy Echo, an advanced nationalist paper with Sinn Féin links going back to 1907/8. The idea was accepted and a member of the Echo’s staff, Laurence de Lacy, was appointed editor of the Irish Volunteer. Virginia Glandon notes that all proofs of the paper were submitted to the provisional committee of the Irish Volunteers – namely: Eoin MacNeill, L.J. Kettle, John Gore, and The O’Rahilly – in Dublin for approval. It should be noted that, in one of his many statements to the Bureau of Military History, Bulmer Hobson identifies Laurence de Lacy as having been a member of the IRB in this period. As such, de Lacy’s editorship of the Irish Volunteer constitutes a further dimension to the IRB’s infiltration of the Irish Volunteer movement in its early history. The paper became an important arm of propaganda, training, and communication for the growing Irish Volunteer movement in during 1914 and beyond.
Writing and printing the Irish Volunteer
The paper ran as a commercial entity and the first issue appeared on Saturday, 7 February 1914. It ran in this form until November of 1914.
The Irish Volunteer sided with Eoin MacNeill when the movement split in September 1914 over the question of participation in the war effort and enlistment in the British Army.
The relative unpopularity of Eoin MacNeill’s faction after the split and the emergence of a rival Redmondite publication, the National Volunteer, in October, were two key factors in the Enniscorthy Echo’s decision to cease publication of the Irish Volunteer.
This highlights that, above all else, the Irish Volunteer was a commercial publication, and decisions on its viability and continuance under the direction of the Enniscorthy Echo umbrella rested more on commercial than political considerations.
In addition, wartime censorship arguably played a part in reducing the profitability of the paper. Titles such as the Enniscorthy Echo and the Irish Volunteer came in for direct mention as ‘extreme’ newspapers in the report of the Inspector General of the Royal Irish Constabulary in September 1914 and in this climate they struggled to get their message out to the more advanced nationalist and republican sections of the reading public.
By virtue of being a specialist newspaper targeted at members of a private paramilitary organisation, the Irish Volunteer, its offshoots and successors, are a very rare and particularly important subset of Irish political newspapers from the revolutionary decade.
The function of the Irish Volunteer was not merely news or propaganda as was the case with other publications. It had a role in training the force and delivering messages and orders from headquarters to the battalions and companies nationwide.
The centenary of the first issue of the Irish Volunteer going to print on 7 February 1914 is an important milestone in the history of radical Irish newspapers and in the deteriorating situation and militarising trajectory in Irish society in 1914 that would bring the island to the brink of civil war on the eve of the First World War.
As a mobilising force in keeping Eoin MacNeill’s volunteers united and active after the vast majority of the movement sided with John Redmond’s policy of supporting the war effort in September of 1914, the Irish Volunteer played a leading role in preserving the movement that was the backbone of the rebellion in April of 1916.
Century Ireland will have a digitized version of the first edition of the Irish Volunteer from the 7th of February
Click here for Century Ireland