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Irish Volunteers founded in Dublin
Professor Eoin McNeill presided over the meeting at the Rotunda. It was his article in An Claidheamh Soluis entitled 'The North Began' that provided the impetus for this new movement. Photo: National Library of Ireland, MS 11396

Irish Volunteers founded in Dublin

Dublin, 25 November 1913 - An Irish Volunteers army was founded at a meeting in Dublin today. Up to 7,000 people attended the meeting at the Rotunda Rink, with the crowds overflowing into the Rotunda Gardens.

In a manifesto, the new ‘Irish Volunteers’ set out their object as ‘to secure and maintain the rights and liberties common to all the people of Ireland.’ They swore to drill and to build a disciplined army, but to use it only for defensive and protective purposes, and not to seek to dominate.

The enrolment form for the new Volunteer Movement. (Image: National Library of Ireland, MS 11396)

The meeting was presided over by Eoin MacNeill, a professor at UCD and a leading member of the Gaelic League. Prof. MacNeill opened the meeting by saying that action and not words was the point of their presence: ‘The whole country has long been thinking, long deliberating, on the right course of action to be taken, and is there any Irishman worthy of the name that has not come to the conclusion that the action we are now proposing was the right action to take… It is only the most faint-hearted, only the most irresolute, or only the most indifferent, that are in any doubt about this opportunity.’

Prof. MacNeill continued: ‘To win and to preserve our just rights, our rights as Irishmen, our rights as an Irish nation, three things above all are required: courage and vigilance and discipline.’

He concluded by saying that those who were willing to join would be required to sign the following undertaking: ‘I, the undersigned, desire to be enrolled in the Irish Volunteers, formed to secure and maintain the rights and liberties common to all the people of Ireland, without distinction of creed, class or politics.’

Seán T. O'Kelly recalls the background to, and the foundation to, the foundation of the Irish Volunteers (Looking Back, Seán T O'Kelly, R.T.É 1963, R.T.É Archives)

Last night’s meeting came against the backdrop of further suggestions in England that some compromise could be worked out that would exclude Ulster from the remit of the Home Rule parliament promised for Dublin. This proposition has been rejected out of hand by nationalists.

In recent weeks groups of men had begun to form themselves into Volunteer groups in Dublin and in Athlone, while Eoin MacNeill had published an article entitled ‘The North Began’ which laid the basis of last night’s meeting.

The meeting was drawn from every section of Irish nationalism, from extremist Republicans to the mildest nationalists. Many amongst the crowd were members of the Gaelic League, the Ancient Order of Hibernians and Sinn Féin. Also present were large numbers of University College Dublin students who had marched to the Rotunda from their college.

In his newspaper Sinn Féin, Arthur Griffith welcomed the founding of the Volunteers: ‘The object of the Volunteers is to defend life and property, and it enables Irishmen to realise one of the highest duties of citizenship – the defence of their country and the right to bear arms.’

Left: motions agreed upon by the Provisional Secretaries of the Volunteers, Eoin MacNeill and Laurence J. Kettle. Click to enlarge. (Image: National Library of Ireland, MS 8268)
Right: the Manifesto of the Irish Volunteers. Click for full document. (Image: National Library of Ireland, MS 11396)

The foundation of the Volunteers was not without controversy, however. When the honorary secretary of the movement, L.J. Kettle, attempted to address the meeting he was loudly booed by a large section of trade unionists.

Mr Kettle pleaded with the crowd, saying: ‘Our work tonight is national work. This is no place for the introduction of small quarrels.’

Amongst the other speakers at the meeting was the school headmaster, Patrick Pearse, who told the meeting that the Irish Volunteers did not spring from any differences of opinion between Irish people, but had its roots instead in something that all Irishmen shared: the love of Ireland.

[Editor's note: This is an article from Century Ireland, a fortnightly online newspaper, written from the perspective of a journalist 100 years ago, based on news reports of the time.]


Century Ireland

The Century Ireland project is an online historical newspaper that tells the story of the events of Irish life a century ago.