The Founding of the Kilkenny City Company of the Irish National Volunteers and its development until 1915

Posted on Jun 6, 2014


Larry Scallan

Setting the Scene
Ireland towards the end of 1913 was in a very difficult place politically. After the 1910 elections John Redmond’s Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) held the balance of power in the House of Commons. His eventual reward would be the Third Home Rule Bill. This bill would be vehemently opposed by the by the Ulster Unionists whose leader was Mr Edward Carson. The Ulster Solemn league Covenant set out unionist aims and goals, with over 400,000 Ulster men signing it in 1912 alone This led to the forming of the Ulster Volunteers. This movement was supported by many of the local justices who used an old law to permit men to arm and drill for the purpose of maintaining the constitution of the United Kingdom. It became important for Carson to keep them under his control and the Ulster Unionist council organised the different independent groups into a military force this would then become known as the Ulster Volunteer Force.
Irish nationalists excited by the introduction of the home rule bill would eventually become disenchanted about what was really on offer. There was widespread distrust developing about the negotiations being conducted by Redmond. In November Eoin MacNeill wrote an article in the Gealic League Journal called “The North Began” In it he suggested that Nationalists should form their own Volunteers. MacNeills article was just what the Irish Republican Brotherhood was waiting for. Bulmer Hobson a member of its supreme council approached MacNeill and suggested he call a meeting to discuss the idea.

The meeting was held in the rotunda on the 25th of November 1913, thousands attended and the Irish National Volunteers (INV) were set up. Over three thousand members enrolled on the first night. MacNeill was elected as their commander and he selected a provisional committee to run the movement. Unknown to Macneill fifteen members of the IRB were among those he selected. Thus from the start the INV was dominated by a secret society which had different goals from its leader.

The Local beginning
There may have been a number of Kilkenny citizens who joined the INV at this time. However the first meeting held in Kilkenny with the intention of forming the volunteers locally was held on the 5th of March 1914 in the city hall. The main speakers on the night were Roger Casement and Thomas McDonnagh then a school teacher in St Keirans collage. The meeting met with huge local support with large numbers handing in their names on the night. This group from the City would become known as A company Kilkenny INV. It was governed from the start by a committee composed of members from local nationalist groups.
These being the Irish Parliamentary Party, The AOH, The IRB and Sinn Fein.

Kilkenny Irish National Volunteers Parading along High Street

Kilkenny Irish National Volunteers Circa 1914

At this early stage members of the IRB were involved in the governing committee. This trend would continue in the forming of other company’s throughout the County.
In early march training commenced with the instruction being given for the most part by members with previous service in the British army. The first principle instructor was Mr Thomas Connelly from Michael Street Kilkenny.
In early June 1914 John Redmond became concerned about the strength of the INV and he published demands that there should be 25 home rule nominees added to the provincial committee at national level. It can be deduced from a number of sources in Kilkenny city that local AOH members attempted to take over the committee around the time of Redmond’s demands, also IPP & AOH members refused to take orders on parade leading to a difficult stand off. Things were eventually patched up by mediation in the city.
At the start of August old Italian rifles were issued to the company for which there was no ammunition these rifles were quickly given the nickname gas pipes
On the 28th of June Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austro-Hungarian empire, in Sarajevo, Bosnia occurred, this would eventually lead to Britain declaring war on Germany on 04th August. The UVF would immediately offer its resources to the war effort. This policy would have a massive effect on the INV. John Redmond advocated the joining of the British army in order to best win continued support for the recently passed Bill.
This resulted in a crisis within the volunteer movement in Kilkenny. In early September the matter was brought to a head when the entire membership of the Kilkenny NIV Company’s paraded in the market yard area of the City. Over 650 Officers Ncos and men were accounted for.
All assembled were addressed by speakers advocating the different points of view. Speaking on the Redmond side was Father Rowe of St Marys Parish and Father Philip Moore St Johns Parish. They were vigorously opposed by Mr Peter Deloughry parliament St, Mr Patrick Corcoran Patrick St and Mr Edward Comerford Wellington Square.
The debate became very heated and the exchanges by the speakers were extremely contentious, this led to an almost riotous situation. Finally Peter Deloughary raised his voice and he called on all those who stood for Ireland and the green flag to fall out by the poultry sheds and all of those who stood for England and the Union flag to stay where they were. Twenty eight men left the ranks and formed up in a soldierly manner. Thomas Treacy of Dean St took charge of the dissenters and marched them out of the market yard leaving a very hostile situation behind them. They proceeded to a place known as Banba hall which is now called Kytlers Inn on St Keirans St then called King St. This location from then on would be known as Volunteer hall and would be the headquarters of the only company of Irish Volunteers (IV) in the city until 1916.
A point now about the almost 630 National Volunteers (NV) who remained loyal to Redmond and his political objectives. It can be contended that these men were extremely brave and made their decisions with the prospect of a short war and imminent home rule being a certainty. By December 1914 many thousands of Irish men and women were already casualties of the war and for the most part Redmond’s volunteer army would form part of the massive British lines formed on the Somme on 1st of July 1916 and by the end of the offensive they were in many cases dead wounded or POWs. While this story does not involve these men they are equally important in what is part of our shared military heritage. It can be contended that there is a real need to Re-remember this most important time.
The main focus of the IV in Kilkenny from September was to commence the recruiting and to continue to improve their tactical awareness. This involved field training, route marches, drill with wooden rifles and there was also a lot of emphasis placed on Irish lessons in both cultural and historical in nature. A rifle range was set up at lower Dunmore on land put at their disposal by Mr Richard Maher, this was situated close to an area known as the long wood. This was an excellent location being hidden from view by the wood as well as being in a natural valley and the field its self was shaped like a bowl. The main rifle used was a Birmingham Small Arms .22 rifle . Some limited skill at arms training took place in Volunteer hall with a pellet gun for which all the firers paid for the ammunition they used.
At this time other independent companies of IV were formed in places like Conahy, Callan, Castlecomer, Muckalee, Clara. These companies’ elected their own commanders for instance Martin Kealy was commander of the Clara Company . All of these looked to the Kilkenny City Company for guidance in leadership, policy and operational planning. The City Committee consisted of the following Patrick Corcoran, James Nowlan, Peter Deloughry, Edward Comerford. This committee developed the planning and training and they also maintained close contact with GHQ in Dublin.
Towards the end of 1914 approximately Twelve .303 rifles and Twelve assorted revolvers and pistols were procured by the committee from Dublin these weapons were issued to members of A Company . All of these weapons had to be paid for and this took a big effort from all members to rise.
Early in 1915 Captain Ginger o Connell from GHQ arrived in Kilkenny to help the companies to develop aspects of marksmanship tactics and planning he also assisted in the recruiting of additional personnel into the volunteers. Another important development in the training of company leaders was the holding of an IV training camp in June 1915 at Galbally Co Limerick. It was attended by James Lawor, Martin Kealy, Laurence Deloughry and Eamon Comerford . This camp was conducted by Ginger O Connell and 0ver 80 IV attended, the camp lasted one week. Martin Kealy who was a member of Kilkenny piper’s band led the formation on its route march’s throughout the duration of the training. This camp helped the key leaders from Kilkenny to understand the developing tactics techniques and procedures which form the doctrine of guerrilla warfare lightly to be used in future operations.
On 23rd of November 1915 an oration in memory of Allen Larkin and O brien was given by Sean McDermot in the Gealic league rooms in what is now Rothe house. Volunteer members paraded with a Tri Colour and weapons for this parade. This overt display of weapons may have been an indication of what was about to come.
So with the training received since its inception in 1914 the Irish volunteer movement in Kilkenny were certainly in a position to deploy on active service with some limited small arms capability. But they were still seriously under resourced in relation to being able to sustain a prolonged period of active service.

The year 1916 would bring its own threats, possibilities and setbacks.

The Kilkenny Military heritage Project.