The Irish Volunteers, Óglaigh na hÉirean were founded
on 25 November 1913 at a public meeting held in the Rotunda Rink in Dublin. The founders included The O’Rahilly,
a member of the governing body of the Gaelic League, Eoin Mac Néill, Professor of Early and Mediaeval Irish History at University
College Dublin, and Patrick Pearse, another prominent member of the Gaelic League. The movement caught the public imagination
so that by July 1914 the Volunteers numbered some 180,000 members. The Volunteers were formed against a background of rising
militancy in Ireland. The spur for this was the Irish Home Rule Bill of 1912 to which the Unionists were vehemently opposed.
As a result of Unionist opposition to Home Rule, the Ulster Volunteer Force was created and by 1913 had been organised into
a force of nearly 100,000 men. Inspired by the example of Ulster, the Irish Volunteers were founded.
The Irish Volunteers had a membership of 180,000
by mid-1914 but split over whether its members should enlist in the British Forces and fight in the European war. About
11,000 strongly opposed this and kept the original name. The remainder became known as the National Volunteers. The Irish
Republican Brotherhood, a secret revolutionary body, effectively took over control of the Irish Volunteers and using it, planned
and directed a rebellion in 1916.The Rising was virtually confined to Dublin. On Easter Monday the Volunteers occupied a number
of strategic buildings within the city that commanded the main routes into the capital. As the week progressed fighting became
intense and was characterised by prolonged, fiercely contested street battles. On Saturday the insurgent leaders, based mainly
in the General Post Office, were forced to agree to a surrender. Their decision was then made known to and accepted, sometimes
reluctantly, by the garrisons still fighting. The Irish Volunteers had fought with discipline and skill. Fifteen of the leaders
of the Rising were executed between 3 and 12 May 1916.
The War of Independence
was initiated in January 1919 by a number of young, determined Volunteer leaders. They were convinced that a republic
could only be gained by force. By necessity, they adopted a guerrilla campaign. They were organised initially into small independent
units which launched frequent low-level surprise attacks. Michael Collins played a pivotal role. He provided the Volunteers
with funds, arms and equipment. His most critical contribution lay in the provision of intelligence. However, given the nature
of guerrilla warfare, it was the individual Volunteer units who made the greatest contribution. During the war 15,000 Volunteers
were actively involved, with around 3,000 in service at any given time. From the autumn of 1919 the force had sufficient strength
to attempt more spectacular actions and now became known as the Irish Republican Army. The best known of these took place
on 21 November 1919, ‘Bloody Sunday’, during which 19 suspected British Army intelligence officers were shot.
By late 1920 the force had been organised into ‘flying columns’ – mobile units of about 100 men, based in
remote camps or safe houses. By the middle of 1921 the British government became amenable to a political settlement and on
21 July a truce came into operation.
The Anglo-Irish Treaty, negotiated during the truce and signed
on 6 December 1921, caused deep divisions within nationalist Ireland. Those who favoured acceptance argued that the powers
it granted made it worthy of support and the only alternative was renewed war with Britain. The Treaty’s opponents criticised
it most for its failure to achieve the status of a republic for Ireland. Debates in the Dáil on the Treaty became bitter and
personal. The Anti-Treaty IRA seized barracks and public buildings as British civil servants and troops departed. Field Marshal
Sir Henry Wilson was shot in London on 22 June 1922 and as a result the British Government insisted that the Irish Government
take action against the Anti-Treaty IRA or it would consider the Treaty to have been broken. On 28 June 1922 the National
Army, as the Pro-Treaty IRA now become known, bombarded the Four Courts in Dublin which was occupied by the Anti-Treaty forces
leadership. The Civil War had begun. After a period of conventional warfare the Anti-Treaty side reverted to a guerrilla campaign.
This was accompanied by assassinations and the destruction of buildings, bridges and other installations. The Provisional
Government adopted special powers and executed 77 prisoners before the opponents of the Treaty called a cease-fire on 24 May
1923. As many as 4,000 were killed during the Civil War. From the first days of its formation the Defence Forces have featured
pipers and pipe bands. Many were players in the Volunteers even before they became the National Army.
The writer Ulick O'Connor wrote about one of the army pipe bands early performances for the funeral
of Michael Collins..... "The Army Pipe Band played an Irish lament as the coffin ,covered in a Tricolour on a gun carriage,
was borne through the streets. Hundreds of thousands watched as the cortege moved slowly through O'Connell street to the cemetery.
A young soldier turned to the writer Alice Stopford Green, in tears and said "I can't bear it Ma'am." It was, the newspapers
estimated, the biggest funeral since Parnell's.
From the time of its very formation,the Defence Forces have marched to the skirl of
the pipes. All branches of the service have pipe bands and pipers. The Air Corp and the infantry being the two seen
and heard most often.
The motto of the Army Ranger Wing:
Glaine ár gcroí - (The cleanliness of our hearts)
Neart ár ngéag - (The strength of our limbs)
Agus beart de réir ár mbriathar - (And our commitment to our promise)
In speaking on the subject of Irelands Defence Forces and UN Peacekeeping duty, Cardinal Tomás ÓFiaich stated:
"With great courage and sense of responsibility our soldiers are prepaired to go to the most dangerous and demanding of missions".