The Irish Volunteers were a paramilitary organization established by Irish Nationalists in 1913 "to secure and maintain the rights and liberties common to the whole people of Ireland", and to enforce the imminent Home Rule Devolution. Act. The Volunteers were formed in response to the formation of the Ulster Volunteer Force in January 1913. The Ulster Volunteers were founded by Protestant Unionists in the north in order to prevent enactment of Home Rule. It was seen that with armed men in Ulster threatening force to counter Home Rule, a similar force would be prudent to pressure Britain in the other direction.
The Volunteers had their first public meeting and call for enlistments at the Rotunda in Dublin. The turnout was beyond what anyone expected. The hall was filled to its 4,000 person capacity, with a further 3,000 spilling onto the grounds outside. Over the course of the following months the movement spread throughout the country with thousands more joining every week.
From its inception, the leadership of the Volunteers was heavily influenced by the radical Irish Republican Brotherhood. This was the IRB's plan from the beginning, but it had a major drawback when the leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, John Redmond, demanded that the Volunteers accept his own personal appointments to the Provisional Committee, effectively placing the organization in his control. While the moderates didn't like the idea, they were prepared to go along with it in order to prevent the very popular Redmond from forming his own similar organization that would draw away most of their support. The IRB was completely opposed, as it would end their control of the Volunteers, but were unable to prevent the motion from being carried in Redmond's favor.
Arming the Volunteers
Shortly after the formation of the Volunteers, British Parliament banned the importation of weapons into Ireland. The Ulster Volunteers were able to get away with it nevertheless, and the Irish Volunteers realized they would have to as well if they were to be a serious force. Thus O'Rahilly, Sir Roger Casement, and Bulmer Hobson worked together to coordinate a daylight gun running expedition to the port of Howth, just north of Dublin. The plan worked beautifully, and Erskine Childers brought nearly 1,000 rifles to the harbor and distributed them to the waiting Volunteers without interference from the authorities. As the Volunteers returned to Dublin, however, they were met by a large patrol of the Royal Irish Constabulary and the British Army. The Vounteers escaped largely unscathed, but when the army returned to Dublin they fired on a group of unarmed civilians who had been heckling them. This massacre caused enlistments in the Volunteers to soar.
| This picture came from a newspaper but was also used
in a postcard
of "THE SERVICE PETS SERIES" sold in aid of the
RSPCA Fund for Sick & Wounded Horses
The caption to the postcard read
"Volunteers' Day in the Irish Capital
Easter Sunday was a memorable day in Dublin
Tens of thousands of Irish Volunteers under Colonel
Moore, CB, their Inspector General, swung past the
Parnell Statue with John Redmond, MP at the base on
their way to the Review in Phoenix Park
This picture shows the Dublin Regiment's mascot, an Irish Wolf-hound"
The outbreak of the First World War in August 1914 provoked a serious split in the organization. Redmond encouraged the Volunteers to join the British Army, an action vigorously opposed by the founding members. The majority supported the War and left to form the National Volunteers and fight in the British Army. The minority, retaining the name "Irish Volunteers" were led by MacNeill and called for Irish neutrality. The National Volunteers kept some 175,000 members, leaving the Irish Volunteers with a mere estimated 13,500. This split proved advantageous to the IRB, who were now back in control.
The National Volunteers joined the British Army in large numbers, and ceased to play an active role in Irish politics. Following the split, the remnants of the Irish Volunteers were often, and erroneously, referred to as the "Sinn Féin Volunteers", or "Shinners", after the political organization Sinn Féin. The term began as a derogatory one, but soon became ubiquitous among much of the Dublin citizenry. Although the two organizations had some overlapping memberships, there was no official connection between Sinn Féin and the Volunteers.
The Easter Rising
The Easter Rising was an unsuccessful rebellion staged in Ireland against British rule on Easter Monday in April 1916. The rebellion marked the most famous attempt by militant republicans to seize control of Ireland and force independence from the United Kingdom. The Rising was, of course, a failure, and large numbers of the Irish Volunteers were arrested, even ones that did not participate in the Rising. In 1919 the Irish Volunteers were absorbed into the Irish Republican Army, so it really only lasted six years.
Details of the Irish Volunteers taken from the Free Dictionary.com