An Cosantoir, the Irish Army’s Magazine, during the Emergency Period (1939 – 1946)
THE FINGAL VOLUNTEERS.
It is interesting to remember that the Fingal Volunteers in 1916 were in fact the prototype of the present day cyclist squadrons, and although the significance of their existences as a cavalry unit was not understood or recognised even by themselves, they did in fact, to a great extent, adopt correct cavalry tactics in the series of raids and reconnaissance movements carried out throughout North County Dublin from Easter Monday till the Friday of that week, when the first really serious engagement took place at Ashbourne, County Meath, just over the county border.
Previous to Ashbourne, the Column, about 45 strong, all mounted on bicycles, had been engaged during the week in a series of lighting raids upon Royal Irish Constabulary (R.I.C.) Barracks and communications in the area, with the threefold purpose of collecting arms, hampering enemy movements, and drawing some enemy attention away from the hard pressed Volunteers fighting in the city. Originally we had 20 more men, but this number had, on orders from James Connolly, been sent in to the city from our camp in Finglas. These twenty gave a good account of themselves in the fighting in O’Connell Street, and at the Mendicity Institute, where one of their number was killed.
It may be well, before proceeding to the description of the actual fight, to give some kind of picture of the organisation and equipment of the Volunteer unit, so that the reader may more readily grasp the significance of later details.
The Volunteers of North County Dublin or Fingal, as the territory is know, constituted, up to 1916, the 5th Battalion of the Dublin Brigade, but like most Volunteer units of the time was never near Battalion strength. In fact, if memory serves me right, I think the area at that period was, at best, able to muster a strength of about only one Infantry Company. Due, however, among other causes, to the confusion of the cancelled orders on Easter Sunday, little more than half the number answered the mobilization call.
The following summary of the equipment of the Fingal Volunteers on Easter Monday is taken from some old notes of mine.
Modern Service Rifles including long and short Lee-Enfield and 9m/m Mauser – 12 to 15.
Old type Mauser (Howth Rifle) – 10 to 12.
Martini Enfield Single Shot Carbine – 12 to 15.
Single barrel 12 bore Shot-guns – 20 to 30.
Revolvers and pistols, various types and calibres (.455 .38 .32 .25) – 12 to 14.
AMMUNITION: Total available to all units:
.303 and 9mm – About 100 rounds per weapon.
Old Mouser about 60 rounds per weapon.
Shot-gun loaded with buck-shot, about 300 rounds per weapon.
Pistol ammunition, various – about 30 rounds per weapon.
UNIFORM AND EQUIPMENT.
About 15 to 20, including most of the officers had uniforms. The remainder wore their equipment, bandolier, haversack and belt over their civilian clothes.
Most of the men who reported on Easter Monday did so on bicycles.
One horse and a farm draw belonging to my father was the only heavy transport until the commandeering on Wednesday of a Ford motor bread-van. In addition to this there was a Morris Oxford two-seated belonging to Doctor Hayes, and a motor cycle belonging to Thomas Ashe.
Sixty pounds gelignite which was used to destroy the G.N.R. (Great Northern Railway) line on Easter Monday. There remained two home-made canister grenades.
On arrival in camp of five or six stragglers from city units and the detachment on Tuesday from our camp at Finglas of 20 men to the city, the urgent need for reorganisation of our forces arose. We had received orders from James Connolly at the G.P.O. that our activities were to take the form of diverting enemy attention and troops, if possible, from the city, and a rapid survey of the situation resulted in throwing overboard the old British Infantry organisation, upon which we had trained, and the adoption of a scheme made to fit the numbers available and the tactical requirements of our mission.
The arrangement adopted, which incidentally was quite sound from a cavalry viewpoint, was to divide the entire force into four more or less equal sections of ten to twelve men, each section under the command of an officer, the remaining four senior officers constituting the headquarters and command staff.
The operation procedure adopted was that each day one section was detailed for foraging duty with the job of protecting the camp day and night, and also locating and procuring food supplies for the column. The remaining three sections, proceeding on a daily raid or other mission, moved always with the sections so spaced and detailed that the leading section constituted the advance guard; the rearmost section the rearguard, while the commander with his staff moved normally with the main body, in between. The sections changed over duties daily.
ASHE AND MULCAHY
The commander and staff of the column were largely, if not entirely, responsible for the success of the unit. Thomas Ashe, the commander, was a fine physical specimen of manhood, courageous, and high-principled; something of a poet, painter and dreamer. In military matters he was, perhaps, somewhat unpractical. Early in the week, however, we had been joined by a few stragglers from a city Battalion, amongst whom was Dick Mulcahy. Mulcahy was known already to the other members of the staff, and it was soon apparent that he was the mind necessary to plan and direct operations. Cool, clear-headed and practical, and with a personality and tact that enabled him to take virtual control of the situation, without in any way undermining Ashe’s prestige as commander. My Father, Frank Lawless, was quartermaster, and because of his wide local knowledge of the country and the people was of great help in planning operations and movements as well as in the essential matter of supplies. Dr. Dick Hayes, the other member of the staff, in addition to his medical duties was a valuable voice in the staff councils, and was also available for intelligence duties.