This is my article on the launch of the Limerick City corps of the Irish Volunteers that appeared on The Irish Story
The 25th of January 2014 marked the 100th anniversary of the launch of the Limerick corps of the Irish Volunteers. This inaugural public meeting was held at the Athenaeum Hall on Cecil Street on a cold Sunday night. As the crowds arrived at the hall, handbills were circulated which aimed to reassure those present that the Volunteer movement was not a threat to Home Rule.
The handbill stated that the Irish Volunteers were apolitical and open to “Irishmen of every creed and class” which would help to “maintain the rights and liberties common to all the people of Ireland.” The symbolism on display that night was carefully arranged. Projected on to a screen in the hall was a “lime-light” picture of the Sarsfield Monument as well as a picture of the Assembly of the Volunteers at College Green in 1782.
Both of these evocative images were of Nationalist movements, yet neither was Republican. This is surprising when you consider that the provisional committee included members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) (inc. George Clancy the future Sinn Fein Mayor of Limerick who was murdered by British forces in 1921). It is difficult to say if this was a shrewd, realpolitik decision by the organisers to cloud their true intentions by pre-empting any accusations of “Fenianism”, or simply honest admiration.
Kathleen Clarke maintains that this was a sleight of hand and part of Tom Clarke’s long term strategy. But another explanation is the strong presence on the committee of the pro-Home Rule Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH), which was an unofficial auxiliary of the Irish Parliamentary Party.
In any case, playing down the radical character of the Volunteer movement was wise. One can only imagine what the reaction would have been in the offices of the unionist Limerick Chronicle newspaper if their reporter had returned with an account of a militarist meeting in the city which featured images of Robert Emmett and rebel pikemen.