President hails Irish Volunteers’ efforts to ‘vindicate unfulfilled hopes for freedom’

At centenary commemoration Higgins praises self-sacrifice of Irish Volunteers

A hundred years ago today the Irish Volunteers were founded at the Rotunda Rink in Dublin. Some 7,000 volunteers are said to have turned out for the inaugural meeting.

At yesterday's centenary commemorations in the Garden of Remembrance, President Michael D Higgins praised the self-sacrifice of those who were to play such a pivotal role in the most important decade in Irish history.

“This was an army drawn from people who were motivated to rise and to vindicate the unfulfilled hopes and aspirations for freedom, of the previous generations, men and women anxious to live up to their responsibilities as they saw them towards future generations.”

Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter and the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Jimmy Deenihan were among those at the ceremony which also included 300 Defence Service personnel and a flypast by the air corps.

'Defensive and protective'
The Irish Volunteers was set up as a nationalist equivalent of the Ulster Volunteers. Their original formation was "defensive and protective" and not aggressive, but the first World War changed everything.


Among those who turned out were the descendents of those who were pivotal in the formation of the Irish Volunteers.

Michael McDowell, the grandson of Eoin Mac Neill, said he hoped his grandfather's reputation would be re-examined in a similar fashion to Éamon de Valera through historian Diarmaid Ferriter's book Judging Dev.

Mac Neill was blamed by nationalists for his botched cancellation of the Easter Rising and for his subsequent role in the Boundary Commission which copperfastened Partition.

“His reputation needed rehabilitation in 1966 when there was just a naive view. Everything was one way,” said Mr McDowell. “People nowadays understand the subtleties. I hope somebody is going to write a good book about Eoin Mac Neill. If I had the time I’d love to do it myself.”

Another who attended yesterday's event was the 91-year- old former heart surgeon Risteard Mulcahy, the son of General Richard Mulcahy.

Prisoners executed
General Mulcahy engendered live-long enmity from Republicans after he ordered the execution of 77 anti-Treaty prisoners during the Civil War.

His son said the bitterness of the Civil War had now dissipated enough to see the centenary in another light. “He though the Civil War was a terrible disaster. He thought it should never have happened. I got the whole feeling today that there is a much greater acceptance of everything in the country now. The politics has gone out of it.”

Former taoiseach Liam Cosgrave (93), whose father WT Cosgrave was president of the executive council in the Irish Free State said there was now a "more realistic understanding of the situation".

An exhibition by the Military Archives on the Irish Volunteers will be open to the public from Monday–Wednesday 10am to 4pm, Thursday from 10am to 7.30pm and on Friday from 10am to 2pm in the Pillar Rooms in the Rotunda. There will also be a series of public lectures during the week.

* This article was amended on November 26th, 2013, to correct an error

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times