The story of militant anti- Home Rule Irish Unionism in Munster, Leinster and Connacht during the Home Rule Crisis has largely been one that has remained untold. The existence of Unionists beyond Ulster is well documented, but for the most part the extent to which they replicated the actions of their brothers in Ulster, i.e. preparing to combat Home Rule militarily, is one lost in the depths of history. In recent years however evidence has arose that despite being in infinitesimal numbers in some places, Unionists were still drilling and arming. In 1920 arms believed to belong to a local unit of ‘Ulster Volunteers’ was discovered in St Johns Church of Ireland Sligo, with the Province of Connacht believed to also have at least one other Unionist Volunteer Corps in Leitrim. Perhaps the most intersting story however comes from the Province of Leinster.
In June 1935 a Dublin Board of Works employee was among a group working in part of the Dublin GPO, the men having been assigned to remove presses from the cellar of the GPO Customs Parcels Section, 10 Parnell Square. When several presses were removed however some mortar appeared insecure, and when touched collapsed. Upon further investigation the employee realised he had uncovered a large cavity several feet long. Within it, in perfectly dry conditions, lay a massive arms cache. He had discovered over 90 rifles and over 2000 rounds of ammunition.
The GPO, General Post Office, was of course the iconic central location for the failed Easter Rising of 1916. Number 10 Parnell Square wasn’t a part of the main GPO building, but given the history of central Dublin in 1916, and indeed 1921 when the anti-treaty faction of the IRA occupied the building, the automatic conclusion would be the weapons had belonged to Irish Republicans. However the rifles found in the cellar were the UVF favoured weapons of Lee-Enfield and Martini-Henri, and were accompanied by package’s of Bible tracts and cap badges. In actual fact the weapons had belonged to the men of Dublin’s ‘Ulster Volunteer Force’, the Loyal Dublin Volunteers.
Number 10 Parnell Square (originally called Rutland Square) was known as Fowler Hall, named after Robert Fowler, the Archbishop of Dublin from 1779 until 1801. Prior to being forced out by the IRA it also was one of Dublin’s several Orange Halls. Dublin’s Orange history is well documented, even in 1914 there were still 11 lodges based in Fowler Hall. What is lesser known is the extent of how the Cities Protestant, Orange and Loyal community rallied against Home-Rule.
In February 1912 at an anti-Home Rule meeting in Fowler Hall, Mr H.T. Barrie M.P. stated to a massive crowd of Dublin Orangemen that ‘the Loyalists of Ireland were going to stand or fall together’. All of the depth of feeling against Home Rule in Ulster was replicated in many areas further South, and with that feeling came the same determination to resist by all means necessary. The Ulster Volunteer Force had deliberately been constituted to consist solely of those of Ulster birth, it initially being a pre-requisite that all members had to have signed the Ulster Covenant. This limitation meant that units outside it’s boundary’s would be difficult to form. The Dublin answer was to form their own anti-Home Rule corps, the Loyal Dublin Volunteers.
At its peak the L.D.V. boasted a membership of some 2000 men. Many were of Ulster birth, some 768 men and women signed the Ulster Covenant and Declaration within the City, but the vast majority were Dublin born and bred. From mid 1913 right up until the outbreak of the First World War the unit was drilling weekly under its commander Colonel Henry McMaster, also Dublin Grand Master of the Orange Order. Its commitment to opposition against Home-Rule was every bit as staunch as its comrades in Ulster. As late as July 1914 a meeting in the Metropolitan Hall heard resolutions from the cities Orangemen to ‘risk all in defence of their rights’ and calling on their leaders to take whatever steps they considered necessary. The same meeting heard how Dublin had a large body of ‘disciplined and armed’ Orangemen, full of ‘grim determination’. Those in attendance were told in no uncertain terms that the Loyal Dublin Volunteers would back up the Orange resolutions.
The same series of events unfolding in Ulster also effected Dublin however, and with the outbreak of war massive numbers of the corps enlisted. Up to 80 members joined the Dublin ‘Pal’s Battalion’ almost immediately. What’s more interesting is despite the considerable distance to travel to enlist, many Loyal Dublin Volunteers joined their fellow ‘volunteers’ within the ranks of the 36th Ulster Division. A considerable number joined the 9th Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers (County Tyrone Volunteers), it having one entire platoon consisting of Dublin men. A William Crozier from St Stephens Green in Dublin applied for a commission to the 9th Battalion on the basis that he had drilled for 11 months with the Loyal Dublin Volunteers. Brigadier General Hickman endorsed the application stating that ‘This gentleman is quite the right stamp. If appointed he will be serving with and commanding some of the men he has trained during the last year’. In September 1914 alone, 60 men are recorded as leaving Fowler Hall for Ballykinlar Camp to join the ‘Tyrones’.
When the Civil War between pro-treaty and anti-treat elements of the IRA erupted in 1921, the Orange Order were forced out of Fowler Hall. Anti-treaty IRA seized the building as their headquarters, in the process destroying many important documents relating to both the Order and the Loyal Dublin Volunteers. This was to signal a de-facto Orange exodus from the City, with the last Orange procession in 1938 attacked as they made their way to board trains to Northern Ireland 12th demonstrations. Today the Loyal Dublin Volunteers are a relatively unknown organisation. The arms find of 1935 however indicates very clearly the scale, professionalism and determination of these Dublin citizens some 20 years earlier.
Article Copyright Quincey Dougan 2013
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