An t-Óglác, 14 September 1918

An t-Óglác was a newspaper issued by the Irish Republican Army Headquarters that was directed at the soldiers fighting for the IRA against the British during the War of Independence. The paper contained articles that were meant to boost morale, provide training tips, and share general news with the soldiers. Captain S. Hayes states in his history of the periodical that the first issue appeared in August 1918; however, it appears that there may have been one earlier issued in January 1918, which is currently on file with the Irish Military Archives. The paper did seem to gain steam in August 1918 though, and issues were produced at least once a month after this. After the start of the Civil War, the Irish Free State Army took over the printing of An t-Óglác and adopted it as the official army newspaper. They would continue to print and distribute it to their soldiers through 1933.[1]

The issue of An t-Óglác seen here is dated 14 September 1918, and is an important issue as it discusses the conscription crisis that still gripped Ireland as the First World War continued. Irish citizens were largely opposed to conscription and did not want to be forced into service in the British Army. The issue also contains information on how the Volunteers should handle the conscription crisis, as well as training notes and general information from headquarters.

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The first article in this issue deals with the Irish Volunteers and how they are to face the conscription crisis in Ireland. The article states that by attempting to implement conscription in Ireland the British were proposing “to inflict upon the manhood of Ireland a fate worse than death.” The author also states that the British government “dares not to threaten us merely with death but the most degraded of death, to die fighting as slaves for our enemy in a fight that is not ours.” The author of the article goes to great lengths to stress the importance of the Volunteers during this crisis by calling them “agents of the national will,” and charges the volunteers with resisting conscription. Volunteers are encouraged to fight to the death if necessary to “resist this outage on our national honour.” It is made clear that it is up to the volunteers alone to save Ireland and the Irish race from extermination at the hands of the British. There are clearly some propaganda elements to this article as it’s purpose is to enrage the Volunteers and push them to combat conscription with any means at their disposal; however, the article also highlights the general sentiment in Ireland at the time that conscription should be resisted by any means necessary. The Volunteers saw their ranks swell with men who would rather fight against conscription than be sent off to die in the trenches of Europe.

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The second page of this issue contains a section of “Notes from Headquarters” that discuss how to organize a Volunteer company. The article makes clear that the Volunteers should not organize along the lines of a traditional standing army. This is one of the earliest examples showing that Volunteer reorganization was being shifted towards a guerilla army with clandestine soldiers and mobile columns of men. The Volunteers are not instructed to abandon all qualities of professional soldiers though as they are encouraged to maintain discipline, and officers are encouraged to develop men with different skillsets to be utilized for “engineering, scouting, dispatch riding, signaling, transport and supply, and first aid.” It is also important to note that the despite these extra duties that men could be assigned, they were expected to be first and foremost a rifleman, and be willing to engage the enemy when necessary.

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The rest of page two and three outline a training regiment to prepare the men to carry out various duties, and also lists the supplies that will be needed to properly outfit a full company of men. These lists would prove important once the flying columns were established, as men would be responsible for carrying all of their equipment and provisions needed to establish camps in the wild. These columns also needed men who were trained to carry out the daily task of cooking to ensure that soldiers could be fed in the field. Men trained in scouting and signaling were also necessary to ensure the safety of the camps at all times.

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The final page of this issue contains “General Notes.” This was wide-ranging information that headquarters felt needed to be shared with Volunteers throughout the country. The notes in the issue begin with a charge to all Volunteer Officers to “take their responsibilities seriously, regarding it as work of prime and essential importance to the Irish nation.” The author also encourages the officers to not be distracted by politics, as this is not their responsibility as soldiers. The point of this note is to keep the officers ready to fight and keep their minds on the armed struggle, instead of letting them be distracted or pacified by political actions. Another note encourages officers and men who returned to Ireland from Britain to escape conscription, to avoid arrests at all costs. They are encouraged to be vigilant against the watching eyes of the police. The Volunteers are also instructed that if necessary, and approved by their commanding officers, force can be used against the Royal Irish Constabulary, should they attempt to arrest Volunteers or engage them in battle. This can be interpreted as the start of the war against the RIC, which also included a social boycott. The notes end with a final reminder that Volunteers must maintain their discipline at all times, especially during periods of inactivity. Headquarters was concerned that the rank and file Volunteers might become restless and decide to engage in combat before leadership was ready to begin the war. This is one of the reasons why discipline is repeatedly mentioned in this issue. Volunteer forces had swelled, yet men were being given little to do outside of using intimidation to combat conscription and raiding for arms, which left Volunteer leadership concerned that men might become bored and begin seeking out their own battles.

This issue of An t-Óglác helps provide insight into the minds of the Volunteer Headquarters leadership and their concerns regarding the rank and file Volunteers during the conscription crisis. It also showcases the type of training that Volunteers were expected to conduct, as well as some insight into the need for discipline among the ranks. The document also provides the first glimpse into the concepts of guerilla warfare and the battle against the RIC, which would begin to take shape in early 1919. This issue is a valuable document for historians examining the Irish Volunteers during the early, reorganization phase of the Irish Revolution.

 

Notes:

[1] Captain S. Hayes “The Story of An t-Óglác” An t-Óglác, 01 April 1932.

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