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Home Journal Archives Journal 93 - October 2012 Brief History of the Irish Citizen Army

Brief History of the Irish Citizen Army

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The army rose out of the great strike of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union in 1913, known as the Lockout of 1913. The dispute was over the recognition of this labour union founded by James Larkin. It began when William Martin Murphy, an industrialist, locked out some trade unionists on August 19, 1913. In response, Larkin called an all-out strike on Murphy's Dublin United Tramway Company. Other companies, encouraged by Murphy, sacked ITGWU members in an effort to break the union. The conflict eventually escalated to involve 400 employers and 25,000 workers. This strike caused most of Dublin to come to an economic standstill and was marked by vicious rioting between the strikers and the Dublin Metropolitan Police, particularly at a rally on O'Connell street on August 31, in which two men were beaten to death and about 500 more injured. Another striker was later shot dead by a strike-breaker. The violence at union rallies during the strike prompted Larkin to call for a worker's militia to be formed to protect themselves against the police. The Citizen army for the duration of the lockout was armed with hurling sticks and bats in order to protect worker's demonstration from the police. Jack White, a former British Army Captain, volunteered to train this army and offered 50 pounds towards the cost of shoes to workers so they could train. In addition to its role as a self-defence organisation, the army, which was drilled in Croydon Park in Fairview by White, provided a diversion for workers unemployed and idle during the dispute. After a six-month standoff, the workers returned to work hungry and defeated in January 1914. The original purpose of the ICA was over, but it would soon be totally transformed.

The Irish Citizen Army was totally reorganised in 1914. In March of that year, a demonstration of the Citizen Army was attacked by the police and Jack White, its commander, was arrested. Sean O'Casey then suggested that the ICA needed a more formal organisation. O'Casey wrote a constitution stating the Army's principles as follows: the ownership of Ireland, moral and material, is vested of right in the people of Ireland and to "sink all difference of birth property and creed under the common name of Irish people".

On Larkin's insistence, all members were also required to be members of a trade union, if eligible. In mid 1914, James Larkin left Ireland for America in October 1914, leaving the Citizen Army under the command of James Connolly. Whereas during the Lockout, the ICA had been a workers' self-defence militia, Connolly conceived of it as a revolutionary organisation - dedicated to the creation of an Irish socialist republic "The Workers Republic". He had served in the British army in his youth and knew something about military tactics and discipline. Other active members in the early days included Countess Markievicz, Sean O'Casey, , Francis Sheehy-Skeffington. Sheehy-Skeffington and O'Casey left the ICA when it became apparent that Connolly was moving towards the radical nationalist group, the Irish Republican Brotherhood.


James Connolly was a convinced Marxist socialist and Irish Republican and believed that achieving political change through physical force, in the tradition of the Fenians, was legitimate. Lenin would later describe the Citizen Army as being the first red army in Europe. This organisation was one of the first to offer equal membership to both men and women and trained them both in the use of weapons. The army's headquarters was the ITGWU union building, Liberty Hall and they were almost entirely Dublin based. However, Connolly also set up branches in Tralee and Killarney in county Kerry. In October 1915, armed ICA pickets patrolled a strike by Dockers at Dublin port. Attempts were made to set up Branches of the ICA in Limerick but were not successful. (However in the Years 1919 and 1920 the remnants of The Citizen Army did organise small groups in Waterford, Cork and Monaghan)

Appalled by the participation of Irishmen in the First World War, which he regarded as an imperialist, capitalist conflict, Connolly began openly calling for insurrection in his newspaper, the Irish Worker. When this was banned, he opened another, the Worker's Republic. The British authorities tolerated the open drilling and bearing of arms by the ICA, thinking that to clamp down on the organisation would provoke further unrest. A small group of Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) conspirators within the Irish Volunteers movement were also planning a rising. Worried that Connolly would embark on premature military action with the ICA, Connolly was approached and inducted into the IRB's Supreme Council to co-ordinate their preparations for the armed rebellion known as the Easter Rising.
The ICA never numbered more than 250 to 300 men and women nationwide. On Monday April 24, 1916, 220 of them (including 28 women) took part in the Easter Rising, alongside a much larger body of the Irish Volunteers. They helped occupy the General Post Office on O'Connell Street (then Sackville Street), Dublin's main thoroughfare. Mallin, Connolly's second in command, along with Markievizc and an ICA company, occupied St Stephen's Green. Another company under Sean Connolly took over City Hall and attacked Dublin Castle. Finally, a detachment occupied Harcourt Street railway station. ICA men were the first rebel casualties of Easter Week, two of them being killed in an abortive attack on Dublin Castle. Sean Connolly, an ICA officer, was the first rebel fatality. A total of eleven Citizen Army men were killed in action in the rising, five in the City Hall/Dublin castle area, five in Stephen's Green and one in the GPO.

Connolly was made commander of the rebel forces in Dublin during the Rising and issued orders to surrender after a week. He and Mallin were executed by British army firing squad some weeks later. The surviving ICA members were interned in Frongoch in Wales until 1919.
Many of them later joined the new Irish Republican Army (IRA) from 1917 on, but the Citizen Army remained in existence until the 1930s. According to some reports ICA units were involved in various IRA operations during the Irish War of Independence. However the ICA always maintained its Independence never fully coming under IRA control for example ICA members stationed at Liberty Hall were not informed about or asked to take part in the burning of the Customs House in May 1921 and were forced to watch the ensuing drama from the steps and windows of Liberty Hall directly across the road. During the fighting in Dublin that began the Irish Civil War in June 1922, some elements of the ICA (which by this time had about 140 members) were involved in the Anti-Treaty IRA occupation and defence of the Four Courts while others occupied Liberty Hall, the Trade Union headquarters

In the 1920s and 1930s, the ICA was kept alive by veterans such as Seamus MacGowan, Dick McCormick and Frank Purcell, though perhaps only as an old comrades association by veterans of 1916.
Uniformed Citizen Army men provided a guard of honour at Constance Markievicz's funeral in 1927.

In 1934, Peadar O'Donnell and other left wing republicans left the IRA and founded the Republican Congress. For a brief time, they revived the ICA as a paramilitary force, intended to be an armed wing for their new movement. According to Brian Hanley's history of the IRA, the revived Citizen Army had 300 or so members around the country in 1935. However, the Congress itself split in 1935 and collapsed shortly afterwards. Most of the ICA members joined the Irish Labour Party. The ICA's last public appearance was to accompany the funeral procession of union leader James Larkin in Dublin in 1947.


Uniform of The Irish Citizen Army


Taken from R.M. Fox’s Book - The Irish Citizen Army Page 68 "Until the uniforms came (in 1914), the rank and file wore Irish linen armlets of a light blue colour with the letters ICA on them, while the officers wore bands of crimson. When a consignment of belts, haversacks and bayonets arrived the men were soon busy cleaning, polishing and oiling with enthusiasm. Big slough hats completed the turn out. ... When the uniforms came the enthusiasm was greater than ever. They were of a darker green than those worn by the Irish Volunteers, and it became the custom among the Transport Union members to fasten up one side of the big slouch hats with the red hand badge of the Union."


The men’s uniform was of a good quality serge coloured a very dark green - almost exactly the same colour as the R.I.C. bottle green. The uniform had a high collar and had two brest pockets and two large box pockets. The buttons used were the "football" type compressed leather buttons in both dark and light brown. (These buttons were also standard issue on Cumann Na M-Bann uniforms and were used on Irish Volunteer and later IRA uniforms becoming more common post 1916 as the official brass "IV" buttons became harder to get. There’s an illustration below - I’m also reproducing them if anyone needs any) The slouch hat was of the same very dark green colour. It was similar in style to the hats worn by the ANZAC's in the British Forces and the Boer "Cronje" hat. The Cap badge of the Irish Citizens army was the Irish Transport And General Workers Union badge for 1913 The red hand of Ulster which sometimes had the letters ITGWU on it in raised detail. Ordinary ranks sometimes wore a shoulder title in block letters reading ICA.

The ICA belt was of the same pattern as the RIC belt with the Brass “Snake S” Bely Buckle. Those carrying rifles wore black bandoliers and all members carried a white linen ammunition and kit bag. The trousers were the same dark green colour and material, but apart from one picture of Markievicz wearing Puttees I have never seen a photo of any other member of the ICA wearing puttees or leather leggings.


The women’s uniform was of a similar dark green colour but was of a much coarser heavy tweed material. It had an open V - neck style collar. The following is a reference to it from Helena Maloney’s Bureau of Military History statement. Countess Markievicz was the most photographed female member of the ICA however she is usually pictured wearing a mans uniform - as explained below. Which gave the idea that ICA men and women both wore the same uniform.

Helena Maloney – “In his book Sean O Faoilain attributed vanity to Madame Markievicz as the motive of her nationalist and military activities, and stressed her fondness for uniforms. The truth was she had never bought a uniform - like many other members of the Citizen army except a Boy Scouts shirt which then cost 3/6 d, and a boy scouts hat. Her Citizen Army dress up to the week before the Rising consisted of a plain tweed costume with a Sam Browne belt and black turned up hat, similar to the men's with a small bunch of cocks feathers. She went out to the rebellion in the uniform coat of Michael Mallin, who had got a new uniform. And he was so slim his coat fitted her perfectly.”

Women wore the same bandoliers and white kit bags as the men but sometimes wore Sam Browne belts rather than the "Snake S" buckle belts. Most women wore a skirt in the same colour but some such as Markievicz wore trousers underneath of just simply trousers. (Note women wearing trousers in 1910;s Ireland was exceptionally unusual and broke entirely with accepted ideas of dress style and morality.


Officers Uniform

ICA officers essentially wore the same uniforms as the ordinary member. Except that instead of the Block letter ICA shoulder title they wore a scrolled of italic pair of badges with the letters ICA on their collars as illustrated on the picture of
Markievicz below. The full photograph (Not Illustrated) of Markievicz wearing Mallin’s old uniform shows that it had raised patches in a similar shape to I.V and British army officers uniforms but there were not outlined with lace like the I.V. and British uniforms. The ICA later adopted diamond shaped brass rank markings worn in pairs on the epaulettes. A post 1917 ICA uniform on display on the Ulster Somme Heritage centre Newton Ards has used Irish Volunteer brass "Trefoil" rank markings on the epaulettes in substitution for the official diamond shaped rank markings which were presumable not available. James Connolly had a uniform made for himself just before the Easter Rising and it is described in Ina Connolly Herons book "Portrait of a Rebel Father"


Citizen Army Boy Scouts

As well as founding Na Fianna Eireann countess Markievicz also ran the ICA Boy Scouts Their uniform was similar to the Fianna except that they had red facings and wore blue neckerchiefs or scarves. The Irish National Guard a small breakaway group from the Fianna again with a slightly different uniform were also closely allied to the ICA Boy Scouts. Clan Na Gael Girl Scouts were founded after some branches of Na Fianna Eireann - "The Irish National Boy Scouts" refused to admit girls as members they also worked closely with the ICA. Below is a reference to the ICA Boy Scouts and their Uniform in Cork in 1920 from James Alan Busby's Bureau of Military History Statement No 1628

"Late in 1918 or perhaps early in 1919, a Fianna representative from Dublin came to Cork and created a split in our ranks. A rival group known as the Citizen Army Boy Scouts was started in Cork. At the same time we had a girls contingent attached to the Fianna known as the Clan Na Gael Girl Guides. The Misses Wallace of St. Augustine Street Cork, were amongst the leaders of the latter group. There was no difference in policy between the Fianna and the Citizen Army scouts. There was however a small distinction in the uniform, we wore a saffron scarf while they wore a blue scarf. They had as far as I remember about forty boys at most in the organisation, but to the best of my belief it petered out about 1920."


Weapons and Armament.

Like the Irish Volunteers the ICA used a motley variety of weapons and were glad of anything they could get their hands on. Many of their cartridges and bombs/grenades were manufactured by members of the ICA in the basement of Liberty Hall. In comparison to the Irish Volunteers the ICA being a small force were far better uniformed arm armed. Photos {see below) of the army in training at Croydon Park Dublin show up to 70 men all armed with rifles. The most common rifle used was a German bolt action Mauser. Contrary to many reports the ICA did not take part in the Howth Gunrunning of 1914 but some ICA members managed to steal “Howth Mausers” hidden by the Volunteers when they were confronted by the Kings Own Scottish Borders and RIC on their way back into the city that evening. Members of the ITGWU worked on the docks in Dublin and were later able to smuggle in quantities of Mauser rifles for the ICA before 1916. Lee Enfield rifles were initially scarce in the ICA up to 1916 but in the War of Independence they managed to find a source in a sympathetic British soldier who managed to smuggle out Lee Enfield’s from Portobello Barracks. Officers most commonly carried C96 Broom Handle Mauser pistols and Countess Markievicz is also photographs with a Webley and Scot Long barrelled .45 revolver, though she used a Mauser pistol in the rising itself. Officers would have used a variety of revolvers including colts and automatic pistols such as luger 9mm parabellums smuggled in from Germany.


Unlike Cumann Na m-Bann whose duties were usually restricted to more traditional sexist roles of cooking, first aid and despatch carrying the women of the ICA carried weapons and were of equal rank with the men. Margret Skinnider an ICA member from Scotland and Countess Markievicz both fought in the front line with rifle and revolver.



the Citizen Army carried a "Plough And The Stars" or "Starry Plough" flag It was a blue-green field with an image of a plough in yellow, with a sword as a ploughshare that had the big dipper/ ursa major constellation of seven eight pointed silver stars imposed on it. The plainer starry plough of a plain blue field with seven five pointed stars still used by the Irish left was not used by the ICA until it was reformed by the Republican Congress in the 1930's

The original Starry Plough was flown from the imperial hotel in O Connell St. during the Rising. On St. Patricks day 1916 the ICA hoisted a plain green flag with a golden or yellow harp over liberty hall. The remnants of this are on display in Collins Barracks. A scroll was also unveiled across the front of Liberty Hall in 1914 after the outbreak of WW1 which read “We serve neither King nor Kaiser but Ireland!”


Final Note

Unlike the Irish Volunteers who were mostly Catholic (with notable exceptions Bulmer Hobson etc...) a fairly large section of the ICA was of minority religions. Markievicz was Protestant as were Jack White and Dr. Kathleen Lynne. Jack White later declared himself an Atheist and embraced Anarchism during the Spanish Civil war. The first casualty of the 1916 rising was Abraham Weeks, attached to the G.P.O. Garrison (See Manus O Riordan - James Connolly, Liberty Hall and the 1916 Rising) Weeks was an English Jew and member of the International Workers of the World Union who came to Dublin from London in 1916 to avoid conscription to the British Army and to join the ICA.


Last Updated on Wednesday, 05 June 2013 08:29  
Home Journal Archives Journal 93 - October 2012 Brief History of the Irish Citizen Army

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