Recruiting Meeting for Volunteers
Issue of "The Irish Volunteers" 15 April 1916
Fr Eugene's evidence to Bureau of Military History
The issue of ‘The Irish Volunteers” April 15 1916 has the following:
‘Recruiting meeting 4th Battalion, James Street. Presided over by Lieutenant W T Cosgrave T C which heard in addition to Officers of the Brigade who spoke at several meetings, Rev Eugene Nevin C P Mount Argus’.
I remained in town that evening until I saw the boys collecting in College Green for their march out and when they started following the brake on which the leaders were seated, I proceeded along the footpath and on the edge of the crowd.
About half a dozen Volunteers uniformed and armed Cap-a-pie at its head lent an air of dignity and determination to the procession, and they occupied front place at the subsequent meetings. Arrived at the delta or wide space formed by the conjunction of Thomas Street, James Street and Stevens Lane, the procession, considerably augmented on the way, halted near the fountain there, and the business of the evening began. The place selected for the meeting was not without its significance, a stone’s throw only from where young Robert Emmet was sacrificed in the cause of Irish freedom, September 20th 1803, the most pure souled patriot that ever lived and died for Ireland.
To penetrate the dense mass of people surrounding the brake was no easy matter, but a passage was made for me and those who did make way seemed doubtful as to the nature of my intrusion – was it pacific or otherwise.
Only the other day General Peadar MacMahon told me he was present at that meeting, I suppose a private in the ranks then. He says all were amazed when they saw the tall silk hat (de rigueur with the clergy at the time) wending its uneasy way through the crowd, fear and hope alternating.
However, all doubts were dispelled when they saw me lifted up among the leaders and being received in a friendly manner by them; then cheering on all sides with ‘You are heartily welcome’ and ‘It’s well time for the priests to come and help us’.
With Lieutenant Cosgrave were Thomas McDonagh, Eamon Kent, Cathal Brugha, Seamus Murphy and John Fitzgibbon, historic names, two of them being signatories to Easter Monday’s Proclamation were executed – Thomas McDonagh and Eamon Kent.
Dispensing with the customary preliminaries such as moving to the chair etc, as there was no chair to sit on, Lieutenant Cosgrave stood up from his seat on the brake and the meeting was formally opened. ‘There was no need’ he said to announce or explain the purpose for which they were there that evening; it was widely known – even Dublin Castle timely advertised of it had sent some of its duly accredited representatives to honour (?) the occasion. With an eloquent and strong appeal for Volunteer membership he ended by saying ‘We are happy to have here with us this evening a Passionist Father from Mount Argus, Father Eugene Nevin, who has kindly consented to address you. This announcement was received with cheering as were the commonplace platitudes spoken by me, eagerly drunk in by ears attuned for any word of encouragement in the compassing of the task they had set before them. Their enthusiasm was inspiring, giving assurance of what was to follow when the time for action came.
The appearance and manner of Thomas McDonagh have been many times described and photography has made his face and form familiar to hosts of people. This night, in delivering his perfervid discourse, he wore a short cape round his shoulders and held a stout walking stick, mostly in the left hand, which he now and again used to emphasise some particular points.
In telling of the wide appeal the Volunteer Movement made, especially to the young men for membership to all for support, he was certain he said there were many, some of them wearing the King of England’s uniform, who were in heart and soul with us, but debarred by force of circumstances from joining; ‘even perhaps that man over there who has come to spy on us’ – pointing with his walking stick to a man on the left outskirts. I could see the man looking deadly pale and very uneasy as the crowd, turning round surged angrily towards him, but McDonagh with a wave of his right hand commanded them to desist. ‘Leave him alone’ he said ‘we have other and better means of dealing with men of that sort’. The man was a notoriously officious detective sergeant known locally as Johnny Barton.
When the James’ Street meeting was over the brake with its occupants was driven to Dolphin’s barn for a second meeting and I was told afterwards that the evening with its two meetings was most successful in the large number of young men who signed on, some of them foremost in the battle of Easter Week.
The following is in the nature of a footnote – I was transferred in August 1917 to our Monastery in Lancashire, ten or twelve miles from Liverpool where there is a big Irish and Catholic population, and the Liverpool Irish have a reputation of the true and lasting quality so I was not too badly situated as I had many opportunities of meeting my fellow exiles both in public and in private.
To meet and hear Arthur Griffith the Liverpool Stadium was engaged for Sunday 29th November 1919. I was invited and requested to be one of the speakers on the occasion and though the Stadium has a capacity accommodation for well over 10,000 it was filled to overflowing that evening.
In the course of my remarks I suppose to illustrate some point or to show the broadmindedness and kindly nature of our leaders, I told of Thomas McDonagh having saved from a severe mauling a detective sergeant who had come to be present with evil intent. Next morning on opening the paper I got a bit of a shock on seeing that Sergeant Barton was shot in Dublin the previous day, possibly the very moment I was referring to him. May he rest in peace.
Because of the pro English atmosphere that was about, Fr Nevin had to be careful to avoid representations or complaints being made to his superiors by Government representatives so he confined himself to showing his sympathy by frequent visits to ‘The Volunteer’ Office in Dawson Street. In his evidence he states:
“One visit stands out clearly … because of its nearness to Easter and its sequence. It was the early afternoon of a Saturday and a goodly number of the leaders were present – John McNeill, Thomas McDonagh, Bulmer Hobson, Sean McDermott and others whose names I now forget…. In the course of my conversation with Thomas McDonagh he told me how anxious he was in trying to impress upon McNeill the importance of equipment in every detail. For instance he said ‘To display a white handkerchief might give away a whole position so I want the boys supplied with a coloured pattern’. This is an example of his attention to smallest minutiae and probably too the secret of his being able to hold out his fortress of Jacob’s longer than the others.