A series of meetings took place around Ireland during the Winter of 1913 which saw men recruited into a new nationalist organization called The Irish Volunteers.
One such meeting took place in Cork City Hall on December 14th for the purpose of forming a volunteer corps in the city but, the meeting did not go smoothly.
The meeting was penciled in for 8.30pm Sunday night and cards of invitation were distributed to GAA clubs and Gaelic League branches across the city. Chairman of the Cork County GAA board J.J Walsh was in charge of presiding over the event and he had written to Professor Eoin MacNeill and Sir Roger Casement requesting their attendance as guest speakers of the Cork meeting.
A month previously in Dublin’s Rotunda hall the Irish Volunteers had been officially formed and now a recruitment drive was underway across the country, with Cork being the focal point of this meeting. On the night it was standing room only as the City Hall filled to capacity. The nationalist youth organization Fianna Eireann had a small uniformed presence on the stage. Also on stage as part of the speakers were J.L Fawsitt who was there to represent the Industrial Development Association while Liam DeRoiste was there representing the Gaelic League.
The first to speak was J.J Walsh followed by Fawsitt who recited the manifesto of the volunteer movement. Liam DeRoiste then proposed a vote of thanks to guest speakers, MacNeill and Casement, before they took to the floor. All was going well until MacNeill spoke.
MacNeill began his speech in Irish before finishing it in English. The last few lines of his speech proved controversial as it wrung heavy in appreciation for Unionist Edward Carson and the Ulster Volunteers.
MacNeill praised the Ulster Volunteers for setting ‘the model and standard of public duty’ for Irish people to follow. MacNeill insisted there was nothing to fear from the Ulster Volunteers but his speech received a heated reception from a number of people in the hall.
Among those in attendance were members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians. The AOH had thrown its support behind John Redmond’s Irish Parliamentary Party and viewed this new nationalist organization with great suspicion. They started booing when MacNeill finished his speech and a number of them who were at the back of the hall then pushed forward to the front of the stage in a brutish fashion.
J.J Walsh was knocked to the floor when a chair was whipped across the head. The chairman’s table was raised up and flung across the hall where it landed in the middle of the floor and broke in two. The boys of Fianna Eireann who had been on the stage for ceremonial purposes were now serving as bodyguards to the guest speakers and formed a protective circle around both Casement and MacNeill.
As the melee was in full swing someone thought they could quell the disorder by switching off the lights and for a brief moment the city hall was plunged into darkness, but this did not deter those who had set out to cause trouble for the night.
Fawsitt managed to get a number of men to start singing Oro Se Do Bheatha ‘Bhaile to see if it could bring a halt to the disorder and to the relief of MacNeill and the others it worked!
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