Several events in Ireland will mark the centenary of the formation of the Irish Volunteers, a military force that participated in some of Ireland’s most critical moments.

The Irish Volunteers were formed on November 25, 1913 in Dublin to reinforce the nationalist argument for Home Rule. Ulster Unionists had formed the Ulster Volunteer Force the same year to resist Home Rule. By mid 1914 Volunteer membership had reached 160,000.

With the start of World War I in 1914, Irish politician John Redmond encouraged Volunteers to enlist in the British Army. Many of the members left the organization and formed the National Volunteers. Of this new organization, between 35,000 and 40,000 enlisted in the British Army. The Irish Volunteers were reduced to between 2,000 and 3,000 members.

By 1916 membership in the Irish Volunteers had increased to 15,000. Starting on Easter Monday, April 24, 1,300 Volunteers participated in the Easter Rising. This number was low because Eoin MacNeill had issued a countermand canceling the Rising. Additionally, most of the Rising was limited to Dublin with a couple skirmishes in other cities which meant geography hindered some members’ participation.

After the Rising the Volunteers received much popular support, but harsher measures from the British government pushed the Volunteers unground and they reorganized. In January 1919 local units launched a guerilla campaign against police and military personnel and the Irish War of Independence had begun. By the end of 1919 the organization was increasingly referred to as the Irish Republican Army (IRA). There were about 15,000 members, most of whom were between 20 and 30 years old and came from a middle or working class background. Membership became younger and more urban and working class as the war continued.

After the Treaty was signed in December of 1921, the Volunteers split. A minority supported Michael Collins and the Treaty that created the Irish Free State. The majority of the Volunteers fought with Eamon de Valera against the new Irish Free State in the Irish Civil War between 1922 and 1923. The Pro Treaty forces won and the Executive Council of the government established the Defence Forces in 1923.

There are a couple of events to commemorate the centenary of the Volunteer’s formation.
The Irish Volunteer Commemorative Organization will have a small display at Cork’s ‘Revolutionary Decade’ Roadshow on Saturday, April 20 at the Nemo Rangers GAA Complex. The event is hosted by the School of History at University College Cork and Cork City and County Archive. Between 11:00 and 3:00, people can discuss their interest in the revolutionary decade with professional archivists and expert historians.

On September 28, 2013 there will be an exhibition and display about the Irish Volunteers at Wynn’s Hotel in Dublin. Descendants of Irish Volunteer members from America, Scotland and other countries will attend. The event will run from 11:00am to 5:00pm and is open to all interested. Click here for more details.