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Volunteer (Irish republican): Wikis


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Volunteer, often abbreviated Vol., is a term used by a number of Irish republican paramilitary organisations to describe their members. Among these have been the various forms of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA). Óglach is the equivalent title used in the Irish language.[1]



The original use of the term 'Volunteer' in this context dates back to the Irish Volunteers (18th century), an almost exclusively Protestant [2] militia corps raised in 1778 to augment the army and to defend Ireland from foreign invasion. However many of its membership were just as concerned with securing Irish free trade and opposing English governmental interference in Ireland as they were in repelling the French. [2]. More directly, modern republicans trace their descent back to the foundation of the Irish Volunteers in 1913. This was an Irish nationalist militia which hoped to secure Home Rule for Ireland. The Irish Volunteers were formed in opposition to the anti-Home Rule Ulster Volunteer Force. A faction within the Volunteers staged the Easter Rising in 1916 in pursuit on an independent Irish Republic. This group became the Irish Republican Army in 1919 and fought the Irish War of Independence from 1919-1921. The IRA of this era continued to refer to its members as "Volunteers".

Irish Defence Forces cap badge
"Óglaigh na hÉireann" and "Fianna Fáil" (FF) are alternative translations of "Irish Volunteers"

The Irish Volunteers' name in Irish was Óglaigh na hÉireann, literally translatable as "Warriors of Ireland".[3] The original IRA, and subsequent organisations of the same name, all of which see themselves as inheritors of the original Irish Volunteers, continue to use Óglaigh na hÉireann as their Irish name. An alternative Irish name, Fianna Fáil, also translatable as "Warriors of Ireland", was also sometimes used. The term Fianna Fáil was used in the Irish national anthem, Amhrán na bhFiann and as the name of the Fianna Fáil political party, founded in 1926. The initials "FF" were incorporated into the Volunteer badge, and later the badge of the Irish Defence Forces..[4]

The regular Irish Defence Forces also trace their descent back to the Irish Volunteers and the original IRA. Their Irish title is also Óglaigh na hÉireann. However, a new member is described as "recruit"[5] (Irish earcach[6]) or "cadet" (Irish dalta)[7] rather than a "Volunteer" or Óglach. The Irish Army uses Saighdiúr Singil ("single soldier") as Irish for the rank of Private.[8]


The term volunteer can be used to describe the entire membership of an Irish republican paramilitary organisation.[9], but can be used to describe a "rank and file" member, similar to that of a Private or a member that does not hold the role of an officer such as Chief of Staff or Quartermaster General.[10] Use of the term is quite elastic, not only in its application to describe either all members or specifically lower ranks, but also over whether the 'v' is capitalised or not.

Sometimes the term volunteer is used specifically to refer to a low-ranking IRA member. For instance, Joe Cahill stated in a press conference, after the introduction of internment in 1971, that the British forces had arrested two "officers" in the Provisional IRA, "the rest are volunteers, or as they say in the British Army, privates" [11].

However, in other cases, the term is used to refer to all IRA members. For example, Official IRA member Joe McCann, killed in 1972 was referred to in commemorations by his rank "Staff Captain" but also as a "Volunteer" [12].

Most modern IRA memorials refer to the dead only as "Volunteer", "Vol." or "Óglach" rather than giving a specific rank.[13][14]

Becoming a volunteer

The Green Book (IRA training manual) defines the role of a new volunteer as follows:[15]

  • General Order number 1, "The duties of a Volunteer shall be at the discretion of a unit commander ... A Volunteer who for any reason, ceases to be maintain contact with his or her unit for a period of three months shall automatically cease to be a member of the army."
  • General Order Number 2:"Volunteers when making the Army Declaration promise; to obey all orders and regulations issued by the Army Authority and any superior officers. Where an order issued by a duly accredited officer has been disobeyed, the Volunteer in question must be suspended immediately, pending investigation of the case."

In Loyalism

Loyalist paramilitary memorials also remember their dead as "Volunteers" [16]. Gusty Spence, founder of the modern Ulster Volunteer Force, described himself as a, "Volunteer of Ulster".[17]

See also


  1. ^ See for example Belfast brigade 25th Anniversary of H-Block Hunger Strike 1981 - 2006 from a Republican Sinn Féin website
  2. ^ a b Duffy, Sean (2005). A Concise History of Ireland. ISBN 0717138100.  
  3. ^ Ó Dónaill, Niall (1977). Foclóir Gaeilge-Béarla / Irish-English Dictionary. Dublin: An Gúm. ISBN 1857910389. "óglach: 1. (lit.) a young man (a) (young) warrior 2. Lit. Attendant, servant or vassal. 3. Mil: Volunteer; Óglaigh na hÉireann, the Irish Volunteers."  
  4. ^ The Earl of Longford and Thomas P. O’Neill, Eamon de Valera, Dublin 1970, ISBN 978-0-09-104660-6, chapter 21
  5. ^ "The Army Recruit". Irish Defence Forces. Retrieved 2007-02-11.  
  6. ^ "Earcach an Airm" (in Irish). Irish Defence Forces. Retrieved 2007-02-11.   (Irish-language version of the preceding page)
  7. ^ "Defence Forces Cadetships". Irish Defence Forces. Retrieved 2007-02-11.  
  8. ^ "Óglaigh na hÉireann: An Struchtúr Céime". Irish Defence Forces. Retrieved 2007-02-11.  (Irish) (Defence Forces ranks in Irish)
  9. ^ Bell, J. Bowyer. The Gun in Politics: An Analysis of Irish Political Conflict, 1916-1986. ISBN 088738126X.  
  10. ^ Moloney, Ed (2002). A Secret History of the IRA. p. 571. ISBN 0-71-399665-X.  
  11. ^ YouTube - The Ulster Troubles (Part 17 of 24)
  12. ^ "South Belfast - Plaques". CAIN. Retrieved 2007-02-11.  
  13. ^ "West Belfast - Memorials". CAIN. Retrieved 2007-02-11.  
  14. ^ "West Belfast - Murals". CAIN. Retrieved 2007-02-11.  
  15. ^ Dillon, Martin (1990). The Dirty War. Hutchinson. p. 468. ISBN 0-09-984520-2,.  
  16. ^ "East Belfast - Memorials". CAIN. Retrieved 2007-02-11.  
  17. ^ Bishop, Patrick; Eamon Mallie (1987). The Provisional IRA. Heinemann. p. 238. ISBN 0434074101.  


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