Dublin’s Loyal Volunteers

Published in 20th-century / Contemporary History, Features, Issue 3 (May/June 2014), Volume 22

Fowler Hall (with the lamppost outside), 10 Rutland (now Parnell) Square, headquarters of Dublin’s anti-Treaty IRA, smouldering during the Civil War in June 1922. Prior to being taken over by the IRA it had been an Orange hall and home to the majority of Dublin’s 2,000 Orange brethren. Thirteen years later (above) the Irish Times would report on its cellar’s secret. (Walshe/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

Fowler Hall (with the lamppost outside), 10 Rutland (now Parnell) Square, headquarters of Dublin’s anti-Treaty IRA, smouldering during the Civil War in June 1922. Prior to being taken over by the IRA it had been an Orange hall and home to the majority of Dublin’s 2,000 Orange brethren. Thirteen years later (above) the Irish Times would report on its cellar’s secret. (Walshe/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

In June 1935 a Dublin Board of Works employee was among a group assigned to remove presses from the cellar of the Post Office’s customs parcels section in 10 Parnell Square. When he removed several presses, however, some mortar appeared insecure and collapsed when disturbed. Upon further investigation, the employee realised that he had uncovered a large cavity, several feet long. Within it, in perfectly dry conditions, lay a massive arms cache. He had discovered over 90 rifles (the Ulster Herald reported that there were as many as 300) and more than 2,000 rounds of ammunition.

The Post Office’s headquarters, the GPO, was the iconic central location for the failed Easter Rising of 1916. Of course, 10 Parnell Square wasn’t part of the main GPO building, but given the history of central Dublin in 1916, and indeed in 1922, when anti-Treaty forces occupied the building, the assumption must have been that the weapons had belonged to Irish republicans. On closer inspection, however, the rifles found in the cellar were Lee-Enfields and Martini-Henris, some stamped ‘For God and Ulster’, and were accompanied by packages of Bible tracts and cap badges. In fact, the weapons had belonged to the men of Dublin’s ‘Ulster Volunteer Force’, the Loyal Dublin Volunteers.

Number 10 Parnell Square (originally called Rutland Square) had been known as Fowler Hall, named after a former archbishop of Dublin, Robert Fowler. It had been an Orange hall and the home of the majority of Dublin’s 2,000 Orange brethren before they were forced out by the IRA. It was also the focus of the city’s Protestant, Orange and loyal community’s opposition to Home Rule.

Arms discovered Iris#1DD310
Unionist Clubs

In February 1912, at an anti-Home Rule meeting in Fowler Hall, Mr H.T. Barrie MP stated to a massive crowd of Dublin Orangemen that ‘the loyalists of Ireland were going to stand or fall together’. All of the depth of feeling against Home Rule in Ulster was replicated in many areas further south, and with that feeling arose the same determination to resist by all means necessary. As in Ulster, Unionist Clubs were at the centre of the most forthright pronouncements—and, indeed, planning—in terms of resistance. The Kingstown and District Unionist Club in South Dublin in June 1912 had discussed the possibility of forming a rifle club, and by July they had procured the grounds of Monkstown Park School for drill. The type of pressure on Southern unionism in general was illustrated in the September minutes of the club, when the vice-president told the meeting that the Daily Mirror had offered to insert a photograph of the club at drill. A discussion followed in which it was decided that such a course of action would be ‘inimical’ to club members.

In November 1913 the city hosted another mass anti-Home Rule demonstration—this time 3,000 delegates gathered for an Irish Unionist Alliance event for Connacht, Munster and Leinster unionists. The run-up to the rally, probably quite deliberately, saw another announcement through the print media. Under the heading of ‘Dublin Volunteer Corps’, the Irish Times (10 November) stated: ‘While Ulster is preparing to resist Home Rule by force of arms if necessary, and is busy building up a great citizen army, the spirit of militarism that has gripped that province and fired the enthusiasm of its young manhood is also at work in Dublin’.

Dublin’s own anti-Home Rule corps

The Ulster Volunteer Force had deliberately been constituted to consist solely of those of Ulster birth, it initially being a prerequisite that all members had to have signed the Ulster Covenant. This limitation meant that it would be difficult to form units outside its boundaries. The Dublin answer was to form its own anti-Home Rule corps, the Loyal Dublin Volunteers (LDV). Their stated objective was to preserve the ‘civil and religious liberties of Protestants in Dublin and the South’ but, more ominously, they also mentioned civil war. In such an event the men would be ready for ‘service’, with arrangements being prepared to transport the families of the volunteers to parts of Great Britain whilst they were active. Companies were formed, drill instructors appointed (of which it was said there were plenty in the form of retired army officers), and drills were taking place three times a week at various locations, along with a musketry course.

Initially limited to Orangemen, eventually demand from others wishing to join extended the membership base. At its peak the LDV boasted a membership of some 2,000 men divided into two battalions. Many were of Ulster birth (some 2,000 men signed the Covenant in Dublin) but the majority were Dublin-born and bred. Dublin Unionism was strong; the Dublin’s Women Unionist Association alone boasted over 3,000 members.

From mid-1913 up to the outbreak of the Great War the body was drilling regularly under the overall command of Colonel Henry Maxwell, Grand Master of the Dublin Orange Order. Maxwell was also the OC of the 1st Battalion, with the 2nd Battalion under the command of Colonel Fredrick Shaw, formerly of the 5th Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers. Other officers included Adjutant Captain Thomas Hempenstall and solicitor Francis Crozier, who would eventually rise to the rank of Lt Colonel in the 6th Battalion Royal Irish Fusiliers.

Their commitment to opposing Home Rule was every bit as staunch as that of their comrades in Ulster. As late as July 1914 a meeting in the Metropolitan Hall heard resolutions from the city’s Orangemen to ‘risk all in defence of their rights’ and calling on their leaders to take whatever steps they considered necessary. LDV commander Colonel Henry Maxwell told those assembled that the government had not moved against them and others drilling because they did not dare to do so. The same meeting heard how Dublin had a large body of ‘disciplined and armed’ Orangemen, full of ‘grim determination’. Those in attendance were told in no uncertain terms that the Loyal Dublin Volunteers would back up the Orange resolutions.

British Army enlistment
The same series of events unfolding in Ulster also affected Dublin, however, and with the outbreak of war great numbers of the corps enlisted in the British Army. Up to 80 members joined the Dublin ‘pals’ battalion’ almost immediately, with more following. What is more interesting is that, despite the considerable distance to travel to enlist, many Loyal Dublin Volunteers joined their fellow ‘volunteers’ within the ranks of the 36th Ulster Division. A considerable number joined the 9th Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers (County Tyrone Volunteers); one platoon in its C Company consisted entirely of Dublin men, and it had the highest proportion of ‘Southerners’ by far of all the battalions in the Division. A William Crozier from St Stephen’s Green in Dublin applied for a commission to the 9th Battalion on the basis that he had drilled for eleven months with the Loyal Dublin Volunteers. In September 1914, 60 men are recorded as leaving Fowler Hall for Finner Camp, Co. Tyrone, to join the ‘Tyrones’.

Emergence of an ‘Ulster’ solution

As the emergence of an ‘Ulster’ solution to the Home Rule crisis became apparent, the determination of the men to ‘fight’ Home Rule understandably took a major blow. An estimated 600 of its 2,000 members had enlisted, and the focus of their ‘fight’ changed, with a general meeting of the organisation in August 1915 proposing that they affiliate themselves with the Irish Association of Voluntary Training Corps (VTC). The VTC was a ‘home guard’-style organisation officially formed across the United Kingdom in November 1914, and the Irish contingent had 2,297 men and 77 officers based in Dublin, Cork and Belfast. At the meeting a T. H. Liddy stated that ‘the Loyal Dublin Volunteers had already done such good work that they should be recognised by the government. Those that were left behind would do their best to help the government and the country in this crisis.’ To this end between 200 and 300 immediately signed up, effectively making them a de facto reserve army unit, which would later serve in the Great War. Upon the outbreak of the Easter Rising in 1916 some assisted troops from the Curragh in suppressing the violence. Five Loyal Volunteers are recorded as losing their lives during the Rising.

LDV Badge 3

When the Civil War broke out in 1922 and the Orange Order was forced out of Fowler Hall, it effectively signalled an Orange exodus from Dublin City. The last local ‘Twelfth’ procession was in 1938, when it was attacked on its way to board trains to the north. Today the LDV is a relatively unknown organisation. The arms find of 1935, however, indicates very clearly the scale, seriousness and determination of some Dublin citizens to oppose Home Rule some twenty years earlier.

Quincey Dougan is a columnist with the Belfast News Letter.

Read More: Dublin’s Protestant population

Further reading

T. Bowman, Carson’s Army: the Ulster Volunteer Force, 1910–1922 (Manchester, 2007).
P. Buckland, Irish Unionism: the Anglo-Irish and the new Ireland, 1885–1923 (Dublin, 1973).
T. Dooley, The plight of Monaghan Protestants, 1912–26 (Dublin, 2000).
R.B. McDowell, Crisis and decline: the fate of the southern Unionists (Dublin, 1998).


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