Volunteer (Irish republican)

Volunteer (Irish republican)

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]


History of the term volunteer in Ireland

Irish Defence Forces cap badge
"Óglaigh na hÉireann", the Irish for "Irish Volunteers"

The origin of the term volunteer in the context of describing Irish republican paramilitaries is uncertain. In an Irish context on its own, the term was originally used as the name of the late 18th century Volunteers. The Irish Rifle Volunteer Corps was established in London in 1859, and later became the London Irish Rifles. In 1860 in response to the Volunteer Force movement in the rest of the United Kingdom, the short-lived Royal Irish Rifle Volunteers was established in Dublin, 1860.

The 1,400 Irish Catholics who enlisted with the Papal Army in 1860, to defend the Papal States during the Unification of Italy, are cited as being volunteers.[2][3][4]

In 1913, the term was adopted into the name of the Ulster Volunteers (Ulster Volunteer Force, UVF), an organisation created to resist Irish Home Rule. In response and in part inspired by the formation of the UVF, Irish nationalists founded the Irish Volunteers (Irish Volunteer Force) to defend Home Rule.[5][6][7] The Irish Volunteers name in Irish was Óglaigh na hÉireann.[8]

In September 1914, a split in the Irish Volunteers, saw the greater majority of its 160,000 membership form the National Volunteers,[9] with 12,000 members led by Eoin MacNeill,[10] continuing under the name of the Irish Volunteers. It is from these re-organised Irish Volunteers, that the original IRA, and subsequent organisations of the same name, see themselves as inheritors of, and continue to use Óglaigh na hÉireann as their Irish name.

The regular Irish Defence Forces also trace their descent back to the Irish Volunteers, with their official Irish name also being Óglaigh na hÉireann.


The term volunteer can be used to describe the entire membership of an Irish republican paramilitary organisation.[11], 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.[12] 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".[13]

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". [14]

Most modern IRA memorials refer to the dead only as "Volunteer", "Vol." or "Óglach" rather than giving a specific rank.[15][16]

The role of a volunteer

The Green Book defines the role of a new volunteer as follows:

  • 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 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."[17]

See also

  • Volunteer (Ulster loyalist)


  1. ^ See for example Belfast brigade 25th Anniversary of H-Block Hunger Strike 1981 - 2006 from a Republican Sinn Féin website
  2. ^ Google Books - England against the papacy, 1858-1861
  3. ^ The Wild Geese - The Pope's Irish Battalion
  4. ^ Freepages - Nineteenth Century Sources
  5. ^ Jackson, Alvin; Home Rule - An Irish History 1800-2000, page 120. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2003. ISBN 1-84212-724-1. Quote: The UVF was a direct inspiration for the Irish Volunteers, formed in November 1913 by those on the nationalist side who feared that Home Rule had stalled.
  6. ^ English, Richard: Irish Freedom - The History of Nationalism in Ireland, page 252. MacMillan, 2006. ISBN 1-4050-4189-7. Quote: Ironically, indeed, the UVF mobilization was welcomed by some Irish nationalists as showing the appropriate paramilitary way forward. Scholar-nationalist Eoin McNeill (...) also played a significant part in the founding of the Irish Volunteers, a nationalist militia established in Dublin in November 1913 in defence of the Home Rule struggle. To some degree prompted by and modelled on the Ulster Volunteers, these Irish Volunteers exemplified a trend which was frequently enough to be evident in the history of nationalist Ireland: that of one ethno-national gesture of aggression kick-starting organized paramilitarism on the other side (a similar pattern was to be evident, for example, in 1960s Northern Ireland)
  7. ^ Jackson, Alvin; Home Rule - An Irish History 1800-2000, page 134-135. ISBN 1-84212-724-1. Quote: But Larne and the Ulster Volunteers had a further military significance, as an example for militant nationalism... The institutional expression of these militant fears came with the establishment, in November 1913, of the Irish Volunteers, a citizen militia modelled loosely on its Unionist counterpart in the north
  8. ^ 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." 
  9. ^ Connolly, J.S.; Oxford Companion to Irish History, page 402-3. Oxford University Press, 2007. ISBN 978-0-19-923483-7
  10. ^ Jackson, Alvin; Home Rule - An Irish History 1800-2000, page 152. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2003. ISBN 1-84212-724-1.
  11. ^ Bell, J. Bowyer. The Gun in Politics: An Analysis of Irish Political Conflict, 1916-1986. ISBN 088738126X. 
  12. ^ Moloney, Ed (2002). A Secret History of the IRA. p. 571. ISBN 0-71-399665-X. 
  13. ^ YouTube - The Ulster Troubles (Part 17 of 24)
  14. ^ "South Belfast - Plaques". CAIN. http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/viggiani/south_plaque.html. Retrieved 11 February 2007. 
  15. ^ "West Belfast - Memorials". CAIN. http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/viggiani/west_memorial.html. Retrieved 11 February 2007. 
  16. ^ "West Belfast - Murals". CAIN. http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/viggiani/west_mural.html. Retrieved 11 February 2007. 
  17. ^ Dillon, Martin (1990). The Dirty War. Hutchinson. p. 468. ISBN 0-09-984520-2. 

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