How 1916’s rebels dressed to impress

The price of freedom doesn’t come cheap, but the true cost of being a patriot wasn’t just to be paid in blood, sweat and tears, but also in pounds, shillings and pence.

Whatever one’s views about those who fought in 1916 and the destruction they brought down on our capital city and elsewhere, one thing is for sure, they were a well-dressed bunch.

The men of the Irish Citizen Army cut dashing figures as they paraded around the streets of Dublin in their white bandoliers, dark uniforms and Boer hats. The same could be said for the Irish Volunteers and their officers. These men looked the part and tried their best to act it, too.

A lot of time and effort went into moulding these men into paramilitaries . . . time, effort and money, because those uniforms didn’t come cheap.

In December, 1916, at a special conference in Derry, the Irish Trade Union Congress noted that although wages had increased 10pc throughout the country, food prices had increased by a massive 80pc, so money was scarce in many quarters.

By 1914, a drapers’ assistant earned about £1 a week; female dressmakers slightly less, at 10s a week. In 1919, the basic salary for a Constable was £109 4s a year. A trained nurse earned between £30 and £40, while a Sister was paid £50. Tram conductors earned 22s6d (22 shillings and sixpence a week).

the o'rahilly

The O’Rahilly in Volunteer uniform

To understand how big a hit the wallets of freedom fighters were taking, it’s worth noting that one old penny would be the equivalent of about 33 cents today. A shilling in 1916 would roughly have the same purchasing power as about four euro in modern currency, while one old pound was equal to €80. So, with relatively low incomes for the majority of republicans, Volunteers and Citizen Army personnel had to sacrifice a lot to dress for Ireland.

There were a couple of go-to establishments for the well-dressed revolutionary to frequent. Thomas Fallon of Nos 8 & 53 Mary Street was one; Hearne & Co Ltd was another. Both offered the complete rig – everything from “Splendid web bandoliers with five leather pockets” (two shillings and sixpence – 2/6 – each) to Sam Brown belts, “richly mounted” (14/6 – about €58 in today’s money).

Caps – dark green – cost 1/6 and 5/6, depending on head size, presumably; while Volunteer Boer-shape hats were priced at 1/10 and 2/6. Fallons was selling them for a hefty 2/3 each – mind you, they did also offer them at 22/6 per dozen.

The uniform itself was of “approved design only”. Customers could write for a self-measurement form which they would then send back to the shop’s tailor. Fallon’s offered uniform Irish tweed suits at 24/6 each, with Irish frieze green coats costing 35 shillings.

The Mary Street business styled itself as Tailor, Outfitter & Equipment Manufacturer – and the first maker in Ireland of Sam Brown belts for officers. They also claimed to be the “first maker in Ireland of special uniform for Volunteer officers”.

For the socialists of James Connolly’s Irish Citizen Army it must have been comforting to know that “Bandoliers and belts (are) made on the premises by trade union labour”.

In its advertisements, Fallons proclaimed that “Nothing can stop the march of the Irish Volunteers” – and so, it seemed, if their uniforms were anything to go by.

Irish Citizen Army

Members of the Irish Citizen Army

The historian and author Richard Michael Fox was a contemporary of Connolly’s and Larkin’s, and admired both men greatly. In his book, The Irish Citizen Army, he describes the uniform that was adopted by Connolly’s band of 300 ‘soldiers’:

“Until the uniforms came (in 1914), the rank and file wore Irish linen armlets of a light blue colour with the letters ICA on them, while the officers wore bands of crimson. When a consignment of belts, havoursacks (stet) and bayonets arrived the men were soon busy cleaning, polishing and oiling with enthusiasm. Big slouch hats completed the turn-out. … When the uniforms came the enthusiasm was greater than ever. They were of a darker green than those worn by the Irish Volunteers, and it became the custom among the Transport Union members to fasten up one side of the big slouch hats with the red hand badge of the Union.”

These uniforms were described as being of good quality dark green serge. They had a high collar and had two breast pockets and two large box pockets. The slouch hat was of the same very dark green colour. It was similar in style to the hats worn by the Anzacs in the British Forces and the Boer “Cronje” hat.

Countess Markievicz in uniform

Countess Markievicz in uniform

The ICA cap badge was the Irish Transport And General Workers Union badge for 1913. The uniform belt was the same pattern as the RIC belt with a brass “Snake S” buckle. Those carrying rifles wore black bandoliers and all members carried a white linen ammunition and kit bag. The trousers were the same dark green colour and material.  All in all, it was a smart rig-out.

Twenty-four female members of the ICA took part in the Rising. Their uniforms were of a similar colour, but coarser tweed than the men’s. Ladies wore the same bandoliers and white kit bags as the men but sometimes wore Sam Browne belts rather than the “Snake S” buckle belts. Most wore a skirt in the same colour, but others, such as Countess Markievicz, wore trousers.  In some quarters, that act alone was probably more rebellious than anything else that happened on Easter Week…

ADVERTS FOR TWO IRISH OUTFITTERS:

HEARNE
 Haversacks 10½d and 1/2
 Putties, grey-green – best Volunteer colour 1/- and 1/4½
 Leather bandoliers, five pocket, used before, 2/11
 New Officers belts, with sling, richly mounted 5/11
 Sam Brown new belts, richly mounted 14/6
 New bandolier, five pocket 4/11
 Volunteer badges, 3/11 per dozen
 Green Irish flag with harp, 1/11; best quality 10/6
 Green sashes 1/-; 1/11; 2/11

 

Thomas Fallon, 8 & 53 Mary Street, Dublin
 The famous Boer hat as worn by the American Army 2/3 each -22/6 dozen

 Haversacks – 10d * water bottles – 1/3 & 4/9 * waist belts – 1/- & 2/6  * leather bandoliers 4/9 & 7/6 * leather slings 1/6 * grey-green putties 1/6 per pair * grey-green uniform caps 1/6, 2/6, 3/6 * frogs 10d & 1/9 * signalling flags 10d 1/6 * infantry whistles 1/- * armbands 5½d * harp cap badges 6d * shoulder decorations 6d * harp buttons 6d per dozen small, 1/- large * green flags four yards long 7/6

 Burnishers, swagger canes, button sticks, button brushes, green sashes, officers’ Sam Brown belts, officers’ map cases, even sword scabbards, fittings & mountings for bandoliers and Sam Brown belts, grey-green shirts, collars and fronts; Everything to equip the soldier for the field; leather leggings. Binoculars 35/-

 

This article, written by me, first appeared in The Irish Independent

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About historywithatwist

I am an Associate Editor with a national newspaper. I have a keen interest in history and in writing. I have published one novel, Tan, and am currently working on a sequel
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7 Responses to How 1916’s rebels dressed to impress

  1. Fabulous. I just love your posts. Always a different slant.

  2. Carol Ervin says:

    Fascinating history. Keep on!

  3. jazzfeathers says:

    Absolutely fascinating. This is the kind of thing we seldom considered when talking history (the cost of dressing is so seldom addressed in any historical discussion) and still it’s such matters that make history alive.

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