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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]

History of the term volunteer in Ireland

File:Óglaigh na hÉireann.jpg

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

In Ireland, the term was used in the 18th century for members of local defence forces formed by the Government in anticipation of foreign threats – such as Jacobite (1715 and 1745) and French invasions (1757 and 1760).[2] The term "Ulster volunteers" goes back to 1803 when mention is made of the "Ulster volunteers of 1760".[3][4]

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. 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.[5][6][7]

In 1913, the Ulster Volunteers (Ulster Volunteer Force, UVF) were formed 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.[8][9][10] The Irish Volunteers name in Irish was Óglaigh na hÉireann.[11]

In September 1914, there was a split in the Irish Volunteers and most of its 160,000 members became part of the National Volunteers,[12] while 12,000 members, led by Eoin MacNeill,[13] continued under the name 'Irish Volunteers'. This group became the Irish Republican Army (IRA). The IRA and descended groups see themselves as the continuation of these Irish Volunteers, calling their members "volunteers" and calling themselves Óglaigh na hÉireann in Irish.

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 use of the term is quite loose. Sometimes it is used to refer to any member of an Irish republican paramilitary.[14] For example, Official IRA member Joe McCann, killed in 1972, was referred to in commemorations as a "Staff Captain" but also as a "Volunteer".[15]

However, sometimes the term is narrowed to mean a "rank and file" member, similar to a private, or a member that does not hold the role of an officer such as Chief of Staff or Quartermaster General.[16] The 'v' may or may not be capitalized. For instance, Joe Cahill said in a press conference, after the introduction of internment in 1971, that British forces had arrested two "officers" in the Provisional IRA, "the rest are volunteers, or as they say in the British Army, privates".[17] Most modern IRA memorials refer to the dead only as "Volunteer", "Vol." or "Óglach" rather than giving a specific rank.[18][19]

The role of a volunteer

The Green Book, the IRA training manual, 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."[20]

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. Padraig O Snodaigh; THE IRISH VOLUNTEERS 1715-1793 - A list of the units, pg 88. Irish Academic Press, Dublin.
  3. F. J. B.; Ulster Volunteers in 1760, Ulster Journal of Archaeology, Second Series, Vol. 8, No. 4 (Oct., 1902).
  4. Google Books - Collectanea Politica
  5. Google Books - England against the papacy, 1858-1861
  6. The Wild Geese - The Pope's Irish Battalion
  7. Freepages - Nineteenth Century Sources
  8. 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.
  9. 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)
  10. 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
  11. Ó Dónaill, Niall (1977). Foclóir Gaeilge-Béarla / Irish-English Dictionary. Dublin: An Gúm. ISBN 1-85791-038-9. "óglach: 1. (lit.) a young man (a) (young) warrior 2. Lit. Attendant, servant or vassal. 3. Mil: Volunteer; Óglaigh na hÉireann, the Irish Volunteers." 
  12. Connolly, J.S.; Oxford Companion to Irish History, page 402-3. Oxford University Press, 2007. ISBN 978-0-19-923483-7
  13. Jackson, Alvin; Home Rule - An Irish History 1800-2000, page 152. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2003. ISBN 1-84212-724-1.
  14. Bell, J. Bowyer. The Gun in Politics: An Analysis of Irish Political Conflict, 1916-1986. ISBN 0-88738-126-X. 
  15. "South Belfast - Plaques". CAIN. Retrieved 11 February 2007. 
  16. Moloney, Ed (2002). A Secret History of the IRA. p. 571. ISBN 0-7139-9665-X. 
  17. YouTube - The Ulster Troubles (Part 17 of 24)
  18. "West Belfast - Memorials". CAIN. Retrieved 11 February 2007. 
  19. "West Belfast - Murals". CAIN. Retrieved 11 February 2007. 
  20. Dillon, Martin (1990). The Dirty War. Hutchinson. p. 468. ISBN 0-09-984520-2. 

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