Thomas Fallon, a “tailor, outfitter & equipment manufacturer”, operated out of Mary Street in the early twentieth century. His business could boast of being the “first maker in Ireland of Sam Brown belts for officers”, and when the Irish Volunteer movement was born, Fallon was one of the men who dressed its ranks. These advertisements for his business premises, published in the Irish Independent a century ago, are an interesting little insight into a sometimes overlooked aspect of the period, the manufacturing of uniforms for bodies like the Irish Volunteers.
Writing in August 1914 to the Irish Independent, Fallon stated that “I do a good trade with the Irish Volunteers….I have always been a Home Ruler and supporter of Mr. John Redmond…” While Fallon was a great admirer of Redmond, the later would ultimately split the Volunteer movement by encouraging Irishmen to enlist in the war effort of WWI. At a famous speech at Woodenbridge in Wicklow in September 1914, Redmond stated that:
The interests of Ireland, of the whole of Ireland, are at stake in this war. This war is undertaken in defence of the highest interests of religion and morality and right, and it would be a disgrace forever to our country, a reproach to her manhood, and a denial of the lessons of her history if young Ireland confined their efforts to remaining at home to defend the shores of Ireland from an unlikely invasion, and shrinking from the duty of proving on the field of battle the gallantry and courage which have distinguished their race all through its history.
This split the Volunteers into two opposing camps. One became known as the Irish National Volunteers, a body that followed Redmond and which consisted of the majority of the organisation, while a smaller body of men continued to operate under the title of Irish Volunteers, rejecting Redmond’s call to support the war effort. Fallon appears to have focused on providing for the Redmond-aligned wing of the movement from this point onwards:
Items produced by Fallon’s have come up for auction in recent years, for example this leather Officers Belt and Holster, stamped ‘T.Fallon, Mary St. Dublin’. For men of certain social classes in armed organisations, uniforms remained a distant dream.
James O’ Shea, a Citizen Army man who fought around Stephen’s Green in 1916, remembered bringing young Charles D’Arcy to the shop in the days before the Rising. D’Arcy would give his life at only fifteen years of age during the insurrection, the youngest member of the ICA to die in the fighting:
He was great although only a lad. His father and mother came to Liberty Hall one night and his father asked him after long persuasion to choose Liberty Hall or home. He immediately, and without hesitation, chose the Hall. I was present and I admired him with all my heart. I said to him while chatting that night “God knows what you have chosen”. He was killed on Henry & James’ roof, a bullet between the eyes. I had brought him to Confession on Saturday evening to Father Augustine in Church Street and we then went along and bought some equipment in Fallon’s of Mary Street. We then went along to Liberty Hall. This was on Easter Saturday.
The original uniforms of the ICA, to which D’Arcy belonged, had been procured from Arnott’s by Captain Jack White D.S.O, a veteran of the British Army in the Boer War and a founding member of the workers’ militia in Dublin. Sean O’Casey remembered that:
Captain White gave an order to Messrs. Arnott for fifty uniforms of dark green serge, and the men eagerly awaited their arrival. For the time being the rank and file wore on their left arms broad bands of Irish linen of a light blue colour, and the officers a band of crimson on the right arm. In a short time a consignment of haversacks, belts and bayonets arrived, and for a few nights following there was a terrible scene of polishing, oiling and cleaning, in which work Jim Larkin showed an enthusiasm worthy of a young boy with a new toy.
A noticeable feature of nationalist uniforms and dress at the time was the ever-present slouch hat, modeled on that of the Boers, whose fight in the Second Boer War had captivated nationalist Ireland. The first advertisement at the top of this post references “the famous Boer hat.” In Ireland, the slouch hat of the Boers became popularly known as the ‘Cronje’, a nod towards Piet Cronjé, a Boer General of the conflict.