THE Irish Republican Brotherhood, whose members in the early days were commonly called “Fenians”, was founded on St. Patrick’s Day 1858. It was a secret oath-bound society whose aim was to establish an independent Republic of Ireland by any and every means possible, including armed struggle. Its members swore the following oath,
I, (name), do solemnly swear, in the presence of Almighty God, that I will do my utmost, at every risk, while life lasts, to make Ireland an Independent Democratic Republic; that I will yield implicit obedience, in all things not contrary to the law of God, to the commands of my superior officers; and that I shall observe inviolable secrecy all the transactions of this secret society that may be confided in me. So help me God! Amen.
Almost immediately it was decided to remove the clause swearing “inviolable secrecy”. Consequently this version of the oath was used from 1860 onwards,
I, (name), in the presence of Almighty God, do solemnly swear allegiance to the Irish Republic, now virtually established; and that I will do my very utmost, at every risk, while life lasts, to defend its independence and integrity; and, finally, that I will yield implicit obedience in all things, not contrary to the laws of God, to the commands of my superior officers. So help me God. Amen.
The Catholic hierarchy were fiercely opposed to the Fenians because of the latter’s espousal of violence, but especially because of their oath-bound secrecy. The opposition was led by the Archbishop of Dublin, Cardinal Paul Cullen. But their most outspoken opponent was David Moriarty, (Daithí Ó Muircheartaigh), bishop of Ardfert and Aghadoe (Kerry), 1856 – 1877. He described the Fenians as, “criminals, swindlers, and God’s heaviest curse”. He thundered from the pulpit, “When we look down into the fathomless depth of this infamy of the heads of the Fenian conspiracy, we must acknowledge that eternity is not long enough, nor hell hot enough to punish such miscreants”.
Towards the end of the nineteenth century a third version of the oath came into use. This is the one that was used to swear in members like Seán Treacy, Dan Breen, Michael Collins, Seán MacDiarmada, Éamonn Ó Duibhir and those who were involved in 1916, the Volunteers, and the War of Independence.
In the presence of God, I, (name), do solemnly swear that I will do my utmost to establish the independence of Ireland, and that I will bear true allegiance to the Supreme Council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and the Government of the Irish Republic and implicitly obey the constitution of the Irish republican Brotherhood
and all my superior officers and that I will preserve inviolable the secrets of the organisation.
Following the establishment of Dáil Éireann in January 1919, each Volunteer was required to take an oath of allegiance to the new Republic and its Government. In a process that went on for several months from August 1919, Brigade staff visited every Volunteer company area to administer this oath,
I, (name), do solemnly swear that I will uphold and defend the Irish Republic and the Government of the Irish Republic which is Dáil Éireann against all enemies both foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same. That I take this obligation freely without mental reservation or purpose of evasion, so help me, God.
With that oath the Volunteers formally became the Irish Republican Army, although they had used that designation since the Easter Rising in 1916.
Following the establishment of the Free State in January 1922, members of Dáil and Seanad Saorstáit Éireann were required to take this oath,
I, (name), do solemnly swear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of the Irish Free State as by law established, and that I will be faithful to H. M. King George V, his heirs and successors by law in virtue of the common citizenship of Ireland with Great Britain and her adherence to and membership of the group of nations forming the British Commonwealth of Nations.
That oath, enshrined in Article 17 of the Free State constitution, was profoundly repugnant to Republicans. As soon as Fianna Fáil, the anti – treaty party, achieved political power in n1932 they took immediate steps to delete Article 17 from the constitution and consign it to its proper place in the dustbin of history.