Sunday 15 December 2019

The true cost of being a patriot

Freedom wasn't just paid for in blood, sweat and tears - would-be volunteers had to part with sizeable sums of hard cash in order to look the part, writes David Lawlor

Ready for action: The O'Rahilly in his Irish Volunteers uniform
Ready for action: The O'Rahilly in his Irish Volunteers uniform
Volunteer: Austin Stack
1916 Uniforms

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 dark uniforms, white linen ammo bags and Boer hats. The same could be said for the Irish Volunteers and their officers. These men looked the part and tried 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 risen by a massive 80pc, so money was scarce in many quarters.

By 1914, a drapers' assistant earned about £1 a week; female dressmakers 10 shillings 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 got £50. Tram conductors earned 22s/6d (22 shillings and six pence a week), so this will give some idea as to how much Volunteers and Citizen Army personnel had to sacrifice in order 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, in Co Waterford, was another. Both offered the complete rig - everything from "Splendid web bandoliers with five leather pockets" (two shillings and six pence - 2/6 - each) to Sam Brown belts, "richly mounted" (14/6).

Caps - dark green - cost 1/6 and 5/6, depending on head size, presumably; while Volunteer Boer-shape hats in Hearne's were priced at 1/10 and 2/6. Fallon's 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, while Irish frieze green coats cost 35s.

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 uniforms 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, Fallon's proclaimed that "Nothing can stop the march of the Irish Volunteers", and so it seemed, if their uniforms were anything to go by. Everything a soldier could need was available, from haversacks (10d - half a penny cheaper than at Hearne's) to putties (1/- and 1/4ƒ at Hearne's compared to the pricier Fallon's where they cost 1/6).

However, Fallon's certainly had the march on its rival. The shop sold everything a stylish officer would desire, from map cases, swagger sticks and even sword scabbards to signalling flags, leather leggings and binoculars (35/-). In fact, they supplied "everything to equip the soldier for the field".

Certain items, like uniforms, proved beyond the budget of many Volunteers, who wore civilian clothes instead. Many stuck to the bare essentials - a rifle and a bandolier for bullets. Whatever they wore, though, the rebels of 1916 risked their lives in the name of Ireland, but long before that they had to give up the contents of their wallets, too.

It all adds up: Pounds, shillings and pence

Before decimalisation in February 1971, the pound was the legal currency. There were 12 pence in a shilling and 20 shillings in a pound.

For instance:

10 pence was 10d.

One shilling and 10 pence was 1/10.

One pound, one shilling and 10 pence £1/1/10.

£1 in 1914 would be worth just over €100 in today's money, a shilling about €5 and a penny about 40 cents.

The outbreak of the Great War in 1914 saw rapid price increases in basics throughout Ireland. Sugar rose from 2½d per pound to 6d; butter from a ­shilling per pound to a 1/6; flour increased by 20pc, bacon by 25pc.

In general, the cost of living increased by about 50pc in the first two years alone of the Great War, and continued rising thereafter.

Most beer more than doubled in price. In ­December 1914, Cork porter increased by 50pc, from 2d to 3d; by 1917, it was 5d. Increases were driven only partly by rising costs, but mainly excise levies, particularly on stronger beers.

Here are some of the items advertised by two stores in the run up to the Rising:

HEARNE & Co of Waterford

Haversacks 10½d and 1/2 n Putties, grey-green - best Volunteer colour 1/- and 1/4½ n Leather bandoliers, five pocket, used before, 2/11 n New Officers belts, with sling, richly mounted 5/11 n Sam Brown new belts, richly mounted 14/6 n New bandolier, five ­pocket 4/11

Thomas Fallon, 8 & 53 Mary Street, Dublin

The famous Boer hat as worn by the American Army 2/3 each, 22/6 dozen n Haversacks 10d n Water bottles 1/3 & 4/9 n Waist belts 1/- and 2/6 n Leather bandoliers 4/9 and 7/6 n Leather slings 1/6 n Grey-green putties 1/6 per pair n Grey-green uniform caps 1/6, 2/6, 3/6 n Frogs 10d and 1/9 n Signalling flags 10d 1/6 n Infantry whistles 1/- n Arm bands 5½d n Harp cap badges 6d n Shoulder decorations 6d n Harp buttons 6d per dozen small, 1/- large n 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/-

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