Just a few weeks after the Irish Volunteers were formed in Dublin, a meeting was set up in the Town Hall on December 12th, 1913 to establish a Volunteer force in Galway. There was a lot of excitement and expectation as Eoin McNeill, Roger Casement and Pádraic Pearse told the packed hall that their main objective was to win Home Rule but the movement was also formed to protect them from the Ulster Volunteers. The meeting, which was chaired by George Nicholls, was a major success and some 600 men joined up that evening.
In June 1914, there were 1,938 Volunteers in County Galway in 24 branches. By the end of July, this number increased to 3,704 and in August the number was 5,191 in 54 branches.
John Redmond was initially against the formation of the Volunteers and tried to discourage people from joining. However, once he saw the powerful build-up of support for the organisation, he requested that some of his nominees be placed on the Executive Committee. This request was refused at first, but eventually, at a meeting of the provisional Committee, it was accepted and 25 of his men were given positions. This put Redmond in a strong position and over time, he gained even more control over the movement.
The day before Britain declared war on Germany (August 4th, 1914 ), Redmond made a speech in the House of Commons advising the government that they could withdraw their troops from Ireland as the Irish Volunteers would defend the country. The Government decided to suspend Home Rule for the duration of the war, and this, coupled with Redmond’s words of support, was simply not acceptable to many nationalists.
In Galway, Frank Hardiman was requested to organise a meeting in the Town Hall to discuss the matter, the idea being to place the entire Galway Volunteer Force under the control of Redmond. The meeting was a disaster with most supporting Redmond, but many refusing to do so. The Redmondites were now known as The National Volunteers, their motto was “Defence not Defiance” and their headquarters were in the Temperance Building on Prospect Hill.
In East Galway, the majority of the Volunteers remained loyal to McNeill. They were now known as The Irish Volunteers. As one of the members explained it was “Most of the milk and water Volunteers who joined when Redmond took over who followed Redmond”.
Once the Rising started, the authorities arrested most of the leaders in the city and the heavy garrison here meant that the Volunteers from the west could not join their colleagues who had mobilised.
A lack of accurate reporting and a lot of rumour caused a lot of apprehension and an atmosphere of siege hung over the city. A meeting was called at which people were invited to become special constables and act as a kind of reserve police force. Among these were the National Volunteers in the city under the command of Capt. J.P. McNeill. They patrolled the city in their uniforms with their rifles and bayonets. After the Rising, these national Volunteers helped the authorities round up the Irish Volunteers who had mobilised and send them to prison.