The Irish Volunteer Button
The most noticeable difference between an old and newer IV button is the design of the harp. The old button, on the left, has a broader harp with eight strings the newer design has nine strings. Strings are further apart on the older button.
A Uniform Committee of the Irish Volunteers was formed to decide on the uniform to be worn, a report from this committee which met on the 12th of August 1914 shows a list of the chosen manufacturer for the various items of uniform needed. Comyn Brothers of College Green Dublin were chosen to manufacture the buttons. The report was compiled by Eoin McNeill and Laurence J Kettle.
The report also shows that the cloth would be supplied by Murrogh Brothers and the uniforms manufactured by The Limerick Clothing Factory. As the reports says ‘owing to delays of various kinds Murrogh Brothers who had stocked cloth disposed of some of it to various traders who started making and advertising all kinds of uniforms.’ It was also stated in the report that the design of the button was not protected which would result in other manufacturers being free to reproduce the IV button.
As can be seen from these articles which appeared in the Irish Examiner manufactures of Irish Volunteer uniform were trying to pass of their material as that approved by the Irish Volunteer Uniform Committee. The Dripsey Woollen Mills Ltd, which had a plant in Cork, advertised a competition for the best dressed Irish Volunteer wearing a uniform made from the cloth they produced the add stating that their cloth was approved by the Provisional Committee. The Dripsey advert appeared on the 10th of July 1914, the next day Morrogh Brother and Co. Ltd. replied stating that they were the producers of the original IV uniform cloth and that other cloth was simply an imitation.
As can be seen from the advertisement from ‘The Irish Volunteer’ magazine dated Sunday 12th of December 1914 page 8 Alex Comyns and Son of 10 College Green Dublin were advertising that they were suppliers of the official serge material used to make the Volunteer uniform and sole makers of the official buttons. As a ‘Trade Only’ supplier Comyns would have supplied material and buttons to various tailors and uniform manufacturers to supply completed uniforms to Irish Volunteers.
Comyns & Son Dublin
There are some guaranteed 1916 period buttons on display at the Limerick Museum and they are on the uniform jacket of Colonel Michael Colivet. The uniform was made by Thomas Donovan of Limerick. The uniform has four patch pockets, each with button down flap with single small button. Four large buttons at front for fastening. 2 shoulder epaulettes buttoned down at collar, all buttons stamped on reverse Comyns & Son Dublin
The Limerick Clothing Factory
Founded about 1850 the LCF was the first company we can find records of having received an order for uniform for the Irish Volunteers. The first contract for the production of 300 uniforms went to the Limerick Clothing Factory. Uniforms would be sold by various retailers around the country. The archives of the LCF show that in 1922 the Free State Government placed an order valued at forty thousand pounds for Army uniform, the archive also show the LCF were the first to produce uniform for the Garda Síochána.
We have found two different maker’s marks of the LCF button. Type 1(right in the image above) has The Limerick Clothing Factory Limtd., type 2 (left in the image above) has an extra Limerick as in The Limerick Clothing Factory Ltd. Limerick. We think the extra Limerick was added to buttons made for the Free State Army during the Civil War. The new Government were eager to show that Government contracts were going to the regions and not confined to Dublin and the extra Limerick was added to emphases the buttons were made in Limerick.
We were unable to get a definite date of the addition of the Ltd on the J. Ireland button from IV buttons but buttons made for the Dublin Police and Póilini Átha Cliath do give a more definite time for the addition of the Ltd.
In 1922 approval was given by the Dáil for the re-branding of the Dublin Police to Póilini Átha Cliath, any Póilini Átha Cliath buttons we have found have the Ltd. Any Dublin Police buttons we have found do not have the Ltd strongly suggesting that the Ltd was introduced around 1922.
John Ireland and Son had a premises on Ellis Quay on the corner of John’s Street and was described in Thom’s Almanac and Official Directory for the year 1862 as Army Clothes, cap and accoutrement makers and is also listed at 11 Rathmines Road Dublin. At an auction in Adams recently an R.I.C. Inspectors 'Tourin,' or Side Cap, and an Inspectors Helmet made by John Ireland & Son, Dublin sold for over €5,000.
Silver coloured buttons were used on Officer’s uniforms, this size button, 14mm, was used on the epaulettes. The uniform committee of the IV reported in August 1914 that there would be no separate uniform for officers so the button would date pre-report and pre-split in the Volunteers.
D.B. Clothing had a retail outlet at 86 South Main Street Cork they also had a branch in Dublin. D. B. Clothing had been in Cork as far back as the early 1800s , similar to other clothing outlets which supplied I V Uniform they offered ready-made and a tailoring service.
Todd Burns and Company Limited Dublin.
Todd Burns and Company Limited Dublin had a large department store on Mary Street Dublin. We have found records of Todd Burns trading in Dublin in 1871 and an announcement of the new building on Mary Street in 1905. The store had a wholesale and retail business selling everything for the home including large furniture and also a large clothing and tailoring department. From what records we could find Todd Burns produced Irish Volunteer uniform from 1914 up to 1916 and appear to ceased production after the 1916 Rising.
I.J & E.M.
We were unable to find any details on I J and E M Co. Ltd. The buttons have the déanta I néirinn (made in Ireland) trademark, this mark was officially introduced in 1927 but was in use since before 1916. They supplied buttons to the Free State Army but may have also produced button for the Irish Volunteers. We could not find any records of I J and E M producing buttons for the Emergency period suggesting they stopped producing buttons for the Irish Army before 1940.
IJ and EM Dublin
IJ and EM button with Dublin on the maker's mark.
Other Ranks Ball or Dome Button
Ball type other ranks uniform button used on the dress uniform between 1935 and 1955. Made by Armfield B’Ham. Measures 16mm across and not including the eye is 9mm deep. The brass version was worn by enlisted and other ranks, officers wore white metal or silver.
It can be seen on the button where the harp and I V have been applied to the button. We have only seen brass ball or dome button made by Armfield B’Ham and from what records we could find they all appear to have been made before 1940.
English Made Buttons
Firmin and Sons Ltd. London
Although Irish Volunteers were encouraged to Buy Irish when it came to uniform we have found some early design IV buttons made in England. The older design we did find is not in good condition but the distinct design of the older harp can be seen as can the eight harp strings. The later version, dating from about the 1970s onward, showing nine strings also has the narrower harp and is marked on the reverse Firmin London. The Firmin Company has been in business since 1655 and is one of the oldest UK companies still trading.
Firmin and Sons Ltd. London would have supplied buttons to independent smaller tailors in Ireland through a wholesaler. The most likely time for Firmin and Sons Ltd. London to have been manufactured would have been between the setting up of the Irish Volunteers in 1913 and the 1916 Rising, because the Irish Volunteers were outlawed after the rising we don’t think an English company would have made buttons for them, the new Free State Government had a Buy Irish policy so we don’t think Firmin and Sons Ltd. London makes would have been made for the Free State Army in the Civil War although it is possible. The 9 string harp Firmin button most likely dates from the 1970s and later.
Domed button with applied harp flanked by the letters I.V. Hallmarked Dublin 1936.
Early issue Chaplains Buttons
Solid cast button
Pressed or Stamped Variety
No Maker’s Mark Buttons
There are eight string harp buttons with no maker’s mark or with a design on the back which does not identify the maker. I have seen the button design above on two Civil War era uniforms.