Cronin, Edmund (‘Ned’) John (1897–1948), co-founder of the Blueshirt movement, was born 10 July 1897 in Liscullane, Charleville, Co. Cork, one of six children of John Cronin, farmer. During early life he worked on the small family farm at Liscullane. He was active during the war of independence under the southern command and fought with the national army in the civil war; details of his career during these periods are sketchy, though early on in the civil war Cronin and 47 of his men had been forced to surrender to anti-treaty forces. In March 1923 he and two elder brothers joined the 39th Battalion of the Free State army, based at Limerick. He was promoted to the rank of quartermaster (February 1924) and remained in the army full-time until March 1929, when he joined 6th Reserve Battalion. In September 1933 he left the reserves.
In 1931 Cronin began a series of meetings with ex-army officers, with a view to establishing a body to represent their interests and commemorate those who had died in the course of duty. On 9 February 1932 the Army Comrades Association (ACA) was formed as a non-political body, open only to ex-members of the national army. The pace of political change in the Free State during the early 1930s, embodied by the coming to power of Fianna Fáil in March 1932, meant that the non-political alignment was unlikely to last. Increasingly Cronin's ACA was opposing Fianna Fáil policies and becoming embroiled in violence with Fianna Fáil and IRA supporters. In March 1933 Cronin suggested that the ACA adopt a uniform shirt to avoid confusion in the violent conflicts that accompanied its meetings. The blue shirt was adopted and soon entered political legend.
July 1933 witnessed the radicalisation of the movement under the new leadership of Gen. Eoin O'Duffy (qv). Although its new official title was the National Guard, the name ‘Blueshirts’ was always applied. Cronin became secretary of the National Guard, sat on the national executive, and through his discussions with Professor James Hogan (qv) contributed to the political ideology of the movement. Events moved quickly and in September 1933 the Blueshirts, the Centre party, and Cumann na nGaedheal merged to form Fine Gael. Cronin, who was selected to sit on the national executive of the new party and continued as secretary to the Blueshirt wing, was always active across the country; he did not restrict his political activities solely to Dublin, as many other Blueshirt leaders did. His activism and outspokenness resulted in his being arrested (December 1933) and charged with sedition and membership of an illegal organisation. Acquitted on the first charge, he received three months’ imprisonment for wearing a blue shirt.
In September 1934 O'Duffy resigned from the Blueshirts and Cronin was elected as director-general in his place and thus became a vice-president of Fine Gael. Without O'Duffy's energetic leadership and the impending sense of crisis that had existed in the minds of Fianna Fáil's opponents during 1933, the Blueshirts' support began to contract rapidly. Cronin's relationship with Fine Gael was always difficult, and the party was keen to rid itself of its shirted appendage. In October 1936 Fine Gael voted to suspend the activities of the Blueshirts, and Cronin was locked out of the organisation's offices. With the end of the Blueshirts as a functioning organisation, Cronin, having spent his personal wealth promoting their cause, was left with nothing. He emigrated to England where he worked as a printer. According to his family Cronin was invited back to Ireland to work with the first inter-party government but died within days of his return home in 1948.