Sinn Féin Is Founded Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Dismayed by the failure of both the formal politics of John Redmond’s Irish Parliamentary Party and the violence of the Irish Revolutionary Brotherhood, Arthur Griffith created first Cumann na nGaedheal and then Sinn Féin to gather and galvanize the varied Irish nationalist cultural and political movements.

Summary of Event

Arthur Griffith was born in Dublin and was educated by the Roman Catholic Christian Brothers. He began his career as a journalist by working as a printer, his father’s trade, as a very young man. Barely in his teens, while working for the Irish Independent newspaper, Griffith was introduced to the Young Ireland Society, Young Ireland Society a popular organization dedicated to reviving the political and cultural national separatist spirit of the original Young Irelanders of the 1840’s. At about the same time, he joined the underground and largely moribund Irish Revolutionary Brotherhood (IRB; later renamed the Irish Republican Brotherhood), Irish Republican Brotherhood sometimes known as the Fenians, which was dedicated to the use of violence to sever Ireland’s political ties to England. Griffith joined a third nationalist group, the Gaelic League, Gaelic League shortly after its founding in 1893. This group devoted itself to establishing a Celtic or Gaelic cultural identity—including the use of the Gaelic language—around which a new Irish state might develop. Sinn Féin;founding [kw]Sinn Féin Is Founded (Nov. 28, 1905) Sinn Féin;founding [g]Ireland;Nov. 28, 1905: Sinn Féin Is Founded[01420] [c]Colonialism and occupation;Nov. 28, 1905: Sinn Féin Is Founded[01420] [c]Organizations and institutions;Nov. 28, 1905: Sinn Féin Is Founded[01420] [c]Social issues and reform;Nov. 28, 1905: Sinn Féin Is Founded[01420] Griffith, Arthur

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All of these organizations sought an independent political existence for Ireland, but none of them had a political presence at the London-based seat of the United Kingdom in Westminster. Parliamentary politics in Ireland was virtually monopolized by the Irish Parliamentary Party Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP), which was headed by John Redmond. Redmond, John The party had an aging and increasingly ineffective political voice that was increasingly dependent on English reassurances that home rule—the establishment of a separate Irish government subordinate to Britain—was imminent. The nationalist groups of the 1880’s and 1890’s rejected these halfway measures and despised the IPP’s impotence, but they produced no viable alternative.

More moderate than not, Griffith had been drawn to the IPP before the political humiliation, fall, and death of its great leader Charles Stewart Parnell in 1891. He sank even deeper roots in the Irish cultural movements, whose members formed his circle of friends. When the South African Boers, whites of Dutch extraction, began their war with the English colonial government in the later 1890’s, Griffith sailed to join the fray. After his brave conduct on behalf of the Boer cause, Griffith returned to Dublin in 1898. This was the centenary of the storied Irish Rebellion of 1798, and in the spirit of the movement, he and William Rooney, Rooney, William a writer and member of the Celtic Literary Society, founded a newspaper named for the 1798 rebels called the United Irishman. United Irishman (newspaper) Its pages were filled with militant nationalist sentiment that harked back to earlier periods of rebellious activity and voiced contemporary dissatisfaction with feckless politicians and the impotent cultural movement. Griffith demanded nothing less than an Irish republic and called for a gathering of all the nationalist organizations into one party centered on this goal. Although he did not reject parliamentary politics altogether, he condemned the dangling carrot of home rule.

The United Irishman supported the Boers, the pro-Boer Irish Transvaal Committee, and the Irish Brigade of John MacBride, with whom Griffith had fought. It also preached resistance to English efforts to recruit Irish soldiers. Among many Irish, however, this last stance was unacceptable, since many families had sons and brothers fighting for Great Britain in South Africa. Despite a lack of wide popular support, Griffith used the Irish Transvaal Committee as a nucleus around which he created a new organization, Cumann na nGaedheal Cumann na nGaedheal (League of the Gaels). Griffith gave the league a broad charge. He sought to promote Irish history, culture, and language study, using the Gaelic League and Irish sports organizations such as the Gaelic Athletic League as models, and he also aimed at promoting Ireland’s economic development and independence in a manner similar to that of the IRB and Ulster’s later nationalist Dungannon Clubs.

Cumann was to be an amalgamation of as many of the existing cultural nationalist groups as possible. These included the Celtic Literary Society and the early feminist Daughters of Ireland, which had been recently founded by John MacBride’s fiery wife Maud Gonne. The Gaelic League and IRB were supportive, but they remained aloof. Symbolically, the league’s first president, elected at its first public convention in November, 1900, was the old Fenian John O’Leary, and John MacBride was chosen as vice president. The organization adopted the Gaelic motto first coined by economic nationalists in the 1880’s and later adopted by the Gaelic League: Sinn Féin, which translates as “we ourselves” or “ourselves alone.” Griffith insisted on having no exclusionary principles for membership, although some wanted to set requirements for ethnicity (Gaelic or Anglo-Irish), command of Gaelic, or dedication to violence. Despite the wide net, Cumann had few members, although its main voice, the United Irishman, had thirty thousand subscribers and many more readers.

At Cumann’s Third Convention, Griffith announced its first positive political plank: the establishment of a dual monarchy for Britain and Ireland that would mirror that established by the Hungarians in the 1860’s in the Austrian Empire. The monarch would essentially wear two crowns: one in Westminster and another as monarch in Dublin. Although this fell short of true independence, it went well beyond home rule and provided a distinctive and potentially popular position for Griffith’s organization. In 1904 he published the successful Resurrection of Hungary, in which he outlined a plan for a new Irish parliament, one that would consist of the 103 members then sitting at Westminster and of new representatives drawn from across Ireland. At about the same time, he created a political party, the National Council, National Council (Irish political party) which was to challenge not only British authority but IPP candidates as well.

The impetus for the new party’s introduction was provided by a visit to Dublin by King Edward VII, an event that Cumann and the new party vociferously protested. As a way of presenting the party, Griffith publicized the dual-monarchist model in the pages of United Irishman and in his book The Sinn Féin Policy (1904). The National Council grew, and by January, 1905, it could hold a General Council of County Councils, at which the delegates called for the implementation of Griffith’s plan, still generally called the “Hungarian Policy.” Beginning in May, this rather un-Irish moniker was replaced by the title “Sinn Féin.” At the National Council’s First Convention, which opened in Dublin on November 28, 1905, delegates adopted the slogan, and the Sinn Féin party was born. To reinforce the fledgling party and its connections with Cumann, Griffith changed the name of the United Irishman to Sinn Féin in 1906, after Liberal Party victories in England all but ensured the tabling of home rule for the foreseeable future. This neutralized the IPP and weakened its appeal, creating what should have been a power vacuum. Indeed, an increasingly wide circle of disaffected cultural nationalists and even republicans were drawn to Sinn Féin, and this in turn led to a revitalization of the IRB in 1907. By 1908, however, Sinn Féin candidates had won only one election, and in 1909 the party agreed not to challenge the IPP in the 1910 elections.

Significance

From these rather inauspicious beginnings, Sinn Féin grew into a powerful force that supported the drive for independence from 1916 to 1922. In the 1910’s, its identification with violent republicanism earned the rebels of the 1916 Easter Rising Easter Rebellion (1916) the pejorative nickname “shinners.” In 1918, when the newly declared Irish Republic held general elections led by Eamon de Valera, De Valera, Eamon Sinn Féin garnered nearly half a million votes and 73 of the 105 seats. Sinn Féin’s connection with the Irish Republican Army Irish Republican Army (IRA) helped it survive the Irish war for independence in the early 1920’s, which ended with the Treaty of Westminster. The civil war that followed, which pitted party members against each other, left deep and splintering ruptures.

Once the fighting had stopped, the majority (protreaty Sinn Féin members) formed the core of the new Cumann na nGaedheal party, which was headed by William T. Cosgrave after 1923, while the opposition, led by de Valera, emerged as Fianna Fáil Fianna Fáil in 1926. In the six counties of Northern Ireland, the party coalesced with the IRA, which remained relatively active there and agitated for union with the southern Republic. In the wake of the demonstrations for civil rights and resultant violence in the late 1960’s, Sinn Féin reemerged as a radical political party associated with the IRA, Catholic nationalism, and Marxist critiques of society and politics. In 1970, it split once again, into an Official Party of constitutional Marxists and a Provisional Party (sometimes known as the IRA’s “political wing”) directly associated with the IRA and its republican ideology. Sinn Féin;founding

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Feeny, Brian. Sinn Féin: A Hundred Turbulent Years. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2003. A popular and complete history that discusses the early Sinn Féin as an example of a popular-front nationalist movement.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kee, Robert. The Green Flag. New York: Penguin Books, 2001. Vigorous narrative history of the roots and flowering of the party in the context of the failures of contemporary Irish political and cultural movements.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Younger, Calton. Arthur Griffith. Dublin: Gill, 1981. The standard and most readily available biography of Sinn Féin’s founder.

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