A short history of Irish Republicanism 1792 – 1949

Written by Scott Millar and Brian Hanley, this short history of Irish Republicanism was initially intended for publication as the first chapter of The Lost Revolution, their history of the Official Republican Movement and the Workers’ Party.


‘Our independence must be had at all hazards, if the men of property will not support us, they must fall: we can support ourselves by the aid of that numerous and respectable class of the community, the men of no property.’

Theobald Wolfe Tone, 1796[1]

Theobald Wolfe Tone

On a June day in 1795 a group of seven young men gathered on Cave Hill overlooking the bustling mercantile port of Belfast. Among them were Theobald Wolfe Tone, Thomas Russell, Samuel Neilson, Robert Simms and Henry Joy McCracken. None of them were over thirty five years of age and the gathering may have seemed like that of any other group of gentlemen of the merchant and landed classes enjoying the summer weather. However, they were there to pledge themselves to revolutionary insurrection. Among the grass covered remains of an Iron Age defensive works known as McArt’s Fort the men ‘took a solemn obligation…never to desist in our efforts, until we have subverted the authority of England over our country and asserted her independence.’[2] This pledge, which set the men and their organisation on a course of violent rebellion, would become the touchstone of Irish republicans who sought to follow their example over the next 200 years.

This was not the path that had been envisaged at the establishment of the Society of United Irishmen in Belfast in October 1791. Initially it had been hoped that political pressure could be brought to bear on the Dublin and London administrations to advance their aims. Central to these was a repeal of the Penal Laws, which to varying degrees economically and politically discriminated against Catholics and Presbyterians, and gain increased powers for the Dublin based parliament.[3] 

The United Irishmen had initially attempted to advance their project legally. In Tone’s most famous political pamphlet, An Argument on Behalf of the Catholics of Ireland, he argued that removed from the unfair burdens of the Penal Laws, Irish Catholics would be as good subjects of the British crown as any other community.  The pamphlet was penned a month before the establishment of the first United Irishmen club and did much to establish Tone’s credentials for political leadership.

United Irishmen agitated for change through organisations such as the Catholic Committee and the Irish Volunteers, corps of militia raised by the government as a home guard against possible French attack.[4] However this strategy had met with very limited success and had initiated a stern government backlash. In May 1794 membership of the United Irishmen was banned and government militia began a brutal crackdown.  In February 1795 William Fitzwilliam, the London appointed viceroy of Ireland (the leading position in the country’s administration) who had given favourable expression towards possible concessions, was recalled to London. He had been in office less than two months. After this, Tone and most of his fellow United Irishmen leaders, drawn in the main from the Catholic and Protestant mercantile class of Dublin and Belfast respectively, began to consider violent revolution their only option.

The republican radicals and the British administration both perceived their struggle as a local manifestation of a revolutionary conflict that had in the pervious two decades led to the independence of Britain’s American colonies and swept the aristocracy and Catholic Church from power in France. Young men were questioning the old certainties of the feudal based ancien régime, which had dominated Europe since the Middle Ages. Emboldened by wealth generated by the development of capitalist enterprises, in Ireland mainly the linen industry and agricultural trade, the most radical of this growing class looked for a new ‘rational’ organisation of society to replace the hierarchical system of aristocracy and church.[5]  Rather than safeguarding their social and economic position they saw the existing order as a barrier to social peace and a block to future economic development.

The United Irishmen espoused a republican ideology that had been popularised in Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man, an impassioned defence of the French Revolution of 1789. Paine’s polemic forcibly condemned the rule of aristocracy and church. He dismissed the aristocracy as a ‘kind of fungus growing out of the corruption of society’ and their titles as mere ‘nicknames.’[6]  His call for social upheaval invigorated the Irish radicals; ‘nothing of reform in the political world ought to be held impossible. It is the age of revolutions, in which everything maybe looked for.’ The pamphlet’s influence on the United Irishmen is unquestionable. Paine was elected an honorary member of the Dublin society of United Irishmen and Tone in 1791 referred to the Rights of Man as the ‘Koran of Belfast.’

It was the development of a new mass media of pamphlets and newspapers that allowed the radical message to be brought beyond Dublin and Belfast’s taverns and meeting houses to the populace at large. In the 1790s hundreds of thousands of articles of literature where disturbed by the United Irishmen and like-minded groups throughout much of the country. Those that could not read gathered around the homes of the literate to listen to the new humanist gospel.[7]

Central to this was the United Irishman newspaper, the Northern Star. Edited by Samuel Neilson, a leading Belfast United man, the twice-weekly paper had a wide circulation throughout Ireland. The Star’s coverage of events was unfailingly radical, leading one loyalist critic to bemoan in 1797; ‘the country (is) completely corrupted or dangerously infected so far as delivery of the Northern Star extends and no further.’[8] The republican radicals were boldly asking every man to question the existing social order. A handbill disturbed in 1794 encapsulates these sentiments: ‘think seriously: think of your rulers; think of republics; think of kings; think of the murderous wars they are carrying on; think of the money they are robbing you of to keep you in slavery and ignorance.’

The radicals on Cave Hill envisaged a new government of Ireland separate from England that they hoped would represent men of all religious persuasions. Most United men were strongly intellectually opposed to Catholicism, seeing the faith as a hindrance to the development of rational progress. But they believed that the revolution in France had shown a new era was at hand, where Catholics themselves would defy their Church. Their egalitarian call was aimed to strike fear into the supporters of the status quo. However, it was the reality of religious division that left Ireland’s republican revolutionaries with a much harder task than their French and American counterparts. Not only were they seeking to make everyman a politician but also forge a new national identity from often warring factions. This hope was encapsulated in Tone’s most famous declaration; ‘to substitute the common name of Irishmen in place of the denominations of Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter.’

Ireland’s religious denominations were not simply competing modes of worship, but demarcated deep historical and cultural divides among the country’s inhabitants. Over two thirds of the country’s population, which in the 1790s was some 5 million, was Catholic in faith and was considered Irish, and to a lesser extent, Gaelic, in culture. This cultural definition united a population whose ancestors, to varying degrees, were a mix of Anglo-Norman, Scandinavian, Highland Scots and other settler groups as well as Gaelic Irish. Still largely Gaelic speaking and overwhelming rural, political power had been violently wrested from this community. Since the late 16th century, the English crown had attempted to impose its will on a kingdom that had nominally been under its control since the 1200s. In reality, until the Elizabethan age the royal writ rarely carried much weight beyond an area surrounding Dublin known as the Pale and the coastal towns.  By the 1690s, and the defeat of the Jacobite forces at the Battle of the Boyne, this process of subjection had been largely completed. In the preceding century, the crown had successfully defeated the military might of the Irish lords but its attempts to eradicate Gaelic culture and allegiance to the Catholic faith had met with less success.[9] This military defeat followed by cultural resistance resulted in an atmosphere conducive to agrarian secret societies and politicised banditry that periodically challenged the subjugator’s law.

In the Elizabethan period these Tory or Woodkerne bands where largely composed of remnants of the disposed Gaelic military.[10]  By the mid 18th century this social dislocation manifested itself in the bandit activities of ‘Rapparees’ and bouts of agrarian terror committed by groups of ‘Whiteboys’ taking action against what they deemed unfair rents. By the 1770s only 5% of the country’s land was in Catholic hands and Catholics and Presbyterians were liable to pay tithes to the Anglican Church.[11] In the 1790s, as the competition for land between the Protestant and Catholic rural populations increased, secretive ‘Defender’ lodges formed across southern Ulster and north Connaught and Leinster. These Defenders developed their own proto-revolutionary goals and eventually became subsumed into the United Irishmen’s military strategy.

The inclusion of Ireland within the British political framework had not been achieved by military might alone but also by the Empire’s first large scale colonial projects. It was these ‘Plantations’ that brought the majority of Ireland’s two other major religious communities to the island. In the early 1600s, following the military defeat of the Ulster Gaelic chiefdoms the British administration set upon a major policy of ‘plantation.’ This involved the resettlement of areas of the country where Gaelic opposition had been most intense with populations from Britain. The policy it was hoped would establish Protestant communities, whose loyalty would be assured of in opposition to the dispossessed.

The section of the British population, which found the prospect of resettlement in Ireland the most appealing, was the Presbyterians of the Scottish Lowlands. Geographically and culturally the north east of Ulster was not far for this restive Scottish population to move. There had been a long tradition of movement between Ulster and Western Scotland with groups from both countries historically playing important roles in the other. For example, the Scottish mercenary warrior Gallowglass families such as the MacSwineys and MacDowells were long settled in eastern Ulster.[12]

However, this new movement of people was not as easily assimilated with the existing population as earlier migrations. This was largely due to the settler’s new faith and Scots, rather than Gaelic, language. The new faith would prove a lasting boundary. Following the Scottish Presbyterian Reformation of the 16th century, most lowland Scots had embraced a strict form of Calvinism which valued democratic principles, adherence to the Bible and strong opposition to Catholicism. The early 1600s established a pattern of plebeian Presbyterian migration to Ulster as this community attempted to create its ‘new Jerusalem’ freed of aristocratic and bishopric control but still looking to Scotland, its universities and Kirk, for political guidance. By the 1790s this population, known colloquially as the ‘Scotch’ or ‘dissenters’ constituted a majority in the North East of the country.[13] Its loyalty to the crown was conditional on the maintenance of ‘religious freedoms.’ Perceived aristocratic infringement of these economic and religious freedoms had given rise to popular and violent opposition in the latter half of the 18th century. Agrarian societies such as the ‘Hearts of Oak’ and the ‘Steel Boys’ were formed to assert sections of the Presbyterian community’s opposition to higher rents and other perceived injustices.  This social friction and limits on religious freedom had also resulted in large numbers of Presbyterians emigrating to America. Later known as the ‘Scotch-Irish’ many of them played a leading role in that colony’s revolution of 1776.[14]

By the 1790s however, agrarian unrest had taken on a more sectarian hue. With population growth and increased commercial competition in weaving and linen production, the rural lower classes divided along religious lines. Presbyterian gangs, known as ‘Peep O’ Day Boys’, launched morning raids and fought pitched battles with their Catholic Defender neighbours. These confrontations often resulted in destruction of property and death. Other Presbyterians turned to the American and French revolutions for political inspiration. Politically handicapped by the Penal Laws, and at the forefront of the linen industry, the expansion of which was curtailed by pro-English trade legalisation, many Ulster Presbyterian’s espoused the new revolutionary creed with zeal. Belfast followed some Scottish towns in celebrating the fall of the Bastille in 1789. It was in this city and its Presbyterian hinterland that the United Irishman organisation was at its strongest with even former members of the ‘Peep O’ Day Boys’ joining the cause.

It was the smallest Anglo-Irish section of the population that owned the majority of Ireland’s land and held political power.  This population was mainly located in the country’s towns and cities and could largely trace its heritage back to the English settlers of the preceding centuries. The vast majority of the landed gentry, or Ascendancy, belonged to this community. There were also areas of lower-class rural Anglican settlement in north Armagh, Munster and Wexford. These areas would in the 1790s provide the bedrock for popular Loyalist sentiment and the initial growth of the Orange Order. The ethnic make-up of members of the Anglican Church was further complicated by the fact that adherence to the state religion removed any penalties associated with the Penal Laws. This state sponsored attraction led to members of other denominations becoming Anglicans. Notable among these politically expedient converts were members of the Gaelic aristocracy including sections of the O’Neill and McGuinness families. It was also the route to the faith taken by that great defender of the ancien régime, and outspoken critic of the United Irishmen, Edmund Burke.

The Anglo-Irish were linked to London not only through politics but also by their faith whose key tenet placed the English monarch at the head of the Church. This did not prevent some young Anglo-Irish gentlemen aligning themselves with the new republican ideals and it was from this community that the leading United Irishmen Tone and Russell themselves hailed. However, it was the prospect of the union of Catholics and Presbyterians that filled the British Administration with dread. Lord Grenville, an English based lord, encapsulated this fear in 1791 when he stated, ‘I maybe a false prophet…but there is no evil that I should prophecy if that union takes place.’[15]

The years 1795 to 1798 saw feverish activity by the United Irishmen. Emissaries such as Henry Joy McCracken, and the Ulster Presbyterian weaver Jemmy Hope criss-crossed the country swearing Defender lodges and others to the cause and laying plans for a national uprising. This period saw the United Irishmen movement mutate into a vast underground military conspiracy, which drew upon republicanism, French Jacobinism and Freemasonry in its ideology and secret rituals. Tone had left for America in 1795, fearing arrest, a fate that had befallen other members of the leadership. By 1796 he was in France attempting to gain the support of the republican government for a military expedition to support the Irish rebellion.

When the rising came it was an unmitigated disaster. The hand of the revolutionaries was pushed by a campaign of terror by crown forces against the organisation in its Ulster stronghold. The rapid expansion of the United Irishmen organisation had also led to it being riddled with state informers. The Republican forces, under banners proclaiming, ‘Erin Go Brach’ and the ‘Rights of Man’, entered the field sporadically. On May 26th rebel forces rose in Wexford. Ulster followed under Henry Joy McCracken in early June, and the west in August following a belated landing of French forces; informers betrayed an attempted revolt in Dublin.  By September the United Irishmen were defeated. Most of the leadership had been captured or fled into exile. In captivity and facing execution, in true Jacobin style, Tone had taken his own life. Some of the leadership blamed the failure on the lack of fortitude among members of the merchant middle classes that had come late to the cause. Joy McCracken wrote to his sister shortly before his execution on July 17th 1798: ‘you will no doubt hear a great number of stories respecting the situation of this country, its present unfortunate state is entirely owing to treachery, the rich always betray the poor.’[16]

Crown militias instigated a savage campaign of terror throughout the rebel areas. State propagandists made much of the sectarian slaughter of Protestants that had been carried out by a section of the Wexford rebels. In all, the Rising and brutal state suppression that followed it, is estimated to have resulted in some 30,000 deaths. Its defeat also paved the way for the 1800 Union of the Irish parliament with its British counterpart. What little domestic power the Dublin-based legislature had been able to wield was now subsumed into Westminster. This removal of powers also resulted in many career politicians establishing residence in London, removed for months at a time from their Irish constituents.

The United Irishmen cause and organisation was however not yet fully extinguished. Jemmy Hope was among those who continued to organise for another revolutionary effort. He maintained contact with United men Thomas Russell and Robert Emmet, a young Dublin lawyer, and with Michael Dwyer who was leading rebel bands in the Wicklow mountains. There was a serious plan for a new rebellion, with Hope seen as ‘the best person that could be entrusted with the organisation of his own class in the Liberty of Dublin, from which class, the fighting men were expected to come.’[17]  But Emmet’s rising as it became known was defeated in 1803 and both he and Russell executed. Emmet’s speech from the dock, in which he proclaimed, ‘when my country takes her place among the nations of the earth, then and not till then, let my epitaph be written.’ established the defiant trial speech in the republican tradition. Dwyer’s band was also hunted down that year. Many United men fled to France and America, while others played a part in the liberation struggles of South America in the 1820s. Hope went into hiding among the artisans of Dublin’s Coombe and later returned to his trade of linen weaving. In later years he pondered on the instability of the United Irishmen’s alliance of merchant’s, weavers, artisans and rural poor.[18]

However, Hope’s radicalism was to become the exception rather than a norm within the Presbyterian community. Shocked by tales of sectarian massacre in Wexford and in the longer term economically benefiting from the Act of Union most Presbyterians, among them some former United Irishmen began to see the British state as a bulwark against Catholic sectarianism. Ironically, the Catholic hierarchy had been happy to see the rising defeated and the ‘French disease’ as they referred to republicanism, extinguished. Only a tiny number of priests had actually taken part in the rebellion and Presbyterian ministers such as the Reverend William Steele Dickson were much more to the fore. But both Protestant and Catholic popular memories of ’98 were coloured by new sectarian perceptions. In the decades following the rising the state and Protestant upper classes economically and politically encouraged this newfound loyalty. Central to this process was the Orange Order that had been founded in 1795 by ‘Peep O’ Day Boys’ and local landowners to celebrate a bloody victory over a Defender band near Portadown in county Armagh. This institution, with its marches and informal employment networks, was to the fore in fostering a sense of Protestant identity and cross-class unity.

The United Irishmen and the legacy of 1798 was the defining period for later Republican thought. The innate unity of purpose that all Irishmen should adhere to the concept of complete separation of Ireland from the British state marked republicanism from all other manifestations of Irish nationalism. However, from the crucible of the revolutionary 1790s Irish society did not emerge as the unified nation of the Republican dream but one in which loyalty to, or against the crown became even more firmly rooted in the sectarian divide.[19]

Radical nationalism did not re-emerge as a major force in Irish political life again until 1842. This time it was based around a group of middle -lass intellectuals known as Young Ireland and was identified with their newspaper The Nation. Heavily inspired by contemporary European Romantic thought it was Young Ireland who popularised much of the iconography of 19th century Irish nationalism such as round towers, wolfhounds, and harps. The Young Irelanders, notably their most famous polemicist John Mitchel, looked to Tone and the United Irishmen for inspiration. Their vision of nationalism was inclusive, reflecting the involvement of Protestants such as Thomas Davis, who wrote the nationalist anthem A Nation Once Again and Mitchel himself. Other contemporary Irish radicals included a landowner who embraced a form of early socialism, which was to be inspiration to later activists.  In the 1820s William Thompson had established a co-operative farm on his lands at Rosscarbery, west Cork, and encouraged scientific farming methods among his tenants. He was also an early supporter of women’s emancipation. Thompson’s writings on economics influenced both Karl Marx and James Connolly.[20] However the Ireland of the 1840s had changed considerably from Tone’s time. Whereas Ulster had been the bedrock of the United Irishmen, opposition to the British state was now largely confined to the Catholic south of the country.

The economic effects of the Act of Union had profound political and social consequences. The 100 or so Irish MPs at Westminster, the vast majority landlords, could rarely exercise much influence in an assembly of over 600.  Trade legislation was enacted that continued to be biased towards English economic concerns. Economic underdevelopment was exacerbated by the Irish system of land tenure, which encouraged the sub letting of land into plots that offered their tillers, and families, only bare subsistence living. Added to this was the growing number of absentee landlords at the top of this system who saw their Irish estates as solely a source of income and cared little for improvements. All this resulted in less capital being accumulated in Ireland and stunted industrial development. By the 1840s much of southern Ireland’s proto-industries had declined but this had not halted a population explosion from 5 to 8 million in 40 years.[21]

The north-east of the country’s economic base was an exception to the conditions that prevailed in the rest of the country. The ‘Ulster Custom’ was a set of traditional practices between landlord and tenants, which allowed for greater negotiation in the establishment of rents and benefited tenants who improved their properties. These economic benefits aided capital accumulation and the beginnings of industrialisation. The economic development of this area added to the growing bond between Protestant landowner, merchant, tenant, and worker as they placed religious unity above economic factors.

By the 1830s republicanism had been replaced as the main oppositional political force by a Catholic nationalism that looked for reform within the British Empire. Under the leadership of Daniel O’Connell this sentiment spawned a mass popular movement that pressured the British government into finally granting Catholic Emancipation in 1829. This meant the majority of the Irish population could worship freely but it did nothing to alleviate economic backwardness. O’Connell, a member of one of the few remaining Catholic landowning families, later espoused repeal of the union, a cause the Young Irelanders made common purpose with. However, O’Connell and his fellow nationalists found themselves powerless in the face of the most cataclysmic result of Ireland’s under development, the Great Famine of 1845-50.

This catastrophe caused the deaths of at least one million people and led to the emigration of 2.1 million more. The famine was the result of both natural causes and administrative decisions. The potato blight first appeared in Ireland in 1845, and for the next five years it would ruin harvests of the vegetable, which was the staple foodstuff of the rural poor. The British administration generally stuck rigidly to laissez-faire economic ideas about relief and to their preconceived notions about the indolent nature of the Irish. That a million people could die in what was in theory an integral part of the richest nation in the world confirmed for many that far from being an equal part of the United Kingdom, Ireland was in fact a colony. Indeed, sections of the British elite believed that the famine could have positive long-term effects turning the ‘potato feeding, near naked farmers into meat-eating, well-clad labourers of…capital, skill and energy.’[22] These attitudes contributed to the loss of thousands of lives and bred a deep hatred of the British among the immigrant masses. Of course, the suffering of the Famine was not equally borne throughout Irish society even in those areas worst effected. It was the rural poor that died or fled the country. Economically diverse Protestant Ulster and Dublin continued to function, while offers by Protestant missionaries to feed those that converted fuelled sectarian tension. In the longer run the larger Catholic tenants, the class that usually sub-let holdings to the rural poor, emerged from the crisis economically strengthened.

It was the pressure of the Famine that caused the Young Irelanders to break with constitutional politics. James Fintan Lalor emerged as the key thinker who wanted to link land agitation with nationalism. Lalor would become another central figure for radical republicans. He argued that land reform should be linked to the cause of Irish independence like ‘a railway carriage to a train.’ By 1847 the most militant Young Irelanders established their own Irish Confederation. Frustration at the impotence of protest as Ireland starved propelled others further towards radical solutions. Lalor called for rent strikes and mass resistance to eviction. In early 1848 John Mitchel led a breakaway group, which published the United Irishman newspaper. They were further inspired by the outbreak of revolution in Paris, which helped spark off a chain of revolt throughout Europe.[23]

In Ireland, this revolutionary fervor and growing anger at the effects of the Famine sparked an ill planned ‘rising’ by the Young Irelanders. Some leaders such as William Smith O’Brien placed much emphasis on having the support of the Catholic clergy in organising the revolt, but this was largely unreciprocated by all but the most radical of priests. Among a populace ravaged by hunger the rebels managed to raise a force in Kilkenny which at its height numbered 2,000. This force was dispersed by a unit of constabulary at what became known as the Battle of Widow McCormick’s cottage. The rising had lasted less than a week.

Whatever the ineffectiveness of the Young Irelanders’ adventure it resulted in a government crackdown that led to Irish radicals seeking refugee aboard. The exiles in the main headed for the well springs of republicanism in France and America. Prior to the outbreak of hostilities, John Mitchel had already been arrested for sedition and condemned to transportation to Van Diemen’s Land. He escaped from there to America in 1853. While in custody Mitchel recorded his thoughts in his Jail Journal. In Jail Journal he declared his hatred not only of the British Empire but the system of commercial capitalism it was build on. He condemned free trade and market forces, which he blamed for the Famine. Mitchel’s explanation of the disaster as a creation of the British administration to starve the Irish into submission would have a critical impact; ‘the almighty indeed sent the potato blight but the English created the Famine.’ Mitchel’s radicalism would later be tarnished by his support for the Confederacy and slavery during the American Civil War.

Post-Famine Ireland and its rural middle class turned ever more to the Catholic Church for political and ideological leadership. Prior to the Famine often less than 40% of those living in the west of Ireland attended Sunday mass regularly. Many rural dwellers grasp of Catholic doctrine was for the most part superficial and often co-existed with traditional folk practices and beliefs. But in the decades afterwards a ‘Devotional Revolution’ took place that established the church as the dominant institution in Irish social and political life.[24] Orthodox Catholic practices were imposed by a newly confident clergy in a manner that had not been the case before. Many practices associated with Irish Catholicism such as strict attendance at mass and devotion to the Sacred Heart and Virgin Mary date from this period. This was done in partnership with the British state and established the Church as the main provider of schooling and the other social services for the Catholic community. The Church also became a powerful bulwark against radicalism, warning as early as 1850 at the Synod of Thurles of the dangers of the ‘apostles of socialism and infidelity.’[25]

Economically, post-Famine Ireland remained dominated by agriculture. The population fell from 8.2 million in 1841 to 4.2 million in 1911. In 1922, half of the labour force in the new Irish State still worked on the land. Food and drink made up 86% of exports and 98% of these exports were to the United Kingdom.[26] The major exception was the largely Protestant city of Belfast, which developed into a major center for shipbuilding, engineering and textile production. By 1914 it was the largest linen-producing centre in the world and contained the single largest shipyard anywhere. In contrast to the decline elsewhere Belfast’s population grew from 121,000 to 350,000 in the fifty years after the Famine, drawing into the city a sizeable Catholic population as well as Protestants from the surrounding rural areas and Scotland.[27] Belfast’s industrial growth was one argument advanced by opponents of Irish nationalism such as the evangelical preacher Henry Cooke who challenged O’Connell as early as 1841 to ‘look at Belfast and be a Repealer -if you can.’ For Cooke, and a growing number of Ulster Protestants, the industrial development of the north was the consequence of the ‘genii of Protestantism and liberty.’[28]

Among the dozens of Irish refugees who reached Paris after the failed rising of 1848 were James Stephens and John O’Mahony. They immersed themselves in the Parisian underground of oathbound secret societies that in their earlier forms had acted as a model for the United Irishmen.  During their time in Paris the men mixed with revolutionaries from across the continent. Stephens was particularly impressed by Italian political exiles that he felt had ‘in a certain way perfected conspiracy.’[29]  He also became a strong advocate of an internationalist perspective. Stephens wrote in 1859, that ‘I would fight for an abstract principle of right in defence of any country; and were England a republic battling for human freedom on the one hand, and Ireland leagued with despots on the other, I should, unhesitatingly, take up arms against my native land.’[30] During this period the men absorbed the capabilities needed in establishing a secret revolutionary fraternity and it was their organisation that would provide a channel for Irish revolutionary vigour and republican sentiment into the 20th century.

Stephens returned to Ireland by 1856, while O’Mahony moved on to New York. In later years, Paris and New York remained key organisational centres for the Irish revolutionary leaders; as they moved between Ireland and the Irish communities of American and Britain. Their activities would form the essential link between the resources of Irish-America and the unsettled youth of Ireland, allowing the men to begin the establishment of what would become known as the Fenians.

Armed with the promise of Irish-American support, through O’Mahony’s connections with existing Irish-American networks, Stephens set about uniting in one organisation the various secret societies and factions in Ireland. The latest agrarian groups to take action against landed interests and partake in sectarian conflict were known as ‘Ribbonmen.’ Urban-based societies were more inclined to look to similar groups that had emerged throughout Europe for inspiration. The Phoenix society of Skibbereen in west Cork was of the latter type and provided Stephens with his first group of cadre. Sworn into his organisation on the 17th March 1858, this group included the 25 year old Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, who in life and death was to play a symbolic role in the future development of Irish Republicanism.

Initially the organisation was to have no name, a principle also borrowed from continental secret societies. The new organisation adopted a cellular structure in an attempt to minimise the impact of informers, the constant bane of Irish revolutions. The organisation was structured in ‘circles’ each headed by a centre, or A, theoretically of 800 men with the A only known to the cadres directly below him. These nine Bs were each responsible for and should be only know by nine Cs who in turn commanded and should be known only to nine Ds, the rank and file of the organisation. Stephen’s new circles quickly spread thorough out the country. They were propelled by its founder’s promise of Irish-American money and forces to aid an Irish rising, as British forces would hopefully be soon involved in a foreign war.

In Dublin, the new organisation found a mass of ready recruits among the body of young countrymen employed in drapery establishments and similar institutions. 

Many of these would spread the republican gospel and recruit for the organisation during visits back to their home counties. With the organisations’ growth, members’ ability, and attempts, to maintain anonymity from others decreased.

It was the Stephens organisation’s ability to infiltrate, and use as a recruitment ground, larger nationally minded organisations that would maintain it during periods when the possibility of armed activity seemed remote. Organisations such as the National Brotherhood of St. Patrick, which flourished in the first half of the 1860’s, organising open banquets and meetings proved a fertile ground for covert recruiters to the more radical conspiracy.[31]  As did the feelings of mass national sentiment inspired by events such as the funeral of Terence Bellew McManus, a leader of the Young Irelanders, in November 1861. Conversely those constitutional national organisations that attempted to distance themselves from the members of organisation could expect to be opposed sometimes violently.[32] The Organisation was also successful in infiltrating the British army, police and other branches of state. The extent of this was illustrated by Stephen’s November 1866 jail escape where he was aided by Fenian prison guards.

By 1863 Stephen’s organisation had reached a level of confidence to launch its own weekly newspaper, the Irish People. The paper was a unifying influence on the organisation and also necessitated the bringing together of leaders, many of whom already made a partial living from journalism, into a Dublin office. With an identifiable leadership and its own publication, the movement without a name acquired one through references to it in the press. O’Mahony had named his American wing of the organisation the Fenian Brotherhood. A Gaelic scholar, O’Mahony was making reference to the legendary cycle of stories of the warrior band led by Fionn Mac Cumhaill. The name ‘Fenians’ was taken up in the American newspapers and was followed by those in Ireland and Britain. It was eventually informally adopted by members of the organisation, according to one of its leaders ‘much as a schoolboy accepts a nickname.’ However, the Irish People writers went to some lengths to disassociate identification of themselves with their conspiracy. On one occasion they stated. ‘we who are not Fenians’ and on another dismissed the existence of the organisation completely with a derisive reference to ‘that imaginary body the Fenian society of Ireland.’

The Fenians were not only a political grouping but also an ‘alternative form of socialisation’ for Irish young men. Contemporary reports specify a particular style of appearance and ‘independent air’ as marking out members of the organisation.[33] The fact that the Fenians were an oath bound conspiracy ensured they gained the wrath of the Catholic hierarchy who sensed a threat to their social power. In 1870 they asked the Holy See to condemn Fenianism.[34] Despite this hostility most Irish republicans never developed the same sense of anti-clericalism as their continental counterparts partially because of the historic oppression of Catholics in Ireland. Instead, they bemoaned clerical condemnation of their activities while failing to critique the church’s role in other spheres.

The Fenian leadership, encouraged by Stephens, continued to develop links with progressive groups abroad.  In the mid-1860s discussions were held with the Reform League, an English republican organisation that had the support of Karl Marx. This strand of thought is evident in the proclamation on behalf of the Fenian provisional government on the 19th of February 1867: ‘We intend no war against the people of England. Our war is with the aristocratic locusts, whether English or Irish, who have eaten the verdure of our field; against the aristocratic leeches who drain alike our blood and theirs. Republicans of the entire world, our cause is your cause.’[35] By 1866, however, the growing militancy of the American organisation and pressure for action from the estimated over 50,000 sworn members in Ireland, many of them within the Crown forces, had split the Fenian leadership and was forcing it into a military rising. The rate of young members emigrating also concerned American Fenians, one reporting that the organisation was in a ‘race’ against emigration to mount a successful rising. [36] Already in May 1866 a band of 800 Fenians, many of whom had only recently been demobilized from the American Civil War armies, attempted an invasion of Canada. Under a banner emblazoned with the slogan ‘Irish Republican Army’, the force was quickly repulsed by militia with a handful of deaths on each side. Decisive action by the British administration, with the aid of informers, scuppered even a chance of partial success for the planned Irish rising. Most of the leadership was arrested in a raid on the Irish People offices.

When it came, the Fenian rising of the March 5th 1867 was an absolute failure. Groups of several hundred poorly armed men gathered just outside Dublin and Cork. Both bodies were quickly dispersed by constabulary with many arrests. British forces on the information of a spy halted a gathering of 1,000 Fenians in Chester. Some armed Fenian bands did roam the countryside of Cork, Limerick and Tipperary for some weeks after the rising but were eventually subdued. Erin’s Hope, a small ship with few dozen Irish American Fenians appeared off the West coast in May but the men where quickly arrested on landing. However, the Fenians showed a resilience as a revolutionary movement that had eluded the United Irishmen and Young Ireland and continued as an organisation after the failed rising. 

Irish Americans remained a reservoir of republican support. Many emigrants were drawn to labour radicalism. While most post-Famine Irish immigrants came from rural backgrounds, they settled overwhelmingly in cities whether New York or Boston, Manchester, or Glasgow. To begin the vast majority were concentrated in the unskilled working class. A number, such as John Doherty and Fergus O’Connor, were prominent in the Chartist movement in Britain but the United States became more important for republicans. In the US, many Irish immigrants brought with them traditions of struggle and organisation from their native countryside. Some Irish dominated branches of the Knights of Labor, the largest trade union in the US during the 1870s, retained practices of secrecy and oath-taking that had originated in rural Ireland. A notable example of this occurred in the Pennsylvania coalfields between 1863 and 1879, where the ‘Molly Maguires’ emerged. Committed to violently opposing the demands of coal bosses the organisation would be blamed for over twenty assassinations and numerous acts of sabotage. Eventually suppressed, a total of twenty ‘Mollies’ were executed, ten of them on one day in 1877.  The example of the Molly Maguires divided Irish Americans; the Catholic Church and those aspiring to assimilation, including mainstream trade unionists denounced them, while radicals stood by them. One of the Mollie’s defenders was Patrick Ford, the editor of the Irish World and American Industrial Liberator, who argued that the ‘cause of the poor in Donegal is the cause of the factory slave in Fall River.’ Ford was an enthusiastic supporter of land agitation and one of the major sources of support for the Land League was money collected by Irish workers in the United States.[37] It was ironic that a land struggle involving mainly upwardly mobile farmers in Ireland was to be largely funded by labourers and domestic servants in industrial America.

Though defeated, the Fenians managed to rejuvenate themselves through publicity campaigns and establish a position within the wider post-Famine popular consciousness. The harsh conditions of Fenian prisoners such as O’Donovan Rossa in English jails were graphically described in the nationalist press. There were mass public demonstrations in favour of an amnesty for what were presented as over enthusiastic young men and not members of an ungodly conspiracy. The jailbreak of an American Fenian, who had been an officer in the US army, in Manchester had also led to three young Fenians, William Allen, Michael Larkin, and Michael O’Brien, being condemned to death. A massive publicity campaign for clemency was launched which won widespread support from British radicals and the Irish at home and abroad. The three were executed in November 1867, providing the movement with its most celebrated martyrs and Irish nationalism with the patriotic anthem God Save Ireland.  Even some of the movement’s fieriest critics including Cardinal Cullen and constitutional politicians rallied to the popular cause of the Fenian prisoners’ amnesty. The campaign culminated in a rally of 100,000 supporters in London’s Hyde Park in November 1869. This showed a remarkable ability to maintain British radical support even following the December 1867 explosion at Clerkenwell Prison in London that left 12 innocent people dead.

The amnesty campaign won the greatest of all revolutionary theorists to the Fenian cause. Karl Marx had established himself in London, a city that played a similar role for continental radicals that Paris and New York did for their Irish counterparts. Marx had long taken an interest in the ‘Irish Question’ but had largely dismissed Irish revolutionary movements as rural and backward. But the Fenian prisoners’ amnesty campaigns’ ability to win a degree of support among the English working class, and the radicalism of some of the Fenian leadership, altered his perspective. By the late 1860s, his views had moved closer to those of Engels, his patron and fellow theorist on the evaluation of Ireland as central to international revolution.[38] In a letter of March 1870, Marx encapsulated this new view; ‘to accelerate the social development of Europe, you must push on the catastrophe of official England. To do so, you must attack her in Ireland. That’s her weakest point. Ireland lost, the British ‘Empire’ is gone, and the class war in England, till now somnolent and chronic, will assume acute forms.’ [39]

However, attempts to organise the International Working Men’s Association, (IWMA) in Ireland were to prove unsuccessful. The IWMA, those General Council was based in London and included both Marx and Engels, was intended to be the controlling body for international socialists. James Stephens and fellow Fenian John Devoy had joined its New York branch in the mid-1860s. Following some success among the Irish in Britain, the IWMA appointed Joseph Patrick McDonnell, a former Fenian and journalist, to organise the association in Ireland.  After initially establishing a branch among Cork workers, the IWMA ran into clerical, police, and public opposition. It was accused of anti-clericalism in the wake of the Paris Commune and disbanded with at least one of its leaders fleeing the country. Other branches in Dublin, Belfast and County Cavan met a similar fate.[40]

The Irish Republican Brotherhood organisation itself reorganised under a new leadership named the supreme council. [41] It adopted a new constitution in 1873, which committed it not to attempt any further armed insurrection until it had the support of the majority of the Irish people. The Fenians had first been drawn into the sphere of electoral politics in 1869, when following the contemporary example of jailed French republican opponents of the Second Empire, the imprisoned O’Donovan Rossa was successfully elected to Westminster. With a military rising now placed as secondary to winning the support of the Irish people some leading members concentrated their energies on electoral politics while members of the organisation as a whole continued to associate with constitutional groupings.

This strategic change led to growing tensions within the organisation. Some members of the Supreme Council were pursuing a largely constitutional political path with two even becoming MPs. Although now committed to building public support for the ‘Republic’, Fenian activists remained involved in armed activity, mainly in intermittent attempts to release members from prison or avoid arrest. In 1879 there was a plan to send $20,000 and a number of advisors to aid the Zulus against the British. During the 1880s some Fenians would attempt sporadic bombing campaigns in Britain that led to several deaths and long jail sentences for those involved like Tom Clarke. The IRB continued to import and stockpile arms throughout the 1880s and 1890s.[42] A Dublin based splinter group called the Invincibles assassinated the British Chief Secretary to Ireland and his Under Secretary in May 1882.

Members of the IRB also closely involved themselves with the two major political movements of the closing decades of the century, the Land League and the Home Rule movement. The League emerged in 1879 during a period of agrarian crisis in the west and was brought into being by a number of ex-Fenians, most famously Michael Davitt. Born in Lancashire to parents who had been evicted from their home in Mayo, Davitt had served seven years in Dartmoor Prison for his participation in the rising of 1867. He was deeply influenced by the writings of American socialist Henry George and his ideas on land redistribution. Davitt was far to the left of most of his colleagues.[43]

Michael Davitt

The agrarian movement that he helped lead was a genuinely popular response to landlord exploitation, combining boycotts, passive resistance, and vigorous campaigning by innovative organisations like the Ladies Land League. But it also reflected class divisions within the rural farming class. The poorest landless labourers played little part in the agitation and the main aim for many of larger tenants involved was to increase their power to the point where they could own their own farms.

The campaign was the springboard into national politics for Charles Stewart Parnell, who despite coming from a Protestant landed background emerged as the most effective parliamentary promoter of the land question. He was aided by this in the tacit backing given to the movement by the IRB supreme council the so-called ‘new departure.’ But having seemingly gained significant concessions on the question from the British Liberal government by 1884, Parnell, to the disappointment of Davitt and radicals in the Ladies Land League, moved onto another great outstanding issue: self-government. Grouping his supporters together in Westminster as the Irish or Home Rule party it seemed by the mid 1880s that self-government might indeed become a reality. In general elections of both 1885 and 1886 the political map of Ireland took on a new form; south, west and east voted for the Irish Party while the north west looked to maintain the Union. Belfast saw extensive rioting in 1886 as inter communal tension was stoked by Catholic hope, and Protestant fear, of self-government. Parnell fell from grace in 1890, partially due to his affair with a fellow MP’s wife.[44] As he now faced criticism from the Catholic Church, the British government and his own party, he appealed to the IRB for support. In the violent elections of 1890-91 it was what one Bishop called ‘the lowest dregs of the people…the Fenian element and the working classes’ that rallied to Parnell.[45] That he won the support of the so-called ‘hillside men’ helped to give Parnell a higher standing among separatists after his death than his actual politics deserved.

It would be a mistake to see the Home Rule movement, led after 1900 by John Redmond, as both modern constitutional nationalists and republicans have tended to do; either eminently moderate and reasonable or treacherous and pro-British. It was a broad church incorporating radical and labour elements as well as middle class and reactionary ones. Many of the Irish party’s supporters presumed Home Rule really meant a ‘Nation Once Again.’ In 1909 21 out of 83 Home Rule MPs were former Fenians. A number of them, such as Davitt, continued to support land agitation while others were responsive to the needs of their working class constituents. One of these was Belfast’s Joe Devlin, who also cultivated the sectarian Ancient Order of Hibernians as a power base within the party. The AOH itself had 250,000 members by 1915, a Catholic version of the Orange Order. Despite a sprinkling of Protestant MPs and supporters, by 1900 at least, Home Rule was an overwhelmingly Catholic affair. The Irish party was also staid, conservative and untested in the main. Many MPs had not fought an election for years, such was their dominance in nationalist Ireland.[46]

Between 1903 and 1908 there were a series of small political initiatives that sought to provide a radical alternative to the Irish party. Among them was the Dungannon Clubs, founded by the Belfast Quaker and IRB member Bulmer Hobson. Eventually several of these groups coalesced as Sinn Féin meaning ‘we ourselves.’ Led from 1910 by the Dublin journalist and former IRB man Arthur Griffith it contained a wide variety of viewpoints within its ranks. Party policy was based on Griffith’s theory of Dual Monarchy, which would maintain a largely independent Ireland under the crown, but Sinn Féin always contained those who favoured straightforward republicanism. His espousal of dual monarchism made Griffith a difficult role model for later Sinn Féiners, though he personally described himself as a republican and the IRB funded some of his newspapers.[47] Other Griffithite policies such as economic protectionism would have a longer lasting impact in republican ideology. New organisations linked to separatism that emerged in this period included the youth movement, Na Fianna Éireann, founded by Hobson and Constance Markievicz in 1909.

Another influence within the separatist pool was cultural nationalism. The founding of the Gaelic Athletic Association in 1884 and the Gaelic League in 1893 reflected both the influence of wider European trends in sport and culture and a desire to express separateness from Britain. There were both progressive and conservative elements apparent within the Irish-Ireland movement. Individual Protestants were to the fore, including Douglas Hyde the first president of the Gaelic League and the playwright William Butler Yeats. However other enthusiasts displayed a tendency to see Catholicism and Irishness as synonymous and to idealize the rural west in contrast to the ‘corrupt’ towns, often betraying a pronounced anti-working class prejudice. The emergence of the Irish-Ireland movement was in some senses a response to the concerns of the Catholic Church and conservative nationalists about the IRB’s republicanism and perceived anti-clericalism. Yet from the early 1900s many republicans did see both the Irish language and Gaelic games as important parts of their politics, though some always disagreed with this. Indeed, the IRB itself after 1900 was different in many ways to the organization of the 1880s. The organization was much smaller and, unlike its mainly self-educated leaders in the 1860s, its new cadres were largely taught in private Catholic schools or by the Christian Brothers. Much of the democratic rhetoric of the 1880s was replaced by Irish-Ireland concepts such as ‘Gaelic civilization.’[48] One example was Sean McDermott whose background had been in the AOH but who became a key IRB organizer. The wider radical trends also saw the development of suffrage and women’s organizations such as Inghinidhe na hÉireann and the Irish Women’s Suffrage League. Prominent personalities included Maud Gonne McBride and Hannah Sheehy Skeffington who often differed politically but were part of a broadly radical milieu.[49]

But by the 1900s the bulk of Ireland’s Protestant population, especially in Ulster, was hostile not just to Home Rule but any form of nationalism. By 1910 it looked a real possibility that Britain’s Liberal government might implement a degree of self-government, partly in reaction to Tory hostility to its welfare policies. A mass movement against it, led by Dublin lawyer Edward Carson emerged in Ulster. Bonar Law, the British Conservative leader of Ulster stock, declared that there were no lengths of Ulster resistance that he would not support and warned the Liberals that that there were ‘things stronger than parliamentary majorities.’ Huge sums were raised for the Unionists in Britain with Viscount Halifax, Lord Rothschild, and Rudyard Kipling among the Conservatives who contributed to their war chest. The tensions around the Home Rule crisis helped produce the first great outbreak of sectarian rioting in twentieth century Belfast in July 1912 when Catholics (and Protestant radicals) were expelled from their workplaces.

In January 1913, the Ulster Volunteer Force was founded to resist Home Rule and soon numbered some 85,000 men, most of them well trained because of the preponderance of British military supporters. Two events in particular inflamed nationalist opinion. In January 1914, 25,000 rifles and 100,000 rounds of ammunition were landed at Larne for the UVF. There was no attempt by the authorities to interfere with the gun running. In March British officers at the Curragh signaled that they would refuse to march on Ulster to impose Home Rule. That the movement against Home Rule was heavily funded and backed by British Tories and landed elites in an attempt to punish the Liberal government for its ‘People’s Budget’ of 1909 did not mean the mass support for it among Protestant Ulster was any less real. Neither were their fears of self- government bringing with it Catholic domination. The Papal Ne Temre decree of 1908 that demanded that children of mixed marriages be raised Catholic greatly increased tension.[50] Among Belfast’s Unionist working class socialists like William Walker also warned of the dangers self-government might hold for both industry and Protestant freedoms.[51]

There were a variety of nationalist responses to Unionist protest. Many Home Rulers simply dismissed Unionist threats as bluster and felt the UVF would not fight when it came to the crunch. Separatists like Eoin MacNeill and Padraig Pearse actually welcomed the formation the UVF and hoped for an unlikely unity of purpose with its nationalist counterpart, the Irish Volunteers. Tyrone Féiner Dr. Patrick McCartan even lent his car to the local UVF to assist in the Larne gun running.[52] The Irish Volunteers were founded in November 1913 after an article by MacNeill entitled ‘the north began’ urged nationalists to emulate the UVF. Their first manifesto emphasized that the Volunteers would be ‘defensive and protective, and they will not contemplate either aggression or domination.’ In their early days, the core organizers were the IRB and sections of the Irish Ireland movement. The radical nationalist women’s organisation Cumann na mBan also declared its support for the new force. However, the Volunteers did not become a mass force until John Redmond and the Home Rule party affected a takeover in spring 1914. By late summer that year the ranks had swelled to 190,000. However, in contrast to the UVF they were poorly armed, which they tried to rectify with arms landings at Howth. When about 1,500 rifles from Germany were landed, police with military backup unsuccessfully tried to seize them. As the frustrated troops marched back into Dublin they were jeered by a crowd and opened fire, killing four civilians. The contrast with the official reaction to Larne was glaringly obvious for most nationalists.

While Ireland teetered on the brink of civil war over Home Rule another struggle was taking place in Dublin that had long lasting implications for the labour and republican movements; the 1913 Lockout. The Dublin employers, led by nationalist Ireland’s most dynamic capitalist William Martin Murphy, faced the Irish Transport and General Workers Union led by James Larkin, a charismatic Liverpool Irishman. At stake was not simply union recognition but the balance of class relations in self-governing Ireland. The growth of militant, general trade unionism had alarmed Irish employers, both nationalist and unionist. Larkin was heavily influenced by syndicalism, the belief that trade unions could be the main instruments of revolutionary change. The ITGWU was Larkin’s response to British based unions’ unwillingness, or inability, to recruit Irish unskilled men and women. To farm labourers in Co. Dublin, women in Jacobs’ biscuit factory and especially to the dockers, carters and porters of the inner city, Larkinism offered more than trade unionism. It offered a moral vision of class solidarity that would last long after the ultimate victory of the employers in 1914.[53]

But Larkin was no theoretician, and it was his sometime ally and collaborator James Connolly who has had the deepest impact on Irish socialism. Like Larkin, Connolly was a child of the Diaspora, the son of immigrants to Edinburgh. He first came to Ireland as a British soldier in the 1880s. Despite having little formal education and spending most of his life in poorly paid work Connolly made a serious contribution to Marxist thought. Indeed, Connolly was one the few Marxist writers to come from the unskilled working class; ‘nobody has overcome so many serious obstacles to write so illuminatingly about Irish history.’[54] His journalism in papers like the Workers Republic and writings, most importantly Labour in Irish History, were produced while he combined work with political agitation in Dublin, New York, and Belfast. Connolly argued that for too long Irish history had been written ‘by the master class, in the interests of the master class.’ He too was influenced by revolutionary trade unionism and while in America was an organizer for the Industrial Workers of the World. But he also strove to build a political party, beginning with the Irish Socialist Republican Party in 1896. Connolly argued that Home Rule alone would not bring gains for the working class. There had to be a complete social transformation. He poured scorn on romantic nationalists; ‘Ireland, without her people, is nothing to me, and the man who is bubbling over with love and enthusiasm for Ireland and yet can pass through our streets and witness all the wrong and suffering, shame and degradation without burning to end it is a fraud and a liar no matter how pleased he is to love the chemical elements he calls Ireland.’

James Connolly

He was equally contemptuous of organizations like the AOH: ‘the greatest curse ever introduced into the political and social life of Ireland.’ Yet he also stressed that socialism could not be achieved in an Ireland within the British Empire. Many of Connolly’s theories, particularly his belief that some form of Celtic communism existed before the Norman Conquest, were questionable. His time in Belfast had revealed to him the reality of working class Protestant hostility to nationalism, but he failed to appreciate its depth. But his work placed the Irish working class at the centre of the radical agenda. During the Lockout Connolly was one of those involved in the formation of the Irish Citizen Army, initially as a striker’s defense force. The ICA was unique in several senses. It was overwhelmingly composed of unskilled workers but a number of individuals of Anglo-Irish background participated in it such as Captain Jack White. Women could join and hold rank, and several, among them Countess Markievicz, Helena Moloney, and Kathleen Lynn did so. A number of Dublin working class Protestants such as George Fullerton, Seamus McGowan and Sean O’Casey also joined its ranks. At its height it never numbered more than 1,000 members but its status and imagery, particularly its distinctive Starry Plough flag, gave it long-term importance.[55]

The Irish Citizen Army

When the Great War broke out in August 1914, it starkly illustrated the divide between those who sought political change through the institutions of the British state and those moving towards separatist revolution. Carson and the UVF were quick to show their allegiance to Britain, followed by Redmond and the majority of the volunteers. Over 200,000 Irishmen from both communities enlisted in the British Army in a hope that their loyalty would halt or ensure Home Rule respectively. Over 30,000 of them would die during the four years of war. To the IRB, the European conflict offered the possibility of foreign allies and an opportunity to strike at the British Empire while it was at war, a tenet of Republican strategy since the United Irishmen.[56]

The minority of the Volunteers that refused to support the war effort included the IRB, which had recruited newer cadre, among them Padraig Pearse a poet, Irish language enthusiast and educationalist. Many of his writings embodied the nationalist sentiments about sacrifice and redemption common in Europe at that time, though he was a more complex thinker than later caricatures of him allowed. Yet it was the hardheaded Tom Clarke and Sean McDermott who were the driving forces behind the conspiracy to ferment a rebellion. Connolly, greatly disillusioned by the failure of the international socialist movement to oppose the war also threw in his lot with the IRB, joining it in 1916. He was also influenced by the sympathy shown by both Clarke and Pearse to the workers during the Lockout though other radicals like Griffith had opposed the strikers.

The funeral of the old Fenian O’Donovan Rossa in 1915 saw a public display of this new alliance with the ICA marching with the Volunteers. The conspiracy that produced the 1916 rebellion excluded mass participation by its nature; division and confusion on the eve of the Rising meant that just over 1,000 men and women in Dublin were centrally involved. The Easter Rising lasted just a week but saw the symbolic reading of a Proclamation of the Irish Republic, that promised the republic would guarantee ‘religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens’ and declared that it would ‘pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and all its parts, cherishing all the children of the nation equally, and oblivious of the differences fostered by an alien government, which have divided a minority from a majority in the past.’  It also saw the declaration that the Irish Volunteers and ICA had become the Army of the Irish Republic. By the Rising’s end, much of Dublin city centre lay in ruins, with the civilian death toll of 250 outnumbering the 64 rebels and 132 members of the Crown forces killed. Its defeat brought the execution of several of its key figures, including Connolly and Pearse, and the imprisonment of 1,840 activists.

Whether the Rising brought about a sea change in Irish politics or merely accelerated separatist trends remains open to question.[57] However, within a year a new mass movement had emerged, openly declaring itself in favour of an independent republic. The small Sinn Féin party became the vehicle for this movement, it being seen, largely mistakenly, by both government and the population at large as being connected to the Rising. In October 1917, Sinn Féin adopted a republican constitution for the first time and elected Eamon de Valera, the sole surviving commandant of the Rising as its president. Along with a rapid growth in Sinn Féin clubs, the Volunteers re-emerged attracting thousands of new recruits, with considerable IRB involvement. A threat to introduce conscription in Ireland during March 1918 produced an intense backlash that saw Sinn Féin move into a position of leadership within nationalist Ireland. In the post-war election of December 1918, Sinn Féin took 73 seats to the Home Rule party’s 6. The actual outcome was more complicated. Sinn Féin gained 47.5% of the vote but the old Home Rulers maintained a substantial base. More importantly, Ulster continued to vote Unionist or Home Rule; de Valera was unable to beat Joe Devlin in west Belfast. Republicans remained a minority among the nationalists of that city. Nevertheless, it was a great triumph and evidence of the emergence of a new order. On January 21st, 1919, Dáil Éireann, the revolutionary parliament, met in Dublin.[58]

The Sinn Féin coalition that emerged after 1916 contained radicals and conservatives, as well as militarists and pacifists, republicans and monarchists, feminists and chauvinists, labour activists and employers, the land hungry and landowners; it was a catch-almost-all movement. Both the IRA and Sinn Féin contained socialists within their ranks, notably Peadar O’Donnell in Donegal, and even some of its more moderate personalities doffed their caps towards Soviet Russia in the heady atmosphere of 1918. But in terms of practical application socially radical doctrine like the Democratic Programme of 1919 were not even taken seriously at the time. The Programme committed the Dáil to ensuring that the ‘Nation’s sovereignty extends not only to all men and women of the Nation, but to all material possessions, the Nation’s soil and all its resources, all the wealth and all the wealth-producing processes within the Nation…we affirm that all right to private property must be subordinated to public right and welfare.’ Written by labour leaders it was considerably revised by Sinn Féin. But the existence of this programme, watered down as it was, reflected a desire for some social change and provided succeeding generations of socialist republicans with encouragement in their attempts to shift the movement to the left.

In many ways Sinn Féin resembled the old Home Rule machine that it was replacing, with room for anyone for whom the slogan of the ‘Republic’ rather than a ‘Nation Once Again’ summed up their hopes of a new Ireland. In one historian’s memorable phrase, ‘the Republic was a vessel into which every man poured his own dreams.’[59] Almost every man: the most significant missing element was the vast majority of Ireland’s Protestants, particularly those of Ulster who opposed self-determination as they had Home Rule. On the day the first Dáil met in Dublin, two policemen were shot dead in Co. Tipperary, marking for many the opening shots of the War of Independence. The reality of course was more complex. People had already been killed during 1918 and there was no general order to open hostilities. The ‘limited and episodic nature of the conflict during 1919’ barely merited the term war.[60]

But the conflict increased intensely after the summer of 1920 and was concentrated in Munster, Dublin, and Longford. One third of all deaths and injuries occurred in Cork, while the conflict was less bloody in much of the east and west. The intensity of activity was often dependent on the initiative of local leaders such as Tom Barry in Cork.[61] The introduction of Auxiliaries and the ‘Black and Tans’ largely comprised of World War veterans during 1920 was evidence of the British authorities’ determination to crush the rebellion. Crucial to IRA activity in Dublin was the tactic of assassinations, directed against Special Branch agents developed by Michael Collins and his Squad. Collins, a 1916 veteran and IRB member, as both Dáil minister and head of IRA intelligence has become the war’s romantic hero. His ability to operate while hunted by the crown forces added to his allure. His group of handpicked Dublin Brigade IRA volunteers, who made up the famed ‘Squad’ were initially told that their actions would be denied and if caught they were own their own.[62] However as the war took its course assassination became an acceptable tactic for all sides. In rural areas the IRA formed ‘flying columns’, usually after men had been forced to go on the run. These columns depended to a great degree on local knowledge, spontaneity, and flexibility and were often only tenuously under central control. The preferred size of the columns was about 25 and their success rate varied from area to area. Women played an important role in intelligence and logistical support but were not given a combatant role and Cumann na mBan remained subordinate to the IRA.

In retrospect the winter of 1920 was key; it saw the death on hunger strike of Terence MacSwiney, the execution of 18 year-old Kevin Barry, Bloody Sunday in Dublin with the IRA’s successful strike against British agents in the morning followed by the massacre at Croke park in the afternoon, the Kilmichael ambush in Cork, which left 18 Auxiliaries dead, and the British burning of Cork city centre. After November 1920 both the British government and the republican leadership knew that some form of settlement had to be found. Despite much more bloodshed a Truce was agreed in July 1921. In post-independence Ireland, especially by the 1950s, the actual violence of the revolution tended to be somewhat sanitized or romanticized. The flying columns in particular with their celebrated ambushes and daring escapes became legendary. Yet most deaths were at close range rather than in open combat, and large numbers of civilians were killed.[63]

While there had been undoubtedly a social aspect to the revolution, the political demand for self-determination dominated. It became a cliché on the left to rue Labour’s missed opportunities during the revolutionary period. Some blamed either de Valera for allegedly asking the labour movement to bide its time till independence was won or the cowardice of the labour leaders themselves. Yet the revolutionary years saw tremendous expansion by organized labour. The ITGWU grew from barely 5,000 members in 1916 to 120,000 by 1921, half of them rural labourers. Labour came second only to Sinn Féin in the 1920 local elections and many ‘Sinn Féin’ councils were only that with Labour’s support. There were hundreds of work stoppages, both political and economic, including four general strikes and land agitation in the west reached a level that one Sinn Féiner described as the ‘last Land War.’[64] The supposedly timid Labour leadership was openly pro-Bolshevik, heaping praise on the new Soviet Union and declaring itself ready to fight for a Workers Republic. The breakdown in authority and inability of the legal system to function aided industrial direct action. In that sense the national struggle did not retard the growth of labour but assisted it. In return for labour’s support Sinn Féin and the IRA adopted a policy of ‘benevolent neutrality’ towards most trade union agitation.[65] In the main Labour’s leaders, whatever their radical posturing, were not revolutionaries and had no desire to overthrow the social system. De Valera did not have to ask them to wait.

Again, the major gap was the northern Protestant working class, especially in Belfast, whose general hostility to nationalism was not just expressed through lack of involvement on occasions such as the 1918 general strike against conscription but in organised opposition. During July 1920, in response to increased IRA activity in the south, and appeals from Unionist leaders, Loyalists instigated the expulsion of over 7,000 workers from the shipyards and other industries. Most were Catholic but at least 1,800 were Protestant socialists or trade unionists labeled ‘rotten Prods.’ From July 1920 Belfast was locked in a cycle of bloody inter communal conflict, with civilians overwhelmingly the casualties. It was a conflict unlike that anywhere else on the island. The IRA of that city had a vastly different experience than that of their comrades in Cork or Dublin.[66] 498 people, two-thirds of them Catholic lost their lives, and perhaps 23,000 people were forced from their homes.[67] That experience was to critically affect the development of republicanism in Belfast for generations and leave deep scars on the psyche of nationalists more generally.[68] Prior to the truce, six counties of Ulster were already partitioned under the Government of Ireland Act, effectively giving home rule to a new state with a Protestant majority.

The War of Independence had papered over many cracks in the Sinn Féin coalition. Many of the most influential figures in Sinn Féin were never comfortable with the military campaign, particularly its assassinations and ambushes. Some guerilla fighters resented Dublin GHQ control, while others were suspicious of IRB influence. A variety of political, personal, and regional factors contributed to the fracture of the revolutionary movement when it was faced with and accepted a compromise. Negotiations in London following the July Truce, with the Irish delegation led by Griffith and Collins saw the eventual agreement of a Treaty in December 1921, with the Irish delegates effectively forced to sign under the threat of a resumption of hostilities.

The genuine popular support for the Treaty, based on a combination of relief at the prospect of peace and the fear of Britain’s threat of ‘immediate and terrible war’ was not reflected inside the ranks of the revolutionaries.[69] Bitter disputes erupted immediately and led eventually to the Civil War. The majority of the IRB, grouped around Collins, supported the Treaty while most of the IRA did not. The Treaty received immediate support from the newspapers, the church, business, and farmers. Few of those who opposed it argued that partition was the reason for their stance and indeed many northern IRA volunteers, especially in Belfast, supported the Treaty.[70] For some, de Valera’s clever but obtuse Document No. 2, which allowed for association with the Empire provided the basis of their opposition, but for most adherence to the slogan of the Republic and the belief that it could be won by force was enough. The Labour Party, building on the wave of popular agitation of the previous three years and its officially neutral though in essence pro-Treaty stance secured 21% of the vote in the ‘Treaty’ election of 1922: the highest total in its history. It topped the poll in ten constituencies, often where rural trade unionism had won bitter battles with farmers and secured a higher vote than the Anti-Treatyites in Dublin.

The lesson was not lost on some republicans, notably Liam Mellows. The irony was that Mellows came to reflect on these issues while in a prison cell, already removed from a position of influence by the disastrous attempt by the anti-Treaty IRA to emulate 1916 by seizing the Four Courts in Dublin. In late June, the new government ordered its troops to evict the Anti-Treatyites and they did so with artillery borrowed from the British army. Within a week the Anti-Treatyites were effectively defeated in Dublin.

Liam Mellows at Bodenstown

Mellows’ reflections, his Notes from Mountjoy, influenced by his discussions with Peadar O’Donnell among others, provided the basis for left republican thinking for decades afterwards. Mellows concluded that what he called ‘‘the stake in the country’ people were never with the Republic. ‘They are not with it now-and they will always be against it until it wins!’ The Civil War had made that clear; now republicans had to go ‘back to Tone-and it is just as well-relying on that great body ‘the men of no property.’ He noted the Hierarchy’s denunciation of the republicans in October 1922 and pointed out that the Irish bishops had ‘invariably’ been on the wrong side historically.[71] Most Anti-Treaty leaders paid little heed at the time. But Mellows’ execution in December 1922 both made him a martyr in Anti-Treaty eyes and meant that he joined Connolly in the arguments of left-wing republicans as someone who had proved indisputably that being socially radical did not make one less republican. Mellows’ comments also became central to the contention of the republican left that the Civil War represented a counter-revolution by those who feared that the independence struggle would evolve into a social revolution.

The bloody defeat of the Anti-Treaty IRA in May 1923 marked the end of military resistance to the Free State. The Civil War had resulted in the deaths of perhaps 1,000 people, among them key figures of the revolutionary generation.[72] These included Michael Collins, killed in an ambush in his native Cork. Collins would continue to exercise a hold on many republicans, even as he was denounced as a traitor. His efforts to aid the northern IRA in particular were seen by some as evidence of his genuine intentions.

The Free State officially executed 77 republicans and imprisoned over 10,000, including 500 women, far outdoing both the British and the Northern State in terms of repression. Other Anti-Treatyites were killed out of hand, most notoriously in Co. Kerry during April 1923, where prisoners were tied to mines and blown up. A substantial section of the population remained embittered by the establishment of the new state and though the IRA shrank in size, socialists came to greater prominence within it. After the Civil War substantial numbers of Anti-Treaty republicans left Ireland, usually for the United States. Some of them took control of the Clan na Gael organization, the IRA’s main support network in the US. A few such as Mike Quill and Gerald O’Reilly became prominent on the left of the US labour movement.

IRA leaders such as O’Donnell, from 1926 editor of the IRA’s paper An Phoblacht, and his close ally George Gilmore, a socialist from a northern Protestant background whose brothers Charlie and Harry were also in the IRA, came to the fore. They were aided by two factors; the departure of de Valera and many of the most politically minded but non-socialist officers to constitutional politics and Fianna Fáil between 1926-27, and the failure of the militarists to offer any policy that might halt the organisation’s decline. In 1925 the IRA had broken from allegiance to any political authority making it independent of anyone but its own leadership, leaving Sinn Féin to wither and decline. IRA Chief of Staff Moss Twomey and his ally Sean MacBride, while not socialists themselves, were happy to allow the left to make the running politically for the army. They agreed that the IRA should be relevant to the working class and rural poor and also realised that in the context of the Great Depression radical policies were actually gaining the Army recruits.

That the organisation was almost completely focused on overthrowing the Free State rather than ending partition also in a sense aided the left. Aiming towards a mass insurrection encouraged thinking in revolutionary rather than guerilla terms. The simple fact was also that the membership of the IRA, which numbered some 5,000 volunteers in 1926, was overwhelmingly drawn from the Free State. From the late 1920s the IRA involved itself in campaigns against the payment of land annuities to Britain, and in strikes and social agitation. O’Donnell responded to criticism from purists by explaining that ‘it is about time we heard the last of the childish talk of uniting all classes to free the country. Such balderdash is ages out of date…I have been attacked in Dublin by a babble of chattering tongues because I have been seeking to take the movement ‘down to the gutter.’ Any movement that is to raise the people out of the gutter must pick up there. Revolutionary movements must reach down to the gutter, if they are to mean anything to the workers.’[73]

Even in Ireland in the late 1920s there were small but significant openings for the left. Communists actually outpolled Labour in local elections in Dublin in 1927 and 1930. In 1931 Twomey felt confident enough to answer criticism by declaring that ‘if it is communism to undo the conquest…to destroy landlordism…to end robbery and exploitation by a privileged minority, then Tone, Emmet, Mitchel and Lalor were communists, and the Irish Republican Army is a communist organization.’[74] IRA officers visited the Soviet Union, and material and financial aid was sought from Moscow. The IRA’s efforts to enlist Protestant working class support in this period also reflected the belief that the Depression was leading to a breakdown in communal allegiance. IRA volunteers bombed rail depots and sniped at trains during the Northern Ireland railway dispute. For the IRA and for the left in general the proof was there to see when the Shankill and the Falls rioted together against miserly relief payments in October 1932. During the rail dispute the IRA even supplied explosives to striking B-Specials.[75] The launch of an openly socialist political party, Saor Éire, by the IRA in September 1931 was the culmination of socialist influence. Saor Éire’s stated aims included the organization of the working class and working farmers to bring about revolutionary change. Yet it never really existed as an independent force, facing almost immediately an onslaught from the government, hierarchy, and press.

The backlash against Saor Éire had a major impact on the IRA leadership. They struggled to find ways of expressing radical policy that would not draw the wrath of the Church, which had successfully entrenched its dominant social influence in the Free State by the early 1930s. By 1933 the taint of communism was one which boththe IRA and the labour movement were determined to avoid at all costs. In 1933 the IRA formally banned communists from membership leading to some volunteers defecting to the newly formed Communist Party of Ireland. The watering down of left-wing rhetoric and the attitude of the IRA to the new Fianna Fáil government disillusioned many radicals.

Fianna Fáil won general elections in 1932 and 1933, actively supported by the IRA, which grew to perhaps 15,000 volunteers. The party quickly broadened its base beyond Anti-Treaty republicanism winning both urban and rural support by popular economic reforms.[76] As Fianna Fáil became more respectable it mended its final bridges with the Hierarchy, the giant Eucharistic Congress of 1932 signaling that the new government was more than content to allow the Catholic Church a special position in the Free State. The IRA counseled caution in its dealings with de Valera while the left demanded action. This frustration eventually led to the departure of many of the most radical IRA officers in 1934. O’Donnell and the Gilmores, joined by Frank Ryan and Mick Price, took a substantial number of IRA volunteers with them. For a brief period, the organisation they founded, Republican Congress, joined by a revived Irish Citizen Army, brought together a remarkable grouping of working class activists including Protestant socialists from the Shankill Road. The Congress declared that ‘we believe that a Republic of Ireland will never be achieved except through a struggle which uproots capitalism on its way.’[77] Congress split after only five months over whether or not to become an openly socialist party. But the image of the Shankill Road contingent of Congress supporters carrying a banner inscribed with ‘break the connection with capitalism’ at 1934’s Bodenstown has remained a mainstay of left republican imagery. Congress also believed that the communal division between Catholic and Protestant workers in the north was being undermined: ‘sectarianism burns out slowly when the fight against it is one of words. Sectarianism burns out quickly when there is teamwork in common struggle.’ Republicans looking for a left-wing alternative would hark back to the Congress model thirty years later. But hopes for working class unity seemed to die with the worst sectarian violence in Belfast since the 1920s taking place during July 1935 leaving 13 dead.

During the period 1932 to 1934 the IRA also violently confronted a new paramilitary force, the Blueshirts led by Eoin O’Duffy. The organization, which numbered some 48,000 men and women at its height, was vocal in its defence of established rural and small business interests seeing itself as providing a right-wing counterweight to both Fianna Fáil and the IRA.[78] To those on the left of the IRA the struggle against the Blueshirts was part of the wider struggle against fascism. Following the decline of the Republican Congress and the banning of the IRA in 1936 many of the radicals would make their way to Spain to continue the fight there with the International Brigades. Frank Ryan would lead over 200 Congress, Communist Party, and IRA veterans in a struggle that would see nearly 60 lose their lives.[79] The war in Spain sapped the strength of the republican left. A number of Congress and ICA veterans joined the Labour Party where they briefly forced the adoption of the Workers Republic as party policy, only to see a clerical backlash against this and the eventual cave in of the party leadership.

For the IRA, bereft of its socialists and, by 1937 most of its thinking leadership as well, the late 1930s were years of drift. Finally outlawed by Fianna Fáil, its leaders jailed, and volunteers harassed, young militants demanded action and an end to ‘politics.’ Sean Russell, its long-time quartermaster offered action, a campaign in Britain and the north at last. A few radicals remained within its ranks, but the political vacuum was filled not only by militarists like Russell but also by right-wingers who were inspired by diverse elements of Catholic social teaching and even European Fascism. Russell made his way to Germany to seek aid and died on board a U-Boat in 1940.[80] Nevertheless it was a desire to do something that drove most volunteers forward in the late 1930s culminating in the British bombing campaign of 1939 and the limited northern operations of the war years. Many who took part had no great hopes of success. As Belfast man Gerry Dunlop put it ‘I knew I would be caught…but orders were orders.’ He received a 20-year sentence, as did many of his comrades.[81]

In the south, the war saw Fianna Fáil prepared to defend the state at all costs. While Northern Ireland executed one IRA man, de Valera executed six, let three die on hunger strike and jailed or interned 1,400. In the north the IRA at least could shelter among a community that resented the state, even if it was not particularly sympathetic to them. Even so several hundred northern IRA men like Frank McGlade spent the war years in Crumlin Road, Derry Jail or on the Al Rawdah prison ship. But in the south the IRA’s own political bankruptcy, along with effective censorship meant there was little public opposition to the government clamp down. A series of bloody shootouts with the Special Branch and its reversion to bank raids as a means of fund raising contributed to its image as a gangster organization. The social and economic unrest of the war years, which saw Labour briefly threaten to become the south’s second party passed the republican movement by. Desperation had led some to hope in ‘liberation’ by Nazi Germany. Curragh internee Sean Mulready remembered his shock when hundreds of his fellow inmates celebrated the collapse of France in June 1940; ‘the whole camp just went berserk, berserk. The prisoners ran around in sheer delirious joy that the Germans had defeated and were about to occupy the cradle of modern, militant republicanism. I was deeply saddened and disillusioned by this traumatic event.’[82]

As the war went on and the futility of their position became clearer some internees like Mulready looked to socialism once more for answers, a number joining the camp’s small communist group. It included International Brigade veteran Michael O’Riordan and published a journal titled An Splanc. Other wartime IRA prisoners like Ned Stapleton, Joe O’Connor and Eamonn Smullen also became interested in socialism while in jail. Stapleton was arrested in London in 1939 and served seven years in prison while his family were deported to Ireland. O’Connor, a Kerry man, who had taken part in the conflict with the Blueshirts during the early 30s was sentenced to death for murder along with George Plant in 1942. While Plant was executed, O’Connor was acquitted but interned in the Curragh. In 1943 Smullen, a 19 year-old Dubliner was jailed for 14 years for shooting a police witness in the back. He was sent to Portlaoise, where unlike the Curragh, IRA prisoners were denied military status. As a result, he refused to wear prison clothing and spent four years in solitary confinement, clad only in a blanket. He was denied books and almost all human contact, only leaving his cell once a week for a bath. But while many prisoners were disillusioned by their experiences, particularly the splits and feuding in the Curragh, where three major rival groups formed, only a small minority turned to the left. Cathal Goulding remained loyal to the orthodox leadership group in the Curragh after his arrival there. However grim the Curragh could be, there were opportunities to learn Irish from Máirtín Ó Cadhain and to take part in discussions about the progress of the World War among other debates. Many such as Paddy, Tom, and Eddie Whelan from Dublin, and Jack Lynch from Cork would remain in the IRA after their release. However, a large number of prisoners left the movement during 1945.

In 1946 a few older veterans, along with many of the 1930s leadership, notably Sean MacBride, launched the Clann na Poblachta political party that if anything resembled early Fianna Fáil more than Saor Eire, though Fianna Fáil itself denounced Clann as ‘communist.’ But the entry of Clann na Poblachta into a coalition government in 1948 did have important consequences for the IRA. Its last prisoners were released from Portlaoise and police attention was notably relaxed. The decision of the new government to take the Free State out of the Commonwealth and declare it a republic in 1949 was also significant. For almost all political forces in the south the only remaining problem was partition, and the government sponsored an international campaign of propaganda to highlight its evils.

A formative political experience for the young Tomas Mac Giolla when he arrived in Dublin from his native Tipperary in 1949 was a huge all-party anti-partition rally in O’Connell Street. By that year, the IRA was reorganising solely on that basis.

[1] Quoted in Jim Smyth, The Men of No Property (Dublin, 1992) p. ix

[2] Quoted in Sean Cronin, For whom the Hangman’s Noose was Spun (Dublin, 1991) p.64

[3] Laws enacted by the Irish parliament between 1695 and 1709 that excluded Catholics from political power and social status.

[4] Many volunteer companies would later join the United Irishmen, as for example did Jemmy Hope’s company. Cronin, Jemmy Hope: A Man of the People (Dublin) p. 11. The volunteers were actually raised by Lord Charlemont and other gentry, because the Government could not afford to pay for a militia force. It took the fright generated by the French Revolution to generate funds for a state-controlled militia.

[5] The development of the Irish Linen industry had been greatly aided by the settlement of thousands of French Huguenot refugees in the 17th century. Many settled in and around Lisburn close to Belfast.

[6] Smyth, op cit. p. 92

[7] Kevin Whelan, The Tree of Liberty, Catholicism, Republicanism and the creation of Irish Identity, 1760-1830 (Cork, 1996) p. 59-96.

[8]  Smyth, op cit p 162.

[9] A process that had also resulted in emigration of sections Irish aristocratic and military elite such as in the Flight of the Earls (1609) and Wild Geese, following the Jacobite defeat in the 1690s.

[10] The name Torywould later be given pejoratively to members of the royalist party in England. It remains a term used to refer to what became the Conservative and Unionist Party to the present.

[11] R. Dudley Edwards, An Atlas of Irish History (1981) p.178.

[12]The Highlands of Scotland shared such a close cultural and linguistic heritage with Ireland that Lowland Scots during this period referred to their northern countrymen as ‘Irish’. 

[13] Due to their Presbyterian faith that looked to the congregation and bible rather than church hierarchy or crown as the reservoir of religious legitimacy.

[14] Kevin Kenny, The American Irish (Harlow, 2000) p. 39-41.

[15] Smyth, op cit p.55

[16] Cronin, Man of the People, op cit p.23.

[17] Patrick Geoghegan, Robert Emmet: A Life (Dublin, 2002) p. 127.

[18] John Newsinger (Ed) United Irishman: The Autobiography of James Hope (London, 2001).

[19] Whelan, op cit p. 133-175.

[20] Fintan Lane, The Origins of Modern Irish Socialism, 1881-1896 (Cork, 1997) p. 15-19.

[21] Cormac O’Grada, Ireland a New Economic History 1780-1939 (Oxford, 1994) p. 3-42.

[22] Kenny, op cit p. 96.

[23] Emmet O’Connor, A Labour History of Ireland (Dublin, 1992) 26-28.

[24] Kenny, op cit p. 113.

[25] Patrick Murray, Oracles of God: The Catholic Church and Irish Politics, 1922-37- (Dublin, 2000) p.5.

[26] Emmet O’Connor, ‘Labour and Politics, 1830-1945: Colonisation and Mental Colonisation’ in F. Lane and D. O’Drisceoil, (Eds) Politics and the Irish Working Class (, 2005) p.27-43.

[27] Henry Patterson, ‘William Walker, Labour, Sectarianism and the Union, 1894-1912’ in Lane & O’Drisceoil, op cit, p.154-171.

[28] Johnaton Bardon, A History of Ulster (Belfast, 2005) p. 255-257.

[29] John Newsinger, Fenianism in Mid Victorian Britain (London, 1994) p.23.

[30] Newsigner, op cit p.24.

[31] These events spread quickly throughout the Irish of America and Britain. After a few years of popularity the brotherhood declined leaving many of its politically radicalised members with the Fenians.

[32] Such as the Irish National League, promoted by former Young Irelanders whose first mass meeting in the Rotunda hall in Dublin was broken up by Fenian intervention from the floor.

[33] See RV Comerford, The Fenians in Context: Irish Politics and Society, 1848-82 (Dublin, 1998) p.111-5

[34] Murray, op cit, p. 5.

[35] Comerford, op cit. p.136

[36] Comerford, op cit, p. 114.

[37] Kenny, op cit, p. 174-177.

[38] Engels had been an outspoken supporter of Irish revolution since the 1840s. This may have been partly due to the fact he lived with Irish woman Mary Burns for 20 years and later married her sister Lydia. Both women were strong republicans and Lydia is reputed to have been involved on the fringes of the Manchester rescue of 1867.

[39] Newsinger, op cit, p. 70.

[40] Lane, op cit, p. 19-27.

[41] Still officially without a name the leadership began to favour the informal use of the acronym IRB, standing for Irish Republican (or revolutionary) Brotherhood rather than Fenians.

[42] Owen McGee, The IRB from the Land League to Sinn Féin (Dublin, 2005) p.

[43] Lane, op cit, p. 64-90.

[44] JJ Lee, The Modernisation of Irish Society 1848-1918 (Dublin, 1989) p. 106-122.

[45] Murray, op cit. p.10.

[46] Patrick Maume, The Long Gestation: Irish Nationalist Politics 1890-1918 (Dublin, 1999).

[47] Maume, op cit, p.48-59.

[48] McGee, op cit, p.345-348.

[49] Margaret Ward, Unmanageable Revolutionaries: Women and Irish Nationalism (London, 1995) p.40-88.

[50] Paul Bew, Ideology and the Irish Question, Ulster Unionism and Irish Nationalism 1912-1916 (Oxford, 1994) p.27-53.

[51] Patterson, ‘William Walker’,op cit.

[52] Maume, op cit, p.145.

[53] Padraig Yeates, Lockout: Dublin 1913 (Dublin, 2000).

[54] JJ Lee, quoted in B. Hanley, ‘James Connolly and the Workers Republic’ M. Jones (ed) The Republic, (Dublin, 2005).

[55] R.M. Fox, The History of the Irish Citizens Army (Dublin, 1943).

[56] This principle had been encapsulated by John Mitchel’s maxim “England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity”.

[57] JJ Lee, Modern Ireland: Politics and Society, 1912-1985 (Cambridge, 1989) p.24-38.

[58] Michael Laffan, The Resurrection of Ireland: the Sinn Féin Party 1916-1923 (Cambridge, 1999) 77-169.

[59] David Fitzpatrick, The Two Irelands, 1912-1939 (Oxford, 1998).

[60] Michael Hopkinson, The Irish War of Independence (Dublin, 2002) p.25-29.

[61] Hopkinson, op cit, p. 79-91.

[62] Peter Hart, Mick: the Real Michael Collins (London, 2005).

[63] Peter Hart, The IRA at War, 1916-1923 (2003).

[64] Fergus Campbell, Land and Revolution: Nationalist Politics in the West of Ireland, 1891-1921 (Oxford, 2005) p. 247.

[65] O’Connor, op cit, p. 94-116.

[66] The IRA, along with Catholic ex-servicemen and Hibernians was engaged in warfare with Loyalists rather than primarily with the British forces.

[67] Alan Parkinson, Belfast’s Unholy War: the Troubles of the 1920s (Dublin, 2004).

[68] Jim McDermott, Northern Divisions: the Old IRA and the Belfast Pogroms (Belfast, 2002).

[69] JM Regan, The Irish Counter-Revolution, 1921-1936 (Dublin, 1999).

[70] Enda Staunton, The Nationalists of Northern Ireland, 1918-1973 (Dublin, 2001).

[71] C. Desmond Greaves, Liam Mellows and the Irish Revolution (London, 1971).

[72] Michael Hopkinson, Green Against Green: the Irish Civil War (Dublin, 1988).

[73] Quoted in Richard English, Radicals and the Republic: Socialist Republicanism in the Irish Free State 1925-1937 (Oxford, 1994) p. 82.

[74] An Phoblacht, 16 May 1931.

[75] B. Hanley, The IRA, 1926-1936 (Dublin, 2002).The B-Specials were a paramilitary police force, many of whom were former members of the UVF.

[76] Henry Patterson, Ireland Since 1939 (Oxford, 2002).

[77] Republican Congress, 5 May 1934.

[78] A former IRA leader and Garda commissioner. Fearghal McGarry, Eoin O’Duffy: a Self-Made Hero (Oxford, 2005).

[79] Fearghal McGarry, Irish Politics and the Spanish Civil War (Cork, 1999). The exploits of the ‘Connolly Column’ and other Irish members of the International Brigades would join the iconography of socialist republicanism. The events in Spain were added extra relevance when O’Duffy led 700 volunteers to fight with Franco in 1936, to the general approval of the Free State press and public.

[80] Ironically he died in Frank Ryan’s arms.  Sean Cronin, Frank Ryan: the Search for the Republic (Dublin, 1980) p.188-191.

[81] John McGuffin, Internment! (Kerry, 1973).

[82] ‘The Curragh Communists’ Irish Times, 16 June 1971.