Irish republicanism

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Irish republicanism (Irish : poblachtánachas Éireannach) is the political movement for the unity and independence of Ireland. The development of nationalist and democratic sentiment throughout Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was reflected in Ireland in the emergence of republicanism, in opposition to British rule. This followed hundreds of years of British conquest and Irish resistance through rebellion. [1] [2] Discrimination against Catholics and nonconformists, attempts by the British administration to suppress Irish culture, and the belief that Ireland was economically disadvantaged as a result of the Acts of Union were among the specific factors leading to such opposition.

Irish language Goidelic language spoken in Ireland and by Irish people

Irish is a Goidelic language of the Celtic and Indo-European language family, originating in Ireland and historically spoken by the Irish people. Irish is spoken as a first language in substantial areas of counties Galway, Kerry, Cork and Donegal, smaller areas of Waterford, Mayo and Meath, and a few other locations, and as a second language by a larger group of non-habitual speakers across the country.

Political movement movement to obtain a political goal

In the social sciences, a political movement is a social group that operates together to obtain a political goal, on a local, regional, national, or international scope. Political movements develop, coordinate, promulgate, revise, amend, interpret, and produce materials that are intended to address the goals of the base of the movement. A social movement in the area of politics can be organized around a single issue or set of issues, or around a set of shared concerns of a social group. In a political party, a political organization seeks to influence, or control, government policy, usually by nominating their candidates and seating candidates in politics and governmental offices. Additionally, parties participate in electoral campaigns and educational outreach or protest actions aiming to convince citizens or governments to take action on the issues and concerns which are the focus of the movement. Parties often espouse an ideology, expressed in a party program, bolstered by a written platform with specific goals, forming a [coalition] among disparate interests.

United Ireland Idea that the whole island of Ireland should be a single country

United Ireland is the proposition that all of Ireland should be a single sovereign state. At present, the island is divided politically; the sovereign Republic of Ireland has jurisdiction over the majority of Ireland, while Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. Achieving a united Ireland is a central tenet of Irish nationalism, particularly of both mainstream and dissident Irish republican political and paramilitary organisations. Unionists support Northern Ireland remaining part of the United Kingdom, and therefore oppose Irish unification. The exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union has increased the likelihood of a united Ireland, in order to avoid the requirement for a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.


The Society of United Irishmen, formed in the 1780s and led primarily by liberal Protestants, evolved into a revolutionary republican organisation, inspired by the American Revolution and allied with Revolutionary France. It launched the 1798 Rebellion with the help of French troops. The rebellion had some success, especially in County Wexford, before it was suppressed. A second rising in 1803, led by Robert Emmet, was quickly put down, and Emmet was hanged. The Young Ireland movement, formed in the 1830s, was initially a part of the Repeal Association of Daniel O'Connell, but broke with O'Connell on the issue of the legitimacy of the use of violence. Primarily a political and cultural organisation, some members of Young Ireland staged an abortive rising, the Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848. Its leaders were transported to Van Diemen's Land. Some of these escaped to the United States, where they linked up with other Irish exiles to form the Fenian Brotherhood. Together with the Irish Republican Brotherhood, founded in Ireland by James Stephens and others in 1858, they made up a movement commonly known as "Fenians" which was dedicated to the overthrow of British imperial rule in Ireland. They staged another rising, the Fenian Rising, in 1867, and a dynamite campaign in England in the 1880s.

Society of United Irishmen liberal political organisation

The Society of United Irishmen, founded as a Radical or liberal political organisation in 18th-century Belfast, Ireland, initially sought Parliamentary reform. It evolved into a revolutionary republican organisation, inspired by the American Revolution and allied with Revolutionary France. It launched the Irish Rebellion of 1798 with the objective of ending British monarchical rule over Ireland and founding a sovereign, independent Irish republic.

Irish Rebellion of 1798 Uprising against British rule in Ireland

The Irish Rebellion of 1798 was an uprising against British rule in Ireland. The United Irishmen, a republican revolutionary group influenced by the ideas of the American and French revolutions, were the main organising force behind the rebellion, led by Presbyterians angry at being shut out of power by the Anglican establishment and joined by Catholics, who made up the majority of the population. Many Ulster Protestants sided with the British, resulting in the conflict taking on the appearance of a sectarian civil war in many areas, with atrocities on both sides. A French army which landed in County Mayo in support of the rebels was overwhelmed by British and loyalist forces. The uprising was suppressed by British Crown forces with a death toll of between 10,000 and 30,000.

County Wexford County in the Republic of Ireland

County Wexford is a county in Ireland. It is in the province of Leinster and is part of the South-East Region. Named after the town of Wexford, it was based on the historic Gaelic territory of Hy Kinsella, whose capital was Ferns. Wexford County Council is the local authority for the county. The population of the county was 149,722 at the 2016 census.

In the early 20th century IRB members, in particular Tom Clarke and Seán MacDermott, began planning another rising. The Easter Rising took place from 24 to 30 April 1916, when members of the Irish Volunteers and Irish Citizen Army seized the centre of Dublin, proclaimed a republic and held off British forces for almost a week. The execution of the Rising's leaders, including Clarke, MacDermott, Patrick Pearse and James Connolly, led to a surge of support for republicanism in Ireland. In 1917 the Sinn Féin party stated as its aim the "securing the international recognition of Ireland as an independent Irish Republic", and in the general election of 1918 Sinn Féin took 73 of the 105 Irish seats in the British House of Commons. The elected members did not take their seats but instead set up the First Dáil. Between 1919 and 1921 the Irish Republican Army (IRA), who were loyal to the Dáil, fought the British Army and Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC), a predominantly Roman Catholic force, in the Irish War of Independence. Talks between the British and Irish in late 1921 led to a treaty by which the British conceded, not a 32-county Irish Republic, but a 26-county Irish Free State with Dominion status. This led to the Irish Civil War, in which the republicans were defeated by their former comrades.

Tom Clarke (Irish republican) Irish revolutionary leader

Thomas James "Tom" Clarke was an Irish republican revolutionary leader from Dungannon, County Tyrone. Clarke was arguably the person most responsible for the 1916 Easter Rising. A proponent of armed revolution for most of his life, he spent 15 years in English prisons prior to his role in the Easter Rising, and was executed after it was quashed.

Seán Mac Diarmada Irish revolutionary

Seán Mac Diarmada, also known as Seán MacDermott, was an Irish republican political activist and revolutionary leader. He was one of the seven leaders of the Easter Rising of 1916, which he helped to organise as a member of the Military Committee of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) and was a signatory of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic. He was executed for his part in the Rising at age 33.

Easter Rising Armed insurrection by Irish Republicans during Easter Week of 1916

The Easter Rising, also known as the Easter Rebellion, was an armed insurrection in Ireland during Easter Week, April 1916. The Rising was launched by Irish republicans to end British rule in Ireland and establish an independent Irish Republic while the United Kingdom was heavily engaged in the First World War. It was the most significant uprising in Ireland since the rebellion of 1798, and the first armed action of the Irish revolutionary period.

The Free State became an independent constitutional monarchy following the Balfour Declaration of 1926 and the Statute of Westminster 1931 and formally became a republic with the passage of the Republic of Ireland Act 1948. That same year, the republican movement took the decision to focus on Northern Ireland thereafter. The Border Campaign, which lasted from 1956 to 1962, involved bombings and attacks on Royal Ulster Constabulary barracks. The failure of this campaign led the republican leadership to concentrate on political action, and to move to the left. Following the outbreak of The Troubles in 1968-9, the movement split between Officials (leftists) and Provisionals (traditionalists) at the beginning of 1970. Both sides were initially involved in an armed campaign against the British state, but the Officials gradually moved into mainstream politics after the Official IRA ceasefire of 1972; the associated "Official Sinn Féin" eventually renamed itself the Workers' Party. The Provisional IRA, except during brief ceasefires in 1972 and 1975, kept up a campaign of violence for nearly thirty years, directed against security forces and civilian targets (especially businesses). While the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) represented the nationalists of Northern Ireland in initiatives such as the 1973 Sunningdale Agreement, republicans took no part in these, believing that a withdrawal of British troops and a commitment to a united Ireland was a necessary precondition of any settlement. This began to change with a landmark speech by Danny Morrison in 1981, advocating what became known as the Armalite and ballot box strategy. Under the leadership of Gerry Adams, Sinn Féin began to focus on the search for a political settlement. When the party voted in 1986 to take seats in legislative bodies within Ireland, there was a walk-out of die-hard republicans, who set up Republican Sinn Féin and the Continuity IRA. Following the Hume–Adams dialogue, Sinn Féin took part in the Northern Ireland peace process which led to the IRA ceasefires of 1994 and 1997 and the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. After elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly, republicans sat in government in Northern Ireland for the first time when Martin McGuinness and Bairbre de Brún were elected to the Northern Ireland Executive. However, another split occurred, with anti-Agreement republicans setting up the 32 County Sovereignty Movement and the Real IRA. Today, Irish republicanism is divided between those who support the institutions set up under the Good Friday Agreement and the later St Andrews Agreement, and those who oppose them. The latter are often referred to as "dissident" republicans.

A constitutional monarchy is a form of monarchy in which the sovereign exercises authority in accordance with a written or unwritten constitution. Constitutional monarchy differs from absolute monarchy in that constitutional monarchs are bound to exercise their powers and authorities within the limits prescribed within an established legal framework. Constitutional monarchies range from countries such as Morocco, Jordan, Kuwait and Bahrain, where the constitution grants substantial discretionary powers to the sovereign, to countries such as Japan and Sweden where the monarch retains no formal authorities.

Balfour Declaration of 1926 1926 document

The Balfour Declaration of 1926, issued by the 1926 Imperial Conference of British Empire leaders in London, was named after Lord President of the Council Arthur Balfour. It declared the United Kingdom and the Dominions to be:

... autonomous Communities within the British Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs, though united by a common allegiance to the Crown, and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations.

Statute of Westminster 1931

The Statute of Westminster 1931 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom whose modified versions are now domestic law within Australia and Canada; it has been repealed in New Zealand and implicitly in former Dominions that are no longer Commonwealth realms. Passed on 11 December 1931, the act, either immediately or upon ratification, effectively both established the legislative independence of the self-governing Dominions of the British Empire from the United Kingdom and bound them all to seek each other's approval for changes to monarchical titles and the common line of succession. It thus became a statutory embodiment of the principles of equality and common allegiance to the Crown set out in the Balfour Declaration of 1926. As the statute removed nearly all of the British parliament's authority to legislate for the Dominions, it had the effect of making the Dominions largely sovereign nations in their own right. It was a crucial step in the development of the Dominions as separate states.


Background of English rule in Ireland

Map of Ireland in 1609 showing the major Plantations of Ireland Map of Ireland in 1609.gif
Map of Ireland in 1609 showing the major Plantations of Ireland

Following the Norman invasion of Ireland in the 12th century, Ireland, or parts of it, had experienced alternating degrees of rule from England. While some of the native Gaelic population attempted to resist this occupation, [3] a single, unified political goal did not exist amongst the independent lordships that existed throughout the island. The Tudor conquest of Ireland took place in the 16th century. This included the Plantations of Ireland, in which the lands held by Gaelic Irish clans and Hiberno-Norman dynasties were confiscated and given to Protestant settlers ("Planters") from England and Scotland. The Plantation of Ulster began in 1609, and the province was heavily colonised with English and Scottish settlers. [4]

Norman invasion of Ireland 12th-century Invasion of Ireland by Normans

The Norman invasion of Ireland took place in stages during the late 12th century and led to the Anglo-Normans conquering large swathes of land from the Irish. At the time, Gaelic Ireland was made up of several kingdoms, with a High King claiming lordship over the lesser kings. The Norman invasion was a watershed in the history of Ireland, marking the beginning of more than 800 years of direct English and, later, British involvement in Ireland.

Gaels Ethnic group

The Gaels are an ethnolinguistic group native to northwestern Europe. They are associated with the Gaelic languages: a branch of the Celtic languages comprising Irish, Manx and Scottish Gaelic. Historically, the ethnonyms Irish and Scots referred to the Gaels in general, but the scope of those nationalities is today more complex.

The Tudor conquestof Ireland took place under the Tudor dynasty, which held the Kingdom of England during the 16th century. Following a failed rebellion against the crown by Silken Thomas, the Earl of Kildare, in the 1530s, Henry VIII was declared King of Ireland in 1542 by statute of the Parliament of Ireland, with the aim of restoring such central authority as had been lost throughout the country during the previous two centuries.

Campaigns against English presence on the island had occurred prior to the emergence of the Irish republican ideology. In the 1590s, resistance was led by Hugh O'Neill (see the Nine Years' War). The Irish chieftains were ultimately defeated, leading to their exile (the 'Flight of the Earls') and the aforementioned Plantation of Ulster in 1609. [4] During the Thirty Years' War, Irish exiles in Spain petitioned Philip IV to launch an invasion of Ireland and so in December 1627 a document was drafted by Philip's ministers in Madrid containing among other things the first proposal for an Irish republic with the intention of preventing a conflict between the Earls of Tyrone and Tyrconnell over the crown of Ireland. Ultimately however the invasion did not go ahead. [5]

Hugh ONeill, Earl of Tyrone Irish earl

Hugh O'Neill, was an Irish Gaelic lord, Earl of Tyrone and was later created The Ó Néill. O'Neill's career was played out against the background of the Tudor conquest of Ireland, and he is best known for leading the resistance during the Nine Years' War, the strongest threat to English authority in Ireland since the revolt of Silken Thomas.

The Nine Years' War, sometimes called Tyrone's Rebellion, took place in Ireland from 1593 to 1603. It was fought between an Irish alliance—led mainly by Hugh O'Neill of Tyrone and Hugh Roe O'Donnell of Tyrconnell—against English rule in Ireland, and was a response to the then-ongoing Tudor conquest of Ireland. The war was fought in all parts of the country, but mainly in the northern province of Ulster. The Irish alliance won some important early victories, such as the Battle of Clontibret (1595) and the Battle of the Yellow Ford (1598), but the English won a decisive victory against the alliance and their Spanish allies in the Siege of Kinsale (1601-2). The war ended with the Treaty of Mellifont (1603). Many of the defeated northern lords left Ireland to seek support for a new uprising in the Flight of the Earls (1607), never to return. This marked the end of Gaelic Ireland and led to the Plantation of Ulster.

Flight of the Earls Historical event

The Flight of the Earls took place on 4 September 1607, when Hugh O'Neill, Earl of Tyrone and Rory O'Donnell, 1st Earl of Tyrconnell, and about ninety followers left Ulster in Ireland for mainland Europe.

A decade later, the Irish Rebellion of 1641 began. This consisted of a coalition between the Irish and the Old English (descendents of the English/Norman settlers who settled during the Norman Invasion) rebelling against the English rulers. Beginning as a coup d'état with the aim of restoring lost lands in the north of Ireland and defending Catholic religious and property rights, [6] (which had been suppressed by the Puritan Parliament of England) it evolved into the Irish Confederate Wars. In the summer of 1642, the Catholic upper classes formed the Catholic Confederation, which essentially became the de facto government of Ireland for a brief period until 1649, when the forces of the English Parliament carried out the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland and the old Catholic landowners were permanently dispossessed of their lands.

Society of United Irishmen and the Irish Rebellion of 1798

Irish republicanism has its origins in the ideals of the American and French revolutions in the late 18th century. In Ireland these ideals were taken up by the United Irishmen, founded in 1791. Originally they sought reform of the Irish parliament, such as an end to sectarian discrimination against Dissenters and Catholics, which was enshrined in the Penal Laws. Eventually they became a revolutionary group advocating an Irish republic free from British control.

Wolfe Tone circa 1794. Tone is considered by many as the father of Irish Republicanism Theobald Wolfe Tone - Project Gutenberg 13112.png
Wolfe Tone circa 1794. Tone is considered by many as the father of Irish Republicanism

At this stage, the movement was led primarily by liberal Protestants, [7] particularly Presbyterians from the province of Ulster.The Founding members of the United Irishmen were mainly Southern Irish Protestant aristocrats. The key founders included Wolfe Tone, Thomas Russell, Henry Joy McCracken, James Napper Tandy, and Samuel Neilson. By 1797, the Society of United Irishmen had around 100,000 members. Crossing the religious divide in Ireland, it had a mixed membership of Catholics, Presbyterians, and even Anglicans from the Protestant Ascendancy. It also attracted support and membership from Catholic agrarian resistance groups, such as the Defenders organisation, who were eventually incorporated into the Society. [8]

The Battle of Killala marked the end of the rising Battle of Killala 1798.JPG
The Battle of Killala marked the end of the rising

The Irish Rebellion of 1798 began on 23 May, with the first clashes taking place in County Kildare on 24 May, before spreading throughout Leinster, as well as County Antrim and other areas of the country. French soldiers landed in Killala on 22 August and participated in the fighting on the rebels' side. [9] Even though they had considerable success against British forces in County Wexford, [10] rebel forces were eventually defeated. Key figures in the organisation were arrested and executed.

Acts of Union

Michael Dwyer Dwyer.jpg
Michael Dwyer

Though the Rebellion of 1798 was eventually crushed, small republican guerrilla campaigns against the British Army continued for a short time afterward in the Wicklow Mountains under the leadership of Michael Dwyer and Joseph Holt, involving attacks on small parties of yeomen. These activities were perceived by some to be merely "the dying echoes of an old convulsion", [11] but others feared further large-scale uprisings, due to the United Irishmen continuing to attract large numbers of Catholics in rural areas of the country and arms raids being carried out on a nightly basis. [11] It was also feared that rebels would again seek military aid from French troops, and another rising was expected take place by 10 April. [12]

This perceived threat of further rebellion resulted in the Parliamentary Union between the Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. After some uncertainty, the Irish Parliament voted to abolish itself in the Acts of Union 1800, forming the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, by a vote of 158 to 115. [13] A number of tactics were used to achieve this end. Lord Castlereagh and Charles Cornwallis were known to use bribery extensively. In all, a total of sixteen Irish borough-owners were granted British peerages. A further twenty-eight new Irish peerages were created, while twenty existing Irish peerages increased in rank. [14]

Furthermore, the government of Great Britain sought to replace Irish politicians in the Irish parliament with pro-Union politicians, and rewards were granted to those that vacated their seats, with the result being that in the eighteen months prior to the decision in 1800, one-fifth of the Irish House of Commons changed its representation due to these activities and other factors such as death. [14] It was also promised by Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger that he would bring about Catholic emancipation, though after the Acts of Union were successfully voted through, King George III saw that this pledge was never realised, [13] and as such Catholics were not granted the rights that had been promised prior to the Acts.

Robert Emmet

A second attempt at forming an independent Irish republic occurred under Robert Emmet in 1803. Emmet had previously been expelled from Trinity College, Dublin for his political views. [15] Like those who had led the 1798 rebellion, Emmet was a member of the United Irishmen, as was his brother Thomas Addis Emmet, who had been imprisoned for membership in the organisation.

Depiction of Robert Emmet's trial Robert Emmet - Trial.jpg
Depiction of Robert Emmet's trial

Emmet and his followers had planned to seize Dublin Castle by force, manufacturing weaponry and explosives at a number of locations in Dublin. [16] Unlike those of 1798, preparations for the uprising were successfully concealed from the government and law enforcement, and though a premature explosion at an arms depot attracted the attention of police, they were unaware of the United Irishmen activities at the time and did not have any information regarding the planned rebellion. Emmet had hoped to avoid the complications of the previous rebellion and chose not to organise the county outside of Dublin to a large extent. It was expected that the areas surrounding Dublin were sufficiently prepared for an uprising should one be announced, and Thomas Russell had been sent to northern areas of the country to prepare republicans there. [17]

A proclamation of independence, addressed from 'The Provisional Government' to 'The People of Ireland' was produced by Emmet, echoing the republican sentiments expressed during the previous rebellion:

You are now called on to show to the world that you are competent to take your place among nations, that you have a right to claim their recognisance of you, as an independent country ... We therefore solemnly declare, that our object is to establish a free and independent republic in Ireland: that the pursuit of this object we will relinquish only with our lives ... We war against no religious sect ... We war against English dominion. [18]

Robert Emmet, Proclamation of the Provisional Government

However, failed communications and arrangements produced a considerably smaller force than had been anticipated. Nonetheless, the rebellion began in Dublin on the evening of 23 July. Emmet's forces were unable to take Dublin Castle, and the rising broke down into rioting, which ensued sporadically throughout the night. Emmet escaped and hid for some time in the Wicklow Mountains and Harold's Cross, but was captured on 25 August and hanged on 20 September 1803, at which point the Society of United Irishmen was effectively finished.

Young Ireland and the Irish Confederation

The Young Ireland movement began in the late 1830s. The term 'Young Ireland' was originally a derogatory one, coined by the press in Britain to describe members of the Repeal Association (a group campaigning for the repeal of the Acts of Union 1800 which joined the Kingdom of Ireland and the Kingdom of Great Britain) who were involved with the Irish nationalist newspaper The Nation . [19] Encouraging the repeal of the Acts of Union, members of the Young Ireland movement advocated the removal of British authority from Ireland and the re-establishment of the Irish Parliament in Dublin. [20] The group had cultural aims also, and encouraged the study of Irish history and the revival of the Irish language. [21] Influential Young Irelanders included Charles Gavan Duffy, Thomas Davis and John Blake Dillon, the three founders of The Nation. [19]

William Smith O'Brien, leader of the Young Ireland movement William Smith O'Brien.jpg
William Smith O'Brien, leader of the Young Ireland movement

The Young Irelanders eventually seceded from the Repeal Association. The leader of the Repeal Association, Daniel O'Connell, opposed the use of physical force to enact repeal, and passed 'peace resolutions' declaring that violence and force were not to be employed. [22] Though the Young Irelanders did not support the use of violence, the writers of The Nation maintained that the introduction of these peace resolutions was poorly timed, and that to declare outright that physical force would never be used was 'to deliver themselves bound hand and foot to the Whigs.' [23] William Smith O'Brien, who had previously worked to achieve compromise between O'Connell and The Nation group, was also concerned, and claimed that he feared these resolutions were an attempt to exclude the Young Irelanders from the Association altogether. [23] At an Association meeting held in July 1846 at Conciliation Hall, the meeting place of the Association, Thomas Francis Meagher, a Young Irelander, addressing the peace resolutions, delivered his 'Sword Speech', in which he stated, "I do not abhor the use of arms in the vindication of national rights ... Be it for the defence, or be it for the assertion of a nation's liberty, I look upon the sword as a sacred weapon." [24] John O'Connell, Daniel O'Connell's son, was present at the proceedings and interrupted Meagher's speech, claiming that Meagher could no longer be part of the same association as O'Connell and his supporters. After some protest, the Young Irelanders left Conciliation Hall and the Repeal Association forever, founding the Irish Confederation 13 January 1847 after negotiations for a reunion had failed.

The Young Ireland movement culminated in a failed uprising (see Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848), which, influenced by the French Revolution of 1848 and further provoked by government inaction during the Great Famine and the suspension of habeas corpus , [25] which allowed the government to imprison Young Irelanders and other political opponents without trial, was hastily planned and quickly suppressed. Following the abortive uprising, several rebel leaders were arrested and convicted of sedition. Originally sentenced to death, Smith O'Brien and other members of the Irish Confederation were transported to Van Diemen's Land. [26]

Fenian movement

Some of the founding members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood The Irish Fenian Executive.jpg
Some of the founding members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood

The Fenian movement consisted of the Fenian Brotherhood and the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), fraternal organisations founded in the United States and Ireland respectively with the aim of establishing an independent republic in Ireland. [27]

The IRB was founded on Saint Patrick's Day 1858 in Dublin. [28] Members present at the first meeting were James Stephens, Thomas Clarke Luby, Peter Langan, Joseph Denieffe, Garrett O'Shaughnessy, and Charles Kickham. [29] Stephens had previously spent time exiled in Paris, along with John O'Mahony, having taken part in the uprising of 1848 and fleeing to avoid capture. O'Mahony left France for America in the mid-1850s and founded the Emmet Monument Association with Michael Doheny. Stephens returned to Ireland in 1856.

The original oath of the society, drawn up by Luby under Stephens' direction, read:

I, AB., do solemnly swear, in the presence of Almighty God, that I will do my utmost, at every risk, while life lasts, to make [other versions, according to Luby, establish in'] Ireland an independent Democratic Republic; that I will yield implicit obedience, in all things not contrary to the law of God [ 'laws of morality'] to the commands of my superior officers; and that I shall preserve inviolable secrecy regarding all the transactions [ 'affairs'] of this secret society that may be confided in me. So help me God! Amen. [30]

The Fenian Brotherhood was the IRB's counterpart organisation, formed in the same year in the United States by O'Mahony and Doheny. [31] The Fenian Brotherhood's main purpose was to supply weapons and funds for its Irish counterpart and raise support for the Irish republican movement in the United States. [32] The term "Fenian" was coined by O'Mahony, who named the American wing of the movement after the Fianna [33] — a class of warriors that existed in Gaelic Ireland. The term became popular and is still in use, especially in Northern Ireland and Scotland, where it has expanded to refer to all Irish nationalists and republicans, as well as being a pejorative term for Irish Catholics.

Public support for the Fenian movement in Ireland grew in November 1861 with the funeral of Terence MacManus, a member of the Irish Confederation, which Stephens and the Fenians had organised and which was attended by between twenty thousand and thirty thousand people. [34] Following this, Stephens (accompanied by Luby) undertook a series of organisational tours throughout the island.

In 1865 the Fenian Brotherhood in America had split into two factions. One was led by O'Mahony with Stephens' support. The other, which was more powerful, was led by William R. Roberts. The Fenians had always planned an armed rebellion, but there was now disagreement as to how and where this rebellion might be carried out. Roberts' faction preferred focusing all military efforts on British Canada (Roberts and his supporters theorised that victory for the American Fenians in nearby Canada would propel the Irish republican movement as a whole to success). [35] The other, headed by O'Mahony, proposed that a rising in Ireland be planned for 1866. [36] In spite of this, the O'Mahony wing of the movement itself tried and failed to capture New Brunswick's Campobello Island in April 1866. [36] Following this failure, the Roberts faction of the Fenian Brotherhood carried out its own, occupying the village of Fort Erie, Ontario on 31 May 1866 and engaging Canadian troops at the battles of Ridgeway and Fort Erie on 2 June. [36] It was in reference to Fenians fighting in this battle that the name "Irish Republican Army" was first used. [37] These attacks (and those that followed) in Canada are collectively known as the "Fenian raids".

Nineteenth century onward

A depiction of the Easter Rising Birth of the Irish Republic.jpg
A depiction of the Easter Rising
Sean Hogan's IRA flying column during the Irish War of Independence. Hogan's Flying Column.gif
Seán Hogan's IRA flying column during the Irish War of Independence.

After the Act of Union in 1801 merging Ireland with Britain into the United Kingdom, Irish independence movements were suppressed by the British authorities. Nationalist rebellions against British rule in 1803, by Robert Emmet, 1848 (by the Young Irelanders) and 1865 and 1867 (by the Fenians) were followed by harsh reprisals by British forces.

In 1916 the Easter Rising, organised by the Irish Republican Brotherhood, was launched in Dublin and the Irish Republic was proclaimed, albeit without significant popular support.[ citation needed ] The Rising was suppressed after six days, and most of its leaders were executed by the British authorities. This was a turning point in Irish history, leading to the War of Independence and the end of British rule in most of Ireland.

From 1919–1921 the Irish Republican Army (IRA) was organised as a guerilla army, led by Richard Mulcahy and with Michael Collins as Director of Intelligence and fought against British forces. During the Anglo-Irish War (or War of Independence), the British sent paramilitary police, the "Black and Tans" and the Auxiliary Division, to help the British Army and Royal Irish Constabulary. These groups committed atrocities which included killing captured POWs and any Irish civilians they viewed as being sympathetic to the IRA. Among the most infamous of their actions were the burning of half the city of Cork in 1920 and the Bloody Sunday massacre of 1920. These atrocities, together with the popularity of the republican ideal, and British repression of republican political expression, led to widespread support across Ireland for the Irish rebels.

In 1921 the British government led by David Lloyd George negotiated the Anglo-Irish Treaty with republican leaders led by Arthur Griffith who had been delegated as plenipotentiaries on behalf of the Second Dáil, thus ending the conflict.

Irish Free State and Republic of Ireland

Though many across the country were unhappy with the Anglo-Irish Treaty (since, during the war, the IRA had fought for independence for all Ireland and for a republic, not a partitioned dominion under the British crown), some republicans were satisfied that the Treaty was the best that could be achieved at the time. However, a substantial number opposed it. Dáil Éireann, the Irish parliament, voted by 64 votes to 57 to ratify it, [38] the majority believing that the treaty created a new base from which to move forward. Éamon de Valera, who had served as President of the Irish Republic during the war, refused to accept the decision of the Dáil and led the opponents of the treaty out of the House. The pro-Treaty republicans organised themselves into the Cumann na nGaedheal party, while the anti-Treaty republicans retained the Sinn Féin name. The IRA itself split between pro-Treaty and anti-Treaty elements, with the former forming the nucleus of the new Irish National Army.

Michael Collins became Commander-in-Chief of the National Army. Shortly afterwards, some dissidents, apparently without the authorisation of the anti-Treaty IRA Army Executive, occupied the Four Courts in Dublin and kidnapped a pro-Treaty general. The government, responding to this provocation and to intensified British pressure following the assassination by an IRA unit in London of Sir Henry Wilson, ordered the regular army to take the Four Courts, thereby beginning the Irish Civil War. It is believed that Collins continued to fund and supply the IRA in Northern Ireland throughout the civil war, but, after his death, W. T. Cosgrave (the new President of the Executive Council, or prime minister) discontinued this support.

By May 1923, the war (which had claimed more lives than the War of Independence) ended in the call by the IRA to dump arms. However, the harsh measures adopted by both sides, including assassinations of politicians by the Republicans and executions and atrocities by the Free State side, left a bitter legacy in Irish politics for decades to follow.

De Valera, who had strongly supported the Republican side in the Civil War, reconsidered his views while in jail and came to accept the ideas of political activity under the terms of the Free State constitution. Rather than abstaining from Free State politics entirely, he now sought to republicanise it from within. However, he and his supporters which included most Sinn Féin TDs failed to convince a majority of the anti-treaty Sinn Féin of these views and the movement split again. In 1926, he formed a new party called Fianna Fáil (Soldiers of Destiny), taking most of Sinn Féin's TDs with him. In 1931, following the enactment of the Statute of Westminster, the country became a sovereign state along with the other Dominions and the United Kingdom. [39] The following year, De Valera was appointed President of the Executive Council of the Free State and began a slow process of turning the country from a constitutional monarchy to a constitutional republic, thus fulfilling Collins's prediction of "the freedom to achieve freedom". [40]

By then, the IRA was engaged in confrontations with the Blueshirts, a quasi-fascist group led by a former War of Independence and pro-Treaty leader, Eoin O'Duffy. O'Duffy looked to Fascist Italy as an example for Ireland to follow. Several hundred supporters of O'Duffy briefly went to Spain to volunteer on the Nationalist side in the Spanish Civil War, and a smaller number of ex-IRA members, communists and others participated on the Republican side.

In 1937, the Constitution of Ireland was drafted by the de Valera government and approved via referendum by the majority of the population of the Free State. The constitution changed the name of the state to Éire [41] in the Irish language (Ireland in English) and asserted its national territory as the whole of Ireland. [lower-alpha 1] The new state was headed by a President of Ireland elected by universal suffrage, (though the constitutional Monarch of the State (by then George VI) remained, albeit with a role diminished solely to functions in relation to accreditation of diplomats. He is believed[ by whom? ] to have been left with those residual functions as a concession to Unionist opinion.[ citation needed ]) The new state had the objective characteristics of a republic and was referred to as such by de Valera himself, but, it remained within the British Commonwealth and was regarded by the British as a Dominion, like Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. Furthermore, the claim to the whole of the island did not reflect practical reality and inflamed anti-Dublin sentiment among northern Protestants.

In 1948, Fianna Fáil went out of office for the first time in sixteen years. John A. Costello, leader of the coalition government, announced his intention to declare Ireland a republic. [42] The Republic of Ireland Act 1948, which "described" the state as the Republic of Ireland (without changing its name), led the British government to pass the Ireland Act 1949, which declared that Northern Ireland would continue as part of the United Kingdom unless the Parliament of Northern Ireland consented to leave; [43] and Ireland ceased to be a member of the Commonwealth. As a result of this—and also because continuing struggle against the Dublin government was futile—the republican movement took the decision to focus on Northern Ireland from then on. The decision was announced by the IRA in its Easter statement of 1949. [44]

Republicanism in Northern Ireland


In 1921, Ireland was partitioned. Most of the country became part of the independent Irish Free State. However, six out of the nine counties of Ulster remained part of the United Kingdom as Northern Ireland. In the 1921 elections [45] in Northern Ireland,

This territory of Northern Ireland, as established by the Government of Ireland Act 1920, had its own provincial government which was controlled for 50 years until 1972 by the conservative Ulster Unionist Party (UUP). The tendency to vote on sectarian lines and the proportions of each religious denomination ensured that there would never be a change of government. In local government, constituency boundaries were drawn to divide nationalist communities into two or even three constituencies and so weaken their effect (see Gerrymandering).

The (mainly Catholic) Nationalist population in Northern Ireland, besides feeling politically alienated, was also economically alienated, often with worse living standards compared to their Protestant (mainly Unionist) neighbours, with fewer job opportunities, and living in ghettos in Belfast, Derry, Armagh and other places. Many Catholics considered the Unionist government was undemocratic, bigoted and favoured Protestants. Emigration for economic reasons kept the nationalist population from growing, despite its higher birth rate. Although poverty, (e)migration and unemployment were fairly widespread (albeit not to the same extent) among Protestants as well, on the other hand the economic situation in Northern Ireland (even for Catholics) was for a long time arguably still better than in the Republic of Ireland.

During the 1930s the IRA launched minor attacks against the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and British Army in Northern Ireland. The IRA began another armed campaign in Britain in 1939. During World War II the IRA leadership hoped for support from Germany, and chief of staff Seán Russell travelled there in 1940; he died later that year after falling ill on a U-boat that was bringing him back to Ireland (possibly with a view to starting a German sponsored revolution in Ireland). Suspected republicans were interned on both sides of the border, for different reasons.

The Border Campaign in the mid-50s was the last attempt at traditional military action and was an abject failure. The Movement needed to reconsider its strategy.


In the late 1960s, Irish political activists groups found parallels with their struggle against religious discrimination in the civil rights campaign of African Americans the US against racial discrimination. Student leaders such a Bernadette Devlin McAliskey and Nationalist politicians such as Austin Currie tried to use non-violent direct action to draw attention to the blatant discrimination. By 1968, Europe as a whole was engulfed in a struggle between radicalism and conservativism. In Sinn Féin, the same debate raged. The dominant analysis was that Protestant Irishmen and women would never be bombed into a united Ireland. The only way forward was to have both sides embrace socialism and forget their sectarian hatreds. They resolved to no longer to be drawn into inter-communal violence.

As a response to the civil rights campaign militant loyalist paramilitary groups started to emerge in the Protestant community. The Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) was the first. The UVF had originally existed among loyalist Ulster Protestants before World War I to oppose Home Rule. In the 1960s it was relaunched by militant loyalists, encouraged by certain politicians, to oppose any attempt to reunite Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland, which is how they saw any change in their status vis-a-vis Catholics.

By mid-1969 the violence in Northern Ireland exploded. Consistent with their new political ideology, the IRA declined to intervene. By late August, the British government had to intervene and declare a state of emergency, sending a large number of troops into Northern Ireland to stop the intercommunal violence. Initially welcomed by some Catholics as protectors, later events such as Bloody Sunday and the Falls Road curfew turned many against the British Army.


Divisions began to emerge in the Republican movement between leftists and conservatives. The leader of the IRA, Cathal Goulding believed that the IRA could not beat the British with military tactics and should turn into a workers' revolutionary movement that would overthrow both governments to achieve a 32-county socialist republic through the will of the people (after WWII the IRA no longer engaged in any actions against the Republic). Goulding also drove the IRA into an ideologically Marxist-Leninist direction which attracted idealistic young supporters in the Republic, but alienated and angered many of the IRA's core supporters in the North. In particular, his decision to regard the UVF as deluded rather than as the enemy, was anathema to traditionalists and those who were its potential victims.

The argument led to a split in 1970, between the Official IRA (supporters of Goulding's Marxist line) and the Provisional IRA (also called Provos, traditional nationalist republicans). The Provos were led by Seán Mac Stíofáin and immediately began a large scale campaign against British state forces and economic targets in Northern Ireland. The Official IRA were also initially drawn into an armed campaign by the escalating communal violence. In 1972, the Official IRA declared a cease-fire, which, apart from feuds with other republican groups, has been maintained to date. Nowadays the term 'Irish Republican Army' almost always denotes the Provisional IRA.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s the conflict continued claiming thousands of lives, with the UVF (and other loyalist groups) extending attacks into the Republic of Ireland and the IRA launching attacks on targets in England. However some things slowly began to change. In the 1980s Provisional Sinn Féin (the Provisional IRA's political wing) began contesting elections and by the mid-1990s was representing the republican position at peace negotiations. In the loyalist movement splits occurred, the Ulster Unionist Party made tentative attempts to reform itself and attract Catholics into supporting the union with Britain, while the radical Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) led by Rev. Ian Paisley began attracting working class Protestant loyalists who felt alienated by the UUP's overtures towards Catholics.


The funeral procession of Irish republican politician Martin McGuinness, Derry, Northern Ireland Funeral of Martin McGuinness (5).jpg
The funeral procession of Irish republican politician Martin McGuinness, Derry, Northern Ireland

At the 1986 Sinn Féin Ardfheis, a motion declaring the end of the policy of abstentionism (refusing to take seats in the Republic of Ireland's parliament), was passed. This motion caused a split in the movement creating Republican Sinn Féin, a party committed to the 1970s "provisional" Sinn Féin vision of a 32 County federal republic. It was led by former Sinn Féin President Ruairí Ó Brádaigh (who had previously led "provisional" Sinn Féin to split from Official Sinn Féin). The policy of participation in Dáil elections became known as "the Armalite and the ballot box".

In 1994 the leaders of Northern Ireland's two largest nationalist parties, Gerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Féin and John Hume, the leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) entered into peace negotiations with Unionist leaders like David Trimble of the UUP and the British government. At the table most of the paramilitary groups (including the IRA and UVF) had representatives. In 1998 when the IRA endorsed the Good Friday Agreement between nationalist and unionist parties and both governments, another small group split from the IRA to form the Real IRA (RIRA). The Continuity and Real IRA have both engaged in attacks not only against the British and loyalists, but even against their fellow nationalists (members of Sinn Féin, the SDLP and IRA).

Since 1998, the IRA and UVF have adhered to a ceasefire.

Today the republican movement can be divided into moderates who wish to reunite with the Republic through peaceful means and radicals who wish to continue an armed campaign.

In late July 2005, the IRA announced that the armed conflict was over and that their weapons were to be put out of use. A large stock of weapons was reportedly "decommissioned" later that year. Some Unionists disputed the claim that this represented the entire stock of IRA weaponry.


Irish Socialist Republicanism

Socialism has traditionally been part of the Irish republican movement since the early 20th century, when James Connolly, an Irish Marxist and Syndicalist theorist, took part in the Easter Rising of 1916. Today, most Irish nationalist and Republican organizations located in Northern Ireland advocate some form of socialism, both Marxist and non-Marxist. The Social Democratic and Labour Party, which until recently was the largest nationalist party in Northern Ireland, promotes social democracy, while militant republican parties such as Sinn Féin, Éirígí, Republican Sinn Féin, and the 32 County Sovereignty Movement all promote their own varieties of democratic socialism intended to re-distribute wealth on an all-island basis once a united Ireland has been achieved. The Irish Republican Socialist Movement, encompassing the Irish Republican Socialist Party and Irish National Liberation Army, as well as the defunct Official Irish Republican Army and Irish National Liberation Front, are known for promoting an ideology which combines Marxism–Leninism with traditional revolutionary militant republicanism and is claimed by its adherents to be the most direct fulfilment of Connolly's legacy.

Political parties

The following are active republican parties in Ireland.

See also

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  1. While Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution defined the national territory to be the whole island, they also confined the state's jurisdiction to the area that had been the Irish Free State.