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The Irish Independence Movement and Sinn Féin

 

 

 

 

Ireland was Britain's first and closest colony, with the main task of producing cheap food for the English industrial workers. This was produced by tenants on estates owned by the English. Against this order there had been a peasant uprising every ten years.

The first all-Irish movement, however, was the Catholic Association in 1823, the aim of which was to put an end to the legal discrimination against Catholics. The Catholic Association invented the membership fee – a penny collected at the church – and became so large that discrimination was abolished. Nevertheless, the tenants remained just as poor.

The next major mobilization was the Irish Land League in the 1870s, which demanded that rents be reduced. They succeeded in doing so after a campaign in which the term boycott was born – it was aimed at both estate managers and farmers who took the place of evicted tenants - and where in the end a majority of Ireland’s MPs were Land League representatives.

The tenant battle was based on a collaboration between peasants and the cities' tradition of romantic nationalism, expressed in the Irish Republican Brotherhood – a semi-secret club that was as large among Irish emigrants in the United States as in Ireland. This romantic nationalism was pushed forward by the victory in the tenant battle and even more by the good times for agriculture that followed as the rent decreased and/or the tenants were allowed to buy a fragment of the estatethey had worked for at a subsidized price. The Celtic Renaissance was created mainly by theosophists influenced by Indian and Egyptian self-assertion, but Celtic cultural expressions became popular among most Irish who thanked the nationalists for the good times.

Sinn Féin (= ourselves) started as a movement for economic independence, i.e for Irish people to buy Irish goods instead of English and also start production if it did not exist. But Sinn Féin also became a rallying point for both the Republican tradition and the Celtic Renaissance, not least because the movement, due to its inoffensive nature, gathered so many people. It was members of the Sinn Féin (Republicans and trade unionists) who organized the failed uprising of 1916 which, through the unbridled counterterrorism of the English, undeservedly became a symbol.

What eventually led to Ireland’s independence was the British Government’s decision to summon Irishmen to the trenches of World War I. The Irish did not want to sacrifice their lives, so they supported Sinn Féin’s appeal for a conscription boycott. The government gave in, and as a thank you, the Irish voted for Sinn Féin candidates in the parliamentary elections. The elected refused to travel to London but formed their own parliament. After two years of small-scale fighting against war-weary Englishmen, the Republicans – mainly young people – got through their demand for an independent Ireland, and the more moderate Sinn Féin representatives only had to be thankful and receive it.

Reading
F.S.L. Lyons: Ireland since the famine, Fontana 1971
Robert Kee: The green flag, Penguin 1972

 

 

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