Sinn Féin

sinn fein 1907
Sinn Féin 1907 envelope label

At this time, a small bourgeois nationalist party, whose name (pronounced "shin fane") is the Irish term for "ourselves" with the implication of "ourselves alone" or "ourselves and nobody else".

Although nothing like the radical republican movement it would later become, Sinn Féin was known for its stridently anti-British views and for its antagonism to Larkin and his "foreign" union.

"Sinn Feiner" rapidly became the vogue term for anyone of advanced nationalist opnions, whether a supporter of the party or not.

resurrection of hungary
Griffith's 1904 pamphlet, "The Resurrection of Hungary"

Sinn Féin was founded in 1905 with the usual aim of a separate Ireland. The novelty that Arthur Griffith, its founder, brought to the mix was the means by which this separation was to be procured: pretending that Britain wasn't there. Irish members of parliament would simply withdraw from Westminster and sit in Dublin instead, there governing Ireland under a system drawn from the example of the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary – "after that, Irish courts, banks, a civil service, a stock exchange, could be established to function alongside their British counterparts until the latter withered away through lack of use". Griffith outlined these plans in a popular pamphlet titled "The Resurrection of Hungary".

Before the Rising, Sinn Féin as a party was marginal in Irish politics. It was Dublin-centered, contested but one by-election (which it handsomely lost): "it was moribund long before the outbreak of World War I".

Sinn fein album
Souvenir album, published Belfast 1916

Griffith himself, however, was a different story. He was a "brilliant and acerbic journalist ... an influential propagandist" who through his newspaper, also called Sinn Féin, kept the term "Sinn Féin" very much in the forefront of Irish life. In the popular mind it became the watchword of anything radically "green". So much so that when the Irish Volunteers were formed in 1913, they were immediately dubbed "the Sinn Féin Volunteers" – "often to members' disgust". Similarly, the Easter Rising was described at the time, by both the Press and the British authorities, as the "Sinn Féin Rebellion" – "although in fact Sinn Féin had nothing to do with it".

The rebels of Easter Week, returning home in 1917 after internment in Britain, accepted the popular understanding and joined in their droves the party that in the Irish mind they had led all along. Thus began the rise of Sinn Féin as a major political force in Irish life.

"It cannot be said with any accuracy that Sinn Féin won Ireland. Ireland took over Sinn Féin. Indeed, Ireland took over very little of Sinn Féin except the name."
Sinn fein 1918 cartoon
Cartoon 1918 celebrating Sinn Féin's "sinking" of the the Irish Party

In the 1918 general election this new Sinn Féin won 73 of Ireland's 105 seats at the Westminster parliament. The old monolithic Irish Parliamentary Party was routed. These newly-elected Irish MPs followed Griffith's "Hungarian" policy of abstention from Westminster. They assembled in Dublin's Mansion House and proclaimed themselves the parliament of Ireland, the First Dáil.

Thereafter followed the Anglo-Irish War which ended in the Anglo-Irish Treaty, which was followed shortly by the Irish civil war. No one party could hope to survive these turmoils. Sinn Féin splintered, then splintered again, then splintered again and again. But it's an indication of the power of Griffith's concept that the three major parties in Ireland (Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Labour) are all derived, in whole or in part, from Griffith's original Sinn Féin.