Background of English rule in 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, 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.
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.
Three decades 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, (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.
circa 1794. Tone is considered by many as the father of Irish Republicanism
At this stage, the movement was led primarily by liberal Protestants, 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.
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. Even though they had considerable success against British forces in County Wexford, rebel forces were eventually defeated. Key figures in the organisation were arrested and executed.
Acts of Union
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", 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. It was also feared that rebels would again seek military aid from French troops, and another rising was expected take place by 10 April.
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. 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.
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. 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, and as such Catholics were not granted the rights that had been promised prior to the Acts.
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. 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.
Emmet and his followers had planned to seize Dublin Castle by force, manufacturing weaponry and explosives at a number of locations in Dublin. 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.
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.
— 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. 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. The group had cultural aims also, and encouraged the study of Irish history and the revival of the Irish language. Influential Young Irelanders included Charles Gavan Duffy, Thomas Davis and John Blake Dillon, the three founders of The Nation.
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. 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.' 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. 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." 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, 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.
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.
The IRB was founded on Saint Patrick's Day 1858 in Dublin. Members present at the first meeting were James Stephens, Thomas Clarke Luby, Peter Langan, Joseph Denieffe, Garrett O'Shaughnessy, and Charles Kickham. 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.
The Fenian Brotherhood was the IRB's counterpart organisation, formed in the same year in the United States by O'Mahony and Doheny. 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. The term "Fenian" was coined by O'Mahony, who named the American wing of the movement after the Fianna — 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. 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). The other, headed by O'Mahony, proposed that a rising in Ireland be planned for 1866. 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. Following this failure, the Roberts faction of the Fenian Brotherhood carried out its own, occupying the village of Fort Erie on 31 May 1866 and engaging Canadian troops at the battles of Ridgeway and Fort Erie on 2 June. It was in reference to Fenians fighting in this battle that the name "Irish Republican Army" was first used. These attacks (and those that followed) in Canada are collectively known as the "Fenian raids".
Nineteenth century onward
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. 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, 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. 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" (though the country was already free).
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 in the Irish language (Ireland in English) and asserted its national territory as the whole of Ireland.[a] 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 to have been left with those residual functions as a concession to Unionist opinion. ) 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. 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; 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.