1905 Founding of Sinn Fein
“In Arthur Griffith there is a mighty force in Ireland. He has none of the wildness of some I could name. Instead there is an abundance of wisdom and an awareness of things which are Ireland.” – Michael Collins.
The founding date of Sinn Féin is 28 November 1905. On that date the first Annual Convention of the National Council was held in the Rotunda, Dublin. The meeting began at 11am and among the over 100 delegates were Arthur Griffith, Edward Martyn, Thomas Martin, John Sweetman, Jenny Wyse-Power, Pádraig Mac Piarais, Máire de Buitleir, Patrick McCartan, Oliver St John Gogarty, Peadar Ó Cearnaigh, Seán T Ó Ceallaigh and William Cosgrave. Two of those delegates, Mac Piarias and Michael O’Hanrahan of Wexford, were among the executed leaders in 1916.
Máire de Buitléir wrote that most of the audience “consisted of young clerks or working men and some intellectuals, chief of whom was Pádraig Pearse”.
Opening the Convention, Edward Martyn, President of the National Council, explained the background:
“The National Council was suddenly called into being in the early summer of 1903 when the visit of the King of England threw so many nationalists off their balance, caused them to forget their principles, whether from weakness or corruption, and afforded the anti-national party a means to triumph over the apparent ineffectiveness of Ireland’s aspirations. It was then that, in the general confusion of ruinous lies and credulity, it was found necessary to establish some platform upon which nationalists might meet who recognised the folly and treason to Ireland of voluntarily recognising a king who was ruling in defiance of our Constitution.
“Owing to the work of the National Council, King Edward was refused an address from Dublin Corporation. This was the first time since the invasion of Ireland by Henry II in the 12th Century that an official Dublin body performed such a patriotic act. Its influence and its success in Dublin strengthened the hand of every nationalist in the country. Emboldened by such success the members of the National Council thought it a pity that such a body should be dissolved at the conclusion of the royal visit.
“Then there appeared in Ireland a pamphlet of extraordinary political ability which at once flew over the country and established for its author a reputation for statesmanship such as no Irishman has since Parnell. The Resurrection of Hungary has set Ireland thinking of the policy of Sinn Féin. It is this policy that our convention has chiefly to consider at this conference.”
Arthur Griffith, author of The Resurrection of Hungary (1904) then presented a detailed programme which was later published as The Sinn Féin Policy.
“No law and no series of laws can make a nation out of a people which distrusts itself. If we believe in ourselves — if each individual in our ranks believes in himself, we shall carry this policy to victory against all the forces that may be arrayed against us.
“We go to build the nation up from within, and we deny the right of any but our own countrymen to shape its course. That course is not England’s and we shall not justify our course to England. The craven policy that has rotted our nation has been the policy of justifying our existence in our enemy’s eyes. Our misfortunes are manifold but we are still men and women of a common family, and we owe no nation an apology for living in accordance with the laws of our being. In the British Liberal as in the British Tory we see our enemy, and in those who talk of ending British misgovernment we see the helots. It is not British misgovernment, but British government in Ireland, good or bad, we stand opposed to, and in that holy opposition we seek to band all our fellow-countrymen.
“For the Orangeman in the North, ceasing to be the blind instrument of his own as well as his fellow-countrymen’s destruction, we have the greeting of brotherhood as for the nationalist of the South, long taught to measure himself by English standards and save the face of tyranny by sending Irishmen to sit impotently in a foreign legislature whilst it forges the instruments of his oppression.”
Resolutions adopted at the meeting in the Rotunda on 28 November 1905
“That the people of Ireland are a free people, and that no law made without their authority or consent is or ever can be binding on their conscience. That the General Council of County Councils presents the nucleus of a national authority and we urge upon it, to extend the scope of its deliberation and action; to take within its purview every question of national interest and to formulate lines of procedure for the nation.
“That National self-development through recognition of the duties and rights of citizenship on the part of the individual, and by the aid and support of all movements originating from within Ireland, instinct with National tradition, and not looking outside Ireland for the accomplishment of their aims, is vital to Ireland.”
After the conference, which lasted most of the day, the first Sinn Féin public meeting was held that evening when the programme was presented to the large crowd which thronged the Rotunda Round Room. The meeting concluded with the singing of Thomas Davis’s anthem, A Nation Once Again.
Most historians opt for 28 November 1905, as a founding date because it was on this date that Griffith first presented his ‘Sinn Féin Policy’. In his writings, Griffith declared that the Act of Union of Great Britain and Ireland in 1800 was illegal and that, consequently, the Anglo-Irish dual monarchy which existed under Grattan’s Parliament, and the so-called Constitution of 1782 was still in effect. Its first president was Edward Martyn.
The fundamental principles on which Sinn Féin was founded were outlined in an article published in 1904 by Griffith called the Resurrection of Hungary, in which, noting how in 1867 Hungary went from being part of the Austrian Empire to a separate co-equal kingdom in Austria-Hungary. Though not a monarchist himself, Griffith advocated such an approach for the Anglo-Irish relationship, namely that Ireland should become a separate kingdom alongside Great Britain, the two forming a dual monarchy with a shared monarch but separate governments, as it was thought this solution would be more palatable to the British. However, this idea was never really embraced by later separatist leaders, especially Michael Collins, and never came to anything, although Kevin O’Higgins toyed with the idea as a means of ending partition, shortly before his assassination in 1926.
Griffith sought to combine elements of Parnellism with the traditional separatist approach; he saw himself not as a leader but as providing a strategy which a new leader might follow. Central to his strategy was parliamentary abstention: the belief that Irish MPs should refuse to attend the Parliament of the United Kingdom at Westminster, but should instead establish a separate Irish parliament (with an administrative system based on local government) in Dublin.
In 1907 Sinn Féin unsuccessfully contested a by-election in North Leitrim, where the sitting MP, one Charles Dolan of Manorhamilton, County Leitrim, had defected to Sinn Féin. At this time Sinn Féin was being infiltrated by the Irish Republican Brotherhood, who saw it as a vehicle for their aims; it had several local councillors mostly in Dublin, including W. T. Cosgrave elected in 1909.