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Irish republicanism ( ) is an ideology based on the belief that all of Irelandmarker should be an independent republic.

In 1801, under the Act of Union, the Kingdom of Great Britainmarker and the Kingdom of Ireland merged (partly through bribery via the granting of peerages) to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Irelandmarker. This followed hundreds of years of British conquest and Irish resistance through rebellion, and union of the crowns of both countries since 1542. The development of nationalist and democratic sentiment throughout Europe was reflected in Ireland in the emergence of republicanism, in opposition to British rule. Discrimination against Roman Catholics, attempts by a subjugating power to create an impression of inferiority and subdue or eliminate cultural identity, and a feeling that Ireland was economically disadvantaged and subservient within the United Kingdom were among the specific factors leading to such opposition.

In Irish history and politics, it is common to draw a distinction between nationalism and republicanism. The term nationalism is used for any manifestation of national sentiment, including cultural manifestations; for movements demanding autonomy from Britain but not complete independence; and sometimes for secessionist movements committed to constitutional methods. The term republicanism denotes movements demanding complete independence under a republican government. It is frequently associated with a willingness to use force to achieve political goals (see Physical force Irish republicanism), and often, but not always, with a secular or non-sectarian outlook, whereas Irish nationalism is almost universally associated with Catholicism. Frequently, Irish republicanism is also associated with left-wing politics, as many of the key Irish Republican thinkers of the 19th and 20th centuries were avowed socialists and/or Marxists, while many Republican organizations promote some form of socialism as the system which would govern a hypothetical united Ireland.


Background of English rule in Ireland

Following the Norman invasion of Ireland in the twelfth century, Ireland, or parts of it, had experienced alternating degrees of rule from Englandmarker. 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 re-conquest of Ireland took place in the sixteenth 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 Englandmarker and Scotlandmarker. The Plantation of Ulster began in 1609, and the province was heavily colonized 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 lead 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 Englishmarker rulers. Beginning as a coup d’état with the aim 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 Confederationmarker, 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

The symbol of the United Irishmen
Irish republicanism has its origins in Irish political movements founded in the eighteenth century. The movement is often seen as beginning with the Society of United Irishmen. In eighteenth century Ireland, Dissenters and Catholics experienced discrimination as a result of the Penal Laws, a series of laws imposed by the British ruling class that removed power from those outside of the established Church of Ireland. In 1791, a group which became known as the United Irishmen was formed with the intention of bringing about Parliamentary reform. The group evolved into a revolutionary republican organisation, influenced by the revolutions in America and France that had taken place earlier.

The United Irishmen opposed British rule in Ireland, and believed that Ireland ought to govern itself, free from external control. The group also sought to remove the religious discrimination that existed in government and law at the time. At the group’s first meeting, the following three resolutions were passed:
  1. That the weight of English influence on the Government of this country is so great as to require a cordial union among all the people of Ireland to maintain that balance which is essential to the preservation of our liberties and the extension of our commerce.
  2. That the sole constitutional mode by which this influence can be opposed is by a complete and radical reform of the representation of the people in Parliament.
  3. That no reform is practicable, efficacious, or just, which shall not include Irishmen of every religious persuasion.

The issue of national freedom was an important part of the ideology of the United Irishmen. The Declaration of the United Irishmen, written by Theobald Wolfe Tone, contained the following statements regarding the government of Ireland:

At this stage, the movement was led primarily by liberal Protestants, particularly Presbyterians from the province of Ulster. Founding members of the United Irishmen, along with Tone, included 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, Presbtyerians, and even Anglicans from the Protestant Ascendancy. It also attracted support and membership from Catholic agrarian resistance groups, such as the Defenders, who were eventually incorporated into the Society.

The Irish Rebellion of 1798 began on 23 May, with the first clashes taking place in County Kildaremarker on May 24, before spreading throughout Leinster and other areas of the country thereafter. French soldiers landed in Ireland and participated in the rebellion also, landing in Killalamarker on 22 August. General Napper Tandy, a leader of the uprising, authored a proclamation entitled 'Liberty or Death':

Despite having considerable success against British forces in the County of Wexfordmarker, rebel forces were eventually defeated, and many key figures in the organisation were arrested and executed.

Although the Rebellion of 1798 was unsuccessful in that it failed to bring about independence from Great Britain and establish a republic in Ireland, it is significant in that the conflict and its leaders impacted Irish history to an enormous extent. The Society of United Irishmen was the first republican organisation in Ireland, and thus essentially founded Irish republicanism as a political ideology, setting the course for later independence movements in the country. Likewise, Wolfe Tone is regarded as the “father of Irish republicanism”, and the principles of the United Irishmen have greatly influenced Irish nationalist and republican philosophies.

Acts of Union

Though the Rebellion of 1798 was eventually crushed, small republican guerrilla campaigns against the British Army in the Wicklow Mountainsmarker under the leadership of Michael Dwyer and Joseph Holt continued for a short time after, conducting 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 a rising was expected for 10 April.

This perceived threat of further rebellion resulted in the Parliamentary Union between the Kingdom of Great Britainmarker 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 Irelandmarker, 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, sixteen Irish borough-owners were given British peerages and twenty-eight new Irish peerages were created, while twenty existing Irish peerages were 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.

Robert Emmet

Depiction of Robert Emmet's trial
A second attempt at forming an independent Irish republic occurred under Robert Emmet in 1803. Emmet had previously been expelled from Trinity College, Dublinmarker 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 Castlemarker 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:

However, failed communications and arrangements produced a considerably smaller force than had been anticipated. Nonetheless, the rebellion began in Dublinmarker 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 Crossmarker, but was captured on August 25 and hanged on September 20, 1803, at which point the Society of United Irishmen was effectively finished.

Nineteenth century onward

A depiction of the Easter Rising
IRA volunteers during the War of Independence
After the Act of Union in 1801 merging Ireland with Britain into the United Kingdommarker, Irish independence movements were suppressed by the British. Nationalist rebellions against British rule in 1803, by Robert Emmett, 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 Dublinmarker. The Rising was suppressed after six days, and most of its leaders were executed by the British. This was a turning point in Irish history, leading to the end of British rule in most of Ireland.

From 1919-1921 the Irish Republican Army (IRA) was organized as a guerilla army, led by Michael Collins and fought against British forces. During the Anglo-Irish War (or War of Irish 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 Irish civilians viewed as being sympathetic to the IRA. The most infamous of all their actions was the burning of half the city of Corkmarker 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 Arthur Griffith, Michael Collins, and the other republican leaders all of whom acted as plenipotentiaries on behalf of the provisional Irish government, thus ending the Anglo-Irish War.

The Irish Free State

Though many across the country were unhappy with the Anglo-Irish Treaty (since, during the Anglo-Irish 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 IRA itself split between pro-Treaty and anti-Treaty elements, with the former forming the nucleus of the new 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 Courtsmarker in Dublinmarker, 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 Irelandmarker throughout the civil war but, after his death, W. T. Cosgrave (the new President of the Executive Council) discontinued this support.

By May 1923, the war (which had claimed more lives than the War of Independence) had 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 come.

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. However, he and his supporters 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). In 1932 he was elected 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".

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, General Eoin O'Duffy. O'Duffy looked to Fascist Italymarker 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 IRA members, communists and others participated on the Republican side.

In 1937 the Constitution of Ireland was written by the De Valera government and approved by the people of the southern 26 counties voting in a referendum. The Constitution claimed jurisdiction over the whole of Ireland and, with an elected Irish President, diminished the role of the King as Ireland to ceremonial functions in relation to diplomatic affairs. He is believed to have been left with those residual functions as a concession to Unionist opinion. The 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 Canadamarker, Australia, New Zealandmarker 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.

Despite the successive splits of 1922 and 1926, the remainder of the IRA rejected compromise with the de facto political situation and continued to consider themselves to be original and sole Republican Movement.

Republic of Ireland

Ireland declared itself a republic in 1949 when the Republic of Ireland Act came into effect. This finally severed the State's remaining constitutional connection with the United Kingdom and terminated its membership of the Commonwealth. Today, the two neighbouring states enjoy a cordial relationship, expressed formally most recently in the 1998 Belfast Agreement.

Political parties

The following are active republican parties in Ireland.

  • Fianna Fáil - The Republican Party (Rough translation: Soldiers of Destiny). A populist party, it is Ireland's largest and most successful political organisation and is currently the main partner in the Republic's coalition government. Its origins are in the 1926 split of the anti-treaty fraction of the original Sinn Féin. Anti-Treaty activists who decided to end abstention from Dáil Éireann left Sinn Féin to form a constitutional republican party, Fianna Fáil, led by anti-Treaty leader Eamon de Valera. Until recently membership was not open to residents of Northern Ireland. Its new northern members regularly meet informally as the Northern Fianna Fáil Forum. Some within the party advocate formally organising on a thirty two county basis either in its own right or by merging with a party in Northern Ireland, preferably the Social Democratic and Labour Party.

  • Fine Gael - The United Ireland Party (Rough translation: family of the Irish), a nationalist organisation with roots in the pro-treaty tradition in Irish politics, also supported the Good Friday Agreement as did all parties in the Dáil at the time.

  • Sinn Féin is now Northern Ireland's biggest republican party and throughout the Northern Ireland troubles was closely allied with the Provisional IRA, publicly arguing for the validity of its violent campaign. Its policy platform combines staunch nationalism with socialist views on economic issues. It is led by Gerry Adams, and organises in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. The Party was also known as "Provisional" Sinn Féin by the media and commentators, having split from what later became known as "Official" Sinn Féin (later the Workers Party) in 1970, because the latter had voted to enter a 'partitionist parliament'.. In 1986 it reversed its original policy of not taking seats in Dáil Éireann, prompting another split, when Republican Sinn Féin was formed. By the early 21st century it had replaced the SDLP as Northern Ireland's largest nationalist party. As of 2009, it holds five seats in the British parliament, four seats in the Dáil, and 28 seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly. Sinn Féin members elected to the British parliament refuse to take their seats in that parliament and are elected on an abstentionist basis, as they refuse to accept the right of that body to rule in any part of Ireland.

  • Workers Party of Ireland - After the IRA split in 1970 between the "Provisional" IRA and the "Official" IRA, Sinn Féin split as well between those who supported the leadership's Marxist line and more traditional republicans who supported Seán Mac Stiofáin and the "Provisional" IRA Army Council. In 1972 after a two-year armed campaign, the Official IRA called a ceasefire. In 1977, Official Sinn Féin changed its name to Sinn Féin the Workers Party and in 1982 to simply the Workers Party of Ireland. The Workers Party took a Marxist-Leninist position, stressing "class politics", hoping to attract working-class Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland away from sectarian politics. However their efforts yielded little electoral success in Northern Ireland, where the party has performed very poorly at the polls. In 1992, Democratic Left split from the party, and eventually merged with the Irish Labour Party.

  • Republican Sinn Féin - The party operates on an abstentionist basis therefore it would not take seats in the assemblies of the Republic of Irelandmarker or Northern Irelandmarker because it views both as illegitimate. It is linked to the Continuity IRA, whose goals are the overthrow of British rule in Northern Ireland and the unification of the island to form an independent country. Until November 2009 they were led by former Sinn Féin leader Ruairí Ó Brádaigh who had led radicals in a break with Sinn Féin in 1986 to create the party. In the 1970 split of Sinn Féin, Ó Brádaigh sided with the Provisionals. In November 2009, Des Dalton replaced Ó Brádaigh as leader of Republican Sinn Féin.


  1. Alan J. Ward, The Irish Constitutional Tradition, p.28.
  2. Curtis, Liz, The Cause of Ireland, Beyond the Pale, ISBN 0 9514229 6 0, p. 1-3
  3. Ó Ceallaigh, Daltún, New Perspectives on Ireland:Colonialism & Identity, Léirmheas, Dublin, 1998, ISBN 0 9518777 6 3 p. 9-13
  4. The Internet and Politics: Citizens, Voters and Activists (Democratization Studies) by Sarah Oates, Diana Marie Owen and Rachel Kay Gibson (ISBN 978-0415347846), page 130
  5. Kee Robert, The Green Flag: A History of Irish Nationalism, (1972) ISBN 029717987X p. 11
  6. Kee Robert, The Green Flag: A History of Irish Nationalism, (1972) ISBN 029717987X p. 12
  7. Kee Robert, The Green Flag: A History of Irish Nationalism, (1972) ISBN 029717987X p. 15
  8. T. A. Jackson, Ireland Her Own, Lawerence & Wishart, London, ISBN 0 85315 735 9
  9. Declaration of the United Irishmen, by Theobold Wolfe Tone, 1791
  10. Declaration of the United Irishmen, by Theobald Wolfe Tone, 1791
  11. Kee Robert, The Green Flag: A History of Irish Nationalism, (1972) ISBN 029717987X p. 51
  12. Kee Robert, The Green Flag: A History of Irish Nationalism, (1972) ISBN 029717987X p. 74
  13. Kee Robert, The Green Flag: A History of Irish Nationalism, (1972) ISBN 029717987X p. 134
  14. Kee Robert, The Green Flag: A History of Irish Nationalism, (1972) ISBN 029717987X p. 92
  15. Cronin, Sean, Irish nationalism: A History of Its Roots and Ideology. Continuum (1981). ISBN 978-0826400628 p.62
  16. Hickey, Doherty, J.E., Hickey, D.J., A dictionary of Irish history since 1800. Barnes & Noble (1980). ISBN 978-0389201601 p. 38
  17. Barberis, Peter et al. Encyclopedia of British and Irish Political Organizations: Parties, Groups, and Movements of the Twentieth Century. Pinter (2000). ISBN 978-1855672642 p. 197
  18. Kee Robert, The Green Flag: A History of Irish Nationalism, (1972) ISBN 029717987X p. 149
  19. Kee Robert, The Green Flag: A History of Irish Nationalism, (1972) ISBN 029717987X p. 150
  20. Webster, Hollis, The History of Ireland, (Greenwood, 2001) ISBN 0313312818 p. 83
  21. Kee Robert, The Green Flag: A History of Irish Nationalism, (1972) ISBN 029717987X p. 158
  22. Greoghan, Patrick M., Robert Emmet: A Life. Gill & MacMillan , 2004. ISBN 978-0717136759
  23. Robert Emmet Encyclopedia Britannica Online. 2009. Retrieved 2009-06-09
  24. Kee, Robert, The Green Flag: A History of Irish Nationalism, (1972) ISBN 029717987X p. 165
  25. Jonathan Tonge (2006), Northern Ireland, Polity, pp.132-133
  26. Provos: The IRA and Sinn Féin by Peter Taylor (ISBN 0-7475-3818-2), pages 66 to 67

See also

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