IRB (Irish Republican Brotherhood): this was the same organisation as the Fenian
movement of the 1860s. The IRB objective was that of bringing about an Irish Republic
by revolutionary methods. The movement had been revived in the early C20. The IRB
had infiltrated the Irish Volunteers after 1913 and Pearse had then used the Volunteers to
bring about the East Rising. Collins became head of the IRB after the Rising and used it to
prosecute the Anglo Irish War from 1919 onwards. His use of the IRB antagonised de
Valera. Despite Collins eventually settling for less than a Republic by signing the Treaty
of 1921 he by-and-large retained the loyality of the IRB.
Irish Volunteers: this was founded in 1913 by Eoin MacNeill in imitation and response to
the Ulster Volunteers. The Volunteers were taken over by Redmond and the Home Rule
Party as the Home Rulers had always tried to absorb all Irish Nationalist organisations.
Redmond took over the movement because he saw it as a threat rather than because he
believed it was necessary. The Volunteers had a large nominal membership. Following
the outbreak of war the bulk, who were Redmond supporters, supported the British war
effort and became known as the National Volunteers. MacNeill remained Head of the rest
of the movement that stayed aloof from the war effort. He was unaware that the
volunteers had been infiltrated by the IRB who used the movement to create their own
rebellion at Easter 1916. The Volunteers reformed in 1917 following their release from
prison and internment, they became the military wing of the new Sinn Fein front. Sinn
Fein control over the Volunteers was never total, local commanders and Collin’s IRB in
practice set the agenda. Gradually the Volunteers became known as the IRA (Irish
Republican Army) who were nominally under the control of Cahel Brugha and the cabinet
of the first Dail.
Sinn Fein (1): “Ourselves Alone”: The movement was founded in the early 20th Century
by Arthur Griffith. This was a relatively moderate organisation that did not believe in
armed rebellion but in civil disobedience and the boycott of British Institutions. Griffith’s
ideal was that of a Dual Monarchy (like Austria Hungary) and like a Democratic
1782-1800 Irish Parliament. Griffith’s formula was for Irish MPs to withdraw from
Westminster and to set up an Irish Parliament and administration in Dublin ignoring
Britain. After Independence Irish industries would be fostered through a programme of
protection. The Easter Rebellion was wrongly attributed to Sinn Fein by the British
Government and the press. Griffith was arrested after the Rising, he thus benefited from
his resultant “martyrdom”. On the release of the prisoners in 1917 a new Sinn Fein front
was formed that included many far more extreme and Republican elements. Griffith
became vice president of the new movement.
Sinn Fein (2): Following the release of Griffith and the 1916 internees a new political
front was formed in 1917; the 1916 rebels and Sinn Fein joined to form a fairly
broad-based organisation that ranged from dual monarchists (Griffith) to die-hard
republicans. The front was under the presidency of de Valera (one of the more flexible
republicans); the vice-president was Griffith. With 74 seats in the 1918 election Sinn Fein
could claim to speak for nationalist Ireland; they set themselves up as the 1st Dail in
January 1919; a cabinet was formed. Strict cabinet control over the IRA was difficult and
some ministries functioned better than others. As a broad front it was inevitable that
difference soon emerged not only on the basis of personality but also of strategy.
Eventually at the time of the Treaty (Dec 1921) the movement split between pragmatists
Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF): This was founded in 1912 to resist Home Rule. Its
purpose was threefold.
To act as a deterrent so that the Liberal Government would abandon Home Rule.
If they did not, the UVF would be used to resist physically Home Rule.
To control the wilder sectarian elements who would give Ulster Unionism a bad name.
The movement of just under 100,000 men were relatively well trained and were relatively
well equipped after April 1914. They were responsible to the Ulster Provisional
Government which was partially activated in July 1914. There was admiration in
Nationalist circles at the successful armed defiance of the Ulster Protestants against the
British Government even if it thwarted Home Rule, the Irish Volunteers were formed in
imitation of the UVF. On the outbreak of war many of the UVF were absorbed into
Kitchener’s New Armies, they were semi-trained and completely organised and became
the 36th (Ulster) Division. Just like the Republican myth of Easter 1916 the myth of the
Somme was established by the 36th (Ulster) Division. The reality of sacrifice by both the
Irish Volunteers and 36th (Ulster) Division was used to promote the political aims of both
Republicanism and Unionism respectively. With the loss of control by the RIC after WWI
the UVF re-emerged in two forms.
As unofficial vigilante and sectarian groups
As the nucleus of much of the Special Constabulary that was formed to defeat the IRA
Home Rule: The movement has started in the 1870s, its goal was devolution not
independence. Under the leadership of Parnell it became a powerful movement and
Parnell’s party convinced Gladstone that Home Rule was unavoidable. Gladstone
introduced two unsuccessful Home Rule Bills. In 1912 a Third Home Rule Bill was
introduced by Asquith’s Liberal Government, this was fiercely resisted by Unionists who
used their most effective weapon – Ulster Unionism – to smash the Bill. The Liberal and
Irish Nationalist majority in the House of Commons together with the Parliament Act
placed Home Rule on the statute book in September 1914, its implementation was
suspended whilst the war lasted. The length of the war and Easter 1916 ensured that
Home Rule and Redmond’s party became irrelevant. The initiative passed to the new Sinn
The Republic: The IRB were pledged to bring about a Republic – no link with the crown,
complete independence and no partition of Ireland. The 1916 Proclamation was in the
name of the Republic; the 1917 Sinn Fein Convention reaffirmed allegiance to the
Republic. This pledge to the Republic limited the room for manoeuvre by the Sinn Fein
front at the time of the Treaty.
Dominion status: This was half way between Home Rule and a Republic, it would mean
independence from Britain on the same terms as that of Canada. An Irish Dominion
would have a virtually independent foreign policy, its own army and control over trade.
This would be a lot more than Home Rule which amounted to no more that internal self
government. However, Dominion status meant accepting George V as Head of State and
Ireland being part of the British Commonwealth and Empire. Collins, Griffith and the
other signatories of the Treaty realised that the British would never accept the concept of
a Republic and Dominion status was the best they could get. In Collin’s words it was “the
freedom to achieve freedom”.