Trying to rewrite history is never a good idea. So when Sinn Féin’s official social media account claimed at the weekend that “On this day in 1905 Sinn Féin was founded” and proceeded to say that on that day “we outlined our position”, it naturally raised a few eyebrows within the historian community. The thing is with historians, they are fact-based people, so if you lie about something in history they will ruthlessly expose you for it. The backlash to the accuracy of the Sinn Féin tweet was immense and has accumulated into what will follow in this piece. For a political party so proud of its history, maybe it is time they are actually taught their own history.
As mentioned above Sinn Féin claim to be founded in 1905, this is not true, it was not until 1907 that an organisation by the name of the Sinn Féin League was established after two groups of nationalists merged, the Dungannon Clubs and Cumann na nGaedheal. Also existed was a dual-monarchist organisation called the National Council of which Arthur Griffith was a major component of. Eventually the Sinn Féin League and the National Council merged completely, and the name Sinn Féin was officially adopted for the party in 1908.
Arthur Griffith was founding father of Sinn Fein, yet he is not widely celebrated within the party today. Why is that? Arthur Griffith was a monarchist, he aspired to see Kings, Lords and Commons of Ireland, a British monarch as Head of State, this was official policy of his Sinn Féin. Griffith was also a strong advocate for peaceful resistance. The complete opposite to what Sinn Féin is today.
The 1916 Rising unintentionally gave rise to Sinn Féin as a prominent party, it ended up being the party associated with the organisation of the Easter Rising, which in truth was completely incorrect. From there, nationalists flooded into the party, policies drastically changed to more deep-rooted separatist policies, de Valera became leader and Sinn Féin became government of the revolutionary state which declared its independence from the United Kingdom in 1919.
The Anglo-Irish Treaty and the subsequent conflict it caused, let to the demise of this Sinn Féin. With de Valera losing the presidency of the Dail due to his opposition to the treaty, he along with his allies proposed to leave Sinn Féin and formed Cumann na Poblachta, an anti-treaty wing of Sinn Féin. It was not until in 1926 that de Valera finally left with his allies and formed Fianna Fail. Pro-treaty members also left and formed Cumann na nGaedheal which would later merge with other parties to become Fine Gael.
The split of Sinn Féin led it into a period of electoral decline, by 1940 the party had become completely irrelevant. In 1948, Sinn Féin lost a court case in which they claimed ownership to funds deposited with the High Court in 1924 which belonged to the Sinn Féin party before its split. The Sinn Féin funds case as it became known decided against Sinn Fein on the basis that the pre-1923 party was a separate party from the one that existed in the 1940’s. It was no longer even up for debate that the Sinn Féin that existed after 1923 is not remotely the same nor recognised by the courts as the same party that existed pre-1923.
Not long after the ruling in the case, Sinn Féin was taken over by a rejuvenated IRA which would later adopt socialist policies for the party. However, the party split again in 1970. What came out of the split was a party called Official Sinn Féin on one side which became Sinn Féin – The Workers Party in 1977 and is today simply known as The Workers Party. Another party called Republican Sinn Féin also came out of the split, but they run no candidates in elections.
On the other side of split, a party by the name of Provisional Sinn Féin was formed on the 11th of January 1970. It was intrinsically linked to the Provisional IRA. This is the party in which today’s Sinn Féin originated from, not that of 1907. Ruairí Ó Bradaigh became the first President of Provisional Sinn Fein and was succeeded by Gerry Adams in 1983 and the rest is history. It eventually dropped the word ‘provisional’ from its name and became just Sinn Féin.
Sinn Féin has a complicated history. There have been more splits in the party than you will see at gymnasium. In truth, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael have far more claim to have been descended from the 1918 Sinn Fein than that of the Sinn Fein we see today. All political parties have parts of their history’s they wish to forget, Fine Gael have the Blueshirts, Fianna Fail have Charles Haughey as examples. Yet the breath-taking historical revisionism by Sinn Fein to try and associate themselves with the party of 1907 and suggest continuity with a party led by Arthur Griffith, who would turn in his grave if he knew modern day Sinn Fein were trying to claim continuity to his party, is simply historically inaccurate and a blatant lie.