‘Concessions be damned, England, we want our country!’

Published in Issue 2 (March/April 2015), News, Volume 23

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Through their articles and editorial positions, newspapers shaped and set in motion many of the forces that created the organisations and individuals of the revolutionary years.
As was often the case in the period, women were to the fore. In 1908 the Daughters of Ireland.

Inghinidhe na hÉireann initiated Bean na hÉireann, the first nationalist-feminist journal to be produced in Ireland. From the outset it was known as ‘The women’s paper that men buy!’ Bean na hÉireann was edited by Helena Molony, and the staff comprised Madeline ffrench-Mullen,Bulmer Hobson, Maud Gonne MacBride, Seán McGarry and Countess Markievicz. The contributors included Sir Roger Casement, Madeline ffrench-Mullen, Terence MacSwiney, Susan Mitchell, Joseph Plunkett, George Russell (Æ) and Katherine Tynan.

Number 5 Findlater Place (now Cathal Brugha Street) was the office of Irish Freedom–Saoirse, the ‘official’ publication of the IRB. The establishment of this paper is generally credited to Tom Clarke. As soon as he returned to Ireland in 1907 he recognised the need for a newspaper, but it took him some time to raise the funds. By 1910 he had managed to get enough money to make a start and named Seán MacDermott as the manager. Dr Pat McCartan was the first editor, followed by MacDermott. Its first issue appeared on 15 November 1910. Bulmer Hobson and P.S. O’Hegarty did most of the writing, and other contributors included Casement, Patrick Pearse and Seán O’Casey. The true purpose of its IRB sponsors was made clear in its first issue:

‘We believe in and would work for the independence of Ireland . . . and we use the term with no reservation, stated or implied; we stand for the complete and total separation of Ireland from England and the establishment of an Irish Republic . . . Freedom can take but one form amongst us—a Republic.’

In an early issue, O’Hegarty concluded an article thus: ‘Concessions be damned, England, we want our country!’

Not to be outdone in arousing opinion against the British, James Connolly was not only a prolific writer but an editor and publisher as well. The Irish Worker was published at Liberty Hall and was suppressed in 1914. The Worker, which Connolly also edited, was subsequently founded in December 1914 and finally suppressed after six issues in February 1915. The Worker’s Republic was the successor to The Worker. In September 1914, Connolly wrote in The Worker: ‘A resurrection! Aye, out of the grave of the first Irishman murdered for protesting against Ireland’s participation in this thrice-accursed war there will arise a new Spirit of Irish Revolution. We defy you! Do your worst!’

Connolly may have started more newspapers than anyone during the period but perhaps the most influential was Griffith’s Sinn Féin. Griffith opened his United Irishman in 1899 and published it until 1906, when it was suppressed; then he began Sinn Féin, followed by Scissors and Paste in late 1914.

After war was declared, John Redmond spoke in the House of Commons on 3 August 1914. He assured the British government that they might with confidence withdraw all their troops from Ireland and that the Irish Volunteers would cooperate with the Ulster Volunteers in guarding Ireland’s shores. In response, Griffith wrote an editorial for Sinn Féin on 8 August:

‘Ireland is not at war with Germany. She has no quarrel with any continental power. England is at war with Germany, and Mr Redmond has offered England the services of the National Volunteers to defend Ireland. What has Ireland to defend, and whom has she to defend it against? . . . Our duty is in no doubt. We are Irish Nationalists, and the only duty we can have is to stand for Ireland’s interests, irrespective of the interests of England, or Germany, or any other foreign country.’

Joseph E.A. Connell Jr is the author of Dublin in rebellion: a directory, 1913–1923 (Lilliput Press, 2006).

Further reading

I. Kenneally, Paper wall: newspapers and propaganda in Ireland, 1919–1921 (Cork, 2008).

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