A souvenir of ‘Sinn Féin’s revolution’

Published in Issue 5 (September/October 2013), Letters, Volume 21

Sir,—As the ‘big one’ approaches in 2016, it is worth looking back on how the description ‘Sinn Féin’s revolution’, used in ‘Class dismissed’ by Brian Hanley and in ‘Helena Molony: a revolutionary life’ by Fearghal McGarry (HI 21.4, July/August 2013), was greeted by the party in the aftermath of the Easter Rising. As contemporary press reports laid responsibility for the rising at Sinn Féin’s door, the party took steps to distance itself from a ‘disaster’ which it claimed had merely thrown away lives and which cost—in today’s terms—£1,500 million worth of structural damage to Dublin.
A 4,500-word illustrated booklet, written anonymously from a Sinn Féin perspective and published by Wilson, Hartnell and Co., took exception to the phrases ‘Sinn Féin Rebellion’ and/or ‘Sinn Féin Insurrection’, then the popular labels attached, for propaganda purposes, by Dublin Castle and most official sources. Entitled Dublin and the ‘Sinn Fein Rising’, the booklet’s emphatic quotation marks make the denial plain. To quote from the text:

‘All simple labeling of complex entities is unscientific, but in labeling this outbreak by the epithet “Sinn Fein”, the popular press has been worse than unscientific. None so poor now as to do “Sinn Féin” reverence, but we recall the days, long before volunteering and recruiting became burning questions, when “Sinn Féin”, as first promulgated, did material service to our decaying industries, to the Irish language, to the checking of emigration, to the cause of temperance, to the elimination of sectarian animosities, to the purification of public amusements, to the suppression of the gambling spirit, the development of literature and fine arts and the resuscitation of manly games and sports. One cannot trace the influences of the old principles in the neo-Fenianism of last Easter Week.’

Incidentally, my research reveals that the anonymous author was the Sinn Féin activist and Belfast-born Protestant Professor William J. Lawrence. Later, after Lawrence taught at Harvard, the poet T.S. Eliot praised him as the world’s leading authority in his field of Elizabethan and Irish stage studies. In 2011 a copy of the booklet sold at auction for €270. With the added value of Lawrence’s authorial provenance, the souvenir should prove to be a sound investment when the 2016 centenary comes around.—Yours etc.,

ERIC VILLIERS
Armagh

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