Republican News · Thursday 30 September 1999

[An Phoblacht]

Sinn Féin and Sinn Féin

By Aengus O Snodaigh

Mary Butler, a cousin of Edward Carson's, was attributed by Arthur Griffith as having coined in 1904 the term ``Sinn Féin'' for the policy of self-reliance of an emerging organisation and for the newspaper of that name which began publication in 1906.

The phrase ``Sinn Féin'' was in general use in the 19th Century well before it became associated with the political party from which Sinn Féin owes its existence today. In earlier times it had been a battle-cry of the Wild Geese Irish fighting in the armies of Spain and France in the 17 and 18th centuries. A Young Ireland poet, John O'Hagan wrote in the 1840s: ``Our hope and strength/We find at last/Is in Ourselves alone.''

Irish emigrant and newspaper owner in San Francisco, Tom Mooney, called on Irish MPs to Westminster to withdraw from that English parliament, saying ``Shin Fane, Shin Fane'' (Mooney's Express, 11 January 1862). ``Sinn Féin, Sinn Féin'' was a phrase of pride and kinship commonly used in Munster in the early part of the 19th Century. In 1834, the term was used in Paddy Kelly's Budget ending a section censuring two women with: ``Until the we remain friends/and well wishers/Shinn Fane, a Shinn Fane''.

It was first used in the title of a publication in 1882 in Shinn Fane or Ourselves, a drama of the exhibition by ``Tom Telephone'' and published by Thomas Stanisluas Cleary. The term Sinn Féin (ourselves) was used in relation to the self-sufficiency was used by the organisers of the National Exhibition in 1881 in Dublin to promote Irish made goods. Conradh na Gaeilge's Ard Chraobh held there meetings under the banner ``Sinn Féin Sinn Féin amháin'' and the same words were used in The United Irishman advertisement for the Dublin Workmen's' Industrial Association. The term was again used by Dubhghlas de hIde (Douglas Hyde) in his Shan Van Vocht of 1897.

It was not till 1905 that Arthur Griffith decided to adopt the term Sinn Féin for his newspaper and organisation after Willie Rooney in a letter to O Gríofa, still in South Africa, agreed that ``Sinn Féin'' must be the motto of movement after Máire de Buitléir's (Mary Butler) earlier suggestion.

But Arthur Griffith's Sinn Féin was not the first newspaper to carry the title. The United Irishman, June 14 1902 notes: ``The first number of Sinn Féin, a monthly review, published in Oldcastle, and printed with Irish ink on Irish paper has reached us. Sinn Féin is another sign of how the intellectual life of the country has been quickened.''

A group of Gaelic Leaguers in the town of Oldcastle in County Meath resolved to found the new paper following a meeting on St Patrick's Day 1902 in the Naper Arms Hotel to entertain a young Dublin barrister and an up-and-coming leader of the Irish-Ireland movement, Pádraig Pearse.

With Pearse at the meeting were Liam Sheridan of Drumlerry, Paddy Bartley of Mount Nugent, Michael Grace and Charlie Fox of Oldcastle.

Paddy Bartley was a correspondent for the Anglo-Celt newspaper in Cavan, while Liam Sheridan was a farmer and champion cyclist and athlete. Charlie Fox was a local merchant and Michael Grace was a civil engineer and leading figure in the local Total Abstinence Society.

It was Sheridan who suggested the title ``Sinn Féin'', based on his reading of the Gaelic League's (Conradh na Gaeilge) An Claidheamh Soluis in which the phrase was used repeatedly. The first issue of An Claidheamh Soluis carried the heading ``Sinn Féin, Sinn Féin'' above a column on its front page. The phrase was also used in the advertisement section to encourage its readers to support the advertisers, ``Sinn Féin agus ár gCairde'' was its motto.

The first issue of Sinn Féin appeared in May 1902 and its leader said:

``We appear... as a supporter of the movement that is at present being carried on by thinking men and women of Ireland to revive our ancient language, music and literature, our National sports and pastimes, our decaying industries, and the cause of temperance.''

Contributors to the newspaper included Brian O'Higgins, Cathal McGarvey, Mrs Tom Kettle (née Sheehy), Seán McNamee, William Cronin and Diarmuid O'Crowley.

In its second issue the editorial board nailed its colours to its mast saying: ``While Sinn Féin is in existence it will always champion the cause of the oppressed against the oppressor and will be the stern champion of the labouring class''.

When Arthur Griffith decided on a newspaper, he sought permission from Paddy Bartley to use the title of the Oldcastle monthly review, Sinn Féin. His weekly newspaper began publishing on 4 May 1906 and continued until 28 November 1914. Arthur Griffith was the editor, with Seán T O Ceallaigh as manager, but it was always in financial difficulties. Even the attempt between 23 August 1909 and 21 January 1910 to publish it as a daily newspaper failed due to financial problems and small subscriptions. The weekly Sinn Féin continued publishing until it was suppressed in 1914 by an order served on Seán T O Ceallaigh by two Dublin Castle detectives under The Defence of the Realm regarding ``seditious'' material being printed in it.

The first Sinn Féin newspaper was published 97 years ago and the second Sinn Féin newspaper two years later. Sinn Féin became the title of a political party in 1905.

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