Daily Ireland

Rediscovered letters reveal Sinn Fein’s historical roots

An exhibition to commemorate Sinn Féin’s centenary will be launched at the Europa Hotel in Belfast this morning.
The collection of documents, posters and history of the party will go on display before being taken round the country in a travelling road-show.
Among the documents on show will be three letters between Arthur Griffith, the party’s founder, and Cathal Brugha who went on to fight with the anti-treaty forces in the Civil War.
The three letters were uncovered this week by workmen carrying out renovations to SInn Féin’s Dublin Headquarters in Parnell Square.
Dated February 1918 the correspondence took place before the War of Independence which ended in a British withdrawal from 26 counties and partition.
Two of the letters are written in Irish.
Sinn Féin’s Alex Maskey says the letters deal with ‘mundane’ issues such as patent rights for street-lamps but show the continuity of Sinn Féin and its contribution to Ireland’s development.
“The uncovering of these letters is very timely with it being our centenary year.
“They show that Sinn Féin members were working on the nitty-gritty issues of public life at what turned out to be a very momentous time in Irish history.
“It helps show the continuity of our party and the pivotal role we have played in Irish history.”
The letters are also significant because both men went on to take different sides in the Civil War in 1921-’23.
Griffith argued that republicans should accept the treaty while Brugha took the side of anti-treaty republicans.
Brugha was head of the civil defence forces during the War of Independence, effectively answerable to the Dáil for IRA actions.
However, he had little day-to-day control over the IRA and his military strategies were often not considered effective by IRA leaders.
He was killed in July 1922 by pro-treaty forces in a shoot-out in Dublin.
Coincidentally Arthur Griffith died a month later through natural causes.
1918 was a pivotal year in modern Irish history.
In that year Sinn Féin won a landslide in the general elections.
The party gained more than 80 per cent of the popular vote, but had their democratic mandate ignored by the British government.
The IRA emerged in the same year to fight a guerilla war against the British army, which the British PM of the day, Lloyd George, called a ‘criminal enterprise’.
In 1921 Lloyd George negotiated a peace treaty with Sinn Féin and IRA leaders.
Alex Maskey says he hopes today’s exhibition will allow the wider public to better understand Sinn Féin’s history and development.
“It is a major exhibition covering the history of Sinn Féin right up until the present day,” he said.
“A lot of material has been unearthed by people so it promises to be a very comprehensive history of our party and one that will be accessible.
“Momentous events such as the Hunger Strikes will also be covered.”

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