Sinn Fein had a comparatively small and unimportant beginning. It was not heralded into existence by any great flourish of trumpets nor for many years had it any considerable following among the masses of the Nationalists. It is more than doubtful, if there had been normal political progress in Ireland, whether Sinn Fein would ever have made itself into a great movement. It was, in the first instance, the disappointments and humiliations which the debilitated Irish Party had brought to the national movement and the utter disrepute into which Parliamentarianism had fallen as a consequence that moved the thoughts of Ireland's young manhood to some nobler and better way of serving the Motherland. But it was the rebellion of Easter Week which crystallised and fused all these various thoughts and ideals into one direct channel of action and made Sinn Fein the mightiest national force that has perhaps arisen in Ireland since first the English set foot upon our shores for purposes of conquest.

Sinn Fein, as a political organisation, did not exist until 1905, but the originator of it, Mr Arthur Griffith, had established in Dublin, in 1899, a weekly paper called The United Irishman. This was the title of the paper which John Mitchell had founded to advocate the policy of the Young Irelanders and was, therefore, supposed to favour to some extent a movement along those lines. Its appeal was mainly to the young and intellectual and to those extremists who were out of harmony with the moderate demands of the Parliamentary Party. Its first editorial gave an index to its teachings and aims. "There exists," it declared, "has existed for centuries and will continue to exist in Ireland a conviction hostile to the subjection or dependence of the fortunes of this country to the necessities of any other; we intend to voice that conviction. We bear no ill-will to any section of the Irish political body, whether its flag be green or orange, which holds that tortuous paths are the safest for Irishmen to tread; but knowing we are governed by a nation which religiously adheres to 'the good old rule, the simple plan, that those may take who have the power and those may keep who can,' we, with all respect for our friends who love the devious ways, are convinced that an occasional exhibition of the naked truth will not shock the modesty of Irishmen and that a return to the straight road will not lead us to political destruction.... In these later days we have been diligently taught that, by the law of God, of Nature and of Nations, we are rightfully entitled to the establishment in Dublin of a legislative assembly, with an expunging angel watching over its actions from the Viceregal Lodge. We do not deprecate the institution of any such body, but we do assert that the whole duty of an Irishman is not comprised in utilising all the forces of his nature to procure its inception." It continued: "With the present-day movements outside politics we are in more or less sympathy," and it particularly specified the Financial Reformers and the Gaelic League, adding, however: "We would regret any insistence on a knowledge of Gaelic as a test of patriotism." Finally it said: "Lest there might be any doubt in any mind, we will say that we accept the Nationalism of '98, '48 and '67 as the true Nationalism, and Grattan's cry 'Live Ireland. Perish the Empire' as the watchword of patriotism." Thus its creed was the absolute independence of Ireland, and though it did not advocate the methods of armed revolution, it opened its columns to those Nationalists who did. It preached particularly the doctrine of self-reliance and independence. It attached more importance to moral qualities than to mere political action. It was free in its criticism of persons or parties who it considered were setting up false standards for the guidance of the people. It derided the policy of the Irish Party as "half-bluster and half-whine," and when Mr Redmond spoke rhetorically of "wringing from whatever Government may be in power the full measure of a nation's rights," it bluntly told him he was talking "arrant humbug." It made the development of Irish industries one of the foremost objects of its advocacy. It courageously attacked the Catholic clergy for the faults it saw, or thought it saw, in them. They were told they took no effective steps to arrest emigration - that they next to the British Government were responsible for the depopulation of the country; that they failed to encourage Irish trade and manufactures and that they "made life dull and unendurable for the people." And so on and so forth it continued its criticisms with remarkable candour and consistency.

It came early into conflict with the Castle authorities on account of its vigorous propaganda against recruiting for the army and it published the text of an anti-recruiting pamphlet for the distribution of which prosecutions were instituted. It was found difficult, however, to obtain convictions against those who distributed these pamphlets, and even in Belfast a jury refused to bring in a conviction on this charge at the instance of the Crown. The United Irishman was seized by the authorities and only got an excellent advertisement into the bargain.

Meanwhile an organisation of Irishmen who shared the views of the paper was being gradually evolved, and in 1900 the first steps were taken in the foundation of Cumann na n Gaedhal. Its objects were to advance the cause of Ireland's national independence by (1) cultivating a fraternal spirit amongst Irishmen; (2) diffusing knowledge of Ireland's resources and supporting Irish industries; (3) the study and teaching of Irish history, literature, language, music and art; (4) the assiduous cultivation and encouragement of Irish games, pastimes and characteristics; (5) the discountenancing of anything tending towards the Anglicisation of Ireland; (6) the physical and intellectual training of the young; (7) the development of an Irish foreign policy; (8) extending to each other friendly advice and aid, socially and politically; (9) the nationalisation of public boards. It was felt, however, that the ends of Cumann na n Gaedhal were remote and that something more was needed to bring the new policy into more intimate connection with political facts. This was supplied by Mr A. Griffith when he outlined, in October, 1902, what came to be known afterwards as the Hungarian policy. This policy was, in effect, a demand that the members of the Irish Parliamentary should abstain from attendance at Westminster, which was declared to be "useless, degrading and demoralising," and should adopt the policy of the Hungarian Deputies of 1861 and, "refusing to attend the British Parliament or to recognise its right to legislate for Ireland, remain at home to help in promoting Ireland's interests and to aid in guarding its national rights."

A pamphlet by Mr Griffith, entitled The Resurrection of Hungary, was prepared and published, which expounded the details of the new policy. Mr R.M. Henry, in his admirable book, The Evolution of Sinn Fein (to which I express my indebtedness for much of what appears in this chapter), tells us that the pamphlet, as a piece of propaganda, was a failure, and produced no immediate or widespread response. Mr Henry also takes exception to the fact of Mr Griffith putting forward the Hungarian policy as an original idea. "It had," he writes, "been advocated and to a certain extent practised in Ireland long before the Hungarian Deputies adopted it," and he quotes matter to show that Thomas Davis was the real author of the policy of Parliamentary abstention and wonders why the credit was not given to the Irishman instead of the Hungarian Franz Deak.

The claim of Mr Griffith at this stage was that the independence of Ireland was to be based not upon force but upon law and the constitution of 1782: "His claim was not a Republic, but a national constitution under an Irish Crown" (Mr R.M. Henry). Finally Sinn Fein, which, literally translated, means "Ourselves," was formally inaugurated at a meeting held in Dublin on 28th November 1905, under the chairmanship of Mr Edward Martyn and was defined as: "National self-development through the recognition of the rights and duties of citizenship on the part of the individual and by the aid and support of all movements originating from within Ireland, instinct with national tradition and not looking outside Ireland for the accomplishment of their aims."

Sinn Fein had now formally constituted itself into a distinct Party, with a definite policy of its own, and The United Irishman ceasing to exist, a new organ was established, called Sinn Fein. But though Mr Griffith may found a Party, he was not so fortunate in getting followers. The Parliamentarians had not yet begun to make that mess of their position which they did so lamentably later. That self-reliant spirit was not abroad which came when a manlier generation arose to take their stand for Ireland.

Canon Hannay paints a peculiarly unpleasant picture of the state of Ireland at this time. "Never," he writes, "in her history was Ireland less inclined to self-reliance. The soul of the country was debauched with doles and charities. An English statesman might quite truthfully have boasted that Ireland would eat out of his hand. The only thing which troubled most of us was that the hand, whether we licked it or snarled at it, was never full enough. The idea of self-help was intensely unpleasant, and as for self-sacrifice!" The note of exclamation sufficiently conveys the writer's meaning.

The Sinn Fein organisation as a national movement made very little progress and exercised no considerable influence in affairs. But its principles undoubtedly spread, particularly among the more earnest and enthusiastic young men in the towns. The one Parliamentary election it contested - that of North Leitrim, where the sitting member, Mr C.J. Dolan, resigned, declared himself a convert to the new movement and offered himself for re-election - proved a costly failure. It established a daily edition of Sinn Fein, but this also had no success and had to be dropped. For some following years Sinn Fein could be said merely to exist as a name and nothing more. The country had dangled before it the project of the triumph of Parliamentarianism and it discouraged all criticism of "the Party," no matter how just, honest or well-intended. In April 1910, Sinn Fein announced, on behalf of its Party, that Mr John Redmond, having now the chance of a lifetime to obtain Home Rule, "will be given a free hand, without a word said to embarrass him." Sinn Fein took no part in the elections of 1910. "This," says Mr Henry, "was not purely an act of self-sacrifice. In fact, Sinn Fein was never at so low an ebb." Its attitude towards the Home Rule, which now seemed inevitable, was stated as follows: - "No scheme which the English Parliament may pass in the near future will satisfy Sinn Fein - no legislature created in Ireland which is not supreme and absolute will offer a basis for concluding a final settlement with the foreigners who usurp the Government of this country. But any measure which gives genuine, if even partial, control of their own affairs to Irishmen shall meet with no opposition from us and should meet with no opposition from any section of Irishmen."

From now onward until 1914 the Sinn Fein Movement was practically moribund and its name was scarcely heard of. When it appeared again as an active force it was not the old Sinn Fein Movement that was there. As Canon Hannay justly remarks: "It cannot be said with any accuracy that Sinn Fein won Ireland. Ireland took over Sinn Fein. Indeed, Ireland took over very little of Sinn Fein except the name." And this is the literal truth.