The Context and Development of Irish Literature:
History, Poetry, Landscape

Chapter Four:  From Home Rule to Civil War:  Ireland in the Early 20th Century, page two

With the turn of the 20th century, it was clear that "the Irish Question" had to be settled in a decisive way. Pressure for Home Rule was growing, and in 1905 a new radical, militant, nationalist group was formed, called "Sinn Fein," meaning "ourselves alone," led by Arthur Griffith. The great problem now was less that Britain wanted to hang on to its colonial possessions, and more that in the North of Ireland, the Ulster area, dwelt a Protestant majority determined to resist Catholic rule.  This Protestant group, largely the descendants of the more radical Protestant settlers (mainly Scots Presbyterians) who began coming over in the 16th and 17th centuries, considered themselves both loyal members of the United Kingdom, and also authentically Irish, proud upholders of the Anglo-Irish Protestant Tradition.  

In response to Sinn Fein, the Ulster Protestants formed the Ulster Volunteers, basically a citizens’ army, and pledged to resist violently any imposition of Catholic Home Rule. In response to the Ulster Volunteers, the Catholics then formed the Irish Volunteers, a Catholic citizens’ army determined to fight for Catholic Rule. (Many of its leaders came from an underground group called the Irish Republican Brotherhood, which itself grew out of the Fenian Brotherhood of the 1860's; the eventual result of this organization would be the Irish Republican Army, or IRA, which of course still survives in Northern Ireland today.) A civil war seemed imminent, between the Protestant Unionists (favoring continued union with Great Britian) and the Catholic Nationalists (favoring an independent, Catholic-ruled Ireland) when World War I broke out in 1914.  John Redmond, leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, felt that by supporting England's war effort the Irish would encourage eventual Home Rule, and so he urged a cessation of hostilities until the Great War was over.

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