An account of the Anglo-Irish conflict can be found in Freedom
Modern Irish Republicans trace their political origins to the movement of the United Irishmen of the 1790s. They took their inspiration from the French Revolution and fought for the breaking of the political connection between Ireland and Britain, believing that only an independent Ireland could guarantee equality and prosperity for the Irish people.
Most of the leading figures of the United Irishmen were Presbyterians and Protestants and a key part of their programme was unity between Irish people of all religions in the cause of liberty. Their rebellion in 1798 was ruthlessly suppressed, but their ideas continued to inspire Irish nationalists for over a century and a half.
The separatist strand of Irish nationalism waxed and waned in the 19th Century, enjoying it's biggest popular following in the Fenian movement in Ireland and the United States in the late 1850s and 1860s, but by the end of the century, the organised demand for complete separation was almost nonexistent.
The name Sinn Fein (We Ourselves) first emerged in the early 1900s. It was a federation of nationalist clubs and eventually, all nationalists to the left of the Irish Parliamentary Party at Westminster came to be popularly known as Sinn Feiners. The press of the time called the 1916 Rising the "Sinn Fein Rebellion".
The Sinn Fein party, reorganised in 1917, was based on the demand for an Irish Republic. It won the 1918 general election overwhelmingly and set up Dáil Éireann (Assembly of Ireland). Following three years of guerrilla war, led by the underground republican government, the party split in 1922 on the issue of the Treaty which partitioned Ireland.
Throughout the 1920s, following a devastating Civil War, Sinn Fein continued as the republican party. The departure of its leader Eamon de Valera to form Fianna Fáil in 1926 meant that it was to remain as a small abstentionist party for the next two decades. It's fortunes ebbed and flowed in the late 1950s and early 1960s with the IRA's border campaign, during which it enjoyed some electoral success.
In the 1960s, Sinn Fein adopted a more radical stance on social and economic affairs and campaigned politically to gain support on issues other than partition. But differing approaches to the Civil Rights Movement and to the outbreak of the present conflict in the Six Counties led to another split. One section of Sinn Fein was in the process of abandoning the republican demand for complete British withdrawal from Ireland and went on to become what are now Democratic Left and the Workers Party.
The Sinn Fein which emerged in 1970 - popularly known at the time as 'Provisional' Sinn Fein - was to evolve through the '70s and ' 80s to the party we know today. It was to the forefront of the resistance of the nationalist people in the Six Counties, as they saw their peaceful demand for civil rights met with state violence. Sinn Fein again took on the role of the leading advocate of British withdrawal and a 32-county Ireland and campaigned on the streets throughout Ireland in the 1970s.
It was only in the early 1980s that the challenge of Sinn Fein as a serious political force and central element in the republican struggle was first fully felt. The re-evaluation of strategy and reorganisation which resulted from the mass campaign in support of republican prisoners in the H-Blocks and Armagh before and during the 1981 Hunger Strike (when ten prisoners died) set Sinn Fein on its course for the 1980s.
In 1986, some Sinn Fein delegates voted against the proposal to grant recognition to the 26-County parliament in Dublin at the party's Ard-Fheis [annual conference]. The party split over the issue and organised into two groups which became known in the post-1986 era as Sinn Fein and Republican Sinn Fein.