The family of an Oldcastle man, one of four behind a newspaper titled 'Sinn Féin’ in 1902, printed by The Anglo-Celt, is searching for information on their great granddad’s historic contribution to supporting the Irish republican movement.
The paper was founded three years before Arthur Griffith famously started the party of the same name.
With families across Ireland rediscovering their ancestral links to 1916, Dublin-native Nuala Doyle and her family have also reignited their interest, tracing councillor, farmer and cyclist Liam Sheridan from Drumlerry, believed to have acted as co-editor for the publication.
Nuala, who now lives in Virginia, told The Anglo-Celt: “We would love to get sight of this paper that was around, even just to know that a copy of it still exists. The Sinn Féin party’s An Poblacht magazine published an article on the paper a few years back, which was really interesting, but other than that we’ve not been able to find a whole lot more about it.”
Widely believed it was Sheridan himself who came up with the title 'Sinn Féin’ from an article in An Claidheamh Soluis in 1901, he is said to have joined three others in gathering at the Naper Arms Hotel on St Patrick’s Day, 1902, to hatch their plan for propaganda.
The others, all members of the Gaelic League, included Michael Grace, a civil engineer from Oldcastle; vice-president of the Total Abstinence Society, Michael Galligan; local merchant Charlie Fox and Anglo-Celt journalist Patrick J Bartley from Prospect House, Mountnugent, who arranged for the new newspaper to be printed by the Celt. Also present was a young Dublin barrister and an up-and-coming Easter Rising leader, Pádraig Pearse. Work on the paper would be carried out at Bartley’s residence in Mountnugent before publication was arranged at the Celt offices in Cavan.
“It’s an amazing part of our family history, which we’d love to learn more about... The 2016 centenary has just reignited the interest in the family and specifically the part our great granddad played in Ireland’s wonderful history,” says Nuala.
She added: “A lot of stuff was so secretive that it was almost an offence to have this kind of literature and to have or promote it would make you a marked man.
“A lot of what we’ve learned about it is from our own mam. She always said her granddad died the year before she was born, but that growing up in Dublin everybody always introduced them, the kids, as Liam Sheridan’s grandchildren. They were a well to do family from Oldcastle, so it meant something.
“We ourselves know from summer holidays, going down to the house at Drumlerry that it had a lot of history to it. I’m hoping that someone out there, maybe one of the locals might know a lot more,” says Nuala.
In a statement dated March 20, 1954 to the Bureau of Military History by Michael Grace, described as a close associate of Arthur Griffith between 1899-1902, explained that the idea for the paper was born out of concern that Griffith’s own publication 'United Irishman’ was not being well-received.
'Sinn Féin’, when published, sold for one penny, or one and sixpence per year by post in Ireland, circulating in the North-Midlands region for the next two years. It consisted mainly of articles clipped form the United Irishman, Gaelic American and others, but also had several contributors, including a man named Crowley, an excise officer in Trim who used the nom-de-plume 'Oscar’. Crowley would later study law and become a judge of the Dáil High Court.
Grace said: “Our group had no real organisation or name but soon people learned who was behind the paper and we became know as the 'Sinn Féiners’. I had copies of the paper, but the Black and Tans seized them and, I suppose, destroyed them.”
Of the publication’s name being used by Griffith as the party name, Grace told the Bureau: “I have no recollection of Arthur Griffith writing to any of our group asking for permission to use the name Sinn Féin, but it could have happened and slipped my memory.”
It was later said in an obituary to Sheridan that Griffith himself had written to Bartley for permission to use the name, and having required consent, re-titled 'The United Irishman’.
It is further claimed that there are copies of the original 'Sinn Fein’ in the 1916 section of the National Museum.