Irish anarchism is often seen as a movement which started in the late 1960s and early 1970s, with just a minor pre-history of lone individuals prior to that. Historian Fintan Lane has done much to correct this misunderstanding, particularly with his book The origins of modern Irish socialism, 1881-1896 (Cork University Press, 1997).

When we read of Irish revolutionaries in the 1880s, we read of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (popularly known as the Fenians) rather than the anarchists who were becoming influential among advanced radicals in much of Europe. With the dominance of nationalist ideas among Irish radicals of the time, neither Marxism nor anarchism had many supporters here. But that is not to say that there none.

According to Lane “The emergence of a Dublin branch of the Socialist League in December 1885 marks the beginning of modern organised socialism in Ireland, though it was immediately preceded by the semi-socialist Dublin Democratic Association. An unbroken continuity of organisation exists between this first socialist group and Connolly’s Irish Socialist Republican Party of 1896. Moreover, the libertarian socialism of the Socialist League remained influential within Dublin socialist circles until the arrival of ‘new unionism’ and the subsequent establishment of branches of the Independent Labour Party in Dublin, Belfast and Waterford in the mid-1890s.”

We have two articles by Lane: Practical Anarchists We was published by History Ireland in March/April 2008 (vol.16, no.2), and The origins of modern Irish socialism, 1881-1896 in Red & Black Revolution (no.3) in 1997.

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