From Gaelic, the words Sinn Fein translate loosely into English as “We Ourselves,” or “Ourselves Alone.” The implications of this are that Ireland, historically subject to the political domination of England, could look to none but itself for liberation.
By the 18th century, the Irish Parliament and all of the institutions of the state were dominated by Protestants, with Catholics almost entirely excluded. In 1798, a rebellion was launched by the “United Irishmen,” one of the first underground nationalist Republican organizations with the stated objective of overthrowing English rule and replacing it with an Irish republic based on the precepts of the recent French Revolution. The rebellion failed, but the English response was to dissolve the Irish Parliament and integrate Ireland directly into the United Kingdom. Ireland then became integral to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland which was ruled directly from Whitehall under the terms of the 1800 Act of Union. A certain number of Irish members were granted seats in the Parliament of Westminster, and, for all intents and purposes, Ireland existed as a province of the United Kingdom.
Thereafter, the tone of Irish political dialogue shifted somewhat, with the objective of moderate Irish nationalists no longer absolute independence from England, but the restoration of an Irish Parliament and a degree of self-government while remaining on some level a dependency of the British Empire. The two signature names in this process were Daniel O’Connell, Member of the Westminster Parliament who campaigned on a platform of repealing the Act of Union, and Charles Stewart Parnell, also a member of the British Parliament, who, between 1880 and 1891, called for “Home Rule.”