‘Ireland’s Independence Day’: the 1918 election campaign in Ireland and the Wilsonian moment

Martin O'Donoghue

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One of the first modern mass nationalist parties, the Irish Parliamentary Party [IPP] dominated Irish politics for almost half a century until its defeat in the 1918 general election. Although long designated nationalists by 1918, the party and its supporters encompassed a broad alliance entailing strong nationalists and those with affinity for an imperialist-nationalist vision. The IPP based its campaign on a demand for home rule — an accommodation whereby Ireland would gain its own parliament with jurisdiction over domestic affairs while remaining part of the United Kingdom. Although the demands of Irish unionists put the unity of the country in doubt, home rule legislation was on the British statute book in 1914 when IPP leader John Redmond called on Irishmen to enlist in the British army to help safeguard home rule when hostilities ended. The war, however, provided radical nationalists with an opportunity to plan and launch a rebellion at Easter 1916. While it has been argued that mass nationalism combining cultural and political nationalism was a relatively late development in the Irish case, this article examines how the IPP’s electoral defeat in 1918 interacted with events at home and abroad. It analyses the language and propaganda of both the IPP and its nationalist opponent, Sinn Féin, to examine how both parties framed their campaigns in the context of the post-war peace conference. The use of continental examples in the campaigns of both is analysed to assess contemporary perceptions and the ability of Sinn Féin to turn the Wilsonian message into a propaganda victory. While stressing the importance of domestic events in the decline of the IPP, this article sets the Irish election in a European context by examining how Sinn Féin sought to claim the language of self-determination for itself and disassociate the IPP from the Wilsonian message.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)834-854
Number of pages21
JournalEuropean Review of History/Revue Europeenne d'Histoire
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 5 Jul 2019
Externally publishedYes


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