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The Irish Republican Brotherhood


The Irish Republican Brotherhood, (IRB – 1858 to 1924) was a secret society, bound by oath, dedicated to the establishment of an “independent democratic republic” in Ireland.

The IRB was organised into circles, a “circle” was analogous to a regiment, that the “centre” or A, who might be considered equivalent to a colonel, who chose nine B’s, or captains, who in their turn chose nine C’s, or sergeants, who in their turn chose nine D’s, who constituted the rank and file. In theory an A should only be known to the B’s; a B, to his C’s: and a C, to his D’s; but this rule was often violated.

The IRB played an important role in the history of Ireland, as the chief advocate of republicanism during the campaign for Ireland’s independence from the United Kingdom. The IRB succeeded other republican movements such as the United Irishmen of the 1790s and the young Irelanders of the 1840s.

In the 1870s and 80s IRB members attempted to democratise the Home Rule League and later the Irish Parliamentary Party. It also played a major part in the Land War especially in the west of Ireland!

The IRB in 1916 was no longer a mass organisation, as it had been in the 1860s. It had about 1,300 members, organised into small ‘Centres’ throughout Ireland but its influence was felt across a broad cross-section of nationalist organisations that it had infiltrated, from the cultural organisations Gaelic League and GAA to the political party Sinn Fein, to the Irish Industrial Committee and most significantly, from 1913, the nationalist militia, the Volunteers. Its influence in short was felt far beyond its own ranks. But above all, what the IRB represented was an idea. This was the idea that Ireland was country occupied by Britain, especially England, and historically subordinated, humiliated and oppressed.

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Written by Finbarr O'Regan

Published here 04 Feb 2021

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