Belfast Telegraph

Anti-Semites, a former public schoolboy and a radical priest all held the top job in Sinn Fein

There's been a long line of controversial figures that have served as the party's president, writes Nelson McCausland

Gerry Adams is preparing to step down as president of Sinn Fein and we know that his successor will be Mary Lou McDonald, but how many of us can name all the previous presidents of the party?

Sinn Fein was founded in 1905 and celebrated its centenary in 2005, so how many presidents have there been since 1905 and who were they?

Adams is actually the 15th president.

The first was Edward Martyn, who was leader from 1905 to 1908.

He was educated at a prestigious public school in England and lived in Tulira Castle, a magnificent Victorian mansion in Co Galway.

John Sweetman was the second president. The son of a wealthy Dublin brewer, he too was educated at a prestigious school in England. Although he was one of the founders of Sinn Fein and president from 1908 to 1911, he later abandoned the party.

Arthur Griffith was the founder and third president of Sinn Fein, but he was also anti-Semitic. He supported the anti-Jewish Limerick Boycott, also known as the Limerick Pogrom, and once wrote in the United Irishman that "the three evil influences of the century were the Pirate, the Freemason and the Jew".

Eamon de Valera fought in the Easter Rising and then in the ranks of the IRA and was Sinn Fein president from 1917 until he left to form Fianna Fail.

He was the dominant figure in Irish nationalism in the 20th century, but was born in New York to a Spanish father and an Irish-American mother.

John J O'Kelly was the editor of the Catholic Bulletin, and like Griffith, he had a history of anti-Semitism.

In 1916 his paper published a series of articles accusing the Jews of committing ritual murder. O'Kelly was president of Sinn Fein from 1926 to 1931.

Brian O'Higgins was the next Sinn Fein president and one of seven veteran republicans who 'signed over' the authority of the First Dail to the IRA.

That was in 1938 and thereafter the IRA Army Council asserted that it was the legitimate Government of the Irish Republic.

Fr Michael O'Flanagan, a radical Roman Catholic priest, was Sinn Fein president from 1933 to 1935, and Cathal O Murchadha, who was born Charles Murphy, was president from 1935 to 1937.

At that time the story of Sinn Fein became very complicated because an IRA Army Convention approved the idea of a new IRA party, Cumann Poblachta na h-Eireann, but it was unsuccessful and shortlived.

Margaret Buckley was the next president and the first female leader of a political party in Ireland. She was president of Sinn Fein for 13 years - only Adams has served longer - but the party hardly existed and today she is barely remembered. During her presidency Sinn Fein was not supported by the IRA.

Paddy J McLogan was president from 1950 to 1952 and Tomas O Dubhghaill, who was born Thomas Doyle, was president from 1952 to 1954.

McLogan came back for a second term as Sinn Fein president from 1954 to 1962.

He was one of a triumverate of republicans known as the 'Three Macs' who dominated Sinn Fein and the IRA during the 1950s and they brought the party entirely under the control of the IRA.

Tomas Mac Giolla was born Thomas Gill and became president in 1962 at the end of the IRA's failed and futile 'Border Campaign'. When the republican movement split in 1969 he became president of Official Sinn Fein.

Ruairi O Bradaigh was born Peter Roger Casement Brady and was IRA chief-of-staff before becoming president of Provisional Sinn Fein in 1970.

Eventually he was ousted by Adams in 1983, and now after more than 30 years he is to be replaced.

So perhaps to mark the occasion Sinn Fein might consider publishing a little history of those presidents who preceded Adams, or then again, maybe not. But it is a fascinating story!

Belfast Telegraph

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