The first issue of Sinn Féin, a weekly Irish nationalist newspaper edited by the Dublin typesetter, journalist and political thinker Arthur Griffith, is published on May 5, 1906. It is published by the Sinn Féin Printing & Publishing Company, Ltd. (SFPP) between 1906 and 1914, and replaces an earlier newspaper called The United Irishman which is liquidated after a libel suit. Initially, Sinn Féin is a large format (slightly larger than a modern broadsheet), 4-page newspaper with 7 columns per page.
Trained as he was in the graphic side of newspaper production, Arthur Griffith has both a professional interest in and a profound understanding of visual culture. He is also very much aware of how visual discourses can be used to defend the Irish nation against cultural Anglicisation. In his newspaper propaganda he continually promotes the use of such discourses to develop a strong brand awareness for the Irish nation.
The most important graphic element of the Sinn Féin newspaper is the Déanta i nÉirinn symbol. This distinctive logo is created by the Irish Industrial Development Association (IIDA). The text in Irish means “Made in Ireland.” From the autumn of 1909, Griffith’s newspapers displays it proudly and very prominently on their front page between the words ‘sinn’ and ‘féin’ in the title-piece. It can also frequently be seen in advertisements and cartoons throughout. Both a trade description and a statement of Sinn Féin‘s industrial politics, this mark plays a fundamental role in the newspaper propaganda published by the SFPP.
For the first few years of its existence the circulation of Sinn Féin is limited. From January 1909 onwards, however, Griffith attempts to attract new readers by publishing a daily newspaper, the Sinn Féin Daily, with sensational articles from overseas, a fashion column aimed at women readers, and a new graphic approach. The daily newspaper is abandoned by the SFPP when it plunges the company into enormous debt.
Thanks to the purchase of two brand new Linotype machines, the newspaper becomes more attractive from a typographical point of view and easier to read. The addition of images give Sinn Féin a far less austere look and at the same time significantly improve its commercial appeal, with sales reaching a peak of 64,000 in September 1909. Foremost among these images are the large political cartoons which regularly appear on the front page. This user-friendly graphic discourse translates the National question into a series of emotionally charged life and death struggles set against familiar mythical and literary backdrops. At the same time, it illustrates Griffith’s instructions to the individual Sinn Féiner, indicating the path to follow and the dangers to avoid.
The man responsible for these cartoons is the Dublin-born designer, illustrator, and stained glass artisan Austin V. Molloy. At the age of twenty-two Molloy is hired by the SFPP to provide cartoons at a rate of 1 shilling and 6 pence per week. His work appears in the newspaper between August 1909 and April 1911. As is the case for many of the contributors to Sinn Féin, Molloy uses the Irish version of his name, Maolmhuidhe, to sign his contributions. His cartoons provide a snapshot of the issues preoccupying Sinn Féin’s propagandists between 1909 and 1911, namely the status of the Irish language, the development of Irish industry and the prevention of emigration.
Through The United Irishman and Sinn Féin Griffith demonstrates the need to arrogate legislature from the hands of the British by transferring Irish Parliament back to Dublin. However, Irish Parliamentary parties quite clearly cannot agree to Griffith’s urgings, as such a move would undermine the foundation of their existence in Westminster. Sinn Féin thus serves as conduit for Griffith’s opposition to the Acts of Union 1800.
The Sinn Féin weekly and the SFPP both come to an end when they are suppressed by the British Government in 1914.