The Irish Socialist Republican Party, a small, but pivotal Irish political party, is founded on May 29, 1896 by James Connolly. Its aim is to establish an Irish workers’ republic. The party splits in 1904 following months of internal political rows.
The party is small throughout its existence. According to the ISRP historian David Lynch, the party never has more than 80 members. Upon its founding one journalist comments that the party has more syllables than members. Nevertheless, the ISRP is regarded by many Irish historians as a party of seminal importance in the early history of Irish socialism and republicanism. It is often described as the first socialist and republican party in Ireland, and the first organisation to espouse the ideology of socialist republicanism on the island. During its lifespan it only has one really active branch, the Dublin branch. There are several attempts to create branches in Cork, Belfast, Limerick, Naas, and even in northern England but they never come to much. The party establishes links with feminist and revolutionary Maud Gonne who approves of the party.
The party produces the first regular socialist paper in Ireland, the Workers’ Republic, runs candidates in local elections, represents Ireland at the Second International, and agitates over issues such as the Boer War and the commemorations of the Irish Rebellion of 1798. Politically the ISRP is before its time, putting the call for an independent “Republic” at the centre of its propaganda before Sinn Féin or other political organizations.
Connolly, who is the full-time paid organiser for the party, subsequently leaves Ireland for the United States in 1903 following internal conflict. In fact, it seems that a combination of the petty infighting and his own poverty that causes Connolly to abandon Ireland (he returns in 1910). Connolly clashes with the party’s other leading light, E. W. Stewart, over trade union and electoral strategy. A small number of members around Stewart establish an anti-Connolly micro organisation called the Irish Socialist Labour Party. In 1904, this merges with the remains of the ISRP to form the Socialist Party of Ireland.