Along with his close comrades Michael Collins and Eamon de Valera, Harry Boland (1887–1922) was probably the most influential Irish revolutionary between 1917 and 1922. His sway extended to almost every aspect of republican activity. Already prominent as a hurler before 1916, he was convicted and imprisoned after an energetic Easter Week. He subsequently became Honorary Secretary of Sinn Féin, T.D. for South Roscommon in the First Dáil, President of the Irish Republican Brotherhood's Supreme Council, and a republican envoy in the United States between May 1919 and December 1921. He broke with Collins over the Treaty, but became the chief intermediary between the factions. Early in the Civil War, however, he was killed by National army officers.
Boland's influence was the product of charm, gregariousness, wit, and ruthlessness. After his rebel father's early death, Boland's mother raised him in a spirit of intransigent hostility to Britain. Yet he was also stylish, cosmopolitan, and humane. His celebrated contest with Collins for the love of Kitty Kiernan is perhaps the most intriguing of all Irish political romances. Attractive yet elusive, his personality helped shape the Irish revolution.
David Fitzpatrick's biography draws upon documents in Irish, British, and American archives, including his American diaries and thousands of letters to, from, and about Boland. Extensive use has been made of family papers and de Valera's vast archive on the Irish campaign in America. These and other recently released documents illuminate the inner workings of Irish republicanism, and the critical importance of brotherhood in the revolution. As an old-fashioned republican and advocate of 'physical force', Boland is still venerated as a martyr by revolutionary Sinn Féin in today's Northern Ireland. Doctrine was subordinated to the twin quests for republican unity and political supremacy, entailing reiterated compromise, systematic duplicity, and mastery of propagandist techniques. If his outlook seems archaic, his practice was astonishingly modern. Harry Boland was a forerunner for Adams and McGuinness.
David Fitzpatrick is Professor of Modern History at Trinity College, Dublin. His books include The Two Irelands, 1912–1939, Oceans of Consolation: Personal Accounts of Irish Migration to Australia, and Politics and Irish Life, 1913–1921: Provincial Experience of War and Revolution.