Skip to main content

‘Black spots on the map of Europe’: Ireland and Finland as oppressed nationalities, c.1860–1910

  • Andrew G. Newby (a1)

In late 1909, the liberal Russian newspaper Birzhevye Vedomosti expressed the fear that Finland could become ‘Russia’s Ireland’. The implication was that by restricting the autonomy that Finland had enjoyed within the Russian Empire for much of the preceding century, Russian nationalists risked creating a chaotic, discontented eastern province, dangerously close to the imperial capital. The ‘Russia’s Ireland’ motif became so prominent in the following eight years – before Finnish independence in 1917 – as to become an international cliché. The discourse of imperial subjugation that existed in both Ireland and Finland in the first decade of the twentieth century has rather obscured the fact that, despite obvious superficial parallels, the nineteenth-century experiences of these nations differed considerably. Both Finland and Ireland were part of larger imperial systems in the nineteenth century, and national movements emerged in both countries that sought to develop political, economic and cultural autonomy. Finland became a sporadic model for diverse Irish national aspirations, but the analogy was rejected consistently, and often vigorously, by Finns in the nineteenth century. This article charts the development of the Finnish–Irish constitutional analogy from the middle of the nineteenth century to the eve of both nations’ independence. It demonstrates that despite the similarities in overall historical timelines, contemporaries perceived differences between the two cases.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      ‘Black spots on the map of Europe’: Ireland and Finland as oppressed nationalities, c.1860–1910
      Available formats
      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      ‘Black spots on the map of Europe’: Ireland and Finland as oppressed nationalities, c.1860–1910
      Available formats
      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      ‘Black spots on the map of Europe’: Ireland and Finland as oppressed nationalities, c.1860–1910
      Available formats
Corresponding author
*Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies, Aarhus University, Denmark,
Hide All

1 Freeman’s Journal, 22 Sept. 1910.

2 Kissane, Bill, ‘Nineteenth century nationalism in Finland and Ireland: a comparative analysis’ in Nationalism and Ethnic Politics, vi, no. 2 (2000), p. 25 .

3 Nurmi, Kati, ‘Imagining the nation in Irish and Finnish popular culture in the nineteenth and early twentieth century’ in Brian Heffernan (ed.), Life on the fringe? Ireland and Europe, 1800–1922 (Dublin, 2012), pp 3961 .

4 Healy, Róisín, ‘Irish–Polish solidarity: Irish responses to the January Uprising of 1863–4 in Congress Poland’ in Niall Whelehan (ed.), Transnational perspectives on modern Irish history (Abingdon, 2015), p. 149 ; Townend, Paul, The road to home rule: anti-imperialism and the Irish national movement (Madison, WI, 2016), p. 112 .

5 Freeman, Edward A., ‘Finland’ in MacMillan’s Magazine, lxv (Mar. 1892), pp 347348 .

6 Paasivirta, Juhani, Finland and Europe: the period of autonomy and the international crises, 1808–1914 (London, 1981), p. 173 . See also Healy, Róisín, Poland in the Irish nationalist imagination, 1772–1922: anti-colonialism within Europe (London, 2017), p. 5 .

7 Thaden, Edward C., Russia’s western borderlands (Princeton, 1984), pp 8594 .

8 Halmesvirta, Anssi, The British conception of Finnish ‘race’, nation and culture, 1760–1918 (Helsinki, 1990), pp 18 , 130; Paasivirta, Finland and Europe, pp 6–24; Meinander, Henrik, A history of Finland (London, 2011), pp 7583 .

9 Kissane, ‘Nineteenth century nationalism in Finland and Ireland’, p. 35. As outlined in the 1809 settlement, Finland’s ‘home rule’ was in reality representation in the House of the Estates. In fact, the House of the Estates, which was supposed to ‘advise’ the tsar via the governor general, was not called between 1809 and 1863. This state of affairs led to ambiguity over Finland’s constitutional status, as well as the development of a bureaucratic elite in Helsinki. See Jussila, Osmo, Hentilä, Seppo and Nevakivi, Jukka, From grand duchy to a modern state (London, 1995), pp 1420 .

10 Jussila, Hentilä & Nevakivi, Grand duchy to a modern state, p. 11.

11 Newby, Andrew G., ‘“One Valhalla of the Free!”: Scandinavia, Britain and northern identity in the mid-nineteenth century’ in Peter Stadius and Jonas Harvard (eds), Communicating the north: media structures and images in the making of the Nordic region (Farnham, 2013), pp 147169 .

12 The Nation, 22 July 1854.

13 For a contemporary counterfactual reflection on the possible outcomes for Ireland in the event of a Napoleonic victory, from a Finnish comparative perspective, see Coleman, Michael C., ‘“You might all be speaking Swedish today”: language change in 19th century Finland and Ireland’ in Scandinavian Journal of History, xxxv, no. 1 (2010), pp 5354 .

14 Kelly, Matthew, ‘Nationalisms’ in Richard Bourke and Ian McBride (eds), The Princeton history of modern Ireland (Princeton, 2016), p. 452 .

15 Healy, Poland in the Irish nationalist imagination, p. 5.

16 Klinge, Matti, ‘Finland: from Napoleonic legacy to Nordic cooperation’ in Mikuláš Teich and Roy Porter (eds), The national question in Europe in historical context (Cambridge, 1993), pp 326329 .

17 Stenius, Henrik, ‘A Nordic paradox of openness and consensus?’ in Norbert Götz and Carl Marklund (eds), The paradox of openness: transparency and participation in Nordic cultures of consensus (Leiden, 2015), p. 35 .

18 For a discussion of Snellman’s ‘passive resistance’ theories in the context of nineteenth-century Ireland, see Huxley, Steven D., Constitutionalist insurgency in Finland: Finnish ‘passive resistance’ against Russification as a case of nonmilitary struggle in the European resistance tradition (Helsinki, 1990), pp 5659 .

19 Healy, Róisín, ‘Religion and rebellion: the Catholic church in Ireland and Poland in the turbulent 1860s’ in Sabine Egger and John McDonagh (eds), Polish–Irish encounters (Berne, 2011), pp 1936 .

20 Huxley, Constitutionalist insurgency in Finland, pp 110–16.

21 Boyce, D. George, Nationalism in Ireland (3rd ed., London, 1995), p. 297 .

22 Thaden, Edward C., ‘The Russian Government’ in idem (ed.) Russification in the Baltic provinces and Finland, 1855–1914 (Princeton, 1981), p. 31 .

23 Singleton, F., A short history of Finland (2nd ed., Cambridge, 1998), p. 90 .

24 McRae, Kenneth D., Conflict and compromise in multilingual societies, iii: Finland (Helsinki, 1999), p. 50 .

25 Mehiläinen, 1 Mar. 1863; Helsingin Uutiset, 31 Aug. 1863.

26 Åbo Underrättelser, 28 Oct. 1865.

27 Suometar, 23 Oct. 1865.

28 Suometar, 21 Dec. 1860.

29 Healy, Poland in the Irish nationalist imagination, p. 111.

30 de Nie, Michael, The eternal Paddy: Irish identity and the British press, 1798–1882 (Madison, WI, 2004), pp 76, 112 . For research in this area see, for instance, Garnham, Neal, ‘How violent was eighteenth-century Ireland?’ in I.H.S., xxx, no. 119 (May 1997), pp 377392 ; Mahon, Richard Mc, Homicide in pre-Famine and Famine Ireland (Liverpool, 2013).

31 Uusi Suometar, 26 Mar. 1881. Uusi Suometar began operations in 1869 and can be considered a slightly more radical successor to Suometar, which had folded in 1866.

32 Ilmarinen, 20 Dec. 1879.

33 Morgonbladet, 13 Sept. 1881; Helsingfors Dagblad, 16 Sept. 1881; Uusi Suometar, 19 Sept. 1881; Kaiku, 1 Oct. 1881. See also Sami Suodenjoki’s article in this issue.

34 Valvoja, 1 Oct. 1881.

35 Uusi Suometar, 9 May 1882; Helsingfors, 13 May 1882; Åbo Posten, 14 May 1882.

36 See, e.g., Helsingfors Dagblad, 27 Nov. 1879; Uusi Suometar, 1 Feb. 1881; Morgonbladet, 7 Feb. 1881; Oulun Lehti, 9 Feb. 1881; Åbo Underrättelser, 13 Feb. 1881; Helsingfors, 17 Mar. 1881.

37 Helsingfors Dagblad, 24 Apr. 1883; Wasa Tidning, 1 May 1883.

38 Vares, Vesa, Varpuset ja Pääskyset: Nuorsuomalaisuus ja Nuorsuomalainen Puolue 1870-luvulta vuoteen 1918 (Helsinki, 2000), pp. 4043 , 49–57.

39 Valvoja, July 1882, Aug. 1882.

40 Newby, Andrew G., Ireland, radicalism and the Scottish Highlands, c.1870–1912 (Edinburgh, 2007), pp 1819 .

41 The Nation, 21 Aug. 1875.

42 Päärnilä, Ossi, Race, religion and history in the One-Ireland and partition arguments, 1833–1932 (Jyväskylä, 1998), p. 56 .

43 Uusi Suometar, 15 Sept. 1885.

44 O’Day, Alan, Irish home rule, 1867–1921 (Manchester, 1998), pp 100104 .

45 Freeman’s Journal, 13 Aug. 1885. See also The Nation, 15 Aug. 1885.

46 Freeman’s Journal, 23 Sept. 1885.

47 Shannon, Richard, Gladstone (2 vols, London, 1999), ii, 373 ; Healy, Poland in the Irish nationalist imagination, p. 206. See also Alvin Jackson’s Foreword in this issue.

48 Hansard 3, cccvi, 1227 (7 June 1886); Irish Times, 1 July 1886.

49 Freeman’s Journal, 24 June 1886.

50 Hämeen Sanomat, 11 Jan. 1887. C. J. Cooke’s English translation of the Finnish statesman Leo Mechelin’s 1886 French-language pamphlet on the legal and historic rights of the Finnish state (Précis du droit public du Grand-Duché de Finlande) also facilitated some of this comparative analysis: Mechelin, Leo, A précis of the public law of Finland (London, 1889).

51 The Times, 9 Feb. 1888; Wiipurin Uutiset, 13 Apr. 1888.

52 ‘Mr. Gladstone’s Return’ in Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science and Art, lxv (11 Feb. 1888), p. 154.

53 Kaiku, 29 June 1889.

54 Dicey, Albert Venn, England’s case against home rule (Lodnon, 1887), p. 49 . McCarthy, Justin refuted this charge in The case for home rule (London, 1887), p. 72 .

55 Kirby, David, A concise history of Finland (Cambridge, 2006), p. 75 .

56 The Times, 30 Oct. 1888.

57 Ibid., 5 Jan. 1892.

58 Wasa Tidning, 12–31 Mar. 1889.

59 Valvoja, 1 Oct. 1893.

60 Aura, 18 Apr. 1894.

61 Paasivirta, Finland and Europe, pp 169–71.

62 Therefore differentiating Finland from, for example, Poland. See Healy, ‘Irish–Polish solidarity’ pp 150–1.

63 Newby, ‘“One Valhalla of the Free”’ pp 157–62; Halmesvirta, British conception, p. 253; ‘A member of the Finnish Diet’ [Arvid Neovius], The Finnish question in 1911: a survey of the present position of the Finnish constitutional struggle (London, 1911), pp 55–63.

64 Lundin, C. Leonard, ‘Finland’ in Edward C. Thaden (ed.) Russification in the Baltic provinces and Finland, 1855–1914 (Princeton, 1981), pp 421424 ; Polvinen, Tuomo, Imperial borderland: Bobrikov and the attempted Russification of Finland, 1898–1904 (London, 1995), pp 76102 .

65 Thaden, ‘Russian Government’, pp 80–1.

66 Ibid., p. 83.

67 Lundin, ‘Finland’, pp 439–41; Polvinen, Imperial borderland, pp 113–30.

68 Morning Post, 31 Dec. 1898. Halmesvirta, British conception, pp 158–65.

69 Morning Post, 3 Apr. 1899.

70 The Times, 26 Apr. 1899.

71 Freeman’s Journal, 29 May 1899.

72 [C. Harold Perrott], ‘Ireland and Finland’ in Finland: An English Journal Devoted to the Cause of the Finnish People, no. 3 (Sept. 1899), p. 11.

73 Kelly, Matthew, ‘Irish nationalist opinion and the British Empire in the 1850s and 1860s’ in Past & Present, no. 204 (Aug. 2009), p. 137 .

74 Freeman’s Journal (Sydney), 2 Dec. 1905; syndicated in, e.g., Ulster Herald, 22 Sept. 1906; Donegal News, 22 Sept. 1906; Fermanagh Herald, 22 Sept. 1906.

75 Paasivirta, Finland and Europe, p. 173.

76 Lundin, ‘Finland’, p. 423.

77 Copeland, William R., The uneasy alliance: collaboration between the Finnish opposition and the Russian, 1899–1905 (Helsinki, 1973), pp 141146 .

78 Lundin, ‘Finland’, p. 444; Lyytinen, Eino, Finland in British politics in the First World War (Helsinki, 1980), p. 39 .

79 Vapaita Sanoja, 24 Mar. 1901; taken from Le Figaro, 10 Mar. 1901; also presented in Swedish in Fria Ord, 24 Mar. 1901.

80 Newby, A. G., Éire na Rúise: An Fhionlainn agus Éire ar thóir na saoirse (Baile Átha Cliath, 2016), pp 3536 , 42, 44–5.

81 Huxley, Constitutionalist insurgency in Finland, p. 51. For the Finnish Party of Active Resistance programme of November 1904, see Kirby, David, Finland and Russia, 1808 to 1920 (London, 1975), pp 99100 . The John Grafton Affair, a (failed) collaborative attempt in 1905 by Japanese agents and Finnish radicals to land weapons in Finland, bore certain similarities with Roger Casement’s activities surrounding the Aud in 1916. In bolstering resistance movements in both Finland and Russia during the Russo–Japanese War, the Japanese hoped to undermine Russia from within. See Griffiths, A. R. G., ‘Clandestine Japanese activity in the Baltic during the Russo–Japanese War’ in Journal of Baltic Studies, xviii, no. 1 (1987), p. 71 .

82 Fisher, J. N., Finland and the tsars, 1809–1899 (London, 1899).

83 Fisher to Reuter, 12 Jan. 1907 (Åbo Akademi archives, Turku, J. N. Reuter collection, vol. v (1899–1930)).

84 Reuter, Julio N., ‘Devolutionspolitiken i Irland’ in Politik och Kultur (28 Mar. 1907), pp 216234 ; Lyons, F. S. L., ‘The Irish Unionist Party and the devolution crisis of 1904–5’ in I.H.S. vi, vi, no. 21 (Mar. 1948), pp 122 .

85 My emphasis. Reuter, ‘Devolutionspolitiken’, p. 228.

86 Michael Patrick O’Hickey, ‘The language of the sires’ in The Gael, xviii, no. 3 (June 1899), p. 57; O’Riain, W. P., Lessons from modern language movements: what native speech has achieved for nationality (Dublin, 1901).

87 Freeman’s Journal, 17 Feb. 1902.

88 Gibson, Andrew, The strong spirit: history, politics and aesthetics in the writing of James Joyce, 1898–1915 (Oxford, 2013), p. 18 .

89 Kelly, Matthew, ‘The end of Parnellism and the ideological dilemmas of Sinn Féin’ in D. George Boyce and Alan O’Day (eds), Ireland in transition, 1867–1921 (London, 2004), pp 152154 ; Kelly, Matthew, The Fenian ideal and Irish nationalism, 1882–1916 (Woodbridge, 2006), p. 162 .

90 Evening Herald, 19 Nov. 1904.

91 Newby, Andrew G., ‘“The cold, northern land of Suomi”: Michael Davitt and Finnish nationalism’ in Journal of Irish and Scottish Studies, vi (2013), pp 7392 . For more background on Davitt’s attitudes to Russia, see: Marley, Laurence, Michael Davitt: freelance radical and frondeur (Dublin, 2007), pp 263264 ; King, Carla, ‘“… In a humble way, a supporter of Russia”: Michael Davitt in Russia 1903, 1904 and 1905’ in Heffernan (ed.) Life on the fringe?, pp 135155 ; Healy, Poland in the Irish nationalist imagination, p. 216.

92 These assassinations were well-covered internationally. For detailed accounts see Finland Bulletin, 30 June 1904 (Bobrikov and Schaumann), 23 Feb. 1905 (Soisalon-Soininen and Hohenthal.) James Joyce immortalised Bobrikov’s murder (16 June 1904) in Ulysses.

93 Soisalon-Soininen was also referred to internationally by his Swedish surname, Johnsson, and this form was used by Davitt and, later, Michael Collins.

94 Polvinen, Imperial borderland, 141.

95 Copeland, Uneasy alliance, pp 147–60. Zilliacus, along with Mechelin and other nationalists, had been one of the returning exiles in January 1905. See, inter alia, Helsingfors Posten, 23 Jan. 1905; Helsingin Sanomat, 24 Jan. 1905. Mechelin received the sobriquet ‘The Finnish Gladstone’ on his return. See MacGowan, David Bell, ‘Conflict in Finland’ in Century Magazine, lxix (1905), p. 631 .

96 Aftonbladet, 6 July 1904.

97 Anglo-Celt, 5 Aug. 1905; Irish Independent, 1 Aug., 4 Dec. 1905.

98 Thaden, ‘Russian Government’ p. 84; Lundin, ‘Finland’, p. 444.

99 Kujala, Antti, Venäjän hallitus ja Suomen työväenliike, 1899–1905 (Helsinki, 1995), pp 398405 .

100 Meinander, History of Finland, p. 119.

101 Jones, Francis P., History of the Sinn Féin movement and the Irish rebellion of 1916 (New York, 1917), pp 7 , 50, 179. See also Southern Star, 5 May 1906; Brooks, Sydney, The new Ireland (Dublin, 1907), pp 1 , 26, 97.

102 Fermanagh Herald, 1 June 1907, quoting O’Riain’s article ‘The commercial values of an Irish-speaking Ireland’, published in The Peasant.

103 Acton, Edward, Russia: the tsarist and Soviet legacy (2nd ed., Abingdon, 2014), p. 120 .

104 Paasivirta, Finland and Europe, pp 170–2; Ascher, Abraham, P. A. Stolypin: the search for stability in late imperial Russia (Stanford, 2001), pp 309314 .

105 Suomalainen Kansa, 15 Nov. 1909.

106 Williams, Harold W., ‘Den nya nationella rörelsen i Irland’, Politik och Kultur (31 Aug. 1907), pp 435443 .

107 Curtis, L. P. , Jr., ‘Ireland in 1914’ in W. E. Vaughan (ed.) A new history of Ireland, vi: Ireland under the union, 1870–1921 (Oxford, 1989), p. 183 . See also, e.g., Sinn Féin, 22 Feb. 1908. Finland tended to appear in the Griffith newspapers as one of the usual suite of examples of European ‘oppressed nations’ without specific comment or deep analysis.

108 An Claidheamh Soluis, 26 May 1906, quoted in O’Leary, , The prose literature of the Gaelic revival, 1881–1921: ideology and innovation (Pennsylvania, 1994), p 74 .

109 Morgan, Austen, James Connolly: a political biography (Manchester, 1988), p. 92 .

110 Dwyer, T. Ryle, The squad and the intelligence operations of Michael Collins (Cork, 2005), pp 6465 . Ryle Dwyer suggests that these undated notes are from 1907. The ukase to which Collins refers, however, seems more likely to be the Stolypin pronouncements of June 1908, which emphasised the authority of the Russian Council of Ministers over Finland and heralded the start of the ‘Second Period of Oppression’.

111 Michael Collins’ notebook, n.d. (University College Dublin Archives, Papers of Michael Collins, 1890–1922, P123/40).

112 Ibid.

113 Maude, George, ‘Finland in Anglo–Russian diplomatic relations, 1899–1910’ in Slavonic and East European Review, xlviii (1970), pp 577579 .

114 Irish Independent, 21 Mar. 1910.

115 Freeman’s Journal, 22 Mar. 1910.

116 Hufvudstadsbladet, 12 Dec. 1910.

117 Irish Times, 18 Apr. 1932. This visit was largely orchestrated by Julio Reuter and the Irish Quaker socialist Samuel Hobson, and was designed to promote Finland’s cause internationally. See Hobson, Samuel G., Pilgrim to the Left: memoirs of a modern revolutionist (London, 1938), pp 158170 .

118 Suomalainen Kansa, 16 Sept. 1910; Helsingin Sanomat, 18 Sept. 1910; Nya Pressen, 19 Sept. 1910; Hufvudstadsbladet, 5 Oct. 1910.

119 Freeman’s Journal, 31 Aug. 1910; Itä Suomen Sanomat, 14 May 1910. See also Lyytinen, Finland in British politics, p. 48.

120 Freeman’s Journal, 22 Sept. 1910; The Times, 19 May 1910.

121 Newby, Éire na Rúise, pp 91–105; Lyytinen, Finland in British politics, p. 82.

122 Healy, Poland in the Irish nationalist imagination, p. 6.

123 Kelly, ‘Nationalisms’, p. 452.

124 Townend, Paul, ‘Between two worlds: Irish nationalists and imperial crisis, 1878–1880’, Past & Present, no. 194 (Feb. 2007), p. 148 ; Whelehan, Niall, The dynamiters: Irish nationalism and political violence in the wider world, 1867–1900 (Cambridge, 2012), p. 10 ; Leerssen, Joep, National thought in Europe: a cultural history (Amsterdam, 2006), p. 169 . The research for this article was funded by the Academy of Finland (grants #1264940 and #1257696).

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Irish Historical Studies
  • ISSN: 0021-1214
  • EISSN: 2056-4139
  • URL: /core/journals/irish-historical-studies
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed