Arthur Griffith (Árt Ó Gríobhtha in Irish) (31 March, 1871 - 12 August, 1922) was the founder and first leader of Sinn Féin. He served as President of Dáil Éireann from January to August 1922, and was head of the Irish delegation at the negotiations that produced the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921.
Arthur Griffith was born in Dublin in March 1871, and educated by the Christian Brothers there. He worked for a time as a printer before joining the Gaelic League, which was aimed at promotion the restoration of the Irish language. His father had been a printer on The Nation newspaper - Griffith was one of several employees locked out in the early 1890s due to a dispute with a new owner of the paper. The young Griffith was a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB). He visited South Africa from 1897-1898 when convalescing from tuberculosis; there he supported the Afrikaner republics against British expansionism and was a strong admirer of Paul Kruger. In 1899, on returning to Dublin, he co-founded the weekly United Irishman newspaper with his associate William Rooney (d.1901).
Griffith's critique of the Irish Parliamentary Party's alliance with British Liberalism was heavily influenced by the anti-liberal rhetoric of John Mitchel, and he combined fierce hostility to snobbery and deference, and a "producerist" attitude based on skilled craft unionism , with some strongly illiberal attitudes. He defended anti-semitic rioters in Limerick, denounced socialists and pacifists as conscious tools of the British Empire, and successively praised Tsarist Russia and Wilhelmine Germany as morally superior to Great Britain.
In 1904, he established an organisation called 'Cumann na nGaedhael ' to campaign against the visit to Ireland of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra. In 1905, this organisation merged with a number of others to form Sinn Féin (Irish for "We Ourselves"). In 1906, after the United Irishman collapsed because of a libel suit, Griffith refounded it under the title Sinn Féin; it briefly became a daily in 1909 and survived until its suppression by the British government in 1914, after which it was sporadically revived as Nationality .
Foundation of Sinn Féin
The fundamental principles on which Sinn Féin was founded were outlined in a book published in 1904 by Griffith called the Resurrection of Hungary , in which, noting how in 1867 Hungary went from being part of the Austrian Empire to a separate co-equal kingdom in Austria-Hungary. Though not a monarchist himself, Griffith advocated such an approach for the Anglo-Irish relationship, namely that Ireland should become a separate kingdom alongside Great Britain, the two forming a dual monarchy with a shared monarch but separate governments.
Griffith sought to combine elements of Parnellism with the traditional separatist approach; he saw himself not as a leader but as providing a strategy which a new leader might follow. Central to his strategy was parliamentary abstention: the belief that Irish MPs should refuse to attend the Parliament of the United Kingdom in Westminster but should instead establish a separate Irish parliament (with an administrative system based on local government).
In 1907 Sinn Féin unsuccessfully contested a by-election in North Leitrim, where the sitting MP had defected to Sinn Féin. At this time Sinn Féin functioned as an IRB front organisation; it had several local councillors (mostly in Dublin, including WT Cosgrave) and contained a dissident wing grouped from 1910 around the monthly Irish Freedom . The IRB argued that dual monarchism should be replaced by republicanism, and that Griffith was excessively inclined to compromise with conservative elements (notably in his pro-employer position during the 1913-14 Dublin lockout, when he saw the syndicalism of James Larkin as aimed at crippling Irish industry for Britain's benefit). Griffith was also sexually puritanical; despite initially supporting WB Yeats' National Theatre he attacked Synge's The Shadow of the Glen and The Playboy of the Western World as slandering Irish womanhood and morality, and was extremely critical of Yeats's acceptance of a literary pension from the British Crown.
In 1916 rebels seized and took over a number of key locations in Dublin, in what became known as the Easter Rising. After its defeat, it was widely described both by British politicians and the Irish and British media as the "Sinn Féin rebellion", even though Sinn Féin had no involvement. When in 1917, surviving leaders of the rebellion were released from gaol (or escaped) they joined Sinn Féin en masse, using it as a vehicle for the advancement of their demanded 'republic'. The result was a bitter clash between those original members who backed Griffith's concept of an Anglo-Irish dual monarchy and the new members, under Eamon de Valera, who wanted to achieve a republic. Matters almost led to a split at the party's Árd Fhéis (conference) in October, 1917. In a compromise, it was decided to seek to establish a republic initially, then allow the people to decide if they wanted a republic or a monarchy, subject to the condition that no member of Britain's royal house could sit on any prospective Irish throne. Griffith resigned the party leadership and presidency at that Árd Fhéis, and was replaced by de Valera.
War of Independence
Griffith was elected a Sinn Féin MP in the East Cavan by-election of mid-1918, and Sinn Féin routed the Irish Parliamentary Party at the 1918 general election. Sinn Féin's MPs decided not to take their seats in the British House of Commons but instead set up their own Irish parliament, Dáil Éireann; the War of Independence followed almost immediately. The dominant leaders in the new unilaterally declared Irish Republic were figures like Eamon de Valera, President of Dáil Éireann (1919-21), President of the Republic (1921-22), and Michael Collins, Minister for Finance, head of the IRB and the Irish Republican Army's major strategist. During de Valera's absence in the United States (1919-21) Griffith served as Acting President and gave regular press interviews. He was imprisoned in 1921 but subsequently released. Griffith became central to the Republic again when, in late 1921, President de Valera asked him to head the delegation of Irish plenipotentiaries to negotiate with the British government.
Griffith was the member of the treaty delegation most supportive of its eventual outcome (a compromise based on dominion status, rather than a republic); after the narrow ratification of the Anglo-Irish Treaty by the Dáil in January 1922 he replaced de Valera as acting head of government. He was, however, to a great extent merely a figurehead and his relations with Michael Collins were somewhat tense. Under increasing strain because of quarrels with many old friends, and faced with a nation sliding into chaos, Griffith's health deteriorated and he died of a stroke soon after the outbreak of the Irish Civil War. In 1910 he had married Maud after a fifteen-year engagement; they had a son and a daughter.
- "In Arthur Griffith there is a mighty force in Ireland. He has none of the wildness of some I could name. Instead there is an abundance of wisdom and an awareness of things which are Ireland." - Michael Collins.
- "A braver man than Arthur Griffith, I never met" - comment by one of the British delegates at the end of the Treaty negotiations.
- Patrick Maume , The Long Gestation (Gill & Macmillan, 1999).
- There is a 2003 reprint of The Resurrection of Hungary with an introduction by Patrick Murray (University College Dublin Press).
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the office of President of the Executive Council
Last updated: 09-12-2005 02:39:13