Time to remember Griffith's role in pursuit of Irish liberty
The Sinn Féin founder created the political philosophy that enabled the dream to be realised
ARTHUR GRIFFITH died suddenly 90 years ago tomorrow.
He was the man who founded Sinn Féin and led the Dáil delegation to London that signed the Anglo-Irish Treaty, the founding document of Irish independence. He contributed much to bringing about that independence but it would be probably true to say that in the Ireland of today he is largely forgotten. It was not always thus.
A small Dublin weekly paper called the Spark, edited by John Doyle under the pen-name Edward Dalton, conducted a poll in February 1915 based on the question: “Who is the Irish nationalist whom Dublin wishes most to honour?” Griffith was the first choice, followed by Eoin MacNeill and Alderman Tom Kelly, a longtime Sinn Féin representative on Dublin Corporation.
Dalton wrote: “The name Arthur Griffith has been chosen by a majority of readers of the Spark . . . What Ireland owes to Griffith, to his patriotism, to his self-sacrifice and to his ability and earnestness will one day be told. The man’s modesty prevents it being known to his contemporaries.”
Michael Collins, WT Cosgrave, Richard Mulcahy and Desmond FitzGerald are among the leaders on the pro-Treaty side who recorded their debt to Griffith’s teachings.
Their testaments should not surprise us. But what about the leading anti-Treatyites who were equally strong in recording their debt to his influence? “He was the greatest intellectual force stimulating the national revival,” wrote Erskine Childers, a particularly gracious tribute given that Griffith, in an uncharacteristic outburst during a Dáil debate, referred to Childers as a “damned Englishman”.
Harry Boland declared to Dr Patrick McCartan: “Damn it, Paddy, hasn’t Griffith made us all!” Seán T O’Kelly wrote that “Griffith’s political philosophy, so eloquently taught, and his long years of toil and sacrifice, brought the present generation of Irishmen from their knees to their feet and rekindled in their hearts the almost extinct flame of liberty.”
The centenary of Griffith’s birth was 1971 and it is revealing to contrast that year with the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Michael Collins (1990) from the point of view of commemorative events. Collins’s centenary was marked by the publication of a major new biography, by television and radio programmes and newspaper articles. And by a wreath-laying ceremony at his birthplace, a function at which every shade of political opinion in the State was represented.
Compare this to the muted manner in which Griffith was remembered nearly 20 years before. A campaign was undertaken by a few private citizens to have a commemorative postage stamp struck in his honour, but then taoiseach Jack Lynch dismissed the idea in the Dáil with the comment that Griffith was “a Civil War figure”. A thought-provoking piece in the periodical Studies by Griffith’s foremost biographer, Seán Ó Lúing, and a few newspaper items were all that recalled him in 1971.