An Irishman's Diary


ARTHUR GRIFFITH was first to introduce the young James Joyce to the Irish public, through his paper The United Irishman.

Joyce did not thank him and soon wounded Griffith to his core. Yet their relationship survived culminating gloriously in early 1922. They were both “contrarian” Dubliners, connoisseurs of the culture of the city. Joyce, the younger by 11 years, was a student at the Catholic University on St Stephen’s Green. He wrote an article, “The Day of the Rabblement”, for the College magazine, St Stephen’s. It was a criticism of the Irish Literary Theatre. The college authorities refused to publish it. Joyce had it printed and circulated locally.

Griffith wrote a piece in his paper of November 2nd, 1901, “. . . because though it is written for a Catholic University students’ supposed organ, the Censor – we grow Censors in Ireland – refused it to be inserted . . . I have failed to find any heresy, blasphemy, immorality or sedition in this pamphlet . . . Mr James Joyce writes on the ILT, and I do not agree with his criticism of it. But why the Censor strove to gag Mr Joyce is to me as profound a mystery as to why we should grow Censors in this country. Turnips would be more useful. I hope this little pamphlet will have a large sale, if only to convince blooming Censors that this is the twentieth century and that it is a holy and wholesome thing for men and women to use the minds God gave them and speak out the things they think”.

A personal disaster had befallen Griffith earlier that year when on May 6th, Willie Rooney, his avatar, died, aged 29. Griffith had to be hospitalised. In 1902 he published a selection of Rooney’s writings, Poems and Ballads. Joyce reviewed it from Paris for the Dublin Daily Expresson December 11th, 1902. It was a devastatingly vicious, though brilliant review. In the circumstances, it was an example of Joyce applying his philosophy of literary truth as his sole standard. Griffith decided to use Joyce’s own words in an advertisement for the book. “Little is achieved in these verses, because the writing is so careless, and is so studiously mean . . .They were written it seems, for a paper and societies week after week, and bear witness to some desperate and weary energy. But they have no spiritual and living energy, because they come from one in whom the spirit is in a manner dead, or at least in its own hell, a weary and foolish spirit, speaking of redemption and revenge, blaspheming against tyrants and going forth full of tears and curses, upon its infernal labours . . . Mr Rooney has been persuaded to great evil.”

Joyce remained an avid reader of The United Irishmanin Paris, saying that it was the only paper in Dublin worth reading. His Dubliners frightened several publishers, even after contracts had been signed. In 1911 he sent a challenging letter to Irish newspapers about the “suppression” of Dubliners. Griffith was the only editor to risk libel action by publishing the letter in full. The last paragraph read: “I wrote this book seven years ago and hold two contracts for its publication. I am not even allowed to explain my case in a prefatory note; wherefore, as I cannot see in any quarter a chance that my rights will be protected, I hereby give Messrs Maunsel publicly permission to publish this story with what changes or deletions they may please to make and shall hope that what they may publish may resemble that to the writing of which I gave thought and time. Their attitude as an Irish publishing firm may be judged by Irish public opinion. I, as a writer, protest against the systems (legal, social and ceremonious) which have brought me to this pass. Thanking you for your courtesy. I am, Sir, Your obedient servant. James Joyce 17 August 1911.”

When Joyce was in Dublin in 1912, he made another unsuccessful attempt to have it published there. In some torment he approached Griffith looking for advice.

He responded sympathetically that that was the way the publisher had long operated. Joyce explained to Griffith that his purpose was the spiritual liberation of his country, exposing the shortcomings of Irish life under British rule. Joyce left Ireland that same night, never to return. He took with him two of Griffith’s recent pamphlets on the Home Rule Bill. Joyce thought Griffith unassuming and sensible and supported his call for an economic boycott of Britain, saying “the Sinn Féin policy comes to fighting England with the knife and fork . . . the highest form of political warfare I have heard of”.

Joyce, embarked on his great novel Ulysses, using the Hungarian Jew Leopold Bloom as his model. He repaid Griffith’s sympathy by making frequent mentions of him in Ulysses. He says it was Bloom who gave Griffith the Hungarian idea of Dual Monarchy.

“Martin Cunningham”, a character in Dublinersand Ulysses, reports “ John Wyse saying it was Bloom gave the ideas for Sinn Fein to Griffith to put in his paper . . .”. Another judicious reference says, “Griffith is a square headed fellow but he has no go in him for the mob. Want to gas about our lovely land. Gammon and spinach”. The Free State coincided with the publication of Ulyssesin 1922 and with Griffith being elected first President of the Dáil. Joyce welcomed the coincidence, enthused that both events were the culmination of their lives’ work, spiritual and political freedom for Ireland. Though invited to return to Ireland in March 1922 by the minister for information Desmond Fitzgerald, Joyce replied “not for the present”.

Anthony J Jordan’s latest book is, Eamon de Valera, Irish; Catholic; Visionary