Expert group ‘advised against’ State event for Arthur Griffith centenary

Death of original Sinn Féin founder 100 years ago is marked in informal ceremony after omission from official commemoration programme

The decision not to hold a State ceremony to mark the centenary of the death of Arthur Griffith was made on the advice of the Expert Advisory Group on Commemorations, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said.

Griffith died 100 years ago on Friday from a cerebral haemorrhage at the age of 51. At the time of his death, which was during the Civil War, he was president of Dáil Éireann in the country’s first government.

An informal ceremony was held in the grounds of Leinster House on Friday organised by Independent Waterford TD Matt Shanahan. Mr Shanahan said members of the Oireachtas were approached by a concerned citizen Donal O’Brolcháin who wrote to them all asking why there were no plans to remember Griffith.

“He [O’Brolcháin] said it was a disgrace there was nothing being done for Griffith and he was airbrushed out of history. That chimed with me. I’m interested in history and I always had time for Griffith.”


Last month former Fine Gael minister Richard Bruton asked if there were plans to mark the centenary of Griffith’s death.

Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media Catherine Martin, who has responsibility for commemorations, responded that the advice of the expert advisory group was to hold just one State ceremony remembering all who died in the Civil War and not to hold individual events.

Speaking at an event in Griffith College to mark the centenary, Mr Varadkar said the advisory group was not party political “and you have to bear in mind the political sensitivities of this”.

“On paper Arthur Griffith was the founder of Sinn Féin but a very different Sinn Féin from the current party that has the name. He would be much more associated with my party Fine Gael though he was never a member of Fine Gael.” Fine Gael was not formed until 1933.

“The expert group decided that it would not be a good idea,” Mr Varadkar continued. “The question arises that if you have centenary commemorations for Griffith which other centenaries do you include at all? Do you include (Michael) Collins, (Cathal) Brugha, (Sean) Hales?”

Mr Varadkar will speak at a commemoration on Sunday in Glasnevin Cemetery hosted by the Collins/Griffith Commemoration Society.

Speaking at the Leinster House commemoration, Breffni Gray (52), great grandson of Griffith, said the influential figure in the Irish fight for independence from Britain was a “quiet” person who believed in peace.

“He was more in the background and was more comfortable there, much more the politician. The peaceful means was always the way he wanted to be, to have politics and peace was the way he wanted to achieve our State,” he said.

The event saw descendants of Griffith lay a wreath at the Cenotaph in the grounds of Leinster House, 100 years on from his death in 1922.

Griffith, who founded the original Sinn Féin party that later split into what would become Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, is often overshadowed in history by other figures from the time such as Michael Collins and Éamon de Valera.

Griffith led the delegation to negotiate the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1921 which established the Irish Free State. He served as president of Dáil Éireann but died suddenly aged 51 from a cerebral haemorrhage on August 12th, 1922 shortly after the outbreak of the Irish Civil War.

“The likes of Michael Collins… died in battle, was much more high profile and so well known. You could say Arthur Griffith to people my own age growing up and a lot of people weren’t really as aware of him,” his grandson said.

Among the family members attending the commemoration on Friday were the great grandchildren of Griffith. “It’s brilliant for them to have a great education and see that he’s being recognised here,” Mr Gray said.

Folk singer Lisa O’Neill performed a ballad at the commemoration, which was concluded by raising the tricolour in Leinster House to full mast.

The event was organised by Independent TD Matt Shanahan, who described it as a “dignified non-political ceremony”.

Mr Shanahan said the “full contribution” of Arthur Griffith to the Irish State was often not well remembered. “There’s discussions of erection of a statue somewhere in town or close to Leinster House and I would certainly support that,” he said.

The ceremony was attended by a small number of other Oireachtas members, including Independent TDs Sean Canney, Denis Naughten, Independent Senator Gerard Craughwell, and Fine Gael Senator Barry Ward.

Another event to mark the centenary is taking place in Griffith College in Dublin on Friday evening, which will be attended by Shane Gray, the grandson of Arthur Griffith and other family members.

Griffith’s legacy, alongside that of Collins, will be commemorated at a separate graveside ceremony at Glasnevin Cemetery on Sunday, an annual event which has been organised by the Collins/Griffith Commemoration Society since 1923.

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is acting Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times