Last-minute event to mark centenary of the death of Arthur Griffith

The Sinn Féin founder will be honoured in a wreath-laying ceremony at Leinster House

A last-minute ceremony marking the 100-year anniversary of Arthur Griffith’s death has been arranged for Friday following the determined efforts of one man and dozens of emails to politicians.

Donal O’Brolcháin (77) began his quest for some form of official commemoration of the Sinn Féin founder last March after noticing an apparent lack of a specific event on the State’s centenary programme.

Griffith, who led the Treaty delegation to London in 1921 and became the president of Dáil Éireann, died on August 12th, 1922.

“I am seeking a commemoration. I think Griffith is a key figure who long argued for our independence and was… recognised as such by his contemporaries; those who opposed him and those who agreed with him,” said Mr O’Brolcháin, who has also applied to have a statue of Griffith considered by Dublin City Council.


His efforts to secure some form of event saw him dispatch correspondence to Taoiseach Micheál Martin, the Ceann Comhairle of the Dáil, Minister for Culture Catherine Martin, the expert advisory group on centenary commemorations, various TDs, the Oireachtas Committee on Public Petitions and media outlets among a raft of officials and dignitaries.

Pointing out that he is not politically motivated or a member of any party, he said he was moved to act because of Griffith’s campaign for an independent Ireland and his seminal place in history.

“He was still highly respected by those who were out in 1916 and even by those who opposed him on the Treaty.”

Last week, just as it seemed his efforts would prove fruitless, Mr O’Brolcháin was contacted by Independent TD Matt Shanahan who subsequently undertook efforts to formally mark Griffith’s death.

“Donal’s point was… that Griffith is almost being airbrushed from history. I responded to his email and I thought that a lot of what he had to say, it chimes with me,” Mr Shanahan said.

“I felt that we should have done something [to mark the centenary] and given that the powers that be here weren’t doing something, I asked for permission.”

On Friday, exactly a year after Griffith’s death of cerebral haemorrhage, a number of his descendants and assorted members of the Oireachtas will gather at Leinster House for the laying of a wreath.

“It [will be] low key. I’m not trying to make any political statement out of it other than the fact that I think the centenary should be marked in Leinster House and we have a monument out here to Griffith.”

Mr Shanahan sought official permission last weekend. As well as a wreath ceremony, the event is expected to include the playing of the Last Post and a piper’s lament.

Griffith’s place in Irish history has long been the subject of reflection, with some historians arguing that he has been sidelined relative to contemporaries like Michael Collins and Eamon de Valera for party political reasons. In an article for The Irish Times at the weekend, writer Colum Kenny – the author of a biography of Griffith – wrote “the failure to honour him notably in the centenary of his death is a sin of omission” by the Government.

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.

Paying tribute to Griffith’s legacy on Friday, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said he had made an enormous contribution to the cause of Irish freedom, democracy and independence.

“He was a man who devoted himself and ultimately gave his health and his life to Irish freedom,” he said. “He was a tireless, thoughtful and relentlessly determined leader, who literally worked himself to death to free Ireland.”

In September, as part of an official programme of centenary events, the History Ireland Hedge School programme will reassess the career of the Sinn Féin founder to mark the centenary of his death.

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times