Arthur Griffith’s legacy


Sir, – In your commendable supplement about 1919 (January 21st), Prof Charles Townshend writes that, “Arthur Griffith advocated a capitalist autarchy”.

If Griffith favoured capitalism so too did nearly everyone else in the Dáil, although in 1903 he campaigned for his socialist friend James Connolly and in 1904 wrote that, “There is no greater existent danger to civilization than the growth of capitalism”, by which he seems to have meant primarily international finance.

As regards that ambiguous term “autarchy”, its Greek root comes from two words, one referring to the reflexive self and the other to taking control. Indeed, an apposite Irish translation might be “sinn féin” (“we ourselves”). It was an autocracy of the Irish people and not of business for which Griffith long struggled.

His Sinn Féin before 1916 was a driver of the development of native industry, for which James Joyce praised him. To Griffith socialists such as Larkin risked splitting the movement for political independence, a view that the Labour Party itself came to share by not running candidates against Sinn Féin for the Dáil.

Griffith was a nuanced and interesting figure. For example, he outgrew anti-Semitism, which (his critics should acknowledge) he shared in various ways with many others including Michael Davitt and James Larkin. He was an advocate for the poor, and certainly not anti-worker as some claim.

Griffith was long known as “the father of Sinn Féin”, the party he founded, and Michael Collins called him “the father of us all”.

There is something suspiciously Oedipal about his marginalisation, and at times denigration, during this decade celebrating the struggle for independence of which he was a pillar. – Yours, etc,


Professor Emeritus,

Dublin City University.

Sir, – From the very beginning of Arthur Griffith’s political journalism and from the time that he founded Sinn Féin, he made it the cornerstone of his policy that the elected representatives of the Irish people should not attend Westminster because by doing so, he believed they were conferring legitimacy on the Act of Union, which he regarded as illegitimate. Instead, he urged them to remain in Dublin and set up their own parliament in Ireland.

The idea of withdrawal from Westminster and the setting up of a national assembly in Ireland was one which Daniel O’Connell had first almost casually suggested. Others, including John Dillon, last leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, had seriously considered it. But Griffith alone was the one who made it a practical policy, and the establishment of Dáil Éireann on January 21st, 1919, was his proudest moment. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 6.