War of Independence


Sir, – Your substantial 46-page supplement on Ireland in 1920 (June 4th) concentrated on violence. Yet Éamon de Valera, who went to America from 1919 until the end of 1920, leaving Arthur Griffith in charge of the provisional government, sent Griffith a cable from Washington in early 1920 to say that “Victory –Ireland’s fate – is dependant on you”.

Throughout 1920 Griffith and his cabinet worked hard to put the apparatus of a new administration in place. Indeed James Dorney in his piece references the fact that violence might have stopped in late 1920, following secret talks via intermediaries between Griffith and Lloyd George. This was one of the supplement’s few references to Griffith, whose complexity frequently results in his diminution in political narratives of various shade.

Lloyd George thought that, by the time Griffith was interned in November 1920, “The Irish Republican Organisation . . . had all the realities of a Government”, and the historian David Fitzpatrick once observed that by the autumn of 1920, “Although the foreigner still occupied the country, de Valera’s pessimism of April 1919 seemed suddenly out of date.”

It is also significant how the hunger strike ended that had resulted on the death of not only Terence MacSwiney but also Michael Fitzgerald and Joseph Murphy – aged just 17 and yet again a lost youth forgotten on this occasion. It was called off in November 1920 as soon as Griffith expressed publicly both his opinion that “the sacrifices already made have achieved their object, and my earnest wish that they will rebuild their strength and live for Ireland”.

Griffith, founder of Sinn Féín, did not even rate a mention in the article on “rebel songs”, despite his dedicated cultivation of that tradition in his influential United Irishman paper and elsewhere. Yet, as I explain in a chapter on the topic in my recent book on Griffith, his and William Rooney’s championing of The Memory of the Dead (a ballad at least as significant to the movement’s history as The Soldier’s Song and better known today as Who Fears to Speak of ’98?) is itself memorialised by James Joyce in The Dead and elsewhere.

You promote the supplement as a classroom resource. Honour is due to those who lived for Ireland, and who were elected to do so, as much as it is to those who died. Pragmatic negotiations, not the military expulsion of Britain from all Ireland, ended conflict. – Yours, etc,


Professor Emeritus,

Dublin City


Dublin 9.