Newspaperman

 

Writing in the 1930s, Robert Lynd had this to say in one of his regular essays: "Between 30 and 40 years ago a little man in pince-nez sat in a little upstairs room in a mean street in Dublin, and, surrounded by a litter of newspapers and correspondence on his desk and on the floor, made plans for the resurrection of his country. He looked as little of a dreamer as an ordinary French politician. He seldom made any display of enthusiasm, and he did not take the display of enthusiasm by other people very seriously. He seemed to regard eloquence as one of the vices of his countrymen, and to think that the country would be greatly benefited if speech-making ceased and demonstrations with bands and banners were abolished. He himself cultivated the reticence of a Parnell."

Lynd goes on to write of the policy that fed his small newspaper. He admired the pugnacity and pride of Fenianism, and held it to be humiliating that Ireland should send a delegation to Westminster to ask for reforms and for half-measures, and was turning Ireland into an English province. Sinn Fein to this man, Arthur Griffith, did not mean national selfishness but national self-confidence. His policy was to set up an Irish Parliament without England's consent, to establish Irish law courts, to build up national industries, to make the schools centres of Irish culture, to make county and district councils every one an "outpost of Irish nationhood".

His paper was suppressed during the first World War; he immediately brought out another, consisting entirely of passages from the English press which had already been passed by the censor. It was called Scissors and Paste and "he made these innocent passages look so seditious that it, too, was suppressed". He did not take part in the 1916 Rising but was jailed. He refused to sign a paper which would have meant instant release. He had to promise to cease revolutionary activity. He tore it up.

When the Treaty came, writes Lynd, he was realist enough to see that, the Six Counties apart, it in effect repealed not only the Union but the Conquest. He admired Mitchel, very much his own man, too, and wrote "When the Irish Nation needs explanation or apology for John Mitchel, the Irish Nation will need its shroud". "History", writes Lynd, I imagine, will speak in the same terms of Arthur Griffith". Griffith died on August 12th, 76 years ago, to be followed shortly by Michael Collins.