Arthur Griffith

Arthur Joseph Griffith (Irish: Art Seosamh Ó Gríobhtha; 31 March 1871 – 12 August 1922) was an Irish writer, newspaper editor and politician who founded the political party Sinn Féin. He led the Irish delegation at the negotiations that produced the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty, and served as President of Dáil Éireann from January 1922 until his death in August 1922.

Arthur Griffith
President of Dáil Éireann
In office
10 January 1922  12 August 1922
Preceded byÉamon de Valera (As President of the Irish Republic)
Succeeded byW. T. Cosgrave
Minister for Foreign Affairs
In office
26 August 1921  9 January 1922
Preceded byCount Plunkett
Succeeded byGeorge Gavan Duffy
Minister for Home Affairs
In office
2 April 1919  22 August 1921
Preceded byMichael Collins
Succeeded byAustin Stack
Teachta Dála
In office
In office
ConstituencyFermanagh and Tyrone
In office
ConstituencyEast Cavan
Personal details
Born(1871-03-31)31 March 1871
Dublin, Ireland
Died12 August 1922(1922-08-12) (aged 51)
Dublin, Ireland
Political partySinn Féin
Spouse(s)Maud Sheehan

After a short spell in South Africa, Griffith founded and edited the Irish nationalist newspaper The United Irishman in 1899. In 1904, he wrote The Resurrection of Hungary: A Parallel for Ireland, which advocated the withdrawal of Irish members from the Parliament of the United Kingdom and the setting up of the institutions of government at home, a policy that became known as Sinn Féin (ourselves). On 28 November 1905, he presented "The Sinn Féin Policy" at the first annual convention of his organisation, the National Council; the occasion is marked as the founding date of the Sinn Féin party. Griffith took over as president of Sinn Féin in 1911, but at that time the organisation was still small.

Griffith was arrested following the Easter Rising of 1916, despite not having taken any part in it. On his release, he worked to build up Sinn Féin, which won a string of by-election victories. At the party's Ardfheis (annual convention) in October 1917, Sinn Féin became an unambiguously republican party, and Griffith resigned the presidency in favour of the 1916 leader Éamon de Valera, becoming vice-president instead. Griffith was elected as a member of parliament (MP) in June 1918, and re-elected in the 1918 general election, when Sinn Féin won a huge electoral victory over the Irish Parliamentary Party and, refusing to take their seats at Westminster, set up their own constituent assembly, Dáil Éireann.[1]

In the Dáil, Griffith served as Minister for Home Affairs from 1919 to 1921, and Minister for Foreign Affairs from 1921 to 1922. In September 1921, he was appointed chairman of the Irish delegation to negotiate a treaty with the British government. After months of negotiations, he and the other four delegates signed the Anglo-Irish Treaty, which created the Irish Free State, but not as a republic. This led to a split in the Dáil. After the Treaty was narrowly approved by the Dáil, de Valera resigned as president and Griffith was elected in his place. The split led to the Irish Civil War. Griffith died suddenly in August 1922, two months after the outbreak of that war.

Descent and early life

Arthur Joseph Griffith was born at 61 Upper Dominick Street, Dublin on 31 March 1871,[2] of distant Welsh lineage. His great-great-grandfather, William Griffith of Drws-y-coed Uchaf, Rhyd-ddu, Caernarvonshire (1719-1782) was a farmer and supporter of the Moravian Church cause. His great grandfather, Griffith Griffith (b.1789) emigrated first to America and then to Ireland, where some of his sisters had settled in Dublin among the Moravian community there.[3] A Roman Catholic,[4] he was educated by the Irish Christian Brothers. He worked for a time as a printer before joining the Gaelic League, which was aimed at promoting the restoration of the Irish language.

His father had been a printer on The Nation newspaper — Griffith was one of several employees locked out in the early 1890s due to a dispute with a new owner of the paper. The young Griffith was a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB). He visited South Africa from 1897 to 1898, after the defeat and death of Charles Stewart Parnell whose more moderate views he had initially supported while recovering from tuberculosis. There he supported the Boers against British expansionism and was a strong admirer of Paul Kruger.

In 1899, on returning to Dublin, he co-founded the weekly United Irishman newspaper with his associate William Rooney, who died in 1901. On 24 November 1910, Griffith married his fiancée, Maud Sheehan, after a six-year engagement; they had a son and a daughter.[5]

Griffith's fierce criticism of the Irish Parliamentary Party's alliance with the British Liberal Party was heavily influenced by the anti-Liberal rhetoric of Young Irelander John Mitchel. Griffith made a number of highly controversial statements and opinions. He defended antisemitic rioters in Limerick, and denounced socialists and pacifists as conscious tools of the British Empire. Griffith also supported movements seeking national independence from the British Empire in Egypt and India and wrote a highly critical description of the British government action at Matabele. Despite his opposition to communism and socialism, he sometimes worked with James Connolly, who also supported Irish nationalism.[6]

In September 1900, he established an organisation called Cumann na nGaedheal ("Society of Gaels") to unite advanced nationalist and separatist groups and clubs. In 1903, he set up the National Council to campaign against the visit to Ireland of King Edward VII and his consort Alexandra of Denmark.[7] In 1907, this organisation merged with the Sinn Féin League, which itself had been formed from an amalgamation of Cumann na nGaedheal and the Dungannon Clubs, to form what would become Sinn Féin.[8]

In 1906, after the United Irishman journal collapsed because of a libel suit, Griffith refounded it under the title Sinn Féin; it briefly became a daily in 1909 and survived until its suppression by the British government in 1914, after which he became editor of the new nationalist journal, Nationality.

Foundation of Sinn Féin

Most historians opt for 28 November 1905 as a founding date because it was on this date that Griffith first presented his 'Sinn Féin Policy'. In his writings, Griffith declared that the Act of Union of Great Britain and Ireland in 1800 was illegal and that, consequently, the Anglo-Irish dual monarchy that existed under Grattan's Parliament and the so-called Constitution of 1782 were still in effect. Its first president was Edward Martyn.

The fundamental principles of abstentionism on which Sinn Féin was founded were outlined in an article published in 1904, by Griffith called The Resurrection of Hungary, in which, noting how in 1867 Hungary went from being part of the Austrian Empire to a separate co-equal kingdom in Austria-Hungary. Though not a monarchist himself, Griffith advocated such an approach for the Anglo-Irish relationship, namely that Ireland should become a separate kingdom alongside Great Britain, the two forming a dual monarchy with a shared monarch but separate governments, as it was thought this solution would be more palatable to the British.[9] This was similar to the policy of Henry Grattan a century earlier. However, this idea was never really embraced by later separatist leaders, especially Michael Collins, and never came to anything, although Kevin O'Higgins toyed with the idea as a means of ending partition, shortly before his assassination.

Griffith sought to combine elements of Parnellism with the traditional separatist approach; he saw himself not as a leader but as providing a strategy which a new leader might follow. Central to his strategy was parliamentary abstention: the belief that Irish MPs should refuse to attend the Parliament of the United Kingdom at Westminster, but should instead establish a separate Irish parliament (with an administrative system based on local government) in Dublin.

Griffith was a staunch economic nationalist, he argued that nationalism was central to the fostering of economic growth. He often cited the works of German economist Friedrich List.[9]

In 1907, Sinn Féin unsuccessfully contested a by-election in North Leitrim, where the sitting MP, one Charles Dolan of Manorhamilton, County Leitrim, had defected to Sinn Féin. At this time Sinn Féin was being infiltrated by the Irish Republican Brotherhood, who saw it as a vehicle for their aims; it had several local councillors (mostly in Dublin, including W. T. Cosgrave) and contained a dissident wing grouped from 1910 around the monthly periodical called Irish Freedom. The IRB members argued that the aim of dual monarchism should be replaced by republicanism and that Griffith was excessively inclined to compromise with conservative elements (notably in his pro-employer position during the 1913–1914 Dublin Lockout, when he saw the syndicalism of James Larkin as aimed at crippling Irish industry for Great Britain's benefit).

In 1911, he helped to found the Proportional Representation Society of Ireland, believing that proportional representation would help to prevent animosity between unionists and nationalists in an independent Ireland.[10]

1916 Rising

In 1916, rebels seized and took over a number of key locations in Dublin, in what became known as the Easter Rising. After its defeat, it was widely described both by British politicians and the Irish and British media as the "Sinn Féin rebellion", even though Sinn Féin had very limited involvement. When in 1917, surviving leaders of the rebellion were released from gaol (or escaped) they joined Sinn Féin en masse, using it as a vehicle for the advancement of the republic. The result was a bitter clash between those original members who backed Griffith's concept of an Anglo-Irish dual monarchy and the new members, under Éamon de Valera, who wanted to achieve a republic. Matters almost led to a split at the party's Ard Fheis (conference) in October 1917.

In a compromise, it was decided to seek to establish a republic initially, then allow the people to decide whether they wanted a republic or a monarchy, subject to the condition that no member of Britain's royal house could sit on any prospective Irish throne.[11] At that Ard Fheis, Griffith resigned the presidency of Sinn Féin in favour of de Valera; he and Fr. Michael O'Flanagan were elected Vice-Presidents. The leaders of the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) sought a rapprochement with Griffith over the British threat of conscription, which both parties condemned, but Griffith refused unless the IPP embraced his more radical and subversive ideals, a suggestion which John Dillon, a leader of the IPP rubbished as unrealistic, although it would ultimately mean the defeat and dissolution of the IPP after the election in December 1918.

War of Independence

In May 1918, along with Éamon de Valera and 72 other Sinn Féiners, Griffith was arrested on the pretext of involvement in the fictitious German Plot. Fr. O'Flanagan was left as Acting-President of Sinn Féin.[12] Griffith was put forward as a Sinn Féin candidate for the East Cavan by-election on 20 June 1918.[13] Under the slogan "Put him in to get him out," and was elected. and held the seat when Sinn Féin subsequently routed the Irish Parliamentary Party at the 1918 general election.[14] In that election he was also returned for the seat of Tyrone North West. Griffith spent ten months interned in Gloucester jail, being released on 6 March 1919.

Sinn Féin's MPs decided not to take their seats in the British House of Commons, but instead set up an Irish parliament, Dáil Éireann; the Irish War of Independence followed almost immediately. The dominant leaders in the new Irish Republic were figures like Éamon de Valera, President of Dáil Éireann (1919–21), President of the Republic (1921–1922), and Michael Collins, Minister for Finance, head of the IRB and the Irish Republican Army's Director of Intelligence.

During de Valera's absence in the United States (1919–21) Griffith served as Acting President and gave regular press interviews. He was arrested at his house at 3am, on 26 November 1920, and later jailed,[15] Fr. O'Flanagan again taking over as leader until de Valera returned from America on 23 December.[12] Griffith was to spend the next seven months in Dublin's Mountjoy Prison. He was released on 30 June 1921 as peace moves got under way.

In Ireland, a general election was held on 24 May 1921 and Griffith, whilst still in prison, headed the poll in the contested constituency of Fermanagh and Tyrone, while also being returned unopposed for Cavan. On 26 August 1921, Griffith was appointed Minister for Foreign Affairs in the new Irish cabinet.

Treaty negotiations and death

In September 1921, de Valera, President of the Irish Republic, asked Griffith to head the delegation of Irish plenipotentiaries to negotiate with the British government. The delegates set up Headquarters in Hans Place, London. After nearly two months of negotiations it was there, in private conversations, that the delegates finally decided to recommend the Treaty to the Dáil Éireann on 5 December 1921; negotiations closed at 2.20am on 6 December 1921. Griffith was the member of the treaty delegation most supportive of its eventual outcome, a compromise based on dominion status, rather than a republic. After the ratification by 64 votes to 57 of the Anglo-Irish Treaty by the Second Dáil on 7 January 1922, he replaced de Valera, who stepped down in protest as President of the soon-to-be abolished Irish Republic. A vote was held on 9 January to choose between Griffith or De Valera, which De Valera lost by 58 to 60. A second ratification of the Treaty by the House of Commons of Southern Ireland followed shortly afterwards. Griffith was, however, to a great extent merely a figurehead as President of the second Dáil Éireann and his relations with Michael Collins, head of the new Provisional Government, were somewhat tense. Suffering from overwork and strain after the long and difficult negotiations with the British government, Griffith attended forty-one of the forty-two provisional government meetings held between 23 June and 30 July, and the work involved in establishing the Free State government, he entered St. Vincent's Nursing Home, Leeson Street, Dublin, during the first week of August 1922, following an acute attack of tonsillitis.[16] He was confined to a room in St Vincent's by his doctors, who had observed signs of what they thought might be a subarachnoid hemorrhage, but it was difficult to keep him quiet,[17] and he resumed his daily work in the government building. He had been about to leave for his office shortly before 10 am on 12 August 1922, when he paused to retie his shoelace and fell down unconscious. He regained consciousness, but collapsed again with blood coming from his mouth. Three doctors rendered assistance, but to no avail. Father John Lee of the Marist Fathers administered extreme unction, and Griffith expired as the priest recited the concluding prayer. The cause of death, cerebral haemorrhage,[18] was also reported as being due to heart failure.[19] He died at the age of 51, ten days before Michael Collins' assassination in County Cork. He was buried in Glasnevin Cemetery four days later.

Posthumous commemoration

The historian Diarmaid Ferriter considers that, though he had founded Sinn Féin, Griffith was 'quickly airbrushed' from Irish history. His widow had to beg his former colleagues for a pension, saying that he 'had made them all'. She considered that his grave plot was too modest and threatened to exhume his body. Only in 1968 was a plaque fixed on his former home.[20]

Griffith Barracks which is now Griffith College Dublin on South Circular Road, Dublin, Griffith Avenue in North Dublin, Griffith Park in Drumcondra and Arthur Griffith Park in Lucan, County Dublin are named after him. An obelisk erected in 1950 in the grounds of Leinster House commemorates Griffith, as well as Michael Collins and Kevin O'Higgins.[21]

Antisemitism claim

In 1997, Simon Sebag Montefiore wrote an article in The Spectator which, he claimed, "exposes the role of Sinn Fein's founder in an Irish persecution of Jews."[22] No such claim was made in any biography of Griffith or history of early Sinn Féin before then, or immediately afterwards.[23]

As editor of the United Irishman, Griffith took an Anti-Dreyfusard line, publishing articles signed by 'The Home Secretary' (Frank Hugh O'Donnell) that were antisemitic in tone, including one in 1899 that said, "I have in former years often declared that the Three Evil Influences of the century were the Pirate, the Freemason, and the Jew."[24] In 1904, the paper voiced support for the Limerick Boycott, a boycott of Jewish businesses in Limerick organised by a local priest, declaring that "the Jew in Limerick has not been boycotted because he is a Jew, but because he is a usurer." Griffith was apparently unaware that the Jews of Limerick had little or no involvement in money-lending or similar practices.[4][25] The United Irishman also published articles by Oliver St. John Gogarty that contained antisemitic sentiments. Such sentiments, however, were common in the Ireland of the time.[26]

From 1904 until his death Griffith wrote virtually nothing which could be construed as antisemitic.[4] Already in 1903 he had supported the candidature of the Jewish Albert Altman for election to Dublin Corporation.[27] In 1909 he wrote a favourable article in Sinn Féin on the Jewish contribution to European civilisation, and in Nationality in 1915 he railed against the Irish Party for saying that Jews should be barred from public office.[25][26]

Griffith was a close friend of Jewish solicitor Michael Noyk, who defended many IRA members in courts martial during the Irish War of Independence and served as an official in the First Dáil Department of Finance and as a Dáil Court judge during the war.[28] Other Jewish Friends included Dr Edward Lipman, Jacob Elyan and Dr Bethel Solomons.[26] Noyk and Solomons were among a group of friends who purchased a house for Griffith when he married.[26][29]


  1. "Arthur Griffith". Oireachtas Members Database. Retrieved 19 July 2019.
  2. "31st March 1871 - Birth of Arthur Griffith" (PDF). Civil Records on Irish Genealogy Site. Retrieved 30 May 2017.
  3. R.T. Jenkins, The Moravian Brethren in North Wales, (Hon. Soc. of Cymmrodorion, London, 1938, pp.82-6, 151-4; broadcast gan Karen Owen, Radio Cymru, Rhaglen Dei Tomos, 24.02.2019
  4. Maye, Brian: Arthur Griffith, Dublin, Griffith College Publications, 1997, p. 368
  5. Arthur Griffith by Owen Magee, 2015
  6. Review of Brian Maye's Arthur Griffith by Patrick Maume, History Ireland, 6:1 (Spring 1998)
  7. Irish Leaving cert history textbook; Movements for Political and Social Reform 1870–1914.
  8. Boyce, D. George; O'Day, Alan (2004). Ireland in Transition, 1867-1921. Routledge. p. 155. ISBN 1134320000. Retrieved 18 March 2016.
  9. Laffan, Michael. The Resurrection of Ireland: The Sinn Féin Party 1916-1923. Cambridge University Press. p. 223.
  10. John Coakley and Michael Gallagher, Politics in the Republic of Ireland (Taylor & Francis, 2010), 113.
  11. Packenham, Frank (1974). Éamon de Valera. Arrow Books. p. 68. Retrieved 7 April 2016.
  12. Carroll, Denis (2016). They Have Fooled You Again. The Columba Press. ISBN 978-1-78218-300-6.
  13. Maume, Patrick: The long Gestation, Irish Nationalist Life 1891–1918 p. 207 (note 322), Gill & Macmillan (1999); ISBN 0-7171-2744-3
  14. "Arthur Griffith". Retrieved 1 June 2009.
  15. "MR. ARTHUR GRIFFITH (ARREST). (Hansard, 26 November 1920)". 26 November 1920. Retrieved 28 May 2017.
  16. Glandon, Virginia E. (1985). Arthur Griffith and the Advanced-nationalist Press, Ireland, 1900–1922. P. Lang. p. 230. ISBN 0-8204-0041-6.
  17. O'Connor, Ulick (1996). Michael Collins and the Troubles. W.W. Norton. ISBN 0-393-31645-9.
  18. "General Registrar's Office". Retrieved 12 August 2017.
  19. "Arthur Griffith Dies Suddenly" (PDF). The New York Times. 13 August 1922.
  20. Ferriter, D. The Transformation of Ireland 1900–2000 (Profile 2004) p. 260; ISBN 1-86197-307-1
  21. The OPW – a history of service (PDF). The Office of Public Works. 2006. p. 5. Archived from the original (PDF) on 17 September 2012.
  22. Montefiore, Simon Sebag (11 October 1997). "Arthur Griffith, anti-Semite". The Spectator. pp. 28–30. Retrieved 7 February 2019.
  23. Ó Lúing, Seán (1953). Art Ó Gríofa. Sáirséal agus Dill.; Colum, Padraic (1959). Arthur Griffith. Browne and Nolan.; Davis, Richard P. (1974). Arthur Griffith and Non-Violent Sinn Fein. Anvil Books.; Laffan, Michael (1999). The Resurrection of Ireland: The Sinn Féin Party 1916-1923. Cambridge University Press.
  24. Keogh, Dermot (1998). Jews in Twentieth-century Ireland: Refugees, Anti-semitism and the Holocaust. Cork University Press. p. 22. ISBN 1-85918-150-3.
  25. McGee, Owen (2015). Arthur Griffith. Merrion Press. p. 409 (fn 62). ISBN 978-1-78537-009-0.
  26. Kenny, Column (2016). "Arthur Griffith: More Zionist than Anti-Semite". History Ireland. Retrieved 10 February 2019.
  27. Kenny, Colum (2016). "Arthur Griffith and Anti-Semitism". History Ireland. Retrieved 10 February 2019.
  28. Benson, Asher (2007). Jewish Dublin. ISBN 978-1-906353-00-1.
  29. Manus O'Riordan, Citizens of the Republic, Jewish History in Ireland, Dublin Review of Books, Summer 2007

Further reading

  • Patrick Maume, The Long Gestation (Gill & Macmillan, 1999).
  • There is a 2003 reprint of The Resurrection of Hungary with an introduction by Patrick Murray (University College Dublin Press).
  • The Treaty Debates on-line (Dec 1921 – Jan 1922)
  • Anthony J. Jordan, Arthur Griffith with James Joyce & WB Yeats – "Liberating Ireland" [Westport Books 2013]
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Samuel Young
Sinn Féin Member of Parliament for East Cavan
Constituency abolished
New constituency Sinn Féin Member of Parliament for North West Tyrone
Constituency abolished
Parliament of Northern Ireland
New parliament Member of Parliament for Fermanagh and Tyrone
With: Edward Archdale 1921–1929
William Coote 1921–1924
Seán Milroy 1921–1925
William Thomas Miller 1921–1929
James Cooper 1921–1929
Seán O'Mahony 1921–1925
Thomas Harbison 1921–1929
Succeeded by
Edward Archdale
William Coote
Seán Milroy
William Thomas Miller
James Cooper
Seán O'Mahony
Thomas Harbison
New constituency Sinn Féin Teachta Dála for East Cavan
Constituency abolished
New constituency Sinn Féin Teachta Dála for Fermanagh and Tyrone
Succeeded by
Alex Donnelly
New constituency Sinn Féin Teachta Dála for Cavan
Succeeded by
Patrick Smith
Political offices
Preceded by
Michael Collins
Minister for Home Affairs
Succeeded by
Frank Aiken
Preceded by
Count Plunkett
Minister for Foreign Affairs
1921–Jan 1922
Succeeded by
George Gavan Duffy
Preceded by
George Gavan Duffy
Minister for Foreign Affairs
Jul 1922– Aug 1922
Succeeded by
Michael Hayes
Preceded by
Éamon de Valera
President of Dáil Éireann
Succeeded by
W. T. Cosgrave
Party political offices
Preceded by
New position
Vice-President of Sinn Féin
with John Sweetman (1905–1907)
with Bulmer Hobson (1907–1908)
Succeeded by
Bulmer Hobson
Preceded by
John Sweetman
President of Sinn Féin
Succeeded by
Éamon de Valera
Preceded by
Thomas Kelly (1910–)
Vice-President of Sinn Féin
with Michael O'Flanagan
Succeeded by
Michael O'Flanagan
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