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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Death of Arthur Griffith, Founder of Sinn Féin

Arthur Joseph Griffith, writer, newspaper editor and politician who founded the political party Sinn Féin, dies suddenly in Dublin on August 12, 1922. He leads the Irish delegation at the negotiations that produce the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty, and serves as President of Dáil Éireann from January 1922 until his death.

Griffith, a Roman Catholic, is born at 61 Upper Dominick Street, Dublin on March 31, 1871, of distant Welsh lineage. He is educated by the Irish Christian Brothers. He works for a time as a printer before joining the Gaelic League (Conradh na Gaeilge), which is aimed at promoting the restoration of the Irish language.

After a short spell in South Africa, Griffith founds and edits the Irish nationalist newspaper The United Irishman in 1899. In 1904, he writes The Resurrection of Hungary: A Parallel for Ireland, which advocates 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 becomes known as Sinn Féin (ourselves). On November 28, 1905, he presents “The Sinn Féin Policy” at the first annual Convention of the National Council. The occasion is marked as the founding date of the Sinn Féin party. Although the organization is still small at the time, Griffith takes over as president of Sinn Féin in 1911.

Griffith is arrested following the Easter Rising of 1916, despite not having taken any part in it. On his release, he works to build up Sinn Féin, which wins a string of by-election victories. At the party’s Ardfheis (annual convention) in October 1917, Sinn Féin becomes an unambiguously republican party, and Griffith resigns the presidency in favour of the 1916 leader Éamon de Valera, becoming vice-president instead. Griffith is elected as a member of parliament (MP) for East Cavan in a by-election in June 1918, and is re-elected in the 1918 Irish general election, when Sinn Féin wins 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.

In the Dáil, Griffith serves as Minister for Home Affairs from 1919 to 1921, and Minister for Foreign Affairs from 1921 to 1922. In September 1921, he is appointed chairman of the Irish delegation to negotiate a treaty with the British government. After months of negotiations, he and the other four delegates sign the Anglo-Irish Treaty, which creates the Irish Free State, but not as a republic. This leads to a split in the Dáil. After the Treaty is narrowly approved by the Dáil, de Valera resigns as president and Griffith is elected in his place. The split leads to the Irish Civil War.

Griffith enters St. Vincent’s Nursing Home, Leeson Street, Dublin, during the first week of August 1922, following an acute attack of tonsillitis. He is confined to his room by his doctors, who had observed signs of what they thought might be a subarachnoid hemorrhage. It is difficult to keep him quiet and he resumes his daily work in the government building. When about to leave for his office shortly before 10:00 AM on August 12, 1922, he pauses to retie his shoelace and falls down unconscious. He regains consciousness, but collapses again with blood coming from his mouth. Three doctors render assistance, but to no avail. Father John Lee of the Marist Fathers administers extreme unction, and Griffith expires as the priest recites the concluding prayer. The cause of death, intracerebral hemorrhage, is also reported as being due to heart failure. He dies at the age of 51, ten days before Michael Collins‘s assassination in County Cork and two months after the outbreak of the Irish Civil War. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery four days later.


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Formation of the Sinn Féin League

The nationalist groups, Cumann na nGaedheal and the Dungannon Clubs, combine to form the Sinn Féin League on April 21, 1907.

The ideas that lead to Sinn Féin are first propounded by the United Irishman newspaper and its editor, Arthur Griffith. An article by Griffith in that paper in March 1900 calls for the creation of an association to bring together the disparate Irish nationalist groups of the time and, as a result, Cumann na nGaedheal is formed at the end of 1900. Griffith first puts forward his proposal for the abstention of Irish members of parliament (MP) from the Parliament of the United Kingdom at the 1902 Cumann na nGaedheal convention. A second organisation, the National Council, is formed in 1903 by Maud Gonne and others, including Griffith, on the occasion of the visit of King Edward VII to Dublin. Its purpose is to lobby Dublin Corporation to refrain from presenting an address to the king. The motion to present an address is duly defeated, but the National Council remains in existence as a pressure group with the aim of increasing nationalist representation on local councils.

Griffith elaborates his policy in a series of articles in the United Irishman in 1904, which outline how the policy of withdrawing from the imperial parliament and passive resistance had been successfully followed in Hungary, leading to the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867 and the creation of a dual monarchy, and proposes that Irish MPs should follow the same course. These are published later that year in a booklet entitled The Resurrection of Hungary: A Parallel for Ireland. Also in 1904, Mary Ellen Butler, a friend of Griffith and cousin of Ulster Unionist Party leader Edward Carson, remarks in a conversation that his ideas are “the policy of Sinn Féin, in fact” and Griffith enthusiastically adopts the term. The phrase Sinn Féin (‘Ourselves’ or ‘We Ourselves’) had been in use since the 1880s as an expression of separatist thinking, and was used as a slogan by the Gaelic League in the 1890s.

The first annual convention of the National Council on November 28, 1905 is notable for two things: the decision, by a majority vote (with Griffith dissenting), to open branches and organise on a national basis; and the presentation by Griffith of his ‘Hungarian’ policy, which is now called the Sinn Féin policy. This meeting is usually taken as the date of the foundation of the Sinn Féin party. In the meantime, a third organisation, the Dungannon Clubs, named after the Dungannon Convention of 1782, has been formed in Belfast by Bulmer Hobson, and it also considers itself to be part of ‘the Sinn Féin movement.’

By 1907, there is pressure on the three organisations to unite — especially from the United States, where John Devoy offers funding, but only to a unified party. The pressure increases when Charles Dolan, the Irish Parliamentary Party MP for North Leitrim, announces his intention to resign his seat and contest it on a Sinn Féin platform. On April 21, 1907, Cumann na nGaedheal and the Dungannon Clubs merge as the ‘Sinn Féin League.’ Negotiations continue until August when, at the National Council annual convention, the League and the National Council merge on terms favourable to Griffith. The resulting party is named Sinn Féin, and its foundation is backdated to the National Council convention of November 1905.

In the 1908 North Leitrim by-election, Sinn Féin secures 27% of the vote. Thereafter, both support and membership fall. Attendance is poor at the 1910 Ard Fheis, and there is difficulty finding members willing to take seats on the executive. While some local councillors are elected running under the party banner in the 1911 local elections, by 1915 the party is, in the words of one of Griffith’s colleagues, “on the rocks,” and so insolvent financially that it cannot pay the rent on its headquarters in Harcourt Street in Dublin.

Following the Easter Rising in 1916, Sinn Féin grows in membership, with a reorganisation at its Ard Fheis in 1917. Its split in 1922 in response to the Anglo-Irish Treaty which leads to the Irish Civil War leads to the origins of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, the two parties which have since dominated Irish politics. Another split in the remaining Sinn Féin organisation in the early years of the Troubles in 1970 leads to the Sinn Féin of today, which is a republican, left-wing nationalist and secular party.

(Pictured: Arthur Griffith, founder (1905) and third president (1911-17) of Sinn Féin)


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Birth of Arthur Griffith, Founder of Sinn Féin

arthur-griffith

Arthur Joseph Griffith, writer, newspaper editor and politician who founded the political party Sinn Féin, is born in Dublin on March 31, 1871. He leads the Irish delegation at the negotiations that produce the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty, and serves as President of Dáil Éireann from January 1922 until his death in August 1922.

Griffith, a Roman Catholic, is educated by the Irish Christian Brothers. He works for a time as a printer before joining the Gaelic League, which is aimed at promoting the restoration of the Irish language.

After a short spell in South Africa, Griffith founds and edits the Irish nationalist newspaper The United Irishman in 1899. In 1904, he writes The Resurrection of Hungary: A Parallel for Ireland, which advocates 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 becomes known as Sinn Féin (ourselves). On November 28, 1905, he presents “The Sinn Féin Policy” at the first annual Convention of the National Council. The occasion is marked as the founding date of the Sinn Féin party. Although the organization is still small at the time, Griffith takes over as president of Sinn Féin in 1911.

Griffith is arrested following the Easter Rising of 1916, despite not having taken any part in it. On his release, he works to build up Sinn Féin, which wins a string of by-election victories. At the party’s Ardfheis (annual convention) in October 1917, Sinn Féin becomes an unambiguously republican party, and Griffith resigns the presidency in favour of the 1916 leader Éamon de Valera, becoming vice-president instead. Griffith is elected as a member of parliament (MP) in June 1918, and is re-elected in the 1918 general election, when Sinn Féin wins 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.

In the Dáil, Griffith serves as Minister for Home Affairs from 1919 to 1921, and Minister for Foreign Affairs from 1921 to 1922. In September 1921, he is appointed chairman of the Irish delegation to negotiate a treaty with the British government. After months of negotiations, he and the other four delegates sign the Anglo-Irish Treaty, which creates the Irish Free State, but not as a republic. This leads to a split in the Dáil. After the Treaty is narrowly approved by the Dáil, de Valera resigns as president and Griffith is elected in his place. The split leads to the Irish Civil War.

Griffith enters St. Vincent’s Nursing Home, Leeson Street, Dublin, during the first week of August 1922, following an acute attack of tonsillitis. He is confined to his room by his doctors, who had observed signs of what they thought might be a subarachnoid hemorrhage. It is difficult to keep him quiet and he resumes his daily work in the government building. When about to leave for his office shortly before 10:00 AM on August 12, 1922, he pauses to retie his shoelace and falls down unconscious. He regains consciousness, but collapses again with blood coming from his mouth. Three doctors render assistance, but to no avail. Father John Lee of the Marist Fathers administers extreme unction, and Griffith expires as the priest recites the concluding prayer. The cause of death, cerebral hemorrhage, is also reported as being due to heart failure. He dies at the age of 51, ten days before Michael Collins‘ assassination in County Cork and two months after the outbreak of the Irish Civil War. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery four days later.