Arthur Griffith

Published in Issue 1 (January/February 2014), Letters, Volume 22

A Chara,—Dermot McMonagle in his review of Ronan Fanning’s Fatal Path: British Government and Irish Revolution 1910–1922 (HI 21.6, Nov./Dec. 2013) correctly to my mind questions Fanning’s statement that Arthur Griffith showed weakness at the Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiations. This is symptomatic of a wider tendency among some historians and commentators to criticise Griffith and praise other major participants of the period. What these people fail to understand is where Griffith was coming from. He had shaken the hand of Parnell as he set out for that ‘fatal’ last trip to the by-election in Roscommon. Griffith wrote at the time: ‘The era of constitutional possibilities for Irish Nationality ended on the day Charles Stewart Parnell died’. His ‘dual monarchy’ policy and Sinn Féin movement followed. Though opposing the Easter Rising for tactical reasons, he reacted to the executions thus: ‘I am not hot-blooded or emotional but something of the primeval man woke in me; I clenched my fist and ground my teeth and longed for vengeance on the murderers’. He was interned for two of the last five years of his life. The 1918 general election victory saw his policy of setting up a parliament in Ireland fulfilled. What was realistically possible from the imperial parliament was limited, though the younger activists chose not to accept this. Ulster was not going to become part of a parliament in Dublin in the short run. Griffith led the plenipotentiaries in the most difficult negotiations against the vastly more experienced British side. He carried out that mandate, improving radically on the Government of Ireland Act 1920. When the British revised the Oath of Allegiance and offered full fiscal control, Griffith realised, as James Joyce had earlier written, that control of taxes was essential for true independence. Griffith was able to grasp the offer that was acceptable to the people. A linear exposition of Griffith from the time of Parnell is available in my new book, Arthur Griffith with James Joyce and W.B. Yeats—Liberating Ireland.—Yours etc.,

ANTHONY J. JORDAN

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