Arthur Griffith


Born: March 31, 1872
Died: August 12, 1922

    I feel as though I would be remiss if I did not include a subsection on this site regarding Arthur Griffith, both because he was a friend to Collins and a patriot for the Irish pursuit of independence.

    In 1905, Griffith founded Sinn Féin ("we alone," "ourselves alone," or "we ourselves" are common translations) and he meant to use it to bring the ideas he described in his newspaper, United Irishman, into fruition. Collins was regarded as a devotee of Griffith's, an idea he loathed. While he respected Griffith's ideas and liked him on a personal level, Collins and he sometimes disagreed on matters and the always headstrong Collins was not about to be considered anyone's follower. Griffith proposed that Ireland must act as a separate nation, possessing its own language, literature, traditions, business sector, etc. Griffith was imprisoned several times in his life for his roles in the Easter Rising and Bloody Sunday. It was Griffith who went with Michael to negotiate the terms of the Treaty on the Irish side and it would be Griffith who stood by Collins during the fierce debates in the Dáil. Griffith called Michael Collins, rather famously, "the man who won the war." Not long after, unfortunately, Collins and Griffith experienced a rift in their relationship that was likely never fully repaired. Griffith believed that the division of the Irish government into two parts, the Dáil and the Provisional Government, was ludicrous and unproductive. He believed the better solution would be to scrap that system and make a unified parliament. But things did not go his way. Collins, Harry Boland, and DeValera entered into an agreement together without consulting Griffith. The agreement was far from impressive, however, and when it was proposed in Griffith's presence, his disappointment was easy to see. These differences, did not, however, keep Collins from writing to Griffith or from serving as a pallbearer at his funeral. Griffith had a pivotal role in directly bringing Collins into the powerful Irish political fold and it is doubtful to me that Collins would ever forget it.

"Griffith was the son of a Dublin printer; a Catholic. He was also an unusually agile man—he took almost daily swims in Dublin Bay—despite the fact that he had deformed feet. Apprenticed in the printing trade at fifteen, he became a compositor, emigrated to South Africa, and returned to found his newspaper at the age of 27" (Edward Norman).

"Griffith was a man of integrity, narrow and doctrinaire. He had many admirers because of the consistency of his politics, his own obvious sincerity, and his journalistic skill. These included James Connolly, and the respect was returned. James Joyce considered Griffith’s United Irishman ‘the only newspaper of any pretensions in Ireland’ and though Sinn Féin more effective than the Parliamentary Party" (Sean Cronin).

"The aim of Sinn Féin was stated very broadly as the re-establishment of the independence of Ireland, an objective so deliberately vague that all nationalists, from the most tentative Home Ruler to an extreme separatist, could subscribe to it. Griffith was hard-headed, practical—and he gave Sinn Féin some very practical objectives, such as tariff protection for Irish industry, the establishment of Irish merchant shipping lines and Irish control of the civil service" (Peter & Fiona Somerset Fry).

 "(In 1921) Griffith felt the important thing was to win self-government; the status of Ireland could always be changed from an imperial to a republican one later on. Collins, though he had fought desperately for republican ideals, agreed with him. The IRA was running short of arms and ammunition, and seventy IRA men had been taken prisoner when the Custom House was burned; the IRA could not, in Collins’ opinion, carry on fighting for more than three weeks" (Peter & Fiona Somerset Fry).