Arthur Griffith (March 31, 1871 - August 12, 1922) was the founder and first leader of Sinn Féin. He served as President of Dáil Éireann from January to August 1922, and was head of the Irish delegation at the negotiations that produced the Anglo-Irish Treaty, 1921.

Arthur Griffith

Arthur Griffith was born in Dublin in March 1871, and educated by the Christian Brothers there. He worked for a time as a printer before joining the Gaelic League, which was aimed at promotion the restoration of the Irish language. In 1904, he established an organisation called Cumann na nGaedhael to campaign against the visit to Ireland of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra. In 1905, this organisation merged with a number of others to form Sinn Féin (in the Irish language: 'We Ourselves'')

Foundation of Sinn Féin

The fundamental principles on which Sinn Fein was founded were outlined in a book 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 the United Kingdom, they forming a dual monarchy with a shared monarch but separate governments.

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 no involvement. When in 1917, surviving leaders of the Rebellion were released from prison (or escaped) they infiltrated Sinn Féin, using it as a vehicle for the advancement of their demanded 'republic'. The result was a bitter clash that almost split the party, between those original members who backed Griffith's concept of an Anglo-Irish dual monarchy and the new members, under Eamon de Valera, who wanted to achieve a republic. Matters almost lead to a split at the party's Árd Fhéis (conference) in October 1917. In a compromise, it was decided to seek to establish a republic initially, then allow the people to decide if 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. Griffith resigned the party leadership and presidency at that Árd Fhéis, and was replaced by de Valera.

Griffith was elected an MP for Sinn Féin in the 1918 general election. Sinn Féin's MPs decided not to take their seats in the British House of Commons but instead set up their own Irish parliament, Dáil Éireann (see First Dáil). The dominant leaders in the new unilaterally declared Irish Republic were figures like Eamon de Valera, President of Dáil Éireann (1919-21), President of the Republic (1921-22), and Michael Collins, Minister for Finance, head of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and the Irish Republican Army's major strategist. Griffith became central to the Republic again when in late 1921, President de Valera asked him to head the delegation of Irish plenipotentiaries to negotiate with the British Government.

To be Continued

"In Arthur Griffith there is a mighty force in Ireland. He has none of the wildness of some I could name. Instead there is an abundance of wisdom and an awareness of things which are Ireland." (Michael Collins)

At the end of the Treaty negotiations, one of the British delegates commented: "A braver man than Arthur Griffith, I never met".