Himself alone

J. Anthony Gaughan

Arthur Griffith (1871-1922) is one of the unsung heroes of the independence movement.  Dublin-born and a journalist by profession, his chief contribution to the struggle for independence was his political writing in the United Irishman and its successor Sinn FÈin.

Griffith was an Anglophobe from his earliest years. He joined the IRB, but later left the organisation because of its emphasis on violence as a means for achieving political change. He supported the Boers during his sojourn in South Africa in 1897 and 1898. 

Following his return to Dublin he edited the United Irishman from 1898 to 1906 and Sinn FÈin from 1906 to 1914 and availed of every opportunity to criticise the actions and policies of the Irish Parliamentary Party.


Griffith was fascinated by the revival of Hungary after its defeat by Habsburg forces in 1849 and its peaceful achievement of equal status with Austria in the Ausgleich of 1867. In a series of weekly articles he argued that this was the way for Irish nationalists to achieve their goal. 

He advocated a dual monarchy. This would link the two islands, Britain and Ireland, through the person of a common sovereign. He believed that such a programme could be supported by all nationalists from home rulers to republicans. 

The Irish people and their representatives should no longer recognise the Act of Union and Irish MPs should withdraw from Westminster and establish an independent Irish parliament in Dublin. Griffith reprinted these articles in The Resurrection of Hungary in 1904. 

It provoked widespread interest and controversy but failed to convince nationalists. It is significant to note, however, that several of the ideas he put forward were later implemented in 1919-1921.

Political movement

Subsequently, from 1905 to 1908, a political movement evolved under the direction of Griffith who gave it the title of his newspaper Sinn Féin. When asked what was the object of the movement he stated it was “to make England take one hand from Ireland’s throat and the other out of Ireland’s pocket”. 

Griffith welcomed the establishment of the Irish Volunteers in 1913, joined the organisation and took part in the Howth gun-running in 1914.  He opposed the Easter Rising, but was arrested in its aftermath. While in jail he stood aside to allow de Valera assume the presidency of Sinn Féin.


He was a member of the Mansion House Committee which organised resistance to conscription in 1918 and in the general election of that year was returned for East Cavan. A signatory to the Treaty, he stoutly defended it and following the general election of June 1922, which resulted in a victory for pro-Treaty candidates, together with Collins, he prosecuted the war against the Anti-Treatyites until his death.

The author skilfully illustrates various aspects of Griffith’s character through the prism of his relationship with some of his high-profile contemporaries. Chief among these are Joyce and Yeats. But there are others such as Oliver St John Gogarty, Maud Gonne, Lady Gregory, Pádraig Pearse, Ezra Pound and George Russell. 

The book provides an insight into how little love there was between our ‘Literary Greats’ and how mean spirited their comments were about each other.  Joyce described Yeats “as a tiresome idiot, quite out of touch with the Irish people” and as Lady Gregory’s lover who was kept by her. The comments of Joyce’s fellow literation him were even less flattering. These quirky exchanges add extra spice to this well-researched biography which is worthy of its subject.