Arthur Griffith: The Free State's Lost Leader

Eoin Purcell

Arthur Griffith arriving at Earlsfort Terrace. Courtesy of the National Library of Ireland.
Arthur Griffith arriving at Earlsfort Terrace. Courtesy of the National Library of Ireland.

Ourselves Alone
Whereas my last post on Irish history discussed the 90th Anniversary of the first Dáil, and the post previous to that talked about WT Cosgrave, this post deals with a man whose life and views impacted both the career of Cosgrave and the very formation of the Dáil; Arthur Griffith.

In many ways Griffith’s ideas about how freedom might be best achieved for Ireland had a subtle and under-appreciated impact on Irish affairs.

His promotion of passive resistance and the non-recognition* of British imperial instruments while not directly responsible for it, was a powerful force in shaping the policies that led to the first Dáil, solidifying the democratic mandate of the independence movement and creating a moral legitimacy that became difficult to overcome and which was important in swaying public opinion both domestically and internationally.

By creating that legitimacy (which worked on both national electorate and international opinion levels) the Dáil was better placed to act as a national government and to negotiate with the British Cabinet when the opportunity arose. It also gave the republican courts their legitimacy and reinforced the sovereignty of the democratically elected chamber over the military men.

That primacy of politics over military prowess was crucial in saving Ireland from the threat of military dictatorship. The Free State government was briefly threatened by the ascent of Collins, whose position in the weeks before he died was at the very least questionable in democratic terms.

But it was also threatened by the militaristic trend in teh anti-treaty forces and again after the cvil war by the Free State Army as it struggled to come to terms with its relegated position within a democratic state.

But the Free State government had the legitimacy of democratic process, established since 1919 and reinforced by three elections since to back up their position. In many ways, that was exactly what kept the country democratic, that and the steadying hand of WT Cosgrave as discussed elsewhere on this blog.

Some have suggested that Griffith’s contribution to Irish history has been ignored and I think this is to a degree true. His views do not chime with the founding myth of the Irish State, nor was his position on the treaty palatable to the Republican ethos of the Fianna Fail government hat came to power in 1932 and so effectively claimed the mantle of the state and shaped the founding myth in its created image.

Griffith warrants much more academic and popular attention and I suspect that he will benefit from it over the next few years as we approach the centenary of many critical events.

Campaigning? Maybe a little!

* Which he did through his writings like: The Resurrection of Hungary: A Parallel For Ireland
** I found this picture on the wonderful UCC Multitext site, a fascinating project worth visiting.

The 360th Anniversary of the Peace of Westphalia

Münster, Prinzipalmarkt

(Libär: VIA FLICKR & CC)

Peace is not made at the council table or by treaties, but in the hearts of men.

Hoover, Herbert Clark on Peace
Quote from Quotations Book

What’s this you say?
The Westphalian System has been the basis for non-intervention for centuries. It has been the key to a system of sovereignty that has excluded non domestic forces from internal politics and religion. But its origins are in the Thirty Years War and religious hatred, chaos and war of the early to mid seventeenth century.

The wars tore apart the centre of Europe engulfing the lands now occupied by German, Austria, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia and others. Religion and power formed a dangerous vortex for ordinary and minor figures. Even the powerful did not escape death and ruination.

My point in choosing this to remember today?
If I have any is that treaties and peace agreements, even ones as old as 360 years, can impact our lives even now. It is remarkable that the concepts that emerged from Westphalia served as the basis for our ideas of national sovereignty, self determination and underpinned both the positive and the negative aspects of nationalism.

Google Books has quite a few full view books that mention the Peace and offer us an insight too. Like this one, History of the Revolutions in Europe, from the Subversion of the Roman Empire in the West, to the Congress of Vienna: From the French of Christopher William Koch. The embedded image gives a good idea of what that focuses on concerning Westphalia.

History of the Revolutions in Europe, from the Subversion of the Roman Empire in the West, to the Congress of Vienna From the French of Christopher William Koch. With a Continuation to the Year 1815 By Christophe Koch

It’s not a simple path that history takes and we should learn that well.

The Fall of House Habsburg: Edward Crankshaw

Eoin Purcell

A line to unsettle you on a bank holiday Monday:

. . . she delighted in the sensitive dreamer’s nature of her second son, Maximilian, who was to dream himself to death before a firing squad in Mexico.

I picked up rather nice edition of this in hardback when I was in the US a while ago but I have only started reading it recently. A few great lines already and the historian’s biases are fairly open an clear. It is well worth reading.

– GBS data here
– LibraryThing data here
– Worldcat data here