Both dedicated their lives to fighting for Ireland’s independence, both were leaders in Ireland’s first autonomous government, and both died suddenly in the prime of life.
But Michael Collins is a celebrated and revered figure in Irish history, while Arthur Griffith is much forgotten. Yes, some of Michael Collins’ newer notoriety can be attributed to Neil Jordan’s epic 1996 biopic, which starred Liam Neeson with Julia Roberts as the “love interest,” Kitty Kiernan.
But the films do not explain the neglect of the memory of Arthur Griffith – Ireland’s first head of government to die in office.
He was effectively erased from Irish history just weeks after his untimely death on 12 August 1922.
There was a sordid argument over the size of his burial site in Glasnevin, and his wife once threatened to exhume the body. It wasn’t until 1968 that a simple plaque was placed on his home.
Ms Maud insisted he died because ‘his blessed heart broke for Ireland’
Some of Griffith’s amnesia may relate to the manner of his death in hospital compared to the brutal murder of Collins in a Civil War ambush in his beloved native West Cork aged 32, just 10 days after Griffith’s death on August 22, 1922 But the circumstances of Griffith’s death are not without pathos.
Shortly after the start of the civil war at the end of June 1922, Arthur Griffith was afflicted with a malignant tonsillitis that left him speechless for a while.
He also suffered from nervous exhaustion and was taken to St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin. He was attempting to get up on 12 August 1922 to attend a preparatory meeting for the Dáil’s reconvening when he died of an apparent cerebral haemorrhage.
He was just 51, and his wife Maud insisted he die because “his blessed heart was breaking for Ireland”.
Ms Griffith also said he “died as poor as the day he entered politics” and it is a simple fact that after his death she had to appeal to the Irish Government for support for her family.
For writer Frank O’Connor, Michael Collins’ biographer, Griffith was “a peculiarly lonely unknown man”.
Even a cursory reading of Arthur Griffith’s life reveals that he was a profound thinker of political life. A printer-turned-journalist, he had a photographic memory and was exceptionally well-read on history and politics. His 1904 book The Resurrection of Hungary: A Parallel for Ireland sold 30,000 copies and advocated mimicking Hungary’s separation from Austria in 1867.
From this idea he founded the party Sinn Féin to promote his ideas of a dual monarchy for the UK and a separate autonomous administration in Dublin.
Some of this thinking was put into practice with the creation of Dáil Éireann in January 1919, following the post-World War I British general election a month earlier. But the image of Griffith as a “King’s Lords and Commons” man contributed to the neglect of his memory from the 1920s, when nationalists were using physical force to rewrite history.
After the uprising he was arrested and interned by the British
Although he was never a Sagittarian, he was no pacifist and was present at many of the major events of the Irish nationalist revival. He was a member of the revolutionary IRB, joined the Irish Volunteers and took part in the 1914 Howth Gun Running. Griffith did not take part in the 1916 uprising, mainly because he believed it could not succeed.
But after the riot he was arrested and interned because the British thought his organization Sinn Féin was involved. The arrest was also linked to his enormous involvement in nationalist organizations and his harsh journalism, which was often critical of London.
The curious thing about Michael Collins was that while he was in the GPO garrison at Easter 1916 and later worked with active Republicans in the war, he was much more of an organizer and administrator, serving in government as Director of Intelligence and Secretary of the Treasury.
But he understood the power of images, and at Griffith’s funeral he donned the volunteers’ uniform to portray himself as a man of action—an image that stuck.
The irony is that both Griffith and Collins worked well together and negotiated the Anglo-Irish Treaty with London that ended the Revolutionary War in December 1921. Both were vilified over the result and accused of selling out the principle of an Irish republic.
Of the two, Collins was by far the more charismatic and able to charm people. Griffith will be remembered as a shy man who struggled with complexes because of his very poor background. But both were intellectually gifted and capable of very hard work.
Griffith’s funeral in Dublin was a big affair – but Collins’s was much bigger, with around 300,000 people in attendance.
For the cork examinerCollins’ death had plunged the city into mourning, with shops closing and trams shutting down after the news broke. Republican prisoners at Mountjoy – opponents of the Collins Treaty – prayed the rosary together for the rest of his soul.
But as this country enters its second century, perhaps we can demythologize Michael Collins a little — and learn to remember Arthur Griffith, too.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/a-peculiarly-lonely-unknown-man-arthur-griffith-was-the-shy-forgotten-hero-of-irish-history-41893340.html “A strangely lonely, unknown man” – Arthur Griffith was the shy, forgotten hero of Irish history