On this day…12 August

On 12 August 1922 Arthur Griffith died.

Born in 1872, Griffith was a nationalist politician and founder of the Sinn Féin movement. Joyce liked many of Griffith’s policies, and there are a number of references to Griffith in Ulysses.

Returning to Dublin after a period in South Africa, Griffith founded the United Irishman newspaper in 1899. Building on the work of the literary and language revivals, he advocated new and radical solutions to the problems of Ireland’s relations with Britain, and founded the Sinn Féin movement and the Sinn Féin newspaper to promote his ideas.

Griffith won two seats in Sinn Féin’s landslide victory in the general election of December 1918, and after the War of Independence he led Irish side in the negotiations that resulted in the establishment of the Free State in 1922. He headed up the provisional government until his sudden death, aged just fifty, in August 1922. He is buried in Glasnevin cemetery.

Oliver St John Gogarty met Griffith in 1899 and the two became close friends. Gogarty wrote articles for both the United Irishman and Sinn Féin, and Griffith was among those who visited the Martello Tower in Sandycove. Gogarty treated Griffith in his last illness, and even embalmed him after his death.

Joyce was a reader of the United Irishman and Sinn Féin, and was attracted by many of Griffith’s ideas. Joyce makes a number of references to Griffith in Ulysses. In the ‘Calypso’ episode, Bloom remembers Griffith’s comment on the head piece of the Freeman’s Journal, about the sun rising in the northwest, out of the laneway at the back of the Bank of Ireland; and in ‘Cyclops,’ John Wyse Nolan tells everyone it was Bloom who gave Griffith the idea for Sinn Féin.

In ‘Penelope’ Molly recalls Bloom with Griffith: “and he was going about with some of them Sinner Fein lately or whatever they call themselves talking his usual trash and nonsense he says that little man he showed me without the neck is very intelligent the coming man Griffith is he well he doesnt look it thats all I can say”


Sources & Further Reading:

Ellmann, Richard: James Joyce – new and revised edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Joyce, James: Letters of James Joyce, vol. II, edited by Richard Ellmann, London: Faber & Faber, 1966.


For more of Griffith, Sinn Féin & 1916, visit the National Library of Ireland’s 1916 pages here.