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The Enigma of Arthur Griffith: ‘Father of Us All’


Colum Kenny

January 2020

Almost a century after his untimely death in 1922, this lively new assessment looks at the man Michael Collins described as ‘father of us all’, and reclaims Griffith as the founder of both Sinn Féin and the Irish Free State.



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Almost a century after his untimely death in 1922, this lively and insightful new assessment explores the man Michael Collins described as ‘father of us all’ and reclaims Arthur Griffith as the founder of both Sinn Féin and the Irish Free State.

Since his death when President of Dáil Éireann, Griffith’s role has often been misrepresented. Too radical for some, he was not militant enough for others. His legacy belongs to no single political party today. Colum Kenny argues that efforts to ‘other’ Griffith as ‘un-Irish’ raise uncomfortable questions about Irish identity.

A dedicated activist and intellectual, as well as a skilled editor and balladeer, Griffith knew what it meant to be poor. He encouraged women to get involved in the struggle for Irish independence, and, unusually for his time, distinguished between Oscar Wilde’s private life and his work. Griffith’s complex relationships with Maud Gonne, W.B. Yeats and James Joyce are revealed here in significant new ways.

The Enigma of Arthur Griffith brings the ‘father of us all’ into focus for a new generation.

Table of Contents

Griffith’s Timeline
1. Griffith and Mother Ireland
2. The Name of the Father
3. 1871–1901: Hard-Working Men
4. An ‘Un-Irish’ Personality?
5. Ballads, Songs and Snatches
6. His ‘Best Friend’ Rooney Dies
7. Women as Comrade and Wife
8. Griffith, Race and Africa
9. Connolly, Yeats and Larkin
10. Journalist, Editor and Crusader
11. 1902–16: Sinn Féin and the Rising
12. Irish and Jewish
13. 1917–20: Griffith and de Valera
14. A Fateful Weekend
15. 1921: ‘He signed the Treaty’
16. 1922: Destruction and Death
17. Arthur Griffith and Joyce’s Ulysses
18. 2022: Commemorating Griffith
‘Odysseus: In Memory of Arthur Griffith’ by Padraic Colum

About the Author

Colum Kenny is Professor Emeritus at Dublin City University. A barrister, journalist and historian, he has written widely on culture and society. His books include An Irish-American Odyssey (2014) and Moments that Changed Us: Ireland after 1973 (2005). A founding board member of the E.U. Media Desk in Ireland, he served on the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland.

Praise for The Enigma of Arthur Griffith

‘Colum Kenny believes his character and outlook cannot be understood without appreciating the following factors: his poverty and that of his city; the lasting trauma of the Parnell split; the role of the Catholic Church; catastrophic and continuing emigration; and British economic and political repression. The chapter on Griffith being possibly “un-Irish” is very interesting and there is great insight into the pivotal moment in 1917 when he yielded the Sinn Féin leadership to de Valera. “If you seek his monument,” look at the modern, independent State into which Ireland has grown.’
Brian Maye, The Irish Times

‘The main title of this book, The Enigma of Arthur Griffith, suggests that perhaps the answer to public disregard of Griffith lies in Griffith himself. Was he an enigmatic person, mysterious and difficult to comprehend? As Kenny unfolds the Griffith narrative, it becomes clear that the real enigma is not Griffith at all but the fact of his consignment to the margins of memory. Certainly, by the end of this meticulously researched biography Griffith himself is no enigma. Rather, his life and times, his context, persona, principles and perceptions are laid bare. … To understand Griffith we need to stand in his shoes and this Colum Kenny helps us to do, with the practised eye of the trained television journalist and the forensic skill of the academic.’
Dr Mary McAleese, Studies

‘Colum Kenny’s work adds to the developing body of research into the worthy and neglected “enigma” that was Arthur Griffith. As the decade of centenaries nears its final years, the past could benefit much from such in-depth analysis and examination as exemplified in this work by Colum Kenny.’
Peter Donnelly, The Gown at QUB

‘Interesting and penetrating…[an] excellent book.’
Mary O’Rourke, Senior Times

‘Kenny’s biography is compelling and insightful read for anyone seeking to better understand one of Irish history’s more enigmatic characters. Hopefully, Kenny’s represents the start of increased interest in his subject.’
Eoin O’Driscoll, The Irish Story

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