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Arthur Griffith's Ideology and Influence: Nationalist Figure in Ireland

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Described by one national newspaper in 1915 as the best-known nationalist figure in Ireland, Arthur Griffith and his ideology had clearly gained, at the very least, widespread recognition across Ireland. To explain his ideology we can situate his ideas into a framework of longer-term patterns of thought, and relate these to short-term contextual impetus’ that fine-tuned his social and political creed. Allowing for a broad ‘geographical’ scope will likewise benefit our discussion; Griffith, for example, often employed the Austro-Hungarian relationship as a model for Irish political life. Finding where international contexts intersected with Irish contexts, coupled with a recognition of long and short-term developments will thus provide us with the best method for explaining Griffith’s ideology. We ought to recognise that Griffith could be a ‘chameleon-like’ political figure and his ‘ideology’ was not necessarily firm though the fluidity of his ideology may in itself is useful in explaining just how he formulated his thought-process. To understand how, and if, the recognition of Griffith and his ideology was translated into ‘influence’, then: contextualising when, and if, Griffith’s political or social ideas were implemented directly in, or tinged the make-up of, specific organisations (this, for example, could be found in constitutions or entry requirements) will explain any influence he had. Similarly, a view to where Griffith himself was able to directly induce other people to shift their views will serve to qualify Griffith’s influence.

A central tenet to Griffith’s ideology was passive resistance to British rule. In effect, Griffith visualised parliamentary absenteeism as passive resistance; in a speech in 1902, Griffith had called for parliamentarians to mimic the Hungarian supporters of Franz Deak, who refused to take their seats in the Austrian parliament until their demands were met. To understand his alignment with this principle, we need to wed both longer-term Irish historical context with his experience in South Africa in the late 1890s. Whilst Irish politics had been dominated by the parliamentary action of figures like Isaac Butt and Charles Stewart Parnell in the late 1800s, there was a concurrent train of thought that viewed Irish involvement at Westminster as undermining the nationalist’s cause. The Irishman newspaper, as early as 1878, had stated that ‘a nationalist must of necessity cease to be a nationalist’ if they took the parliamentary oath and took their seat. More directly influential to Griffith’s thought process though, was Parnell’s left-wing shift following his downfall in 1891. To Griffith, this was a marker that revealed the ‘the chief’s’ true opposition to parliamentarians; situated against the backdrop of two failed home rule bills, this development began to open-up ideas regarding extra-parliamentary tactics for pressuring the British.

What truly compounded these Irish historical precedents was the Boer war in South Africa. Whilst Griffith admired the resilience of the Boers in combatting the British empire, their ultimate failure indicated to him that Irish armed resistance would be a similarly futile enterprise. Likewise, having left to South Africa in 1897, the centenary of the failed 1798 rebellion would no doubt have touched his thought process as events in the Boer War unfolded; the ideal of armed resistance was not only failing in South Africa, but it had already failed in Ireland. When coupled with his view that parliamentarians were equally ineffective, we have now uncovered the reasons for Griffith’s promotion of passive resistance through parliamentary absenteeism.

The influence of his passive resistance ideology is somewhat more difficult to affirm, but there are two clear direct results of this: immediately, Griffith coalesced with other nationalist groups such as Inghinidhe na hEireann (the Daughters of Ireland) to provide relief for the Boers, and perhaps more importantly, enabled parliamentary absenteeism to begin to be seen as a genuinely useful tactic. Regarding the immediate influence on the Boer war, Griffith and Maud Gonne were instrumental in organising the sending of medical supplies to the Boers fighting the British, and similarly in the establishing of funding schemes for Irishmen who wished to go fight for the Boers in South Africa. This form of nationalist agitation thus started to publicise the extra-parliamentary tactics associated with Griffith.

Over a longer period, and perhaps more importantly, Griffith’s ideals came to impact directly on Irish politics. When, for example, the Liberal government attempted to buy off the Irish Parliamentary Party with an insufficient Council Bill in 1905, the MP C.J. Dolan resigned and joined forces with Griffith. Though the initial effect of this was somewhat inconsequential, it begins to show how Griffith’s ideology was influencing political tactics. What it also shows, however, is that Griffith’s influence was initially contingent on direct political context; just as Dolan joined in response to Liberal inadequacy in 1905 when John Redmond won considerable victories in the 1910 general election, Griffith’s advocation of Parliamentary absenteeism was hugely discredited. Notably, the organisation through which he publicised his doctrine ‘ at this point known as Sinn Fein ’ declined rapidly, seeing a drop from over ninety branches of the organisation in 1909 to effectively one central branch operating in Dublin in 1910. Nonetheless, historical circumstances eventually served to cement Griffith’s ideology into the Irish political framework; following the attempt to impose conscription on Ireland in 1917, Griffith persuaded Redmond to join forces with Eamon de Valera (now president of Sinn Fein) as a means of opposing the British government. Importantly, the Sinn Fein 1918 manifesto’s first pledge was to ‘withdraw Irish representation from the British Parliament’. In essence, then, just as Griffith’s ideology of absenteeism was made up of a series of longer and shorter-term issues, the influence of the ideology can be read as having similar short-term, and eventually longer-term implications for Irish politics.

Underpinning Griffith’s ideology was his belief in Irish independence, echoed in the name of the organisation he founded Sinn Fein, literally translated as ’We Ourselves’. Just as Griffith had anted Irish MPs to form their own legislative body, economic independence from Britain and Irish protectionism lay at the heart of his doctrine. Indeed, Griffiths’s initial three-tiered economic policy focused on: boycotting English goods, getting local councils to favour Irish firms with contracts, and setting up a General Council for protecting Irish industry. The formation of this ideology was, once again, precipitated by both long and short-term Irish and European contextual issues and realities. Griffith viewed the Hungarian success, in part, as being down to the fact they had sufficient resources within their own nation to negate reliance on Austria. In Ireland, he firmly believed that there were large, untapped coal resources that the country could use to supplement their own industry. There were likewise specific Irish precedents that supplemented his economic ideology; events such as the Tithe War of 1831-9 had seen Irish peoples refusing to purchase confiscated goods Griffith identified this, in an entry into his newspaper the United Irishman, as a direct response to the call of ‘trust in yourselves’ and was thus the centre of ‘Sinn Fein policy’. Compounded by his observation that Ireland was paying more than its fair share in tax to Britain, these precedents and problems coalesced to form the backdrop to Griffith’s economic ideology.

Griffith’s economic ideology served to influence both small-scale economic agitation and, on a broader scale, influenced both the labour movement in Ireland and the policy of Sinn Fein. At a local level, Griffith’s influence is exemplified in the attempt to counter the 1907 International Exhibition of Trade with a domestic Irish Exhibition for Trade. Not only was this a localised form of agitation, but it was endorsed by the Archbishop of Dublin the GAA and several other nationalist organisations. The exhibition intended not only to showcase Irish industry but to enable 10,000 shares from Irish companies to be sold to Irish buyers, thereby combining a symbolic adulation of Irish industry with a practical focus on cultivating Irish economic development. Though the plans for the exhibition were eventually dropped, the endorsement of the plan nevertheless reveals the influence his ideology had. Thus, Griffith’s ideology was able not only to influence local-level activity but had already begun to garner the attention of much more influential figures and organisations.

Moreover, Griffith’s policy eventually formed the building blocks for much larger organisations. Notably, in 1913 the labour leader T.R. Johnson and an old Sinn Feiner, T.O. Kelly incorporated many of Griffith’s demands, such as control of Irish resources and development of industry, into their projected development programme. Griffith’s influence is similarly clear in the 1918 Sinn Fein election manifesto; it called for the ending of ‘the decay of our industrial life, and the ever-increasing financial plunder of our country’, thereby linking Griffith’s calls for propelling Ireland into an ‘agricultural-manufacturing state’ and mirroring his critique of over-taxation. As such, Griffith’s economic ideology had been translated from theorisation into the physical makeup of large organisations, therefore exemplifying his influence.

We ought, however, to briefly qualify this influence. The economic ideas of protectionism and industrial development were taken-up, but his use of the Hungarian model was scorned by Socialists and a number of labour supporters; James Connolly, founder of the Irish Socialist Republican Party, criticised the Hungarian link, stating that the ‘producing classes of Hungary are denied the right to vote and the country is in a chronic state of rebellion and unrest’. Whilst some of Griffith’s economic ideology had managed to gain influence, then, his wholescale economic framework was not fully accepted. What, however, we may discern from a closer examination of Connolly’s critique is that Griffith had a much broader, abstract impact on Irish politics. In the very same speech Connolly went on to state that the Irish working class would ‘take to heart the full meaning of the term Sinn Fein’; Griffith’s Sinn Fein ideal, as opposed to the formal ideologies either he or the party espoused, had thus seeped into the thought-processes of Irish leaders in the early-1900s. It is this, perhaps, that best explains Griffith’s influence; he had crystallised the notion of an independent nation in the idealism of Sinn Fein, even if the specifics of his ideology were not always adopted by his contemporaries.

Arthur Griffith had drawn up an ideology that wedded multiple different contexts, more specifically, he used Hungarian nationalist ideas and situated them in both a social and political-economic context. Though his ideology, of course, consisted of more than has been detailed here, these two central tenets provide a good basis for beginning to understand his influence. In a very direct way, his ideas were translated into economic and political realities that formed the basis for Ireland’s future, and eventually, the basis of the Irish Free State’s policy. Yet, his influence went further than this. The healthy maxim of the Gael, ’Ourselves Alone’ declared the Irish Draper. Written in 1904, before Griffith’s ideology had been practically implemented, this maxim identifies the overarching nature of Griffith’s influence he espoused an idealism that would underpin calls for Irish independence for years to come.


  1. S. Paseta; ‘Nationalist Responses to Two Royal Visits to Ireland, 1900 and 1903’.
  2. S. Paseta; Irish Nationalist Women.
  3. J. McConnel; ‘”Fenians at Westminster”: the Edwardian Irish parliamentary party and the legacy of the New Departure’.
  4. M.J. Kelly; The Fenian Ideal and Irish Nationalism, 1882-1916.
  5. R. Davis; Arthur Griffith.
  6. R.F. Foster; Modern Ireland, 1600-1972.
  7. T. Garvin; Nationalist Revolutionaries in Ireland, 1858-1928
  8. A .C. Hepburn (ed.); The Conflict of Nationality in Modern Ireland: Documents of Modern History.
  9. T.C. Curtis

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Arthur Griffith’s Ideology and Influence: Nationalist Figure in Ireland. (2022, August 01). GradesFixer. Retrieved March 20, 2023, from
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