Journalist, activist, internee - the founder of Sinn Féin's road to the Dáil
When de Valera departed for the United States in June 1919, forty-eight-year-old Arthur Griffith became Acting President of Dáil Éireann. Born into a working-class family in Dublin, Griffith left school at thirteen for an apprenticeship with a Dublin printing firm. Slowly carving out a career as a journalist, he co-founded and edited a radical nationalist weekly paper, the United Irishman, in 1899.
This was replaced by Sinn Féin in 1906. Griffith was active in the Gaelic League and a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) until 1910 when he rejected the use of physical force for political ends.
Even before 1907, when Griffith founded the Sinn Féin party, he promoted political, economic and social self-reliance, calling for a withdrawal of Irish MPs from Westminster and the establishment of an independent Irish parliament.
The party achieved only limited success but as a public critic of the British war effort, Griffith remained highly relevant to a new generation of Irish separatists. Although he did not take part in the Rising, Griffith was arrested in 1916 and interned in Reading Jail.
In 1917 he stepped aside in favour of Éamon de Valera as president of the revived Sinn Féin party. A forceful opponent of conscription, he was one of seventy-three 'Sinn Féiners' arrested during the ‘German Plot’ of 17–18 May 1918. While interned in Gloucester Jail Griffith won the parliamentary by-election in the Cavan East constituency and was returned for both the Cavan East and Tyrone North-west constituencies in the general election of the following year.
The establishment of the first Dáil in January 1919 provided Griffith with the opportunity to put his idea of the counter-state into practice.