Betwixt the Marxian left pinning him down as an Irish Scrooge and a revisionist Fine Gael trying their best to bask in the shadow of Mick Collins, Arthur Griffith has fallen in between the gearbox of Irish public memory.
With only the Hungarian ambassador keeping the torch lit on his legacy most years, Varadkar at a push made the journey out to Glasnevin for forced commemorative rites.
The latest in lethargic memorials for a state that has long since given up the ghost of historical and national affirmation, Varadkar returned to his nominal role of dissolving trace elements of our sovereignty as soon as the cortège left the cemetery gates.
I seem to have forgotten the tract of the Resurrection of Hungary that mentioned stuffing Albanians into industrial sheds in Finglas but alas.
Indeed, for us all Griffith presents himself as a rather awkward figure to commemorate. Deprived of a martyrdom cult like Collins or the mysticism abounding physical force absolutism, few fiery orations can be given for square faced economists positing elaborate tariff systems on Cathleen ni Houlihan’s behalf.
The product of Welsh heritage and a proper Dominick Street Christian Brother education, Griffith got inky fingers through a variety of publications in the post-Parnellite Fenian underground.
Arguably the most articulate and well rounded theorist nationalism has produced in the 20th century, Griffith held true to the goal of an economically viable Irish nation state, republic or otherwise.
Directly inspired by the liberal nationalism of the 1848 generation, Griffith’s ironclad defence of the racialist outlook of John Mitchel bears reading to this day as a shot across the bow to those equating the cause of Ireland to the cause of an abstract and paltry anti-colonial struggle.
Clashing swords with James Joyce and almost certainly being a major inspiration for the Citizen character in Ulysses alongside Cussack, Griffith was the veritable ideas man of the revolutionary period.
Written off as an old world nostalgic by neoliberals and an ideological tool of a petit bourgeois grasping for the green flag, precious attention has been paid to Griffith’s actual economic writings since his demise.
Positioned against London anchored developmental models which favoured free trade as well as an emergent notion of socialism which he felt would just tie Ireland further to the Empire, Griffith was a student of the German economist Frederic List.
A realist to the core, Griffith similar to his German guru posited the creation of an economically autonomous Irish state (or at least economic zone) separate from Britain as a pathway to modernisation. Buttressed by strategic tariffs (as were used by Britain in her development) this state would flip the colonial script in the harvesting of Irish resources for our own ends instead of meagre export.
In practical terms advocating for the foundation of Industrial Development Associations and the seeding a of national bank to nurture the creation of a post-imperial Irish economy, Griffith struggled with his own publishing business.
From the creation of a diplomatic core to finer points of settling the Unionist question through a dual crown system, Griffith mused on the finer points of Irish statecraft at a time British boots were firmly grounded on Dublin streets,
Experiencing a warm intellectual relationship with the Gaelicist William Rooney, the so-called ‘Griffith flea pit’ became a rallying point for advanced nationalists in the Dublin region.
From Bulmer Hobson, WB Yeats to Seán Mac Diarmada, an anthology of Irish national figures of future note flew under his journalistic wing.
Earning a degree of intellectual kudos from his nemesis James Joyce, the future author of Ulysses paid tribute to Griffith for being a shining star of separatism through his organ The United Irishman.
Not a traditional Anglophobe, Griffith simply acknowledges Britannia as a developmental block to Irish freedom. Slicing to pieces Ricardian notions of free trade rather than political will and national prowess as being spearheads towards economic development, Britain prospered by breaking the very same rules her economists instructed the world to follow and which she held an impoverished Ireland to play by in subjection.
Hostile to the existing order of international finance and banking, especially differential interest rates which favoured the British government during the Boer War and syphoned money out of the country, he chided the policy of fiscal conservatism favoured at the time.
With a brief international foray to document the Boer cause abroad, Griffith developed his own variant of anti-imperialism which rested on Irish nationality over international socialism against the domineering Anglo-Saxon led liberalism of his era.
Writing from a Dublin dilapidated after a century without an indigenous parliament and an Ireland which was witnessing her manhood march to God Save the Queen into the meatgrinder of the Somme, separatism as a recourse was a mandatory pursuit to him.
Establishing a Sinn Féin Bank on Harcourt Street tailored to the needs of small industrialists and improving the credit flow to small towns, Griffith through the revolutionary era was able to implement a handful of his theorised ideas.
Lovingly portrayed as having a ‘‘a Fabian capacity for handling facts and figures as well as ideas’ even the dyed in the wool revisionist FS Lyons voiced his grudging esteem for the career of Griffith in his history of Ireland Since the Famine.
“That the United Irishman made the impact it did was largely due to the editor himself … Griffith was an inspired journalist who combined style and temper in a way no one else could match. He recalled both the savagery of Swift and the ruggedness of John Mitchel, but to these he added his own intensity and his own intimate knowledge of the political and economic environment about him”
His eclectic albeit at times convoluted roadmap for Irish separation from London was famously articulated in his 1904 treatise on the Hungarian model, sidestepping the need for armed insurrection by way of political cunning and absenteeism.
As much as the men of 1848 Griffith drew heavily from the worldview of German economist Frederick List who in his advocacy on national protectionism which in his mind “thwarted England’s dream of the commercial conquest of the world’
Hardly the autarkic stereotype we are led to believe, Griffith defended this stance towards protective tariffs at Sinn Féin’s first Annual Meeting in 1905.
“Protection does not mean the exclusion of foreign competition–it means rendering the native manufacturer equal to meeting foreign competition. It does not mean that we shall pay a higher profit to any Irish manufacturer, but that we shall not stand by and see him crushed by mere weight of foreign capital. If an Irish manufacturer cannot produce an article as cheaply as an English or other foreigner, solely because his foreign competitor has larger resources at his disposal, then it is the first duty of the Irish nation to accord protection to that Irish manufacturer”
Jumping across the Treaty divide it is my opinion that this variant of Sinn Féin economics set the tone on De Valera’s push of a protected economy and achieved far more than credit is given by liberal Ireland as it stocks up on flimsy foreign direct investment and Eurofederalism.
Forced to pull down the shutters on The United Irishman due to an unfortunate defamation case brought by a disgruntled priest, Griffith and his stubborn defence of national protectionism earned the praise and scorn of socialists almost in equal measure.
Beginning his employment in the printworks of the anarchist Adolphus Shields, Griffith and Connolly maintained a public debate throughout the war years with the future matry for Labour criticising him for being ‘‘the enemy’ of the working-class and ‘no friend to the Rights of Man’
Getting his knuckles wrapped for pro-German advocacy during the 1914 conflict, Griffith magnanimously handed over the Sinn Féin brand following the groundswell of support for the Rising in the years after 1916.
Triumphing at the crucial East Cavan by-election with the help of the other great under-appreciated theorist of the revolution Fr Flanagan, Griffith’s subsequent role in the Treaty split and early state is well documented and castigated by republicans to this day.
Breaking bread with Ezra Pound no less during his time hammering out the Treaty in London, the future prisoner in an open air Italian cage penned his respect for Griffith and his stance on social credit in a canto.
Succumbing to a fatal brain haemorrhage while bending down to tie his shoelace after months of overwork at government buildings his passing deprived the struggling state with an artful administrator.
Almost immediately becoming an historical ghost, only recent efforts by historians Colm Kenny and archiving work by An Cartlann have helped to revive the man’s work. Provisional Sinn Féin gleefully claims lineage to the 1905 genesis of a party of the same name but avoids claiming Griffith himself.
Bogged down with the bumbling O’Duffy legacy, Fine Gael as well has retired Griffith’s memory with accusations of antisemitism emerging owing to certain comments made around the time of the Boer War and in relation to early 20th century banking.
On charges of antisemitism it should be noted the zietgeist of the time Griffith inhabited likely only verbalising sentiments shared with Liam Mellows or Cathal Briugha if they were were pinned down on the subject.
Indeed while a red faced Fine Gael steps over the legacy of O’Duffy, few know of Sinn Féin President JJ O’Kelly of the same period who went to great length to muse against the supposed threat of Jewish child sacrifice. Irish history is more complex than Ken Loach would give us credit.
Maintaining good relations with many Dublin Jews as mauch as he did socialists, Griffith did indeed platform the wildly antisemitic opinion pieces of poet and future Free State senator Oliver St.John Gogarty. As an aside Griffith nearly met his demise at the barrel of a British Israelite at Tara when the cult attempted to smash the historical site only to be driven off by an assembled mob of Fenians.
The Irish nation has produced many heroes destined for the gallows but few with a comprehensive black and white policy platform for economic revivalism. This dearth of an economic dimension to Irish nationalism favouring romanticism means that if republicans embrace an economic worldview they simply lean on the writings of Connolly and are led up the garden path to the nefarious world of left republicanism.
In his self effacing yet practical yearning for a Irish nation state Griffith has less of the sex appeal of a Marxist revolutionary or a republican triggerman but far more utility.
As the American Imperium hits the skids and Europe scrambles to shore up his economic future amid a schism with China, the Irish are left without the blanket of a nation state against the winds of a retreating globalism.
Would Griffithite Ireland allow the preponderance of energy guzzling data centres to the benefit of foreign investors?
Would a man who formulated a tailor made economic platform for the enrichment of Ireland cast our lot in with a one size fits all neoliberal approach and the creaking structures of Brussels?
Griffith was a prophet of an Irish nation state that never materialised beyond a brief stab at the goal for a few decades. Essential not to lose sight of the man and the vision after a century of mundane partisan politics his writings beckon for another century far beyond the boggy Treatyite legacy his memory has been stymied in.
Tedious as he was Bernard Shaw for the centennial of Vinegar Hill had it right when he said the Irish should focus on the year 1998 rather than 1898 and so too must we look at refashioning these ideas to our era.
“We trust we have made ourselves perfectly plain. We have not endeavoured to do aught else. Lest there might be a doubt in any mind, we will say that we accept the Nationalism of ’98, ’48 and ’67 as the true Nationalism and Grattan’s cry, “Live Ireland – Perish the Empire!” as the watchword of patriotism”