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Irish people must reclaim 'largely forgotten' legacy of Arthur Griffith, says Varadkar

The Tánaiste was speaking at a remembrance ceremony for Griffth and Michael Collins in Glasnevin Cemetary.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Justice Minister Helen McEntee at the commemoration ceremony in Glasnevin Cemetary
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Justice Minister Helen McEntee at the commemoration ceremony in Glasnevin Cemetary
Image: Gráinne Ní Aodha/PA

Updated Aug 14th 2022, 4:23 PM

TANAISTE LEO VARADKAR has said that Irish people ought to reclaim the memory of Arthur Griffith, whose achievements have been “largely forgotten” 100 years after his death.

Varadkar was speaking at a commemoration ceremony for Griffith and Michael Collins, whose 100th anniversary is on 22 August.

The two men died 10 days apart during the Civil War.

michael-collins-commemoration Source: Gráinne Ní Aodha/PA

Varadkar said: “As we know, Michael Collins was heartbroken at the death of Arthur Griffith and hailed him as ‘the father of us all’. I suspect he would be even more upset at the way Griffith has been largely forgotten by so many who enjoy the freedoms he gave his life to secure.

“So today, I would like to use this oration to remember our enormous debt to him and reclaim his memory for the 21st century.

“Griffith’s devotion to the cause of Irish freedom can be seen in the medical report of his death. His own doctor revealed that he had pleaded with him to take a rest, even a short break, for many years but to no avail. ‘He was 51 years of age’ reported the doctor, ‘and I can safely say he had not a holiday for 30 years.’ People recognised that Griffith died, ‘a martyr to duty’.”

Justice Minister Helen McEntee and Garda Commissioner Drew Harris were also in attendance, as was Major General Anthony McKenna, the deputy chief of staff of the Defence Forces.

On Thursday, the anniversary of Griffith’s death on 12 August 1922, a wreath was laid in the Leinster House lawn.

The informal remembrance ceremony was organised following criticism that the anniversary of Griffith’s death was not being adequately marked.

Griffith founded Sinn Féin in 1905 and was one of the predominant nationalist figures in the early 20th century.

Griffith also founded and edited The United Irishman newspaper and though he did not take part in the Easter Rising, he was arrested in the aftermath nonetheless.

Varadkar laid a wreath at Griffith’s grave, along with Shane Gray, his grandson.

He said: “The early part of the 20th century was an age of anxiety – Griffith turned it into an age of belief. Using the media, he educated, informed and inspired, persuading his readers of the opportunities that freedom would bring, economically, socially and politically.

“He shared his dream of freedom and inspired others to share it too.

“As we all know, the name Sinn Féin was later used by those who never tried to understand the principles for which people like Griffith and Collins had given their lives, nor to follow them.”

Griffith argued in favour of abstentionism and, following the 1918 election, Sinn Féin rejected Westminster to set up a parliament and government in Dublin.

Varadkar said that “Griffith’s vision of Ireland was broad and inclusive, and he met with unionist leaders because he knew that the starting point for any discussion of our shared island had to begin with ‘fair play for all sections and understanding between all sections’ – principles as relevant today as they were one hundred years ago.

“He was pivotal in ensuring that the Treaty gave Ireland fiscal sovereignty and control of trade policy. It’s hard to know what he would have thought of European integration and its single market, customs union and single currency.”

Ten days after Mr Griffith’s death, Michael Collins was shot and killed during an ambush by anti-Treaty forces at Beal na mBlath in West Cork on August 22 1922.

Former justice minister Nora Owen, a grandniece of Michael Collins, laid a wreath at his grave.

Speaking to the PA news agency, she said it was a “very special” day.

“There are people here from all walks of life and all generations: young, old, middle-aged, very young. And I think they need to be reminded of the legacy Collins and Griffith left behind in this country.

“They left us the freedom to get our freedom, and we have our freedom – an independent democracy for 100 years now.”

Owen referenced a reading of a speech given by Irish politician WT Cosgrave at Griffith’s funeral in 1922, in which he said that though Griffith reached his life’s ambition in creating an Irish Free State, “he died a sorrowful man”.

“And if it were not for the greatness of his heart, and the magnificence of his mind, he would have died a broken-hearted man.

“For, within the last few months of his life, he looked out upon the moral desolation, which for the time being, darkened his country and stained its name both at home and abroad.

“Those of us who knew him during the last month of his life felt every day that when he addressed us, that that man must have suffered more than any other man in this country.”

Minister McEntee and Commissioner Harris laid wreaths at the grave of Eamonn Duggan, a former Irish minister who also took part in the Anglo-Irish treaty negotiations, and who died in 1936 aged 58.

The Defence Forces also took part in the ceremony, with the Sliabh na mBan armoured car on display. It formed part of Collins’s convoy, ambushed in 1922.

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