Arthur Griffith was one of the most important players in Irish Independence. He founded Sinn Féin in 1905 as an Irish nationalist party whose objective was “to establish in Ireland’s capital a national legislature endowed with the moral authority of the Irish nation”.
Griffith’s fierce criticism of the Irish Parliamentary Party’s alliance with British Liberalism was heavily influenced by the anti-Liberal rhetoric of Young Irelander John Mitchel. Griffith made a number of highly controversial statements and opinions. He defended anti-semitic rioters in Limerick, and denounced socialists and pacifists as conscious tools of the British Empire. Griffith also supported movements seeking national independence from the British Empire in Egypt and India and wrote a highly critical description of the British government action at Matabele. Despite his opposition to communism and socialism, he sometimes worked with James Connolly, who also supported Irish nationalism.
In September 1900, he established Cumann na nGaedheal (“Society of Gaels”) to unite advanced nationalist/separatist groups and clubs. In 1903 he set up the National Council to campaign against the visit to Ireland of King Edward VII and his consort Alexandra of Denmark. In 1907, this organisation merged with Sinn Féin, which itself had been formed from an amalgamation of Cumann na nGaedheal and the Dungannon Clubs, to form what would become Sinn Féin.
It was not until after the 1916 Rising that Sinn Féin became a major force in Irish politics winning a landslide majority of Irish seats in the 1918 General Election. Refusing to take their seats in the House of Commons, the party held the first Dáil on 21 January 1919, proclaiming itself the rightful parliament of an Irish Republic. During the vicious War of Independence, and in the absence of de Valera in America, Griffith served as Acting President (sometimes while in prison). Griffith led the Irish truce negotiations in London accompanied by Michael Collins signing the Treaty in December 1921. Acrimonious debates in Dáil Éireann led to a walkout by de Valera and anti-Treaty-ites. Griffith died August 1922, while Ireland was embroiled in a civil war over the Treaty.
Excellent Pictorial Biography of Arthur Griffith: http://youtu.be/DNZ3tkmlQHc
Image: Portrait of Arthur Griffith by Sir John Lavery