Arthur Griffith

Arthur Griffith

In Brief

"Arthur Griffith" (1871-1922) was an advanced nationalist who worked for independence first as a journalist and later as a politician. At the time represented in the novel, he was publishing a newspaper called The United Irishman and beginning to organize the political movement that in 1907 became Sinn Féin. It seems that Bloom has been involved in some of these negotiations. Joyce himself approved of Griffith's political program, though he did become involved in a tiff with him over "those big words...which make us so unhappy."

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Ulysses mentions Griffith a total of eight times, usually with admiration. In Proteus Kevin Egan talks to Stephen about Irish nationalistic aspirations: "of hopes, conspiracies, of Arthur Griffith now." In Calypso Bloom recalls Griffith's witty observation about "a homerule sun rising up in the northwest" on the logo of the Freeman's Journal, and in Lotus Eaters he recalls that The United Irishman has joined Maud Gonne in attacking the Dublin prostitution trade that catered to uncurfewed British troops. In Lestrygonians Bloom thinks ambivalently that "Arthur Griffith is a squareheaded fellow but he has no go in him for the mob," unlike the charismatic Charles Stewart Parnell.

In Cyclops the rabidly patriotic barhounds seem to harbor some suspicions about the man (a fact that hardly works to his disfavor), and they suspect that Bloom has been working with him on the Sinn Féin project, "John Wyse saying it was Bloom gave the ideas for Sinn Fein to Griffith to put in his paper." Molly too thinks that her husband has been involved, and though she feels sexual contempt for Griffith she registers Bloom's admiration: "he was going about with some of them Sinner Fein lately or whatever they call themselves talking his usual trash and nonsense he says that little man he showed me without the neck is very intelligent the coming man Griffith is he well he doesnt look it thats all I can say."

Joyce regarded the United Irishman as the best paper in Ireland and he supported Griffith's Sinn Féin policy as the only viable one, parliamentary reform having died with Parnell (Ellmann, 237). He approved Griffith's "separatist idea" of decolonializing Ireland because (as he wrote to Stanislaus) "either Sinn Fein or Imperialism will conquer the present Ireland. If the Irish programme did not insist on the Irish language I suppose I could call myself a nationalist" (237).

He did, however, maintain detachment from all forms of political drum-beating. In December 1902 the young Joyce panned some patriotic poems by William Rooney that Griffith had published in the United Irishman, referring to "those big words which make us so unhappy." The sentence annoyed Griffith "so much that he used it derisively to advertise" another author's book of patriotic poems which Joyce had negatively reviewed (Ellmann, 112). Far from repenting, Joyce was satisfied enough with the phrase to use it once again in Nestor, where Mr. Deasy pontificates about generosity and justice, prompting a gloomy reply from his employee: "I fear those big words, Stephen said, which make us so unhappy."

When the Irish War of Independence (1919-21) concluded in the Anglo-Irish Treaty founding a semi-independent Free State, Griffith was elected its first President in January 1922, just before Ulysses appeared in print. It was "a coincidence Joyce welcomed" (Ellmann, 335).

John Hunt 2014
Arthur Griffith ca. 1920. Source: