Griffith's legacy offers little for the republican reader

Peter Berresford Ellis reviews The Resurrection of Hungary: a parallel for Ireland by Arthur Griffith, University College Dublin Press, £13. 95 pbk

In my youth the name Arthur Griffith conjured two things - the foundation of Sinn Féin in 1905 as a dual-monarchist party and the authorship of The Resurrection of Hungary (1904) which outlined his idea of an Anglo-Irish Empire (a really unfortunate term) using the model of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Not being interested in monarchies or empires I did not pursue Griffith’s work. I thought it obvious that a man with such views attributed to Griffith made him entirely unsuitable to head the Irish delegation to negotiate with Britain in October, 1921.

It is said that Griffith was outmanoeuvred by Lloyd George into abandoning the republic, but the fact was that Griffith was never a committed republican in the first place.

It was in my late twenties, researching a book, that I sat down in the British Library and read Griffith’s work. It did not change my overall opinion of Griffith but I found it essential reading if one wanted to understand the mind of the man who led the pro-Treaty side into the inevitable split that led to Civil War.

Is The Resurrection of Hungary now merely an historical curiosity?

Patrick Murray provides an insightful introduction to what certainly was an important historical document which had a profound affect on Irish national politics of the day and in which Griffith’s proposal that Irish MPs withdraw from Westminster and set up their own parliament in Dublin became the cornerstone of Sinn Féin policy. And Griffith’s idea of a dual monarchy (with the King of England being crowned separately in Dublin) was still being advocated by such leading pro-Treaty politicians as Kevin O’Higgins before his assassination in 1927.

This handy facsimile of the 1918 edition of Griffith’s book with Patrick Murray’s introduction is an essential item for the bookshelf of everyone interested in 20th century Irish political development. The text itself is a refutation to those who dismissed Griffith as having little understanding of Hungarian history and politics. Griffith’s analysis of the historical evolution of the Austro-Hungarian constitutional settlement is astute.

But should it have been applied to Ireland? Certainly, in 1885, Lord Salisbury, the Tory leader, contemplating offering home rule to Ireland to wrong foot the Liberals, considered the Austro-Hungarian constitutional arrangement of 1867 as a possible framework.

Therein is an historical ‘if’. If there had been a period of a United Kingdom, with coequal London and Dublin parliaments, would we not see today the emergence of strong independent and separate republicans which the Austrians and Hungarians now enjoy? Probably not.

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This document was last modified by David Granville on 2003-12-23 19:21:16.
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