Arthur Joseph Griffith, the Sinn Féin founder and Irish Free State leader, and Alfred Charles William Harmsworth, the British newspaper and publishing magnate known as Lord Northcliffe, died within two days of each other in August 1922. Both born in Dublin, neither man reached age 60. Their careers as journalists had very different–at times opposing–trajectories.
Griffith, who died Aug. 12, 1922, “remained at heart a journalist” even as political responsibilities dominated the final years of his life.Michael Laffan, “Griffith, Arthur Joseph” in Dictionary of Irish Biography. He was 51, and the cause of death was cerebral hemorrhage complicated by other health problems.
Griffith apprenticed as a printer in Dublin, following his father’s profession, and soon gained employment as a compositor and copywriter. In 1897 he sailed to South Africa and spent time as a newspaper editor before being lured back to Ireland to help launch the nationalist weekly, United Irishman. Griffith wrote much of the paper’s content under different pseudonyms, but also was assisted by contributions from Irish political and literary nationalists such as Pádraig Pearse, Maud Gonne, Roger Casement, George Russell (AE), James Stephens, and William Butler Yeats.
When the paper folded in 1906 due to a libel matter, Griffith re-founded the enterprise as Sinn Féin, after the political party he started a year earlier. John Devoy’s New York City-based Gaelic American picked up the story from there in its coverage of Griffith’s death:
When the English government suppressed Sinn Féin (in 1914) and Irish Freedom (organ of the Irish Republican Brotherhood) the IRB started Nationality and Griffith accepted the editorship of it under Sean MacDermott’s management. When that was put out of existence they put out one after another, under new names, only to be suppressed as if the very existence of the British Empire depended on putting Griffith to silence.
The most unique of all their publications was Scissors and Paste, which was made up wholly of clippings from other papers, many of them English, but always containing telling and appropriate points, and he compelled the Foreign Government to suppress in Ireland articles which had already been freely circulated in England. Griffith’s ingenuity in selecting these articles was a marvel.“Arthur Griffith Dies Suddenly in Dublin”, The Gaelic American, Aug. 19, 1922, p. 1.
American journalist Samuel Duff McCoy, in his early 1922 newspaper series about revolutionary Ireland, quoted James Stephens about Griffith in this period: “His worst trouble, in those days was thinking up new names for his paper. He used to lay awake nights, thinking up new names for it, he did so.””The Smiling Swordsman/Chapter 2″ of McCoy’s “The Lads Who Freed Ireland” series, Minneapolis (Minn.) Morning Tribune, Feb. 7, 1922, via United Features Syndicate.
The Gaelic American continued its description of Griffith’s journalism career:
In time he was recognized in England as one of the best journalists in Europe, and it is said that one of the London papers offered him a handsome salary as an editorial writer. That is the English way. They wanted to buy a man they could not beat. Griffith, of course, saw this clearly, but is chronic poverty never tempted him and he declined.“Dies Suddenly”, p. 2.
In 1921 Griffith was appointed chairman of the five-member Irish delegation that negotiated the Anglo-Irish Treaty with the British government, which ended the war and laid the foundation for the 26-county Free State. He became president of the fledgling government after the Treaty was narrowly approved and Éamon de Valera resigned the position.
Griffith’s death in the second month of the Irish Civil War was followed on Aug. 14, 1922, with the passing of Northcliffe. He died of a heart infection, aged 57. His is generally recognized for transforming the British press from its traditional informative and interpretative role to that of the commercial exploiter and entertainer of mass public.By the editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, Updated
Much of Griffith’s earlier polemical writing in Nationality was devoted to denouncing the iniquity of press barons such as Northcliffe, who was condemned as “the Cromwell of journalese” and an “evil genius” seducing people with “triviality or gross idiocy”.Maurice Walsh, The News From Ireland: Foreign Correspondents and the Irish Revolution. Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2008, p. 118-119, citing Ben Novick, Conceiving Revolution: Irish Nationalist … Continue reading In America, which he visited frequently, Northcliffe was regularly criticized by the nationalist News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom.
“Americans of Irish blood are confronted with no greater difficulty than that of combating the far reaching effects of the presentation of English and Irish news from the English point of view,” the weekly wrote in 1920 criticism of the Public Ledger of Philadelphia, which syndicated content from Northcliffe’s Times. “America is the victim of the short-cited policy of some editors and publishers who fail to realize that they are being exploited by Northcliffe propaganda.”News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom, May 1, 1920, p. 5.
Northcliffe was certainly a critic of British Prime Minister Lloyd George. And the Connaught Telegraph noted, “Towards Ireland he was–of late years, at any rate, a devoted friend.””Death of Lord Northcliffe”, Connaught Telegraph, Aug. 19, 1922.
A year after these two deaths, Irish writer Shaw Desmond, a Southern unionist, suggested in his book that the Times’s coverage of the Irish war under Northcliffe’s leadership “frequently distinguished itself by its fairness.” Desmond also portrayed Griffith as “the first to crack” in the treaty negotiations with George.Shaw Desmond, The Drama of Sinn Fein, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1923. Northcliffe, p. 334; Griffith, p. 485.
In less than two weeks after the deaths of these two Irish journalists, the assassination of Michael Collins would draw more press attention to the strife in Ireland.
|↑1||Michael Laffan, “Griffith, Arthur Joseph” in Dictionary of Irish Biography.|
|↑2||“Arthur Griffith Dies Suddenly in Dublin”, The Gaelic American, Aug. 19, 1922, p. 1.|
|↑3||”The Smiling Swordsman/Chapter 2″ of McCoy’s “The Lads Who Freed Ireland” series, Minneapolis (Minn.) Morning Tribune, Feb. 7, 1922, via United Features Syndicate.|
|↑4||“Dies Suddenly”, p. 2.|
|↑5||By the editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, Updated|
|↑6||Maurice Walsh, The News From Ireland: Foreign Correspondents and the Irish Revolution. Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2008, p. 118-119, citing Ben Novick, Conceiving Revolution: Irish Nationalist Propaganda during the First World War, Four Courts Press, Dublin, 2001, p. 167.|
|↑7||News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom, May 1, 1920, p. 5.|
|↑8||”Death of Lord Northcliffe”, Connaught Telegraph, Aug. 19, 1922.|
|↑9||Shaw Desmond, The Drama of Sinn Fein, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1923. Northcliffe, p. 334; Griffith, p. 485.|