Biographical Study

Read the following passage from a biography of Arthur Griffith and answer the questions.

Among his friends and acquaintances and co-workers, Griffith counted a number of women. His attitude to women and their rights was well ahead of contemporary opinion. He was a consistent supporter of greater rights for women in his various newspapers. In his first journal the United Irishman, at the beginning of the century, he welcomed the 'new spirit which regarded women as human beings rather than unthinking dolls.' Referring to the changing role of women, he described them as 'intellectual comrades and helpers in various concerns of public life ... in morals, no stronger and no weaker in the main than men, and worthy of frank, full confidence and trust, and of the highest and best education.' Women were not allowed to become members of CLS [Celtic Literary Society], but the first organisation that Griffith formed, Cumann na nGaedheal, was set up in 1900 to link small groups like the CLS and Inghíndhe na hÉireann (1) (Daughters of Ireland), an organisation for women established that same year by Maud Gonne. Indeed, Griffith unintentionally provided the inspiration for the formation of the Inghinidhe.

A group of women met in the CLS rooms after twelve o'clock mass on Easter Sunday 1900, among other things to collect money to buy a strong blackthorn stick with a silver handle to replace Griffith's South African sjambok (a whip made of dried hide) with which he had assaulted the editor of Figaro, a Dublin gossip journal, which had published an article declaring Maud Gonne to be in the pay of Dublin Castle. (Griffith was jailed for two weeks for his action.) Out of this meeting grew the new organisation.

In an article which praised women generally and the Inghínidhe in particular, Griffith declared: 'I wish Irish women would take over Ireland and run it for us.' Later he wrote 'If in the course of time we in Ireland ... came to live under a gynocracy (2), I should not repine. I am weary living in a world ruled by men with mouse-hearts and monkey-brains, and I want change.'

Although members of Inghínidhe na hÉireann were more militant than Griffith, most of them had respect and admiration for him. This was because he encouraged the active participation of women in public life and his various organisations made no distinction between men and women. It is interesting that Inghinidhe did not support the female suffrage movement even though the right to vote was the main women's issue of the day. Griffith did support it, and he saw no incompatibility between membership of Sinn Féin and the suffrage movement.

He strenuously objected to the police beating women who took part in suffragette demonstrations in Dublin. Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington (3) was dismissed in 1912 from her teaching job at Rathmines College of Commerce because of her militant tactics in behalf of women's suffrage. Griffith denounced her dismissal in his newspaper Sinn Féin and named the people responsible for the injustice. At the momentous Sinn Féin convention in 1917 he made an important statement on women's rights.

Brian Maye, Arthur Griffith, Griffith College Publications, 1997, pp. 22-3.

(1) An organisation for women nationalists.
(2) Rule by women.
(3) Founder member of the Irish Women's Francise League, a militant organisation campaigning for votes for women.


  1. What kind of source is this?
  2. Outline three difficulties that might arise for an author when researching and writing a biography.
  3. Outline two benefits and two difficulties associated with the use of biography for the study of history. Discuss any one benefit and any one difficulty you find in the above extract.
  4. Describe briefly how Inghínidhe na hÉireann, an organisation for women nationalists, came to be founded, according to this passage.
  5. Based on your reading of the above passage, state very briefly one policy of each of the following organisations with respect to women:
    Celtic Literary Society; Sinn Féin; Inghínidhe na hÉireann; Irish Women's Franchise League.
  6. Based on your reading of the above passage, describe Arthur Griffith's attitude to women at this period of his life.
  7. Having consulted the section Political aspects/Politicians & votes for women, above, suggest reasons for the contrast between Arthur Griffith's attitude to votes for women as expressed above and his attitude in 1922.
  8. Briefly discuss the above extract in the historical context of the period 1900 to 1922.


  1. Dramatise the meeting in the Celtic Literary Society rooms on Easter Sunday 1900.
  2. Role play an interview with Arthur Griffith in 1900.
  3. Role play an interview with a member of Inghínidhe na hÉireann in 1900.
  4. A member of Inghínidhe na hÉireann alive today, reflects on the position of women in Irish society now.


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