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From Head of State to Working Man

Arthur Griffith (1872-1922)

Arthur GriffithArthur Griffith was a high profile figure in Irish politics. He founded and later led Sinn Féin and was President of the Irish Free State from January to August 1922. He was also head of the Irish delegation that produced the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1921. One of the British delegates at the Treaty signing stated: ‘A braver man than Arthur Griffith, I never met’.

Griffith’s passion for politics developed out of his interest in Irish culture and his journalistic work. He started out as a printer and later founded and edited the weekly nationalist paper Sinn Féin until it was suppressed in 1914.

Griffith joined the Irish Volunteer Force in 1913 and was involved in gun-running. Although Sinn Féin played no formal role in the 1916 Easter Rising, the Irish authorities and public presumed that they were involved, so Griffith was arrested. He was transferred from Woking to Reading Prison on 11th July 1916 and, like many other internees, was released on Christmas Eve 1916.

Given his high profile, journalists reporting on the Irish internees often name-checked Griffith. For example, in an article on the release of Irish prisoners, the Meath Chronicle reported that: ‘Amongst those who arrived in Dublin were Mr. P. T. Daly, T. C., ex-Alderman Cole, and Mr. Arthur Griffith. There were no popular demonstrations on the arrival of the train, the released men leaving the station quietly in taxicabs and other vehicles for their homes. A number of men who had been detained in Reading were amongst the arrivals yesterday morning’.

Weakened by the stresses and strains of the Irish War of Independence, his high profile role, and an acute attack of tonsillitis, Griffith died of a cerebral haemorrhage on 12th August 1922.

Joseph MacBride (1861-1938)

Although Joseph MacBride was involved in politics, he was not a high profile figure. He was aJoseph MacBride member of the Irish Volunteers and, later, a Sinn Féin MP for Mayo. At 55, he was the second-oldest Reading internee – Henry Discon, a law clerk, was 58. He was transferred to Reading from Wakefield Prison on 11th July 1916 and interned under the Defence of the Realm Act. Like Griffith and many others, he was released on 24th December 1916.

While MacBride worked as a harbour official, his brother, John MacBride, was a successful army Major who fought in the Boer War. In the Rising, Major John MacBride was second-in-command at the occupied Jacob’s Biscuit Factory. After a court martial under the Defence of the Realms Act, he was shot dead by British troops.

Within Ireland, there was great anger at MacBride’s internment. It was suggested that MacBride had been imprisoned merely due to his membership of the Irish Volunteers and the fact that his brother played a major role in the Rising. It was also alleged that he was ill-treated in Wakefield Prison, being confined to his cell for so long that ‘his health is being seriously undermined’. The same complaint was not made about his time in Reading.

MacBride lost his seat at the June 1927 general election and retired from politics. He died in 1938.


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