By Brian McCabe
Among the many interesting artifacts in the award-winning Cavan County Museum in Ballyjamesduff, Co. Cavan, is a small revolver which belonged to one of the State’s founding fathers, Arthur Griffith.
Griffith, who was born in Dominick Street in Dublin on 31st March, 1871, trained as a printer (his father’s trade) but went on to become a crusading journalist and, eventually, one of the leading members of the Irish nationalist movement in the early twentieth century.
In 1903, he formed the National Council and, at its annual convention in 1905, elaborated his ideas for national independence under the name ‘Sinn Féin’.
Griffith’s idea was to develop effective independence under the (British) crown in a dual-monarchy arrangement similar to that which had operated successfully in Austria-Hungary.
When Griffith’s newspaper The United Irishman was bankrupted by a libel action in 1906, he launched a new paper which he called Sinn Féin. Soon, a political party of the same name was organised, of which Griffith became president in 1911. In 1913, Griffith joined the Irish Volunteers. He did not take any part in the 1916 Rising but was, nonetheless, subsequently interned in England until the end of that year. Recognising the more militant form of nationalism which was then emerging, Griffith unselfishly stood aside and allowed Eamon de Valera to be elected president of Sinn Féin in 1917.
Griffith, however, was to rise to national prominence again the following year – and this is where the Cavan connection comes in.
Following the election of Sinn Féin candidates in Roscommon (Count Plunkett), Longford (oe Mc Guinness) and Clare (Eamon de Valera) in 1917, Sinn Féin had begun organising in County Cavan on the basis that a by-election might soon arise there, as the County was then represented by the 95-year-old Irish Parliamentary Party MP, Samuel Young.