Letter showing how Arthur Griffith foresaw his death made public

New exhibition tells personal story of four key figures in the Irish revolution

Sinn Féin founder Arthur Griffith’s death on August 12th, 1922, during the Civil War shocked the country.

Griffith was the chief negotiator of the Anglo-Irish Treaty and its most redoubtable champion. When Éamon de Valera stormed out of the Dáil after it endorsed the Treaty in January 1922, Griffith took over as president of Dáil Éireann.

Seven months later he died of a cerebral haemorrhage aged just 51. Michael Collins, another signatory of the Treaty, was killed 10 days later.

Four months before his death, Griffith sent a chilling note to his wife on April 15th, 1922, from Sligo. “In case of anything happening to me, all that I possess to go to my wife. Let a sum of £50, however, be provided for my sister. I hope she will be looked after. Let the people stand firm for the Free State. It is their national need and economic salvation.”


The note is contained in a new online exhibition entitled Revealing Histories which tells the personal story of four people involved in the Irish revolution: Griffith, Kathleen Clarke, Austin Stack and Hanna Sheehy Skeffington.

A letter from Stack in February 1923, when he was on the run from the Free State government, also reveals a sense of fatalism. He writes to his future wife Winifred Cassidy, the widow of a RIC sergeant: "I expect to be back in a few days and with God's help I shall be. It is ridiculous I know to be writing farewells, but you will never know".

Also in Stack’s paper is a fascinating map of Strangeways prison in Manchester which housed many republican prisoners during the War of Independence. Michael Collins sprang Stack from Strangeways in October 1919.

Among the items from Clarke, the widow of Easter Rising leader Tom Clarke, is a typed copy of her speech delivered to Dáil Éireann in which stated that the whole power of the British Empire would never see her take an oath of allegiance to the king "though I am only a frail scrap of humanity".

Hanna Sheehy Skeffington too was widowed by the Easter Rising when her husband Francis Sheehy Skeffington was executed by a British officer.

She expresses concern in August 1918 about the health of Kathleen Clarke who was then incarcerated in Holloway Prison after having been arrested in May.

"I am gravely anxious about Mrs Clarke's health. She is critically ill and ought not to be kept in prison in her condition," she writes to Lord Mayo.

As well as exploring the political and social upheaval of 1922, Revealing Histories highlights key personal stories of these four people through the decades. "We are trying to do a deep dive into their personal papers to give us a look into their motivations," National Library of Ireland education assistant Maeve Casserly said.

“It shows some of the interconnectedness of their relationships. It also demonstrates the repercussions of these political events on their lives.”

Revealing Histories can be viewed at www.nli.ie

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times