Michael Davitt The Hero of the Irish Land League.

Michael Davitt

Maggie Pashley and I run a healing Centre and Airbnb in Foxford in County Mayo, in the beautiful far West of Ireland. See: www.foxfordairbnb.com

Come and have a holiday in this utterly beautiful place.

There are five museums nearby. One of them is the deeply moving and utterly caringly presented Michael Davitt Museum, Straide, Foxford.

Michael Davitt became a saviour of the Irish People. He worked to secure Land Rights for ordinary Irish people whose generations had been trashed by English Ascendancy Class Landlordism.

His formative experience was being evicted when he was age four and a half, because his family had fallen into arrears of rent due to the prolonged Famine. They lived in a farm workers’ ‘cabin’ in Straide in County Mayo, just a few miles from Foxford.

Agents for the English Landlord turned up and the family were put outside and they watched helplessly as the thatched roof was set fire to, then the walls demolished, so that they could not re-enter.

The family then walked to road to the Poor House at Swinford, seeing many piteous sights on the roadside on the way of people dead and dying and reduced to disaster by having to live in the fields.

When they arrived at the Work House, the family were told that as Michael was four, he was too old to be in the same room as his mother, as the sexes were segregated from age three years.

His mother declared that she would not be separated from her son, and that she would rather live by the side of the road.

They went by foot to Lancashire in England, and as soon as young Michael was old enough he had to work 12 hours a day to help support the family who were lodging with fifteen tenants in a terraced house.

Disaster struck when Michael was aged 12 and he lost his arm in mill machinery.

However, great opportunity arrived. A philanthropist paid for four year education for the devastated boy. Michael went on to become an Irish MP at Westminster.

There Michael Davitt met Mahatma Gandhi and following this meeting with The Mahatma, Michael brought methods of non-violent resistance to Ireland to fight for the Irish dispossessed at the hands of their English Ascendancy Class Landlords.

Michael Davitt became a saviour of the Irish People. He worked to secure Land Rights for ordinary Irish people whose generations had been trashed by English Ascendancy Class Landlordism.

Before he met The Mahatma, such was Michael’s hatred for what the British were doing to his Irish people, he took on a secret life, purchasing arms and ammunition and shipping it to Ireland for Fenians to attack British Troops, in the desperate fight for Independence.

He was caught doing this, however. He was arrested on 14th May 1870 at Paddington Station, awaiting a delivery of arms. He was tried for Treason, and he was sentenced to fifteen years’ imprisonment with hard labour.

Michael spent the first five years of his sentence in silence and solitary confinement, picking oakham out of second hand rope. The second five years was spent in hard labour at Dartmoor Prison. But after ten years’ imprisonment, Michael was given parole for the remaining five year on condition he did nothing treasonous to the British Crown.

Of course, he did do treason. He made speeches that the common people of Ireland could not improve their lot without the ownership of their land and he started to campaign for land rights. This was at the time of the 1879 Famine. He even became elected as an MP. And he served three subsequent periods in Prison.

But when Michael met Mahatma Gandhi, there was a great change. Michael renounced his campaign of violence.  He taught that political revolution should be achieved without killing, and on his deathbed, he said he forgave his enemies.

In 1886 Davitt married Mary (b. 1861), from Michigan USA. In 1887 he then visited Wales to support land agitation. The couple returned to Ireland and lived for a while in the Land League Cottage in Dublin, that was given to them as a wedding gift by the people of Ireland. They had five children, three boys and two girls, though one, Kathleen, died of tuberculosis aged seven, in 1895. One son, Robert Davitt, became a TD, while another, Cahir Davitt, became President of the High Court.

Michael resigned his seat in the British Parliament in protest at the British declaration of war on the Boers in South Africa. And although his health was broken, Michael then toured the world to help the suffering and oppressed poor. He went to South Africa to help the Boers in their struggle against the British Empire, and he went to Russia to help the Jews who were suffering persecution there.

Always, he was influenced by the peaceful resistance teaching of Mahatma Gandhi: nonviolent civil disobedience and the practise of truth: ‘Ahisma’. He was a respected colleague of the early English Socialist and Labour party leaders.

Michael died age 60 in Elpis Hospital, Dublin on 30 May 1906, from blood poisoning. the next day over 20,000 people filed past his coffin. His body was then taken by train to Foxford, County Mayo, and he buried in the grounds of Straide Abbey at Straide (near Foxford), next to the ruins of the house where he was born.

Visit the Michael Davitt Museum. The presentation is so moving. The staff there are totally wonderful.