Thursday, 12 March 2015

Michael Davitt

Michael Davitt aged 37

Haslingden (1850 to 1870)

Was born on March 25th 1846 at Straide, County Mayo. The first son of Martin Davitt and Catherine (nee Kielty). He had one older sister Mary and two younger sisters Anne and Sabina.

Although only aged four years and half years at the time (1850), he never forgot the indignation of his parents has the family were evicted from their cottage/farm. The eviction was the result of arrears in rent which came about through hard times as a result of the great famine.  After their eviction they briefly entered a local workhouse, but when Catherine discovered that male children over 3 years of age had to be separated from their mothers, she promptly decided her family should travel to England to find a better life, like many other Irish people at this time.  They travelled to Dublin with another local Irish family and in November reached Liverpool, making the 77 kilometre journey to Haslingden, in East Lancashire, by foot.There they settled.  Davitt was brought up in the closed world of a poor Irish immigrant community with strong nationalist feelings and, in his case, a deep hatred in landlordism.

This was Davitts home in Wilkinson St
from 1867 to 1870 - The spot

is now marked with a
Davitt Stone Memorial and Plaque

Settlement in Haslingden - from that early age (1850)  

On arrival in Haslingden towards the end of 1850 (aged 4), the families very first accommodation may well have been a straw carpeted cellar in Pleasant Street, or there again it may have been at a property in Wilkinson Street with the Irish family of Mr Owen Egan, or maybe both. One thing for sure is that the family later moved to a house of their own at No.6 Rock Hall. They left Rock Hall in 1867 (aged 21) and the family then returned to Wilkinson Street and this was to be their home for the next three years up until Davitt's parents and his younger sisters emigrated to the United States in 1870 (aged 24).  His older sister Mary had already emigrated to the United States earlier following her marriage to Neil Padden.

Religion always had a major influence on Davitts life

Throughout his life Davitt's fidelity to the Church never wavered, even though there were times when his attachment to it was to be sorely tried. 

When the Davitts first settled in Haslingden local Catholics formed part of the mission of St. James-the-Less at Rawtenstall. Attendance at Sunday Mass meant a one and a half mile walk to a church capable of accommodating only a fraction of the widely scattered congregation.  The situation became easier in 1851 when Father Unsworth recognized Haslingden as a "Station" within his mission, visiting the town occasionally to offer Mass. It was not until 1854 (aged 8), however that the Bishop of Salford was able to send a resident priest to Haslingden.  Father Thomas Martin, a newly-ordained priest, arrived in August to learn that his newly-established mission lacked a Church, School or presbytery.  Undaunted at the prospect Father Martin was encouraged on his arrival by the warm welcome extended to him by the Catholic community and a number of local Protestants.  Within weeks rented accommodation for a Church and School had been secured, the opening being commemorated with a Mass on Sunday September 3rd, 1854.  Initially the mission lacked a name, the omission being made good on December 8th, when it was dedicated to Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. 

The opening of the mission for the Davitts meant that Mass was now offered on Sundays and Holydays, while the children had access to the day and Sunday School. Landmarks in the development of the mission were undoubtedly the day in 1859 (aged 13) when Bishop Turner visited Haslingden and laid the foundation stone of the new church and the completion of the church later that year. Events of a more intimate nature for the Davitts came in 1861 (aged 15) when all the children were confirmed by Bishop Turner, Michael receiving the name Joseph (a name he would later employ as his nom-de-plum during his time as a revolutionary). 

Education whilst in Haslingden
First taught at home by his father Martin Davitt. Four years later in 1854 (aged 8) a Catholic day school opened in Wilkinson Street of which Michael attended, the school was conducted by Mr William Burke. Michael referred to the school as “Burke’s Spelling Purgatory”.  He quit that school as soon as a job came along in 1855 (aged 9). Over the next two years he worked in three different Mills until tragedy struck on May 8th 1857 (aged 11) whilst working for John Stelfox at the Alliance and Victoria Mills in Baxenden. (I will elaborate on this incident in a separate paragraph later). 

After his tragedy and now being left with only one arm, it was felt by his then employer Stelfox that his period of usefulness at their Mill had come to an end.  Sadly he never received any help or compensation for the accident.

Thankfully on recovering from his accident, a local benefactor in the name of John Dean (a Wesleyan and Cotton Mill Proprietor) helped to send him to a Wesleyan school, which was connected to the Methodist Church and where he received a good education.  Dean's act of charity was to be kept anonymous from all and would never become public knowledge during the lifetimes of both John Dean and Michael Davitt. (John Dean died in 1873).

Davitt entered the Wesleyan Day School as a pupil in 1857 (aged 11) and was to remain there for four years (up until the age of 15).  Situated in Chapel Street, the school was under the direction of a certificated master, Yorkshire born George Poskett.  Under Poskett the school grew in numbers and standards improved to such an extent that the school was placed under Government inspection in 1857, the first to be so in Haslingden.

Poskett formed a high opinion of Davitt's aptitude as a scholar, and while no certificate was awarded at the end of the four year course, there is no doubt that the instruction imparted at the Wesleyan school equipped Davitt with the ability to continue his education later, often under trying circumstances. 

A beautiful drawing showing Michael Davitt in the upper rooms of the Mechanics Institute (Haslingden Library) - source unknown

At sometime around the period of 1861 (aged 15)  Davitt was to start work at Henry Cockcroft's Printing business.  Also around this same period Davitt started night classes at the local Mechanics Institute and used its library.  He became very interested in Irish history and the contemporary Irish social situation after coming under the influence of Ernest Charles Jones, the veteran Chartist leader, and his radical views on land nationalisation and Irish independence. 

The Workplace for Michael Davitt 

In 1855 (aged 9), at such a young age Michael Davitt had his first taste of work, when he started in the employ of John Parkinson at his Ewood Bridge Mill.  It was a textile mill and Davitt's work was first as a doffer, then a bobbin tenter, and eventually to a mule spinner. This employment was to last no more than four weeks because he only received half of his promised pay and those days young workers had no trade unions or protection of any kind.

Months later Davitt managed to get employment at one of the local Mills owned by "The Old Master" Lawrence Whitaker.  This employment did not last longer than one week when Davitt was made to quit by his parents because of the atrocious safety record which came to light at Whittaker's Mills.

"Davitt's Haslingden" by Dr. John Dunleavy
Davitt's third encounter with the Cotton Mills was to end in tragedy! In 1857 (aged 11) Davitt worked for John Stelfox at his Alliance Mill which was another Cotton Spinning establishment based in Baxenden (the old Alliance and Victoria Mill remnants today are just a little further on than where Hollands Pies is situated.)
Davitt would appear to have been employed either as a doffer, or possibly as a "piecer", joining the broken threads during the spinning process. At the end of his first week he proudly presented his mother with his wage of five shillings, which he assured her would soon make the family well off.  Such optimism, however, was not to last for long: one day, after being ordered to tend a machine by another operative, a skein became entangled in the machinery.  In trying to untangle the thread, Davitt's right arm became trapped between the rollers and was so badly mangled before the machine could be stopped that the arm had to be amputated ten days later. It was recorded by the late Mr. Jim Garnett that young Michael Davitt only had a "strong dose of Pf Rum" before they carried out the amputation of his arm, and that the severed arm was later interred in consecrated ground by the Catholic Church in Rawtenstall. Jim was informed of this information by his Grandparents who lived on Wilkinson Street close to the Davitts. 

Following on from his tragic accident, together with the four years he had spent at the Wesleyan School, it was now 1861 (aged 15) and Davitt managed to procure employment with Henry Cockroft who was the Town's Postmaster and who also ran a printing and stationery business which was situated on Regent Street at the corner with Bell Street. The building is still there today, over the years its been several different sorts of businesses.

Alliance Mill where Davitt lost his arm
Henry Cockroft was a well-known figure in the town with being a leading Anglican and Churchwarden at the Parish Church and also he was a Conservative by politics.  Yet there was also an artistic side to him and one of his pastimes was writing poetry.  Whilst in the typographical trade he had acquired a high reputation as a designer and printer of decorative posters and handbills. So Cockcroft became intrigued and delighted at the ingenuity displayed by his one armed assistant in the printing works, and wrote a lengthy letter to the Typographical Advertiser, lauding Davitt's diligence and skill and he thus has the distinction of providing the reader with the first known fragment of a Davitt biography. 

Davitt became a firm friend not only of his employer but the whole Cockroft family, and this friendship was to endure down the years.  There is no doubt that Davitt found his position very congenial, for the location and nature of the business meant that he was brought into contact with the leading people in Haslingden.  Hence, years later, long after Davitt had left the town and people claimed to have "known" Michael Davitt they had usually made his acquaintanceship during the time he was employed by Cockroft. 

Michael Davitt, - The Fenian

The 1860's found Michael Davitt an acutely aware person in the political sense.  While not indifferent to the various contemporary reform movements, given Davitt's ethnic origin it is not surprising that he was drawn to the revolutionary Fenian Brotherhood. 

In 1865 (aged 19) this interest led Davitt to join the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) which had strong support among working-class Irish immigrants.  He soon became part of the inner circle of the local group.  Two years later (aged 21) he left the printing firm to devote himself full-time to the IRB, as organising secretary for Northern England and Scotland, organising arms smuggling to Ireland using his new job as "hawker" (travelling salesman) as a cover for this activity. 

In 1867 (aged 21) Davitt participated in the abortive attempt to capture Chester Castle, hijack the Holyhead boat train, and ship the captured arms to Ireland.  Later in the same year the Fenians succeeded in freeing some of their leaders from a prison van in Manchester, but in the attempt a police officer was killed. 

Inevitably there were angry reactions in England at these audacious acts perpetrated by the Fenians.  The anti-Irish sentiment played into the hands of a group of extreme Protestant lecturers led by William Murphy.  The "Murphyites" maintained that there was a conspiracy between the Roman Catholic Church (which received much of its support from the Irish) and the Fenians to take over the United Kingdom.  The moral was obvious, Murphy argued: only when the Irish had been repatriated and the Catholic churches closed would the kingdom really be made safe from subversion.  A great deal of provocation took place in some towns, hostile demonstrations took place, and at Haslingden, following a Murphyite lecture a mob supposedly making for the Catholic Church were only deflected from their purpose when shots were fired over their heads in Pleasant Street. Davitt was reputedly the man who fired the gun. In addition to organising the defence of church buildings Davitt was now recognised as the leading figure in local Irish circles.  

Having by now come to the attention of the police he was arrested in Paddington Station in London on 14th May 1870 (aged 24) while awaiting a delivery of arms.  He was convicted of treason felony and sentenced to 15 years of penal servitude in Dartmoor Prison;  Davitt felt that he had not had a fair trial or the best of defence.

He was kept in solitary confinement and received very harsh treatment during the un-remitted portion of his term. In prison he concluded that ownership of the land by the people was the only solution to Ireland's problems.  He managed to get a covert contact to an Irish Parliamentary Party MP, John O'Connor Power, who began to campaign against cruelty inflicted on political prisoners.  He often read Davitt's letters in the House of Commons, with his Party pressing for an amnesty for Irish Nationalist prisoners.  Partially due to public furore over his treatment.  Davitt was released (along with other political prisoners) on 19th December 1877 (aged 31), when he had served seven and a half years, on a "ticket to leave".  He and the other prisoners were given a hero's welcome on landing in Ireland.

Davitt rejoined the IRB and became a member of its Supreme Council.  The British Government had introduced a concept of "fair rents" in 1870 as a part of the first of the Irish Land Acts, but he continued to hold that the common people of Ireland could not improve their lot without the ownership of their land, and frequently insisted at Fenian meetings that "the land question can be definitely settled only by making the cultivators of the soil proprietors".
Michael Davitts grave at Straide Co. Mayo,
(John O'Connor of Swinford - Chairman of
Davitt Museum 1984 - 1986

In 1873 (aged 27) while Davitt was imprisoned his mother and three sisters had settled in Philadephia, Pennsylvania. In 1878 (aged 32) Davitt travelled to the United States in a lecture tour organised by John Devoy and the Fenians, hoping to gain the support of Irish-American communities for his new policy of "The Land for the People".  He returned in 1879 (aged 33) to his native Mayo where he at once involved himself in land Agitation. 

There is also further documentation about the follow on years when Davitt was not resident in Haslingden  eg: (1876 to 1906) (aged 30 to aged 60) When on release from prison he became heavily involved with the formation of the Land League and was also very busy helping the land agitation cause through politics. 

Davitt died in Elphis Hospital, Dublin on 30th May 1906, (aged 60), from blood poisoning. The fact that the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland attended the funeral was a public indication of the dramatic political journey this former Fenian prisoner had taken.  The plan had been not to have a public funeral, and hence Davitt's body was brought quietly to the Carmelite Friary, Clarendon Street, Dublin.  However, the next day over 20,000 people filed past his coffin. His remains were then taken to Foxford, County Mayo, and buried in the grounds of Straide Abbey at Straide (near Foxford), near where he was born.

Davitt's - Haslingden Memorials

There is a mural tablet commemorating Davitt at St. Mary's Church, Haslingden unveiled in 1908.  Also the Church organ was given in memory of Michael Davitt.

On Wilkinson Street in Haslingden at just the site where Davitt's house used to be there is a memorial to Michael Davitt. 

1.  (I have tried to make references throughout all historic dates in relation to the age of Davitt at that time which are shown in bold type within brackets)

2.  (Most of this information has been extracted from the "Davitt's Haslingden" by kind permission of Dr. John Dunleavy and also some notes have been taken from the Wikimedia Commons Attributions articles).  I have also have had kind contributions from Marie Ives, Angus Lindsay and the undermentioned newspaper cuttings from Jackie at Haslingden Roots)

3. The above information covers most of the Davitt events that happened during the time Michael Davitt and his family were living in Haslingden (1850 to 1870). 

4. May I suggest if you want a more comprehensive read on Michael Davitt.  The following two publications are well worth perusal and available at the local Library:

Davitt's Haslingden by Dr. John Dunleavy, 
Davitt Exile and Exiles by Dr. John Dunleavy

also for Davitt generally, his "Jottings in Solitary and the Collected Writings of Michael Davitt, both compiled and edited by Carla King, provide an invaluable source of information.  There are also numerous other books on Davitt's writings. 

Following on are odd Newspaper Cuttings and a couple of brilliant poems which were done by the late Jim Garnett on the Davitt story and are portrayed on the walls at the IDL Club in George Street, Haslingden.  I will try and add further information from time to time.


Michael Davitt in the 1890s

The electors of Rossendale will next week have the advantage of seeing and hearing a man who is in some respects the most remarkable of his time – Mr Michael Davitt.  The Irish lad who lost his right arm in a Haslingden mill more than 30 years ago will re-appear in that town, the foremost man of his race.  But what is he coming to do? That is the question which the men who work for their living in the Rossendale Valley should ask themselves.  The answer most likely to be given to the question is – “Why he is coming to help Mr Maden to beat Sir Thomas Brooks.” But I hope and believe there is amongst the workers of Rossendale sufficient astuteness to see that Mr Maden and Sir Thomas Brooks in this contest are representatives respectively of two great powers, viz, the Power of the People and the Power of Privilege.  The real question at issue therefore is not merely whether Mr Maden shall beat Sir Thomas, but whether the Power of the People shall prevail over the Power of Privilege.  The privileged classes all over the world toil not, neither do they spin. It is their privilege to revel in luxury, and often in wantoness on the proceeds of the agony and bloody sweat of the people. But all over the World the people are engaged in a mighty struggle to get rid of the burden of privilege. No living man has done more than Michael Davitt to aid the toiling masses to accomplish this purpose, and he is coming to Rossendale next week to help the working men and women in this valley to strike an effective blow in the sacred cause of the people as against the selfish cause of the privilege.  Let the people of Rossendale look at the present contest in this light and they cannot have a moment’s hesitation in recording their votes for Mr Maden, the champion of the cause of the unprivileged people, and against Sir Thomas Brooks, the representative of the cause of the privileged class.  It is a great occasion.  The seat has for years been held by one of the foremost representatives of the privileged classes.  To win it for the representative of the cause of the people will be the greatest triumph that cause has enjoyed in recent years.  The victory of Mr. Maden will give a thrill of joy to all the friends of popular liberty, not only in Great Britain and Ireland, but all over the world.  Other victories have served to fill Irish hearts with confidence, and to unite the Irish and English people, but to win the seat lately held by one of the most powerful leaders of the Party of Privilege would do more than has yet been done to settle the Irish question, and make the way clear for the reactment of those other questions affecting the well being of the toilers of these islands which are every day becoming more and more argent.  In short, victory in Rossendale will be prophetic of the victory of the Party of the People over the Party of Privilege at the general election now rapidly approaching.
Michael Davitt has been all his life on the side of the People, as against Privilege.  Privilege as represented by Irish Landlordism cast him as a child out from his home upon the roadside in the time of the terrible Irish famine.  He came as so many more have done, to England, to compete in the labour market here, for a bare subsistence.  As he grew up he threw himself into the revolt against the tyranny of Irish landlordism shown in its ruthless land system and its brutal method of government.  How cruel was the Rule of the Privileged in Ireland, we can hardly conceive.  It begot Fenianism.  Many of the noblest and most devoted sons of Ireland joined the movement, Michael Davitt among the number.  Mr. Lecky, with callous cowardice, may decide Mr. Davitt as “presumably an assassin,” because he was a Fenian, but impartial history will describe the Fenian movement as a fierce revolt of the Irish People against Privilege and a revolt not more fierce than others known to English History.  Oliver Cromwell was “presumed an assassin.” no doubt, because he put down a tyrannical king.  Old John Brown was “presumably an assassin,” because he helped to put down slavery.  The list might be extended.  But it would be more just to describe as “presumably assassins” the upholders and champions of those brutal and selfish systems by which the privileged classes have enjoyed all the good things of life, while they have on occasion left the wretched People who toiled for them to die in ditches by the road side. However, let that pass. There is enough sense in Rossendale to enable the electors to see why Sir Thomas Brooke’s friends have set to work to abuse the other side.  They have a bad case – a very bad case, indeed.  For do they not know that if Michael Davitt had turned his coat – as the present Home Secretary has done – and had come to help Sir Thomas Brooks, not a word would have been said about his being “presumably an assassin!” Surely he would have been hailed as a repentant Prodigal, and glorified as a Saint.

True, Michael Davitt was, in his youth, a Fenian.  He was only 24 when he was convicted of treason-felony, and sentenced to fifteen years penal servitude.  The evidence upon which he was convicted was false.  He was not guilty of the “covert act” with which he was charged. That is to say he was not present at the Fenian meetings at which the Informer Corydon swore he saw him.  But that may be allowed to pass, too.   That he was a Fenian was true enough; but the poor Englishman who was convicted with him was as innocent as a child, and Davitt asked the Judge to spare the unhappy man and add his seven years to the fifteen allotted to himself.  The appeal was vain.  Poor Wilson went to gaol and never looked up again.  He is still living in Birmingham, and every now and then Michael Davitt supplies his needs.

The terrible torture endured by Mr. Davitt during the seven and a half years he was in English prison was alleviated by his own ingenuity and resolute will.  His old schoolmaster and his old employer at Haslingden have testified to his intelligence and diligence, and the schoolmasters of the prisons can give similar testimony.  Michael Davitt revealed himself as a strong man in this.  He resolved to come out of prison, not a broken, beaten man, but a stronger man.  He took another oath – that he would so cultivate his powers while in prison, that when he got out he would be able to attack the Power of Privilege with tenfold vigour and effect.  He read much and thought much.  The prisons library contained certain books.  Amongst them a Cassell’s Popular Educator.  Mr. Davitt studied this work thoroughly.  He mastered ???? several languages, and made himself conversant with political economy as ???????? the classics of Europe.  From certain of the magazines provided because they were supposed to be innocent, he gleaned much valuable information of the progress of events outside.  In another way, not through the prison library, during the later years of his imprisonment he obtained  Reynolds Newspaper occasionally, and was able to make communication with his friends.  When he emerged from prison he was not a broken, beaten man, but a strong man intellectually, a well informed, well educated man, thoroughly equipped for the war he had vowed to wage against Privilege on behalf of the People.  But he had no notion of fighting in the old way.  His wide reading and earnest thinking had led him to indulge a nobler vision.  It was that by appealing to the best instincts of both the Irish and the English peoples he might unite them against the common enemy, the Privileged Classes – that by the power of justice he might overthrow wrong, and by the power of love overcome hate.  It was a task of stupendous difficulty, as all will know who can remember the prejudice against the Irish which used to exist in England, and the suspicion of the English which existed in Ireland, and existed amongst the Irish in America to a still greater extent.  How he succeeded in this task is one of the most wonderful and intensely interesting chapters of modern history, but that he did succeed his reception in Rossendale next week will bear magnificent witness. 

Michael Davitt 1904 aged 58
He comes to the home of his boyhood the Leader of the Irish Race, to appeal to the people of this valley to strike a blow for the common cause of the Common People of Great Britain and Ireland – a blow that shall be felt the wide world over, and mark the doom of Privilege.  His appeal will not be in vain.  The champions of Privilege may speak of him as “presumably an assassin”, but as one who for many years has been honoured with his friendship, as one who was a Protestant Minister in Ireland through the whole period of the Land League agitation, and enjoyed exceptional opportunities of knowing the inner meaning of that movement, and the character of the men who were at the head of it.  I shall speak of Michael Davitt as I have found him, and I write him down as “one who loves his fellow-man”.  The Party of Privilege may seek to discredit him by speaking of him as “presumably an assassin” but I speak what I know, and, as a Christian Minister, I testify what I know – viz., that Michael Davitt turned the irish fight against the cruel tyranny and unscrupulous oppression of the poor, from a physical force struggle into a moral force struggle.  He did not succeed all at once.  It was the interest of the Irish Landlord Party to have plenty of crime and outrage while the agitation were proceeding in order that they might discredit those engaged in the work, and it is my firm conviction that there were quite as many manufactured outrages as real ones; but this I know, that Michael Davitt persistently brought the people to avoid crime and outrage, as wrong in themselves, and because they played the enemy’s game.  He has completely succeeded so far as Ireland is concerned, and though the Party of Privilege may claim that Mr. Balfour has given peace and prosperity to Ireland the truth is that whatever Ireland has gained during the last few years, she owes it to the fact that the leaders of the Liberal Party have legislated no longer in the interest of the landlord party, but in the interest of the people, and have ignored the counsel of the landlord party and accepted the counsel of the representatives of the irish people.  Therein lies the true way of dealing successfully with the Irish problem.    

Obituary (taken from one of the local newspapers of the time and dated: 31st May 1906

The Haslingden branch of the League was named after the patriot whose strenuous life so unfortunately terminated early yesterday morning.  Mr Davitt was in excellent health until a few weeks ago, and he rendered great help to English Liberal and labour candidates during the recent general election, his last appearance in Lancashire being on January 6th, when he spoke on behalf of the respective candidatures of Messrs. Kelly and Clynes, both of whom were successful at the poll. Aged 60 years in March last, Mr. Davitt had one of the most remarkable careers in Irish political history.  He will be best remembered as a fierce and life-long opponent of landlordism, a struggle which involved him in frequent imprisonment.  Altogether he spent over nine years in gaol, May 6th 1882 being 

A DARK DAY IN HIS HISTORY and in Irish annals.  It is the date of the murder of Lord Frederick Cavendish and Mr. Burke, in Phoenix Park, and Michael Davitt's day for rejoicing on his liberation from prison was turned into one of mourning.  "I wish to God I had never left Portland" was his cry as he learnt of this terrible misdeed of the Irish Invincibles.

Mr. Davitt succumbed in Dublin , after a brief illness, the cause of death being blood-poisoning, which appears to have been set up by the generally simple operation of the extraction of a tooth.  The end came peaceably and without pain.  At ghis bedside were his eldest son, Michael, two daughters, who had been attending him and a number of his most intimate friends. Mrs. Davitt has herself been ill, and was too weak to leave her room.  Under such pathetic conditions died the man who, while in Haslingden, commenced his career as a rebel, and later became a strenuous reformer of an admittedly harsh system of government.  He was an admittedly harsh system of government.  He was an untiring advocate of Land League principles, the Irish National League being practically the outcome of his efforts. 

ACCIDENT AT ALLIANCE MILL, BAXENDEN - "And it was there I had my arm so lacerated through being caught between exposed cog wheels that it had to be amputated ten days subsequently.  The accident occurred on the 8th of May, 1857 (aged 11).  Needless to say how proud I was of the part which dear old Haslingden played in the glorious victory which rescued Rossendale from the "paper Unionist."  I presume Sir Tom Brooks' colour is no longer a 'puzzle'.  Poor chap looked terribly blue when the poll was declared.  Yours truly, Michael Davitt."  Whether the proprietors of the mill at which the accident occurred were su bsequently responsible for -  MICHAEL'S  EDUCATION is not definately known, although it has been assumed that such was the case.  At that time there was of course no Catholic School in Haslingden, and one of Michael's teachers was Mr. Poskett, who has naturally always taken great interest in the career of his distinguished pupil. The misfortune already referred to in all probability contributed to the shaping of his after career.  When sufficiently recovered from the effects of the operation, which was performed by Dr. Taylor a Rawtenstall surgeon of repute.  Michael entered the service of Mr. Cockcroft, printer and stationer, and postmaster of Haslingden.  Here the future Irish leader remained for several years, employing his leisure hours in the cultivation of his mind and fitting himself for the part he has subsequently played in his country's history.  As a proof of Mr. Davitt's indomintable pluck, ready resource, and energy, even in his youthful days.

MR. MADEN'S ELECTION CAMPAIGN bore magnificent witness.  During the memorable campaign, which culminated in such a striking Liberal and Home Rule victory Mr. Davitt supported the candidate of Mr. Maden, and it was during his visit to Rossendale that he, in company with the Rev. J. Hirst Hollowell, of Rochdale, a well known minister who was actively exposing the cause of Home Rule, paid a visit to the house of his friends, Mr. and Mrs. Cartin.  Mr Davitt is held in affectionate esteem by Councillor Cartin, who has a distinct remembrance of his friend's impulsive temperament and disregard for danger.  Mr. Cartin remembers that when Michael's father and mother eventually emigrated to America, Michael, then a young man, accompanied the old people to Liverpool; that he was shadowed by detectives en route, and that he was very soon afterwards apprehended.  Mr. Davitt also spoke at St. John's School,  Baxenden, on behalf of Sir Joseph Lo_se, and on every possible occasion he has evinced an active interest in the locality which was formerly his "happy hunting ground." His earlier exploits are spoken of pretty freely by the older generation of Haslingden people, although many of the anecdotes are probably exaggerated.  It is recorded of him that he got together a band of Irishmen during the riots brought about by the visit to Haslingden of Mr. Murphy, the famous Protestant lecturer. 

AT COUNCILLOR CARTIN'S HOUSE Davitt's political opinions were moulded at an early age, and he would naturally be stirred to indignation by the recital of his father's eviction from the farm. His mother, who since coming to Haslingden is said to have gone about hawking smallwares, was a strong minded woman and she told him again and again in her native, passionate Irish the story of landlord tyranny and wasting famine; a speech delivered at a local meeting suddenly crystallised his anger and aspiration, and Michael flung himself heart and soul into the ill fated Fenian movement.  From being letter-carrier, book-keeper, and printer's devil he was eventually, in 1868 (aged 22), advanced to be a commercial traveller, dealing extensively in firearms.  During the Murphy anti-Catholic riots he is said to have organised the Catholics of the neighbourhood in defence of their churches, and to have shown himself, on more than one occasion, a cool and resolute leader, in spite of his physical disadvantage and early years.  In February 1867 (aged 21) he took part in the attempt to capture Chester Castle by a surprise attack, the attempt, like many other projects of the kind, coming to nothing.  With the treason trials of 1868 practically all the world, friend and enemy, regarded Fenianism as a game that had been played and lost.  Michael Davitt and many of his friends in the North of England, however, did not accept that verdict.  They continued to push on their "secret" organisation and to buy and store up arms that were never to be used.  For Davitt, the enterprise had a rapid and tragic issue. On May 14th 1870 (aged 24) he was

ARRESTED IN LONDON and on July 5th (aged 24) put on trial at Newgate in company with John Wilson, a Birmingham gunmaker, on a charge of treason-felony.  It is true that Michael Davitt, in his youth, was a Fenian.  He was only 24 when he was convicted of treason felony and sentenced to fifteen years penal servitude. 


Never more to let it slip.

It's now one hundred years ago,
The Land League started in Mayo,
The year was Eighteen Seventy Nine,
For Irishmen, a shocking time.
Hunger rages throughout the land,
Evictions rife on every hand.  
Jim Garnett 1979.



 Here above we have the two poems written by Jim Garnett in 1979.  Jim, a local historian and member of the IDL Club, was born in Devon and moved to Haslingden during the Boer War.  He resided at 189 Blackburn Road, till his death in 1981.  His wife Bridget (Beasy) formerly Melvin, from Ballina, Co. Mayo survived him by 12 months.  Jim's Grandparents lived on Wilkinson Street at the time when the Davitt's lived there and they were to become friends. 

(Kindly given permission to use these poems here within this blog, and the poems can also be seen displayed upon the walls of the Irish Democratic League Club in George Street, Haslingden. 14th Mar 2015) 

Michael Davitt – An Emotional Visit to the Place of his Birth
On this day, January the 28th in 1878, Michael Davitt visited his birthplace - the village of Straide in County Mayo. The Connaught Telegraph reported that; “He had not set eyes on the place since his departure as a child some 27 years previously. He found that not a vestige of his former home remained. The stones from his house had been used by the current Landlord, Henry Joynt to build boundary walls around other farms.” An old Poplar tree and a slight unevenness in the ground marked the spot where Michael was born. He did note however that; “The ruins of Straide Abbey were little changed from famine times.”
Davitt was warmly greeted by an enormous crowd which included his cousins, and former neighbours. He wrote to his mother saying that he was; “Received like a Prince.” He also talked about the importance of renewing contact with his native country.
Exile and imprisonment had separated Michael Davitt from a place that he loved. He understandably lingered alone for some time over the once familiar ground where his little house once stood. Eventually his companions gently reminded him that
“It was time to travel to Castlebar.”
He would return a few years later and address 15,000 people on the very spot where his home once stood.

Taken from article from the Michael Davitt Museum with thanks.    


17th April 2017 - from Paul P. Burns (GIFireE - Preston)

Dear Mr.Yorke,
Thank you for the comprehensive biography of Michael Davitt.

Your work was quite eminent and seminal.

He was one, if not the most outstanding of all the Irish Emancipators of his generation. He was as we say truly ‘A Man of the West’. In spite of dungeon fire, and sword they remain so...

His focus was the return of all the Irish lands to those who actually tilled it. Not for him the bright city lights of Dublin. A Man of the People.

Mayo his native county is recorded in John Mitchel’s Jail Journal as the most affected county in Ireland by An Gortha Mor (The Great Hunger) though this was preceded by several An Gortha Beag(The Small Hungers).

It is clear at a time when those in Mayo were walling themselves into their stone and sod houses in despair so that those passing would not see their death agony that Michael was born and he was thus one of the unique few of the survivors from those appalling days. To be then evicted was simply evil upon evil which clearly marked him for life but he never forgot his own humanity for others.

This period generated a greeting between the survivors of Mayo which still pertains in Mayo to this day when finding anyone is from Mayo... Mayo...God Bless Us all! ...meaning of course one of astonishment that anyone survived.

Perhaps that is why , as a working man, I have held such trenchant trade union views and activities within the Fire Brigades Union all my working life and still in retirement.

My Beloved Mother Mary Alice McManamon was from Newport a few miles from Michael Davitt’s birth place and was related via marriage and extended family to the Davitts my cousins who continue to reside in Newport to this day which included this last St.Patrick’s Day there...

Again a well done for your work and especially for your courage...

Yours Sincerely,
Paul P. Burns (GIFireE)



A letter of thanks from Mark Metcalf for information on Michael Davitt which he has included within the UNITE website as follows:

Click over to enlarge
Kindly shared with us by Peter Fisher

Please check out the Michael Davitt Museum Site by clicking here.

I also found a book which may be of interest to local historians. It’s a first edition (as far as I can make out) of Michael Davitt’s “The Boer Fight for Freedom”. It was printed in the USA in 1902, I would imagine because it would not be very popular in the UK! There is a dedication inside signed by Michael Davitt. The book could be in better condition externally but there are amazing illustrations of key players in the conflict. I plan to read it before doing anything with it. 
Mike Ryan (added here on 23rd Oct 2018)


Photo showing the unveiling of the Michael Davitt Memorial Plaque May 1956 
Photo: taken from Haslingden Guardian May 18th 1956 issue (thanks to Jackie Ramsbottom)

This shows a close up of the Memorial Plaque and area as it was from 1956 up until the 100 years celebrations - (Click over to enlarge)

On the 11th May 1956 was the
UNVEILING OF A MEMORIAL PLAQUE to celebrate MICHAEL DAVITT and erected on the site of his past home (from 1853 to 1867)

The memory of the Irish patriot Michael Davitt was perpetuated in Haslingden on Saturday by the unveiling of a memorial tablet on the site of his home from 1853 to 1867.

The esteem in which he is held found expression in the support accorded the ceremony and subsequent celebrations.  Approximately 1,000 people braved a strong wind to see Liverpool barrister Mr. W. J. Loughrey perform the unveiling, which revealed the bronze plaque centred in the specially constructed broken right angle corner walling.  A small flower bed was immediately in front and below the tablet, giving the layout an attractive appearance.
As already reported, the plaque was provided by members of the Irish Democratic League, Haslingden (Davitt) branch.  They sought the co-operation of the Town Council, who constructed the terraced corner walling and laid out the site.
On Saturday members of the Council and officials joined in the 500 strong procession which, led by the Mount Carmel Pipe Band, from Salford, paraded from the club by way of Deardengate, Pleasant Street, Bury Road and King Street to the memorial.  There club president Mr. E. Davison acted as chairman, and the Mayor (Coun. W.J. Everett) extended a civic welcome to the visitors

He described the day as an important one in the town’s history and commented that three years ago, when representatives of the club met the Council on the matter, he had been deeply impressed with their sincerity of purpose.

He knew Michael Davitt as a national figure and he welcomed visitors on behalf of the people of Haslingden because he felt the townspeople would like to be connected with the day’s ceremony.
The Pioneer
Mr. Davison extended a special welcome to 73 years old Mr. John Bourke of 3 Grane Street, who sat in an armchair close to the platform.  Mr. Bourke was venturing out for the first time in seven months and defied illness to be present.  Pioneer of the idea of the memorial and the writer of the inscription on the tablet, he had “just lived for the day.”
Mr. Loughrey, who commented that he always regarded Haslingden as one of the most hospitable towns in the country, said they were honouring one of their greatest citizens and one of the greatest Irishmen of these times.

His life was divided into two distinct parts his undying service to Ireland and his unselfish service to the democracy of England. He was a great Irish patriot and a great British reformer.

The day his family were evicted from their humble home in Ireland he determined to destroy for ever the landlordism which, in those days, was the most tyrannical in the whole of Europe.  He founded the Land League in 1879 after serving penal servitude for his part with the Fenian movement – the only organisation Irishmen could join.  The League had as its object the destruction of landlordism.
Shortly afterwards came his association with Parnell, whom Mr. Loughrey described as one of the great Protestant leaders of the Irish People.  Davitt knew the destruction of landlordism was necessary before he could get freedom for Ireland.  In destroying landlordism be performed the work he set out to do and, with Parnell, laid the foundation for the freedom of Ireland – though he did not live to see it come true.

Exhausted Himself
There was, he went on, no platform in England of a democratic character (particularly Labour) on which Michael Davitt did not exhaust himself in his efforts to obtain freedom and democracy.  Those efforts, coupled with all he had gone through, took so much out of him that he died in 1906.

Davitt preached a definite kind of democracy.  It should not persecute nor terrorise, but be the free march of free men for the common good.  His name was a memory never to be forgotten by the people of this country and the people of Ireland.

Among the guest of honour was His Excellency the Ambassador of the Irish Republic, Mr. Frederick H. Boland, who, on behalf of the Irish government, expressed thanks to the Mayor and members of the Council for the facilities they provided for the erection of the memorial and to the club for their initiative.
Not Forgotten
People in Ireland, he said, would read with pleasure and appreciation of the ceremony and would be grateful to know that the community in which Michael Davitt once lived and in which he went to school, had not forgotten him or his work.  He was not only a great Irish nationalist but a great internationalist, and it was fitting that his memory should be commemorated in Haslingden.
Irish people, he went on, had found homes in many places throughout the world, and although they always kept a deep love for Ireland, they also made a solid contribution to the communities in which they had made their homes.

A son of Michael Davitt, Dr. R. Davitt, a consultant physician in Dublin, flew over specially for the ceremony, added his thanks to the Council and the club for the memorial.

Referring to his father’s accident at a Baxenden cotton mill, he concluded:  If my father left his arm in Baxenden, he left a lot of his heart in Haslingden.
M.P.’s Remarks
Member for the Division (Mr. Tony Greenwood) commented that they had with them at the ceremony the diplomatic representative of a free and independent Ireland which embodied everything Michael Davitt stood for.
He recalled that after losing his arm Michael Davitt went to work for a Haslingden printer who was also the post master, and Davitt would be delighted that attending the ceremony was a member of the Post Office who was also a member of the Town Council in the person of Coun. Bernard Molloy – something which in Davitt's day would have been almost undreampt of.
Tremendous courage was the hall mark of all that Michael Davitt did throughout his life.  He had a love of the working people and founded one of the first Labour papers in this country, and in everything he did there was that genuine integrity that great sincerity and wonderful courage which, one time and another, landed him in prisons in this country.

A man who was prepared to spend nine years of his life in prison for the things in which he believed was a man of infinite courage and deserved to be commemorated in the way they were doing that day.

Michael Davitt, once branded by this country as a traitor was to-day an honoured name throughout the world – as so many had seen the insides of prisons in various parts of the British Empire, but in their lifetime had seen independence for their people and held the highest positions in their countries.
Didn’t Live To See It.
It was a matter for great regret for all that Michael Davitt did not live to see his country enjoy the freedom for which he had worked and struggled for so long.
Thanks to those officiating at the ceremony were voiced by Coun. Molloy and seconded by Mr. G. Bourke and thanks to the Council were voiced by Mr. J. Flynn and Mr. V. Butler.  The Mayor responded.
After the memorial had been dedicated by Father Knowles a wreath “In memory of a great leader” was laid on the memorial by Mr. Davidson on behalf of the club members.
Approximately 100 guests were entertained to an enjoyable chicken and salad tea in the Co-operative Hall and a concert followed in the club at night which included the following artiste: Ivan Dixon of Burnley (tenor), Jimmy Quinn of Blackburn (ventriloquist and comedian), the Connolly Brothers of Bacup (versatile) and Miss Barker and Miss Barbara Hopkinson (Irish dancers), Mr. Albert Hamer and Mr. W. McGowan were pianists and chairmen were Mr. Davison (upstairs) and Mr. J. Gorman (downstairs).
Each member received a chit entitling him to 10 shillings of drinks during the evening and the general arrangements for the event were in the hands of a sub-committee comprising Mr. Davison, Vice-president, Coun. Molloy, Secretary Mr. L. Gill, treasurer Mr. D. Feeney, and Messrs. T. Rowan and V. Butler.
Among the principal guests were Ald. Hugh Llie, a former Lord Mayor of Manchester, and Ald. Lee Wright, of Liverpool; and also present were representatives from other clubs in the Lancashire and Yorkshire Federation, some coming from as far afield as Bradford, Halifax, Huddersfield and Dewsbury. 

(The above is extracted from the May 18th 1956 issue of the Haslingden Guardian which has been kindly contributed by Jackie Ramsbottom)

Michael Davitt's Memorial - March 1970

Also Celebrating 100 years since "Michael 

Davitt" (12th April 2006)

when the President of Ireland came 


visit Haslingden.

President of Ireland Mary McAleese unveiling the Irish flag
 to show the new inscriptions at the Davitt memorial
 on Wilkinson Street on 12th April 2006

It was buzzing! with police everywhere, and a good atmosphere was created whilst we waited to get a glimpse of the Irish President Mary McAleese and her entourage as they left the Irish Democratic League Club and make the short journey to the Davitt memorial on nearby Wilkinson Street.

President leaving the IDL on way to Davitts Memorial 
Click over photo to enlarge

The Irish leader was in town to unveil a plaque and attend an exhibition in honour of the historical figure who lived in Haslingden with his family from 1853-1867.  The visit was organised by the Irish Heritage in Haslingden Committee to celebrate the life of Michael Davitt, renowned as a leading figure in Irish history who rose to international political fame. The "People's President" was guest of honour at a civic reception hosted by the Irish Democratic League Club.

Whilst at the IDL Club, President McAleese told the audience there that "the fact they had gathered together 100 years after the death of Michael Davitt, showed just how strong his legacy was.  She continued to say "He overcame the worst cruelty that life could inflict on any human being and he returned to Ireland to champion the land reform and completely changed Irish history.  His work was key to the national regeneration and it was an extroadinary campaign which took phenomenal personal courage.  I like to think that it was here (in Haslingden) that he learned tolerance.  Many years later he came back to this town where he had grown up and they gave him a great reception. He loved Haslingden and he loved the people of Ireland and the two countries now enjoy their best relationship for 800 years.  We now drink from the well that he dug and the IDL clubs are a direct continuing link to Michael Davitt and the Land League".

Police taking a well deserved rest
Click over photo to enlarge

At the end of Wilkinson Street there were several police motorbike riders who were parked up and taking a well deserved rest after they had escorted the President to the Club (see photo to right). There were lots of interesting people in that crowd that day including well know local historians, and a Reverent father who I had known for a decade or two who had travelled to be at the celebrations. It brought lots of people out who I had not seen for years and it gave some of us the chance to catch up.  I took a few more photographs whilst at the memorial and will try and include them at the end of the blog or give a link to them.

Also among the dignatories on the day was the Ambassador of Ireland and also several direct descendants and members of the Davitt family who had travelled from all parts of the Country. There were lots of local dignatories representing historical, cultural, educational and political authorities.

President McAleese addressing the guest at the IDL Club. See Angus
in the background. (Click over to enlarge

She later left the IDL Club to go to her next appointment which was at the Haslingden Library on Higher Deardengate where she met lots of Haslingden Schoolchildren and also addressed around 90 invited guests about how important the Library had been to Davitt's career. Davitt studied Irish history in the town's Library after losing an arm at the Stelfox Mill in Baxenden.  He went to a local Wesleyan School and was an apprentice at Cockcroft's printers, learning to become a typesetter and book-keeper.

His East Lancashire education would see him play a leading role in the Irish Republican Brotherhood and the Land League of Mayo, battling the influence of wealthy landlords.

Davitt was the founder of the land league, which sought to help poor tenant farmers.  The IDL club was formed in 1880 and was housed in several locations before settling in the Conservative Club which was in George Street in 1911.

Here is a copy of where President McAleese signed the visitors book on the day
Click over to enlarge

A photo of yours truly with the man who is the Davitt authority, Dr.John Dunleavy. The photo
was taken whilst at the Davitt Memorial on that day by our mutual friend the Late Father Peter Knowles. 
(Click over to enlarge)

The president leaving the Davitt Memorial.
Click over to enlarge