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Michael Davitt – Radacach

     

The story of Michael Davitt, the Fenian and land
activist who reshaped Ireland, and set it on its
path towards cultural and political revolution.

Michael Davitt – Radacach

The trajectory of Michael Davitt’s life matched that of Ireland during his 60 year span (1846-1906) – a journey from poverty and emigration, towards dignity, and political and economic power.

Davitt was born into terrible poverty in Straide, in County Mayo. At the age of four, his family was evicted, and forced to emigrate to Lancashire, where Davitt worked from an early age. A combination of a serious accident in work, when he lost an arm, and later access to education, meant he became politicised, he joined the IRB, and was eventually imprisoned for seven years for gun-running.

On his release, his political work with the Land League broke the power of the landlords and helped to create a fairer distribution of land in Ireland. As a result, the colonial relationship between a subservient, marginal Ireland and a dominant, powerful Britain was reset. It’s no exaggeration to say that Davitt’s work paved the way for later cultural and political revolutions, and set the scene for the major changes that took place shortly after his death in 1906.

While Davitt is best known for his success with the Land League, he took many progressive positions throughout his life. He argued for the rights of native people in Australia and New Zealand, he exposed progroms of the Jewish population in Russia, he supported votes for women, he was hugely respected in England and Scotland as an early trade unionist and labour activist, and he believed strongly that the British working class was a natural ally of the Irish peasantry and vice versa.

Davitt’s story deserves a new audience. His life demonstrates what can be achieved when people use the potential they possess, to create a new reality in the face of overwhelming odds. Davitt was on the side of the poor and downtrodden, and would have been dismayed at the conservative states that emerged in a partitioned Ireland a relatively short time after his death.

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