Museums of Mayo - museums to visit in County Mayo

Michael Davitt, Author

Michael Davitt Museum, Straide, County Mayo

Michael Davitt was the author of six books, which we are honoured to have on display here at the Michael Davitt Museum, Straide, Co. Mayo. They are all first editions, dating from 1885 to 1904, with inscriptions on two of the books by the author himself, and also one with an inscription by his sister Sabina Davitt. They are part of the prized collection of artefacts on show here at the museum, and are carefully stored in a glass case, protective gloves are available for anyone wishing to handle them.

"Leaves from a Prison Diary" (1885) is Davitt's first book, and was written as a series of essays while he was incarcerated in Portland prison. They chronicle his experience of prison life and are based on his deep reflections on a wide range of topics. He states how appalled he was by the barbarity and harshness of the system. He questions what turns people into criminals, and asserts that the elimination of poverty and the development of good educational opportunities for all could be part of the solution. On his release he used these saved manuscripts to write the book.

It is divided into three volumes, the first entitled "Criminal life and Character" consists of twenty different observations on the subject. The second volume entitled "Social Evils and suggested Remedies" has eleven, and the third entitled "political crime and political justice" has many. It is said to be a book of enduring value.

Davitt's next book, "Defence of the Land League", is the text of his speech to the Times-Parnell Commission from 24th to 31st October 1889 and published in 1890. It was written in response to the charges of "Complicity" in crime brought against Charles Stewart Parnell, and other leaders of the Land League including Davitt himself.

Davitt's third book "Life and Progress in Australasia" was written following a seven month lecture tour of Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand, published in 1898. In this book he outlines the political system and parliament in each of the seven self-governing colonies, deploring the fact that Ireland with a population of five million had at that time been refused self government whereas Australia with a population of 45,000 had authorization to draft their own constitution for self government by a British act of Parliament. He toured the goldfields meeting the miners, and heard of their experiences of exploitation by some of the mine-owners, regarding low wages and poor safety procedures. He was critical of the treatment of the Australian Aborigines by the white settlers, and deplored the land tenure system and experiments in communal farming underway in South Australia.

Davitt's next book "The Boer fight for Freedom", is an account of the second Anglo-Boer War (1889-1902) it is based on Boer sources of information, and his own opinions arising from a visit to the Transvaal and the Orange Free State, from March to May 1990. On receiving a commission from "The New York American Journal" to report on the Boer War, Davitt travelled around the two Boer republics, meeting civil and military leaders including De La Rey and Botha, whose heroic acts he vividly describes with the pen of a trained author and correspondent. He describes how he was present at the last session of the Boer parliament, the Volksraad, before the British captured Pretoria. He arrived back in Ireland in July 1900 where he brought the story up to date with the help of press reports; he published this book in 1902.

"Within the Pale" the true story of Anti Semitic persecutions in Russia 1903 was Davitt's next book. A Pogrom was initiated on the 19th April 1903 in the Russian province of Bessarabia, against Jews in the town of Kishinev, (alias Chisnau)and now the capitol of Moldova, resulting in the deaths of 51 people and 400 people injured, and considerable damage to property. He had been appointed by Randolph Hearst, the American newspaper magnate to investigate the accuracy of the reports, and was seen as an impartial observer, his accounts were published in American and European newspapers. Following visits to the area, he traces the background of the Jewish people in the Russian Empire and the origin of the Anti-Semitic feeling there, which led to the Kisinev pogrom, and possibly many other massacres. Michael Davitt became a strong supporter of Zionism (a movement for the re-establishment of a Jewish nation in what is now Israel), he also discusses allegations of government collusion in the atrocities.

"The fall of Feudalism in Ireland" 1904, was Michael Davitt's last and some say, his most important book. In it he traces the history of the Land Campaign from 1879 - 1903, incorporating some of the same material included in "Defence of the Land League" There is a wealth of information on the Land League, and the motives and aspirations of its founder. There are 715 pages in all, and it is an invaluable contribution to the history of nineteen century Ireland, written by the chief architect of the Land League. It is a considered a fair and balanced record of that period from the viewpoint of the Tenant farmers, it took less than a year to write, containing interesting comments on the main characters, especially Charles Stewart Parnell