Michael Davitt Memorial Association
Michael Davitt Museum, Straide, County Mayo
Mrs Nancy Smyth, ably assisted by a group of like-minded people, founded the Michael Davitt Association on The 9th November 1972 in Straide County Mayo. They became known as The Michael Davitt Committee.
The Committee's main aim was to commemorate the memory and achievements of Straides' native son Michael Davitt, whose family had lived in the area during the mid-19th century. The Davitt family were among thousands of victims of the landlord system of Ireland, who were forced to leave their homes in order to survive. Prior to the work of the Association there was nothing in the area to inform people of the Patriots' contribution to society.
They wanted to inform people of the Patriots' life, his place in history as the "Father of the Land League" and of the man as an Idealist, a Nationalist, a Fenian, a Labour activist, a writer and Journalist, An Historian and Internationalist, and a Mayo man. They hoped to bring to the light his global travels as a peoples' champion and also to give meaningful expression to his work and aspirations.
Creating a tourist attraction in a high unemployment area was of most importance. In May 1974, the Association attracted ever-increasing membership outside the area, with meetings being held in Castlebar and Bohola. In 1980 the Association applied for "Company limited by guarantee" status. At present there are seven Directors on the board.
The first fundraising campaign took the form of weekly Irish nights throughout the county, concerts, draws, fashion shows, door-to-door collections, and church gate collections. Donations were received from various Mayo Associations in the USA, Great Britain, and Australia. Mayo County Council gave a very generous donation of £8,000.
ACTIVITIES AND ACHIEVEMENTS
- 1975. First brochure with history of Michael Davitt by Peter Filan launched in Dublin, sponsored by Mayo Association.
- 1977. First donation of Davitt artefacts received from Davitt-O Hogan family.
- 1978. An essay and project competition was run for 1st and 2nd Level schools, sponsored by Siucre Eireann Ltd. First site of approximately 3-Acres was purchased from local man Jim Roache. First scholarship at University College Galway sponsored by the Irish Farmers Association and North Connaught Farmers for research in Dairy Science section.
- 1979. A successful week of celebrations was run throughout the county to commemorate the Centenary of the Land League. The period prior to these celebrations was a very busy time for the Association. It was envisaged that the green area in front of the Abbey be used for the official opening, and a major clean up and landscaping would be required, a delegation sent to Mayo County Council received a favourable hearing, with the Council spending £12,000 on the landscaping of this important site. It was during this work that the Office of Public Works and the National Irish and Historic Monuments were called in when workers came upon the remains of the Abbeys' 13th Century drainage system, and other finds. Padraic Filan, who was chairman at that time, helped with the research for a 2-hour Documentary on the life of Davitt produced by Sean O Mordha of RTE TV.
- 1982. The Association received planning permission for the Museum, and work started on the project. Minister Gene Tunney TD laid the foundation stone, and it was built as a Community Youth Training Project.
- 1984. Official opening of the new building by Nobel Peace Prize winner Sean Mc Bride. "Davitt Remembered" by Bernard O'Hara published. Artefacts for the Museum were collected throughout Ireland, Britain and USA; the Davitt family were most generous in donating material. State institutions in Dublin, Belfast and London co-operated with the Association in their research of Police and Prison material, which was subsequently photocopied for the Museum.
BACKGROUND TO CURRENT MUSEUM BUILDING AND RESTORATION OF PENAL CHURCH
Two years after the Museum /Davitt Centre opened, it became obvious to the Association that in order to deal with the demands and standards required for tourists visiting the Museum, a larger building would be more appropriate, so the committee decided to meet with Bishop Flynn of Achonry with a view to acquiring the derelict ruin of the Penal Church where the Patriot Davitt was christened in 1846. The Church had not been used since 1912 for religious worship. The meeting had a successful outcome, with the committee gaining permission to restore and renovate the building for use as a museum. They set about restoring it at a cost of £500,000.
1996. The Association ran celebration activities throughout the year marking the 150th Anniversary of Davitt's Birth. President Mary Robinson performed the opening of Festivities. An exhibition on the "Life of Davitt" toured over ninety venues where Irish festivals were taking place during 1996 in the USA, and was very well received by up to ten million people there.
1996 November. The Department of Arts, Culture, Gaeltacht, and the Islands granted £200,000 for new building project, former Taoiseach John Bruton visited the Museum and made the announcement. The Association received matching funding for the project through generous sponsorship, a further £1,000,000 was raised, enabling them to furnish and equip the new Museum. An audio-visual was put in place for tourists unfamiliar with the story of the Patriot's life.
1998. A Successful open day was held to highlight findings of the Archaeologists at the site of the Penal Church, the ruin of the 13th century Abbey, and the work of the Museum.
2000 May. The Foundation stone was laid in the restored Church by Minister Eamon O Cuiv TD.
2000 November. Official opening of the New Museum by Taoiseach Bertie Ahearn. Dr. Brian Laurence Marley of Belfast received a Postgraduate doctorate scholarship for research work on the latter part of Davitt's life. A Davitt remembrance evening was held in the House of Commons, Westminster, London hosted by Kevin McNamara, M.P. with speakers on various aspects of the Patriot's life.
2006 March. Lord Mayor Alan Dean and his daughter Helen, Mayoress of Liverpool, planted a tree commemorating the arrival of the Davitt family, on the first stage of their journey to Haslingden in 1850.
2006 May. Moy Davitts GAA Club organised a weekend of Celebrations of Culture, History, Sport, fun and friendship.
2006 May. Centenary commemorative wreath laying ceremony, with oration performed by Minister Eamon O Cuiv, T.D. Minister for Community, Rural, and Gaeltacht Affairs. Eleven of Michael Davitt's grand children were present.
May 15. An Enactment of Michael Davitt's Funeral, with steam train and horse-drawn hearse was held.
2006 June. Conference on the life of Davitt held in Pontoon Bridge Hotel.
2006 August. Visit of the NEW YORK SHEILDS PIPE BAND of the NYPD, New York.
2006 September. An Post issued a commemorative Davitt stamp launched by Noel Dempsey, T.D.
The Museum has made a big impact on the tourist business in the surrounding area, presently we have close to 200,000 people visiting the Museum, Patriot's Grave, and adjoining 13th Century Abbey. Many of these people state how much it means to them to have this period in Irish History brought to life for them, and are forever grateful to the Association for their commitment to the project of restoring Michael Davitt to his rightful place in History.