Davitt: The Fall of Feudalism in Ireland

Pdf Davitt, Michael. The Fall of Fuedalism in Ireland, or the Story of the Land League Revolution. London & New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1904
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Michael Davitt was born in Straide, County Mayo in 1846. His father was a tenant farmer who was evicted during the Great Famine, forcing the family to emigrate to Lancashire. Here Michael was employed as a child labourer at just nine years of age and lost his right arm in a factory accident in 1857.

Davitt joined the Fenian movement in 1865 and in 1868 he became Secretary of the IRB, working as an armaments agent in England. He was later arrested for smuggling arms to Ireland and was sentenced to 15 years penal servitude, although he was released after seven years.

Davitt was deeply concerned about workers and gave a lecture tour of England, Ireland and America on the subject. On the formation of the Irish National Land League in 1879, he was appointed honorary secretary and Charles Stewart Parnell was elected president of the league. This organisation united all the different strands of land agitation and tenant rights movements.

From 1880 to 1892, the “Land War” in pursuance of the “Three F’s” (Fair Rent, Fixity of Tenure and Free Sale) first demanded by the Tenant Right League in 1850, was fought in earnest. The League organized resistance to evictions, rent reductions and assisted relief agencies, but denounced excessive violence and destruction.

In 1881 Davitt was sent to Portland jail with other leaders and it was here that he wrote his Leaves from a prison diary. He was elected MP for South Mayo in 1895 and in 1898 he, together with William O’Brien, founded the United Ireland League. In 1899 he resigned his parliamentary seat, in protest against the Boer War.

Davitt published The Fall of Feudalism in Ireland in 1904, an account of the struggles of Irish tenant farmers in the late 19th century. This book is a valuable record of his time. In it, Davitt acknowledged Parnell’s ‘claim to greatness’, but detailed how he felt Parnell had disappointed him with the divorce scandal following the revelation of his relationship with Kitty O’Shea. He held him solely responsible for the tragedy of the split of the Irish Party.  He details conversations which he had with Parnell which prove his support of him in much of his agrarian reform work but disagreeing with him over the emphasis of nationalism over worker’s rights.

Davitt helped found the English Labour Party with Kerr Hardie in 1905. He died in Elphis Hospital, Dublin on 30 May 1906, aged 60, from blood poisoning. By the time of his death, the land for the people had largely become a reality, the reform of prisons had begun, and he himself had become an international campaigner for liberty.

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