Michael Davitt (1846-1906) was an Irish republican and nationalist agrarian agitator, a social campaigner, labour leader, journalist, Home Rule constitutional politician and Member of Parliament (MP), who founded the Irish National Land League. He was born in Straide, Co Mayo where his family were evicted from their farm in 1852. The family emigrated to Lancashire where Davitt was employed as a child labourer and lost an arm in a factory accident at the age of nine. He later worked in a post-office and printing works.
In 1865 Davitt joined the Fenian movement and, in 1868, he became Secretary of the IRB and an armaments agent in England. In 1870 Davitt was arrested for smuggling guns to Ireland and sentenced to fifteen years imprisonment on the uncorroborated evidence of John Joseph Corydon, a spy. On his release in 1878 Davitt gave lecture tours in England, Ireland and in America. In 1879 he founded the National Land League with Charles Stewart Parnell. In 1881 Davitt was imprisoned in Portland Prison and was elected an MP for Co Meath but his election was declared void because of his imprisonment. He was released in 1882 and published 'The Prison Life of Michael Davitt'.
Davitt was elected MP for South Mayo in 1895 and in 1898 he, together with William O'Brien, founded the United Ireland League. In 1899 Davitt resigned his parliamentary seat over the Boer War. In 1903 he visited Russia and in 1904 he published 'The Fall of Feudalism'. Davitt helped found the English Labour Party with Kerr Hardie in 1905.
Davitt died in Elphis Hospital, Dublin on 30 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.
Archival History ↴
The Davitt papers were in the hands of Professor T.W. Moody, professor of modern history TCD and biographer of Davitt, and they were arranged, numbered and listed by him. His arrangement and catalogue remain in use but aspects of his numbering have been superceded. Additional listing done in TCD. Deposited in TCD Library in parts 31 March 1978 and 20 August 1980. Presented by Davitt's son, Judge Cahir Davitt, May 1982 and 17 June 1982 with additions later (January 1983).
Davitt’s papers MSS 9320-9681 comprise family, political and legal papers, diaries and notebooks, autobiographical writings and a large collection of photographs (MS 9649) of Davitt with his political associates and friends.
Appraisal Destruction ↴
The collection is arranged as follows:
9320-9526 Letters and papers
9527-9596 Diaries and notebooks 1877-1906
9597-9632 Presscutting books etc 1878-1923
9633-4 Legal proceedings
9635/1-6 Dillon, Valentine Blake – Legal papers prepared by VB Dillon & Co for the traversers in Queen v Parnell and others
9636-8 Davitt, Michael – further legal papers
9639-47 Autobiographical writings 1881-1904
9648 Published pamphlets by Davitt 1880-1902, and some other papers
9649 Photographs of Davitt; political associates and friends; tour snapshots, Italy and Holy land (1885), Canada (18886), Australia, New Zealand, Samoa, Honolulu, Hawaii (1895), South Africa (1900), USA (1901), Russian (1903-4)
9650 Further letters
9651 Miscellaneous writings for publication
9652 Correspondence with publishers 1898-1920
9653 Papers on Education controversy 1902-3, 1906
9654 Correspondence on the Colorado mortgage 1905-6
9655 Davitt, Eileen – letters to Eileen Davitt relating to the Davitt centenary 1946
9656 Presscuttings relating to the death of Dr. Michael Davitt 1928
9657 Notes and reports on the Boer War 1899-1902 and drafts of ‘The Boer fight for freedom’
9658 Letters etc on Davitt’s death
9659 Presscuttings on Davitt’s death and retrospectives on his life
9659a Addresses of welcome to Davitt
9659b Miscellaneous papers and letters
9659c/1-131 Collins, James – correspondence with Michael Davitt c. 1880-1906 and undated
9659c/132-141 Davitt, Michael – correspondence with James Collins ad miscellanea
9659c/142-174 Collins, James – correspondence of James Collins 1882-1913 and undated
9659d Letters and papers of James Stephens the organiser of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and the Fenians 1848-1901, includes items from 1684 and 1687 (496 items, these were bought by James Collins afters Stephens’ death and came to Michael Davitt and were presented by Davitt’s daughter and grandson through Prof T W Moody, 16 Dec 1983)
9659e Letters relating to the Davitt centenary 1946-48 and undated
9659f Correspondence and papers relating to a fund for Patrick Egan (treasurer of the Land League) 1904
9659g Michael Davitt miscellanea
9660 Boer War diary vol 2
9663 Used cheques
9663b Excisions from Davitt’s diaries made by his widow
9664-9679 Further presscutting books and other press matters
9680 ‘The silver king [J W Mackay]: some reminiscences
9681 Visit to the Holy land
Conditions of Access & Use
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C. King, Michael Davitt (Dundalk: published for the Historical Association of Ireland by Dundalgan Press, 1999)
L. Marley, Michael Davitt: Freelance Radical and Frondeur (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2007)
T.W. Moody, Davitt and Irish Revolution 1846-82 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981)
Trinity College Library legacy numbering system applied multiple numbers to single fonds
Descriptive Control Area
T.W. Moody, additional listing by TCD. Adapted by Natalie Milne, February 2104.
ISAD(G): General International Standard Archival Description. 2nd ed. Ottowa: International Council on Archives, 2000. National Council on Archives: Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names. Chippenham: National Council on Archives, 1997.