Michael Davitt

Fintan Lane and Andrew Newby (eds), Michael Davitt: New Perspectives (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2009)

Michael Davitt (1846-1906) is often hailed as one of the most important figures of nineteenth-century Ireland, and is remembered in particular as the father of the Land League. In spite of this, research on his life and significance has been limited. Theo Moody’s influential Davitt and the Irish Revolution (1981), for example, only covers Davitt’s life until 1882. This collection of essays builds upon, challenges and revises Moody’s work to highlight areas of Davitt’s life that have remained in the background, such as his interaction with the Irish working class (by Fintan Lane), his impact in Brltain, and especially Scotland, his education in Lancashire and his own views on education in a free Ireland. These essays collectively reassess Davitt’s position in Irish history and the popular imagination.

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REVIEW

Michael Davitt: New Perspectives is a book which should be read by anyone with an interest in post-Famine/early twentieth-century Irish political history…Davitt’s public life showed independence of mind and a level of moral courage not often found in Irish political life. Though an observant Catholic, he frequently expressed views in public which were not in tune with the orthodoxies of his day. He favoured the nationalisation of Irish land rather than peasant proprietorship, never a popular cause. His return to formal education at the age of eleven was to a Lancashire Wesleyan school. Drawing on that largely positive experience, Davitt openly clashed much later in his life with the Catholic Bishop of Limerick in favour of a public education system that provided for religious instructions for all who required it. After 1900, Davitt supported the emerging Labour Party in Britain, but gave his support in Ireland primarily to the Home Rule party. He denounced injustice wherever he perceived it, not just in Ireland but in India, South Africa, and Czarist Russia. The evolution of Davitt’s thinking and his role as a concerned campaigner are outlined in this new book. Hopefully, Michael Davitt: New Perspectives is a precursor of many, more detailed studies of particular facets of a multi-faceted, generous-spirited and very talented man.’ – Patrick Buckley in Irish Journal of Public Policy (2009)