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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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)

Fintan Lane’s chapter is ‘an important dissection of Davitt’s relationship with the Irish working class…Lane and Newby define one of the heroes of the Irish Land War as fundamentally an internationalist…[This collection is] far removed from the revisionist and counter-revisionist duels of the 1980s and 1990s.’

‘Much of the Lane and Newby volume is couched as a respectful but nevertheless forceful critique of the great Irish historian, T. W. Moody, who was the custodian of Davitt’s papers and the author of a major—but conspicuously truncated—biography of the great agitator. Moody was also, famously, one of the patriarchs of Irish revisionist historiography. However, the truly striking feature of the collection is that it embraces a very broad range of comment upon Davitt, including a moving family tribute by Fr Thomas Davitt (a grandson), a vigorous political defense by Laura McNeil, as well as more bracing political and personal critiques by Fintan Lane and by Paul Bew and Patrick Maume.’ – Alvin Jackson, Victorian Studies, vol. 54, no. 1 (autumn 2011)