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Document remembers ‘unsung hero’ Michael Davitt

Living

BIG CHALLENGE Mayo native Seán Ó Tarpaigh faced the daunting challenge of playing one of Mayo’s most famous sons in the documentary. Davitt is pictured in this scene making a train journey with Charles Stewart Parnell.

TG4 to air ‘Radacach’ on anniversary of death of Straide’s famous son

Ger Flanagan

A NEW historical documentary about the story of Irish revolutionist and Straide native Michael Davitt is set to air on TG4 to coincide with the anniversary of his death back in May 30, 1906.
Titled ‘Michael Davitt: Radacach’ (translates to Michael Davitt: Radical), the 50-minute long biographical documentary follows the story of ‘the radical who shaped modern Ireland’ during his 60 years.
It was a journey that took Davitt from the terrible poverty of Straide, outside Foxford in the 1840s, to emigration, and later to political and economic power.
At the age of four, his family was evicted from their home and forced to emigrate to Lancashire for work. He later lost an arm during a serious work accident which forged his journey into politics, becoming involved in the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and after being released from prison for gun-running, founded the Irish National Land League.
The film is produced by Déaglán Ó Mocháín of Dearcán Media, and he told The Mayo News that Davitt was an unsung hero of Irish revolutionaries.
“I really got a new understanding of Michael Davitt from producing this film and it comes across in the programme,” he said. “Douglas Hyde for example, said that the work of people like Davitt, who created a more stable social and economic situation in Ireland, allowed the cultural revolution to take place.
“And that makes sense. When people are starving, dying from hand-to-mouth, they can’t be spending a lot of time and energy on cultural matters, trying to save the language and thinking along those lines – they’re too busy trying to survive. “If Douglas Hyde was the father of the cultural revolution, Davitt was the father of the social revolution that preceded that.”
The film was almost two years in production and has a wide-range of contributors, from renowned historians to their up-and-coming colleagues. People like Prof Gearóid Ó Tuathaigh, Dr Fearghal Mac Bhloscadh, Dr Síobhra Aiken, Aindrias Ó Cathasaigh and Dr Carla King are among those who contributed to what the film is.
“The film is produced in around 70 percent Irish, but there are a few English speaking contributors too,” he said. “We’ve a mixture of very well established and well-got historians and some younger ones, who ended up finding some very interesting new details.
“One of the things that emerged – from a young historian called Dara Folan – was that Davitt made a number of speeches in Galway in Irish and would then tell the crowd that he has to translate this for the benefit of the police and the spies in the crowd.
“In effect he was putting himself up for imprisonment again for making seditious speeches and poking fun at the spies too.”

Mayo actor
Davitt is played by Mayo actor Seán Ó Tarpaigh who has featured in films such as Kings, Paddywhackery and Song of Granite. One of the most difficult aspects of producing a film like this was ensuring Davitt’s unusual accent was accurate.
“He’s [Ó Tarpaigh] is a fantastic actor and he took the role very seriously,” he said. “His accent is spot on, because Davitt was said to have had spoken Irish in a Mayo accent, as he grew up in an Irish-speaking household. But he spoke English in Lancashire, so he had this strange accent.
“These are things you have to take very seriously [when producing a movie like this], to help get in the mind of the person. We drew on a lot of different historians’ account, to make sure we were focusing on the right issues.”
Davitt’s political work with the Land League broke the power of the landlords and helped create a fairer distribution of land in Ireland at the time. As a result, the colonial relationship between a subservient, marginal Ireland and a dominant, powerful Britain was reset.
Davitt’s work paced the way for later cultural and political revolutions and it’s something that will really resonate with viewers of the documentary, Ó Mocháín feels.
“When you have someone like Davitt, who grew up in very difficult circumstances, saying clearly that we have to protect the poorest in society, that still resonates today,” he said. “We’ve had a few very public manifestations of evictions recently, in Roscommon and other places; people are drawn on the example of the boycott.
“What the Land League really did was give the poorest people some sense of hope, dignity and strength, and that it is something worth protecting and defending. Davitt wouldn’t stand on the sideline and allow other people to do his work.
“Whatever the personal cost, he stood up for his rights and wasn’t afraid of going to prison – which he did on four occasions. He died at the young age of 60 (in 1906), so it’s interesting to think how he would have fitted into the changes that took place after that.”
The documentary was recently launched in the Michael Davitt Museum in the village of Straide by Minister for Rural and Community Affairs Michael Ring, where the producers and leading executives of TG4 travelled down for the event.

Positive impact
Newly appointed museum curator Yvonne Corcoran Loftus highlighted the positive impact this documentary will have on the area.
“It was a fantastic day and there was great excitement around the village of Straide’, she told The Mayo News. “This well-researched documentary has provided us with extra insightful commentary on the Michael Davitt story. We anticipate that the detailed re-construction and imaginative graphics will help promote the museum as a must-see destination going forward.
“The Michael Davitt Museum is at the heart of the community here in Straide and it’s great that TG4 and Dearcán Media have collaborated on this wonderful project.”
This year the Michael Davitt Museum has recently been awarded Full Accreditation under the Museum Standards Programme for Ireland, which is administered by the Heritage Council. The museum had the distinction of being the only institution to attain this award in 2019 by complying with all 34 designated standards required to reach this landmark.
“This is hugely significant for the museum,” she added. “This is a programme that promotes the highest professional museum standards and it is therefore a fantastic achievement for our institution.
“I would like to thank Mayo North East for all their support and Mayo South West Leader for their funding, which played an important role in helping us achieve our goal.
“The attainment of this high quality mark will ensure that the collection is preserved and enhanced. It will also allow greater public access to museum artifacts and documentation. This in turn has led to ever increasing awareness in the museum and its activities.
“Our latest report indicates a trebling of visitor numbers over the past year and we hope and expect this trajectory to continue.”

MORE
Michael Davitt: Radacach will air on TG4 on May 29 at 9.30pm.