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Davitt family descend on Straide

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FAMILY TIES Extended family descendants of Michael Davitt were presented with a bound volume of ‘The Ancestry of the family of Michael Davitt’ last Friday in Straide. The gathering saw grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren attend the special event. Pictured is 91-year-old Edina Davitt-Jones, grandchild and Annie Cahill, great-great grandchild of Michael Davitt with a copy of book. Pic: Conor McKeown

Anton McNulty

GENERATIONS of the descendants of Irish patriot, Michael Davitt, returned to his birthplace in Straide last Friday, where a book on his family ancestry was presented to some of his remaining grandchildren.
There was standing room only in the Michael Davitt Museum in Straide where some of his grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren made the journey to their ancestral home for the special occasion.
The project was organised by the Michael Davitt Museum, who engaged the services of genealogist Brendan Walsh of the North Mayo Heritage Centre to carry out research on ‘The Ancestry of the Family of Michael Davitt’.
Mr Walsh focused on eight specific aspects, unearthing new information on family members in Straide, Swinford and Scranton, Pennsylvania. The accuracy of previous research was also verified and he uncovered potential new Davitt lineages, dispelled misconceptions and illuminated elements of the Davitt story that were heretofore largely outside the public domain.
Speaking to The Mayo News following the launch, Mr Walsh said it was a privilege to look into the different branches of the Davitt family and discover new lineages to the family tree.
“One of the bigger aspects of the project was examining a branch of the Davitt family in Swinford, who were discovered in reports in Davitt’s funeral and mentioned as relatives. In the account of the funeral, one of Davitt’s children’s godmother was mentioned and she turned out to be one of this family,” Mr Walsh explained.
“It was fascinating to build the whole thing up and see how many people were involved in it.
“An interesting discovery about that was a member of that family was in business and owned a hotel in Swinford. They were involved in the United Irish League, a movement which started and flopped and then they tried to revive it. They had cousins from the other side of the Davitt lineage in Scranton, Pennsylvania, who also owned a hotel and were in the Democratic party. You got two sides of the family who both owned hotels and used hotels as political venues for their own political affiliation. It was a strange parallel which popped up,” he added.

Family tree
Mr Walsh said that a number of people including Davitt’s grandsons, Brian and Paddy Davitt, have done  great work in tracing the family tree and they had to be recognised in the project.
One aspect of the project which Mr Walsh said they were not able to discover much information was on the family history of Davitt’s mother Catherine Kielty. He said many documents at the time were destroyed or lost and it is one of the challenges in searching family history in the west of Ireland.
“Davitt doesn’t have a baptism record because this church here caught fire and the records were destroyed so the early part of Davitt’s life will never be found because of incidents like that.
“It can be difficult because the depth of records sometimes is not great and you have parishes like this where unfortunately you had something like a fire and records don’t last. It doesn’t matter where you research, there are going to be good bits and bad bits and you have to utilise it and get the most out of what’s in your favour.”
Yvonne Corcoran Loftus, the curator of the Michael Davitt Museum, welcomed the descendants of Michael Davitt to Straide along with special guests which included Cathaoirleach of Mayo County Council, Cllr Seamus Weir and Kevin Kelly, the Chief Executive of Mayo County Council.
She thanked all the people who helped support the project and have supported the Michael Davitt Museum over the years.
In his address, Mr Kelly said the council were honoured to support the Michael Davitt Museum and told the congregation that ‘Davitt’s story is our story’.
“Michael Davitt is one of the giants of Irish history. He dedicated his life to improving the lot of all those who didn’t have a voice, whether they were tenant farmers or the English working class or the Boers in South Africa. The Land League which he founded fundamentally changed the social structure of rural Ireland and brought about one of the greatest social revolutions ever witnessed in this country.
“We are privileged to be able to support the work of the Davitt Museum and keep his legacy alive for visitors from all over the world. Davitt’s story is our story and we look forward to continuing to support the museum in promoting it so it becomes all of our stories too,” he said.

Engrossed
Mairead Davitt Cahill, one of Davitt’s grandchildren who made the journey west from Dublin, said she and all her cousins and other family members were delighted to travel to Straide and to be presented to the book.
“We are delighted to see and had a quick glance through it and we will be engrossed in it on the way home. It is the side of the family we don’t know about and we are looking forward to it,” she said while praising the work the museum has done to keep the legacy of Michael Davitt alive.
“I thought it was a wonderful idea and it is so impressive what they have done here. It is wonderful to see the support from Mayo County Council and to have Yvonne as curator who has a wonderful team around her and they have thrown their heart and soul into it.
“It was lovely for all the cousins to get together. Some of them could not come unfortunately but my nephew Michael came over from Austria with his two children so it is really interesting for them. His son James goes to school there and his Austrian teacher knows about Michael Davitt, so he has a project he has to do when he gets home,” she explained.