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Honouring Michael Davitt

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Hundreds gather to honour Michael Davitt
Anton McNulty

A large crowd from all over Ireland and abroad came to the graveside of Michael Davitt, in Straide last Tuesday, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of his death.Wreaths were laid at the graveside by Minister Eamon Ó Cuív, on behalf of the Government, by the Michael Davitt National Memorial Association and also by a contingent from Lancashire Council, the Democratic League and the Heritage Association of Rossendale.
The function was well-attended and among those present were the family of Michael Davitt, Seán Kelly, the former President of the GAA; Dan McCarthy of the modern Irish Land League, the Chief Rabbi of Ireland, Dr Yaakov Pearlman; Ulick O’Connor, four generations of James Daly’s family, members of the IFA and town and county councillors from around Ireland.
The warm weather brought the people out in their hundreds and the Michael Davitt National Memorial Association, who organised the ceremony, were delighted with the way the day went. The army band was on hand to entertain the crowd and they played the ‘Last Post’, and Michael Davitt’s grandson, Fr Tom Davitt prayed by his graveside. Nancy Smyth, the Chairperson of the Michael Davitt National Memorial Association, said the feedback from the people who attended was very positive.
“Everybody felt it was a wonderful day. The general feeling among the people who travelled the long distance was that they were glad they came. People came from as far away as America and it shows the influence Michael Davitt had on other communities,” said Ms Smyth.
Minister Ó Cuív, speaking after he had laid his wreath, said that the west of Ireland and Mayo in particular was very proud of the legacy of Michael Davitt. He added that his advocacy of peaceful protests spread worldwide and inspired world leaders like Mahatma Ghandi.
“After the incredible tragedy of the Great Famine, the late nineteenth century saw a great revival in Irish fortunes with the attainment of the ownership of the land by the people, the founding of An Cumann Lúthchleas Gael, the Gaelic League and a general national re-awakening.
“In certain ways Parnell and Davitt picked up where O’Connell left off, despite the fact that Davitt was a member of the Fenians. All three used the mobilisation in peaceful, non-violent protest to advance remarkable political change. The institution of the boycott as an instrument of empowerment left the powerless for the first time in the driving seat. Davitt dedicated his life to the kind of practical republicanism where the people of Ireland would be the citizens not serfs. That is his legacy to us all today,” Minister Ó Cuiv said.
He recalled how Michael Davitt had overcome deprivation in early childhood, physical disability and seven years of hard labour for treason for his Fenian activities, to play a leading role in the advancement of the Irish people. He added that because of Davitt, Ireland was now a free state where the people owned the land, unlike Scotland where 1,500 landlords owned all of the land.
The Cathaoirleach of Mayo County Council, Cllr Henry Kenny, welcomed all the people who attended and presented a framed, signed photograph of Michael Davitt to Minister Ó Cuiv and to each of the Davitt family.
A number of presentations was made to the Michael Davitt Museum in Straide. George Burns, a grand-nephew of Michael Davitt, had flown from New York and presented six rare books to the museum. Some of the books were written and signed by Michael Davitt, while others were written about his life. Ulick O’Connor also presented a book to the museum.
Meanwhile, heated debate took place all over the weekend at Davitt Centre in Straide with many of the foremost Davitt experts in the country speaking at the Michael Davitt Centenary Concert in Straide.
Cllr Henry Kenny performed the official opening of the conference on Friday night where the theme, ‘Michael Davitt on National Contemporary Reflections’ was discussed with Senator Martin Mansergh providing the keynote address.
The conference moved to the Pontoon Bridge Hotel on Saturday morning where the former Judge from the Supreme Court, Hugh O’Flaherty, chaired a debate on ‘Education, Politics and Sectarianism’.
‘The significance of Michael Davitt’ was the topic for debate for the afternoon session. A very special pageant took place in the Irishtown on Saturday night for all those attending the conference.

070606_davitt-straide_390Grandchildren of Michael Davitt pose for photographs by his grave after the laying of a wreath in Straide last Tuesday.