Thursday, January 26, 2023

The Cathaoirleach of Mayo Co Council, Cllr Seamus Weir (on left), is pictured with other council representatives and guests at the Davitt Museum last Friday. Pictures: John O’Grady


By Trevor Quinn

It was a memorable day in the village of Straide last Friday when the ancestors of Land League founder Michael Davitt gathered for a very special reunion.

More than 30 of the patriot’s relatives were present at the Davitt Museum to hear a fascinating presentation on the family’s ancestry by genealogist Brendan Walsh, who carried out years of research into the Davitt family. Those present included grandchildren Paddy Davitt, Mairead Davitt-Cahill, Grainne Davitt, Edina Davitt Jones, and a large number of great-grandchildren, among them great-grandson Michael Davitt who represented his father Robert. Each family member was presented with a book on the Davitt family genealogy.

Brendan Maloney, Chairman of the Michael Davitt Museum governing board, presents a copy of the research project to Micahel Davitt’s granddaughter Edina Davitt-Jones.

Cathaoirleach of Mayo County Council Cllr Seamus Weir welcomed the large gathering and, in particular, the Davitt family, noting that every person in Mayo learned about Michael Davitt when they were in school.

Chief executive of Mayo Co Council, Kevin Kelly, described Michael Davitt as one of the giants of Irish history, who made a major impact at home and abroad.

“He dedicated his life to improving the lot of all those who lived [and were marginalised], whether they were tenant farmers, the English working class or people 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.”

Mr Walsh said he was greatly assisted by Trevor Ward in the early stages of the research and added that the project ‘was the fruits of many people’s labour’.

He sincerely thanked Yvonne Corcoran-Loftus and John Reid of the Davitt Museum, Mayo county librarian Austin Vaughan, the North Mayo Heritage Centre, and the Davitt family.

“Michael Davitt left a rich legacy, he achieved so much in his lifetime, especially in the area of land justice, which is still very relevant to us today,” Mr Walsh remarked. “The essence of genealogy is the story of the land.”


Michael Davitt’s great-great-grandchildren at the Davitt Museum, from left: Ciaran Lyons, Annie Cahill, Emily Davitt, Freya Keane and James Davitt.

The cathoirleach of Castlebar Municipal Distrct, Cllr Michael Kilcoyne, praised Mr Walsh and all those involved in the Davitt Museum.

“Davitt’s story is our story, this is where it all began, a man from Straide who emigrated and lost his arm at a very young age, but that didn’t hinder him, it didn’t stop him in any way. He continued to lobby on behalf of working-class people, the small farmers in Ireland, and people in England.”

The research confirms a lot of the Davitt family history, but it also adds a new dimension to the story.

New information was discovered on additional relatives in the Straide, Swinford and Scranton, Pennsylvania.

The research also confirmed the Land League founder’s mother was born and reared in Straide village and not in Turlough, as was formerly believed, and that the Davitt family emigrated to Lancashire prior to 1850 after they were evicted.

Grandson Paddy Davitt, who travelled from Dublin with his sisters Mairead Davitt-Cahill, Grainne Davitt, and his cousin Edina, pointed to a nearby Swinford man and said they had discovered they were related.

Davitt Museum curator Yvonne Corcoran-Loftus and Mairead Davitt-Cahill.

“It’s great to be here, the book is wonderful, they did a wonderful job, and it’s full of facts and figures.

“The most striking thing is this man here [Joe Davitt] was discovered to be a relation of Michael Davitt, he always knew it but nobody else did. Joe’s grandfather was a first cousin of Michael Davitt.

“I wonder about the great man, how he managed to do so much. He travelled all over the world, he was twice in Russia, six times in America, he was right across the Pacific, he met Robert Louis Stevenson, you’d wonder how the family knew him at all!”

Michael Davitt from Vienna and Rowan Lyons from Dublin, both grandchildren of Michael Davitt, are pictured at the event.

The project was funded by the Creative Ireland Programme and administered through Mayo County Council by programme coordinator and County Librarian Austin Vaughan.

Great-grandson Michael Davitt travelled from Austria with his son James and daughter Emily (5), the youngest ancestor present, while the Land League founder’s granddaughter Edina (91) was the oldest.

“It’s a privilege to be the great-grandson of Michael Davitt,” said Michael.

“I bear a very famous name despite my English accent.

“I hope one day in my life I can do one percent of what he achieved. In many ways, he’s an inspiration for me.”

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