“To all my friends I leave kind thoughts, to my enemies the fullest possible forgiveness and to Ireland the undying prayer for absolute freedom and independence, which it was my life’s ambition to try and obtain for her”. –Extract from Michael Davitt’s Will
Michael Davitt was involved in a failed raid on Chester Castle to obtain arms on 11 February 1867 in advance of a Fenian rising in Ireland, but evaded the law. In the Haslingden area he helped to organise the defence of Catholic churches against Protestant attack in 1868. Having come to the attention of the police he was arrested in Paddington Station in London on 14 May 1870 while awaiting a delivery of arms. He was convicted of treason and felony and sentenced to 15 years of penal servitude in Dartmoor Prison; Davitt felt that he had not had a fair trial or the best of defence. He was kept in solitary confinement and received very harsh treatment during the un-remitted portion of his term. In prison he concluded that ownership of the land by the people was the only solution to Ireland’s problems. He managed to get a covert contact to an Irish MP member of the Irish Parliamentary Party, John O’Connor Power, who began to campaign against cruelty inflicted on political prisoners. He often read Davitt’s letters in the House of Commons, with his Party pressing for an amnesty for Irish nationalist prisoners. Partially due to public furor over his treatment, Davitt was released (along with other political prisoners) on 19 December 1877, when he had served seven and half years, on a “ticket of leave”. He and the other prisoners were given a hero’s welcome on landing in Ireland.
Photo: Michael Davitt Memorial in Straide, Co Mayo