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Michael Davitt’s second highland tour, April 1887

Michael Davitt c.1880

Michael Davitt was an important Irish radical, whose interests went beyond Ireland and took a varied and international dimension. Despite being born into poverty in county Mayo, in the west of Ireland, during the height of the famine, he was not an insular, provincial nationalist, even if he did possess many characteristics of an uncomplicated Irish nationalist. His most significant trait was that he was considered to be a ‘freelance radical’ – a man who embraced causes he simply believed to be right. His family were evicted from their small, subsistence holding in rural Mayo and forced to move to Lancashire in the 1850s, where Michael soon went to work in a local factory.

Following an industrial accident and the loss of his arm aged eleven, Davitt embraced the oeuvre of the local mechanic’s institute, reading Chartist literature and embracing the spirit of self-improvement and democratic fervour the movement fostered. He was acutely aware of the bitter legacy of dispossession and dislocation as a result of his family’s eviction, and this was formative for his later life as a radical; he joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood, a group that fought for Irish independence from Britain through violent insurrection, and he spent seven years in prison as a result. He returned to Ireland following his release from prison and soon bore witness to the acute poverty of small farmers living on farms of marginal land in Galway and Mayo. He helped establish the Land League in 1879. It became a massive national movement – one of the largest in Europe – that campaigned for what was known as the ‘three Fs’ – fair rent, fixity of tenure and freedom of sale. Its campaign saw the introduction of the 1881 land act that recognised these, and he became known as the ‘Father of the Land League’. This act influenced Scotland’s crofter radicals as they campaigned for something analogous that eventually bore fruit through the 1886 crofters’ act

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About History Scotland

Five reasons not to miss July/August History Scotland * 19 archaeology projects to enjoy this summer * BRAND NEW research on the life of Margaret Tudor * Exclusive curator preview of the major new exhibition Wild and Majestic and National Museums Scotland * BONUS CONTENT Videos, interview * The unexpected Darien hero - Captain Robert Pincarton

Other Articles in this Issue

History Scotland Volume 19, Number 4 July/August
Malcolm Robertson writes from Canberra, Australia, in response to our recent two-part article on the Robertson brothers of Alvie
Annet House museum in Linlithgow has been relocated
Unmasked: revealing a new portrait of Bonnie Prince
Aberdeen’s UNESCO-recognised medieval records could provide the inspiration for video games that will bring people face-to-face with life in the middle ages
A set of vestments belonging to Henry Benedict Stuart, the youngest son of James Frances Edward Stuart and brother of Charles Edward Stuart, are to be displayed at Blairs Museum this year
A collection of 400 historic maps relating to the Lovat Highland Estates, covering extensive areas west of Inverness, are now available to researchers, thanks to a project involving Lovat highland estates (based in Beauly), the North of Scotland Archaeological Society and National Library of Scotland
Dr Patrick Watt provides an in-depth review of the National Museum of Scotland’s new exhibition that considers changing views of the tartan and bagpipes so beloved of modern-day global audiences
David McVey charts a ten-year conflict in the church of Scotland that resulted in a catastrophic split whose key proponents included the scientist Sir James Young Simpson and geologist Hugh Miller
Neil McLennan offers a new assessment of the life and legacy of James Duncan, a little-known Scot who was a delegate at the Paris peace conference
Janice Hopper visits a house in rural Aberdeenshire that was the home of a remarkable woman who turned tragedy into triumph through her long standing association with the RAF
A new community archaeology project is exploring an abandoned site close to the river Dee which was once a thriving agricultural community
Matt Ritchie takes us behind the scenes on a new project that links our ancient wildwood with Neolithic pioneers, providing teachers and archaeological educators with a means of sharing the past with a young audience
There are lots of ways to get involved in archaeology over the coming months, whether volunteering at a dig or supporting an event, as our round-up guide reveals
Few people emerged from the disaster of the Darien scheme (1698-1700) covered in glory, but among the survivors was the indomitable figure of Captain Robert Pincarton, a man whose skill, bravery and fortitude arguably make him the closest thing Darien ever produced to a national hero. Dr Julie Orr reconstructs Pincarton’s remarkable story
Understanding Scottish emigration in a post-war, post-imperial context
Dr Brian Casey explores the visit to the highlands of the Irish radical Michael Davitt, and traces the way his internationalised, pan-Celtic interpretation of the ‘land question’ helped alert Scottish radicals how crofters’ rights could be used to agitate for more general social and political reform
In the concluding instalment of her major series, Dr Amy Hayes explores the life of Margaret Tudor, the controversial wife of James IV and a woman whose turbulent career as a dowager has both earned her a poor reputation and overshadowed her years as consort
History Scotland’s consultant editor, Dr Allan Kennedy, looks at the doomed Scottish effort to settle Nova Scotia in the 1620s
Vol 19.5 Sep/Oct 2019 On sale: 10 Aug 2019
Archivist Veronica Schreuder introduces records relating to a fund established by Sir Harry Lauder
Allan Kennedy enjoys an examination of Scotland’s supernatural reputation, in what is the first academic study of the history of Scottish ghosts
A new exhibition at Museum of Edinburgh explores the results of the largest excavation of a medieval graveyard undertaken in Edinburgh
A look at Alexander Carses’s delightfully-detailed painting of an 18th-century country fair, a rural custom that even at the time of its depiction was on the brink of extinction
Established in 1998, Stranraer & District Local
Annie Tindley introduces a volume that highlights local opinions and feelings as revealed through an 18th-century petitioning campaign that called upon parliament to heed the ‘mind of the nation’
Gordon Morrison, CEO of the Association of Scottish Visitor Attractions, talks to History Scotland about the changing face of tourism