1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Davitt, Michael
DAVITT, MICHAEL (1846–1906), Irish Nationalist politician, son of a peasant farmer in Co. Mayo, was born on the 25th of March 1846. His father was evicted for non-payment of rent in 1851, and migrated to Lancashire, where at the age of ten the boy began work in a cotton mill at Haslingden. In 1857 he lost his right arm by a machinery accident, and he had to get employment as a newsboy and printer’s “devil.” He drifted into the ranks of the Fenian brotherhood in 1865, and in 1870 he was arrested for treason-felony in arranging for sending fire-arms into Ireland, and was sentenced to fifteen years’ penal servitude. After seven years he was released on ticket of leave. He at once rejoined the “Irish Republican Brotherhood,” and went to the United States, where his mother, herself of American birth, had settled with the rest of the family, in order to concert plans with the Fenian leaders there. Returning to Ireland he helped C. S. Parnell to start the Land League in 1879, and his violent speeches resulted in his re-arrest and consignment to Portland by Sir William Harcourt, then home secretary. He was released in 1882, but was again prosecuted for seditious speeches in 1883, and suffered three months’ imprisonment. He had been elected to parliament for Meath as a Nationalist in 1882, but being a convict was disqualified to sit. He was included as one of the respondents before the Parnell Commission (1888–1890) and spoke for five days in his own defence, but his prominent association with the revolutionary Irish schemes was fully established. (See Parnell.) He took the anti-Parnellite side in 1890, and in 1892 was elected to parliament for North Meath, but was unseated on petition. He was then returned for North-East Cork, but had to vacate his seat through bankruptcy, caused by the costs in the North Meath petition. In 1895 he was elected for West Mayo, but retired before the dissolution in 1900. He died on the 31st of May 1906, in Dublin. A sincere but embittered Nationalist, anti-English to the backbone, anti-clerical, and sceptical as to the value of the purely parliamentary agitation for Home Rule, Davitt was a notable representative of the survival of the Irish “physical force” party, and a strong link with the extremists in America. In later years his Socialistic Radicalism connected him closely with the Labour party. He wrote constantly in American and colonial journals, and published some books, always with the strongest bias against English methods; but his force of character earned him at least the respect of those who could make calm allowance for an open enemy of the established order, and a higher meed of admiration from those who sympathized with his objects or were not in a position to be threatened by them.