Michael Davitt Museum Circa 2015

This was the former website for the Michael Davitt Museum.
Content is from the site's archived pages.
The current website for the Michael Davitt Museum  is at: http://www.michaeldavittmuseum.ie/

The Michael Davitt Museum
Co. Mayo

Monday to Saturday: 10:00am –4:30pm
Sunday: 2.00pm - 5:00pm
Last admissions at 4:00pm each day.


Aims of the Michael Davitt Museum Co Mayo Ireland

The Michael Davitt Museum in Co Mayo aims to collect, record, conserve, preserve and display material relating to the historical and cultural aspects of the National Land League and life of Michael Davitt.

Also we strive to further develop the Land War Museum to the highest standard. Any memorabilia donated of the period would be very much appreciated.

We propose to make more exhibition space available which includes a separate audio-visual room, reception area, souvenir and coffee shop and more toilet facilities.

We are looking to create more archival and storage space for the vast collection of artefacts.

Finally it is also proposed to create a replica thatched cottage of Michael Davitt’s home.

To carry out those improvements we need your financial support therfeore we would greatly appreciate donations of any kind.


Welcome to the Michael Davitt Museum Co Mayo Ireland

The Michael Davitt Museum is located in the picturesque and historic village of Straide in Co Mayo on the N58 route between Ballyvary and Foxford.

The museum is housed in the magnificently restored pre-Penal Church that was used prior to the enactment of the 1690’s Penal laws which were more commonly known as popery laws. 

The Michael Davitt Visitor Centre includes the beautiful surrounding grounds of Straide Abbey, which together with parking and picnic area provides an ideal destination for one of the great family days out in Mayo.

Michael Davitt Museum

The Michael Davitt Museum contains an extensive collection of historical artefacts including original documents, photos, Land Acts, letters, postcards, posters, rosary beads and other items connected with Michael Davitt’s life and his campaign work within the National Land League. Davitt was a social reformer, Member of Parliament, author, GAA Patron, labour leader and international humanitarian. He is Mayo’s most famous son and Ireland's greatest Patriot.

Michael Davitt was christened in 1846 during the time of the Great Famine in the Penal Church in Straide. The church is adjacent to the 13th Century remains of Straide Abbey. Founded in 1245 Straide Abbey has a magnificent medieval high alter. Michael Davitt is buried in the cloister area of the Abbey. Anne Deane President of the Ladies Land League is buried in the Abbey.

The Michael Davitt Visitor Centre has knowledgeable and friendly staff, on hand to give a guided tour of museum exhibits, and abbey. The museum has a 15 minute award winning audio visual presentation.

For visitors to Mayo, the Michael Davitt Museum is a must of things to do in Mayo and brings to life an important part of nineteenth century Irish history.

The Michael Davitt Museum is one of the few museums in Mayo open all year round. It welcomes all visitors to Mayo from home and overseas as well as school tours and tourist coaches.



About the Michael Davitt Museum

The Michael Davitt Davitt Museum is run by the Michael Davitt National Memorial Association founded in 1972. In 1984 “The Michael Davitt National Memorial Company Ltd” was formed as a voluntary organisation, with charitable status and limited by guarantee while not having a share capital.

The aims of the organisation are to commemorate the life of Michael Davitt and the National Land League an land war sucess. The Michael Davitt Museum is part of the Museum Standards Programme of Ireland organised by the Heritage Council of Ireland.

Launch of the 2nd Michael Davitt Commemorative Stamp
Launch of the 2nd Michael Davitt Commemorative Stamp on 4th September 2006 by Noel Dempsey TD Minister for the Marine Communications and Natural Resources, An Post Chairperson Margaret McGinley, An Post CEO Donal Connell, Senator Martin Manseragh, Councillor Gerry Coyle members of the Davitt family and Members of the Michael Davitt Committee.


The Michael Davitt Memorial Association

Since our foundation the Michael Davitt National Memorial Association has accomplished the following:

  • Purchased a large site and erected the Michael Davitt Centre with voluntary donations. 
  • Restored the Penal church where Davitt was christened during the Famine of 1846. This magnificently restored church received the RIAI award in 2000.
  • Have collected artefacts for permanent exhibition with special thanks to the Davitt families for artefacts, relating to Michael Davitt and the Land War. 
  • We highlight the important story of the Land League, a movement in the 19th century that changed Irish society from a landlord feudal like system to our modern society of today. 
  • Our post-graduate doctorate scholarship holder at the National University of Ireland Galway was Dr Laurence Marley. His book “Michael Davitt Freelance Radical and Frondeur”(Dublin: Four Courts Press 2007) was the culmination of his research.
  • We organised various commemorations in Straide and Mayo marking the Centenary of the Land League in 1979. Also we organised commemorations honouring the life, times, achievements marking the centenary in 2006 of the death of Michael Davitt. 
  • An exhibition of the “Life of Davitt” was shown in Boston, USA, as well as in Straide, to mark the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the birth of Davitt in 1996. Also in 1996 we held a “Davitt Remembrance evening” in the House of Commons, Westminister, hosted by Kevin McNamara MP remembering Davitt’s contribution to the Labour Party, trade unions and humanitarian issues.

The House of Commons honours Michael Davitt 1996

The House of Commons honours Michael Davitt 1996
Left to right: T Beasty (Chairman London Mayo Association), Mairead Davitt Cahill, Edward Barrington (Ireland's Ambassador to the UK ), Dr Christina Kinealy, Emer Davitt-Disley, Kevin McNamara M.P, Nancy Symth (Chairperson Michael Davitt National Memorial Association)



Michael Davitt Museum Schools & Educational Program

Museums are places of knowledge for both adults and children. In Michael Davitt’s time museums were only available to the aristocracy and wealthy. It was one of Michael Davitt’s aims and ambitions that museums and libraries were made available to everyone regardless of social class, rich and poor alike. Hence we have the museum to his memory.

Museums today are an important part of the school curriculum, assisting teachers and students on subjects in history, science and literature. Museums allow the visitor to be immersed by first hand experience of the subject on exhibit and together which together with audio visual aids, makes learning a far more stimulating and interesting experience.

Our collection of artefacts and memorabilia documenting the life of Michael Davitt and the success that the Land War played in shaping Irish politics during the 1880’s helps to enhance the teaching of modern Irish history.

The Michael Davitt Museum facilitates school tours and includes a quiz for visiting pupils. 

Students from second and third level education as well as journalists may also use the facility to research articles relating to the period.

Finally the Michael Davitt Museum also run symposiums, seminars and lectures on various historical topics.

Trish Groves reading at the Michael Davitt Museum Symposium 6th November 2009

Trish Groves reading at the Michael Davitt Museum Symposium 6th November 2009



The life of Michael Davitt

The hero and patriot Michael Davitt was born in Straide County Mayo in March 1846 in the midst of the Great Famine. His father Martin Davitt and mother Catherine Kielty, were tenants on the John Knox estate at Straide.

Michael Davitt was the second of five children, four were born in Straide; Mary in 1841, Anne in 1848 and Sabina in 1850. Michael’s only brother James was born in Haslingden on the 30th June 1853 and died 2 years later 12 March 1855.

The language of the home was Irish. When evicted from their home in Straide the family went to the workhouse in Swinford, where Catherine discovered rules required Michael to be separated from her. The family left the workhouse immediately. The couple with their children decided to join the many evicted families emigrating in hope of a better life.

Martin Davitt got place on a horse and cart for the children with another family from the area travelling to Dublin for the boat. When they arrived in Liverpool they visited with friends before setting out on foot to Haslingden nearly 50 miles away. Haslington was an area of England where locals from the Straide area had already found work.

Davitt's father got temporary lodging for the Davitt family with an acquaintance. But after only two days, they were evicted for a second time when it was discovered that Michael had the measles. Davitt's father then set up a tent against a wall. James Bonner a worker from County Armagh, took the sick child and family into his house, even though he had four small children of his own.

The census of March 1851 has the Davitt’s as lodgers in Owen Egan’s house in Wilkinson St. At that time there were a total of fifteen people living in the small house. Later the Davitts succeeded in renting at Roch Hall, where families from the west of Ireland lived. Michael's father and mother found work as hawkers, and a year later Martin found work as a farm labourer for fifteen shillings a week. Martin Davitt was literate in English and wrote letters home for other families whilst also teaching them to read and write in English.

At the age of nine years Michael Davitt started working in a cotton mill at Ewood Bridge, on the outskirts of Haslingden. He passed himself off as over thirteen years and worked from 6am to 6pm with one and a half hours off for dinner & breakfast. His pay was 2s.6d, a week.

He later moved on to Whittaker and then to Stellfoxe’s Victoria Mill near Baxenden outside Haslingden. It was here, that he got his right arm caught and badly injured in a machine 8th May 1857 which resulted in amputation.

Aafter Michael Davitt recovered from his operation, John Dean a cotton manufacturer became his benefactor and Davitt got a second chance at education in the local Wesleyan school run by George Poskett, which he attended for 4 years.

In 1861 Michael started working again, this time under better conditions for Henry Cockcroft, who had a Post Office, printing and stationary business. In 1858 he started evening classes at the Mechanics’ Institute where he had the benefit of a library and newspapers. He studied Irish history.

Blue Plaque on the front of Haslington Public Library where Michael Davitt Studied

It was at this time Michael Davitt turned to politics and joined the Fenians. He met Ernest Jones, the chartist leader who had spent two years in prison and was influence by him. In 1863 his sister Mary married Neil Padden born in Foxford. Padden emigrated to America in 1865 and after finding work in the mines in Scranton was later joined by Mary.

By 1870 Michael Davitt had risen through the ranks of the Fenians and was organising secretary for Northern England and Scotland. He was arrested in Paddington Station in London for smuggling arms to Ireland. After 7 years in Dartmoor Prison he was released on a ticket of leave and returned to Ireland January 1878 along with 3 other released prisoners. They were welcomed by Irish Political leaders including Parnell and James Daly.

Michael Davitt circa 1878
Michael Davitt circa 1878

The need for land reform was highlighted by a meeting organised by James Daly, editor of the Connaugh Telegraph, who was very active with the Tenants Defence Association. Daly advised the tenants in January 1879 to organise a meeting at Irishtown to highlight the injustices and evictions taking place in the area and in particular on the Bourke estate. The meeting was postponed until 20th April.

By March 1879 Davitt having returned from a Fenian meeting in Paris, attended to various other matters in Manchester and Dublin, he then visited his cousins in Balla Co. Mayo and helped to organise the Irishtown meeting which was chaired by James Daly of Castlebar. Davitt compiled two of the resolutions.

Thousands attended the meeting, and resulted in eviction notices being withdrawn from the Bourke tenants and a 25% reduction in rents. The success of Irishtown showed the power of mass demonstrations and that real and lasting improvement of tenants lives could be achieved.

On th 16th August at Daly's Hotel in Castlebar, the members of the Tenants Defence Association ( including Davitt & Daly ) came together after the success of the Irishtown and other land meetings to form the Land League of Mayo. From that the National Land League of ireland was established in Dublin in October 1879 with Charles Steward Parnell as its President and Davitt one of its Secretaries and James Daly a member. Their agenda was the 3 F’s for reform: fixity of tenure, free sale and fair rent.

Davitt and the Land League leaders toured the country addressing meetings and organising resistance. The most publicised incident took place at Lough Mask House, near Ballinrobe. Captain Boycott a former British army officer had farmed for 18 years on Achill Island moved in 1872 to the more accessible area of Cong as agent for Lord Erne’s properties in Mayo.

In 1880 the Land League organised a campaign of ostracisation against the agent Captain Boycott as a result of the continue increase on tenants rent by the absentee Lord Erne. No shop would supply food, servants left, crops were rotting in the fields, blacksmiths refused to shoe his horses. James Redpath an American journalist for the New York Tribune, who reported on the campaign coined the new word for the English language, “Boycott”. Some years later Michael Davitt officially opened the first Bridge connecting Achill Island with the main land, replacing the irregular ferry service at Achill Sound.

Gladstone’s Land Act of 1881 and then the Arrears Act 1882 that was the outcome of the Kilmainham Treatyr effectively ended the Land War. Parnell steered the tenants toward the next goal –Home Rule. Davitt was elected M.P. for North Meath in 1892 but was later unseated because of complaints of Clerical interference. After again been elected M. P in 1893, this time for North East Cork he was unseated a second time because of bankruptcy. His Maiden speech was in support of the Home Rule Bill.

In 1895 Michael Davitt was elected MP for South Mayo in the general election. He travelled to Australia and acknowledged funds received for the Land League and spoke on the conditions of the Maori and Aborigine people.

Michael Davitt 'Uncle of Catherine Padden Lally' PaddensHotel 1902