Michael Davitt…Forgotten Hero (as the Andy Irvine song suggests)?
Am I recalling accurately that in school history, Michael Davitt was merely the footnote…the Land League man…in our history text books.
Yet he was so much more. Born into Famine Years Ireland and migrating to Lancashire with his family to work in cotton mills as a child. Losing a hand in an industrial accident, becoming a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. Imprisoned in England.
A Fenian. A Parnellite Member of Paraliament.
But the curious thing for me is that he is only given proper recognition in the past few years.
Never quite a real Parnellite, he was not totally embedded in Parliament.
And yet going into Parliament was enough to have him marginalised by the Irish Republican Brotherhood. Of course he died a good decade before the Easter Rising. Maybe he was too much of a socialist for post-independent Ireland. Maybe it was the English accent.
He ticks a lot of boxes as a national hero, without ever being put in a single box himself.
A few years ago I visited the Davitt Museum at the small village of Straide in County Mayo. Interesting piece of (almost) trivia that Michael Davitt had the honour of laying the first turf at Celtic Park in Glasgow.
Talking to a guide at the museum, I discovered that the most frequently asked question at the museum is “Do you know that a hand is missing from the statue outside?”
That perhaps reflects his marginalisation.
And sadly at the weekend, the museum was closed…and may not re-open due to funding issues.
Small museums and heritage centres…Battle of Aughrim site, Admiral William Brown Museum at Foxford, Boulavogue Centre, Glencolumcille Folk Museum…among them are vital for local economies and more so local pride.
All over Ireland, small villages have found a “hook” on which to hang a tourist industry. We would be a poorer culture without the Foynes Flying Boat Museum or the Palatine Centre at Rathkeale.