A week of celebrations to honour Michael Davitt and the founding of the Land League begins in Straide.

Commemorations take place in Straide on the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Mayo Land League by Michael Davitt.

President Patrick Hillery performed the official opening of the celebrations in the village of Straide, the birthplace of Michael Davitt. The Castlebar Unit of the FCÁ (Fórsa Cosanta Áitiúil) form a guard of honour outside the Church of Saint Peter and Paul.

An open air Mass preceded the opening ceremony, which was followed by a festival of music and pageantry.

A parade through Straide includes national school bands, Irish dancers, members of Land League Branches drawn from all parts of Ireland, members of the Moy Davitts GAA Club and the Mayomen’s Association, with the Defence Forces Band of the Western Command performing.

There is a week-long programme of centenary celebration events to enjoy in and around Straide, including dramatic and musical performances, talks and lectures, sport and commemorative ceremonies, all organised to,

Honour the man that defied landlordism, was jailed for his ideals and later represented his people in the British Houses of Parliament.

Born in Straide in 1846 at the height of the Famine, Michael Davitt and his family were evicted from their home by their landlord as they were unable to pay their rent. The family were forced to emigrate and settled in Haslingden, Lancashire, where Michael commenced work in the town’s cotton mill at the age of nine.

An accident in a cotton mill resulted in Michael Davitt losing his right arm, and a wealthy benefactor paid for him to go to school for several years. He then worked for the local postmaster, attended evening classes and became interested in Irish history.

Michael Davitt joined the revolutionary Fenians in 1865 but was arrested in 1870 for smuggling arms and served seven years penal servitude. Upon his release, he travelled to the United States to visit his mother and sisters who had settled in Philadelphia. He held meetings there, and also in New York and other cities on the east coast to bring attention to the plight of the landless Irish people.

Returning to his native Mayo in 1879 he became involved in land agitation and founded the Land League of Mayo on 16 August 1879 in Castlebar. The National Land League of Ireland was founded in October 1879 with Charles Stewart Parnell as its president and Davitt as one of its secretaries. The organisation had three aims fair rent, fixity of tenure and free sale.

The Land League organised campaign of exclusion against the English land agent Captain Charles Boycott (bringing the term ‘to boycott’ into the English language) and continued to fight for landowners’ rights.

Michael Davitt was first elected an MP in 1982. In addition to his work in the British Houses of Parliament he travelled internationally, raising awareness of the work of the Land League, was involved in the trade union movement in England, and was one of the first patrons of the GAA.

Michael Davitt died in 1906 and is buried in the grounds of the 13th century Straide Abbey. Generous to the end, his will and testament include these words,

To my friends I leave kind thoughts, to my enemies the fullest forgiveness, and to Ireland the undying prayer for the absolute freedom and independence which it was my life’s ambition to obtain for her.

An RTÉ News report broadcast on 5 August 1979.