ON THIS DATE (19TH DECEMBER) 141 YEARS AGO : ‘FATHER OF THE IRISH LAND LEAGUE’ RELEASED FROM A BRITISH PRISON AFTER SEVEN YEARS INCARCERATION.



On Wednesday, 19th December 1877 – 141 years ago on this date – Michael Davitt (pictured), ‘the father of the Irish Land League’, was released from Dartmoor Prison in Princetown, Devon, in England, having served seven years in savage conditions. He was 31 years of age at that time.


This Irish ‘dissident’ was born on the 25th March, 1846, in Straide, County Mayo, at the height of An Gorta Mór (‘the Great Hunger/attempted genocide‘) and the poverty of those times affected the Davitt family – he was the second of five children and was only four years of age when his family were evicted from their home over rent owed and his father, Martin, was left with no choice but to travel to England to look for work.


Martin’s wife, Sabina, and their five children, were given temporary accommodation by the local priest in Straide. The family were eventually reunited, in England, where young Michael attended school for a few years. His family were struggling, financially, so he obtained work, aged 9, as a labourer (he told his boss he was 13 years old and got the job – working from 6am to 6pm, with a ninty-minute break and a wage of 2s.6d a week) but within weeks he had secured a ‘better’ job, operating a spinning machine but, at only 11 years of age, his right arm got entangled in the machinery and had to be amputated. There was no compensation offered, and no more work, either, for a one-armed machine operator, but he eventually managed to get a job helping the local postmaster.


He was sixteen years young at that time, and was curious about his Irish roots and wanted to know more – he learned all he could about Irish history and, at 19 years young, joined the Fenian movement in England. Two years afterwards he became the organising secretary for northern England and Scotland for that organisation and, at 25 years of age, he was arrested in Paddington Station in London after the British had uncovered an IRB operation to import arms. He was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment, on a ‘hard labour’ ticket, and served seven years in Dartmoor Prison in horrific conditions before being released in 1877, at the age of 31, on Wednesday, December 19th – 141 years ago on this date.

He returned to Ireland and was seen as a hero by his own people, and travelled extensively in his native Connaught, observing how, in his absence, nothing had improved for the working class. He realised that if the power of the tenant farmers could be organised, it would be possible to bring about the improvements that were badly needed, and he arranged a convention in August of 1879 ; the result was a body called the ‘National Land League of Mayo’ :


‘This body shall be known as the National Land League of Mayo and shall consist of farmers and others who will agree to labour for the objects here set forth, and subscribe to the conditions of membership, principles, and rules specified below.


Objects: The objects for which this body is organised are —

1) To watch over the interests of the people it represents and protect the same, as far as may be in its power to do so, from an unjust or capricious exercise of power or privilege on the part of landlords or any other class in the community.


2) To resort to every means compatible with justice, morality, and right reason, which shall not clash defiantly with the constitution upheld by the power of the British empire in this country, for the abolition of the present land laws of Ireland and the substitution in their place of such a system as shall be in accord with the social rights and necessities of our people, the traditions and moral sentiments of our race, and which the contentment and prosperity of our country imperatively demand.


3) Pending a final and satisfactory settlement of the land question, the duty of this body will be to expose the injustice, wrong, or injury which may be inflicted upon any farmer in Mayo, either by rack-renting, eviction, or other arbitrary exercise of power which the existing laws enable the landlords to exercise over their tenantry, by giving all such arbitrary acts the widest possible publicity and meeting their perpetration with all the opposition which the laws for the preservation of the peace will permit of. In furthernance of which, the following plan will be adopted :— a. Returns to be obtained, printed, and circulated, of the number of landlords in this county ; the amount of acreage in possession of same, and the means by which such land was obtained ; farms let by each, with the conditions under which they are held by their tenants and excess of rent paid by same over the government valuation. b. To publish by placard, or otherwise, notice of contemplated evictions for non-payment of exorbitant rent or other unjust cause, and the convening of a public meeting, if deemed necessary or expedient, as near the scene of such evictions as circumstances will allow, and on the day fixed upon for the same. c. The publication of a list of evictions carried out, together with cases of rack-renting, giving full particulars of same, names of landlords, agents, etc, concerned, and number people evicted by such acts. d. The publication of the names of all persons who shall rent or occupy land or farms from which others have been dispossessed for non-payment of exorbitant rents, or who shall offer a higher rent for land or farms than that paid by the previous occupier. The publication of reductions of rent and acts of justice or kindness performed by landlords in the county.


4) This body to undertake the defence of such of its members, or those of local clubs affiliated with it, who may be required to resist by law the actions of landlords or their agents who may purpose doing them injury, wrong, or injustice in connexion with their land or farms.


5) To render assistance when possible to such farmer-members as may be evicted or otherwise wronged by landlords or their agents.


6) To undertake the organising of local clubs or defence associations in the baronies, towns, and parishes of this county, the holding of public meetings and demonstrations on the land question, and the printing of pamphlets on that and other subjects for the information of the farming classes.


7) And finally, to act as a vigilance committee in Mayo, note the conduct of its grand jury, poor law guardians, town commissioners, and members of parliament, and pronounce on the manner in which their respective functions are performed, wherever the interests, social or political, of the people represented by this club renders it expedient to do so.’



Thus began the land agitation movement. On the 21st October 1879, a meeting of concerned individuals was held in the Imperial Hotel in Castlebar, County Mayo, to discuss issues in relation to ‘landlordism’ and the manner in which that subject impacted on those who worked on small land holdings on which they paid ‘rent’, an issue which other groups, such as tenants’ rights organisations and groups who, confined by a small membership, agitated on land issues in their own locality, had voiced concern about.


Those present agreed to announce themselves as the ‘Irish National Land League’ (which, at its peak, had 200,000 active members) and Charles Stewart Parnell who, at 33 years of age, had been an elected member of parliament for the previous four years, was elected president of the new group and Andrew Kettle, Michael Davitt, and Thomas Brennan were appointed as honorary secretaries. That leadership had ‘form’ in that each had made a name for themselves as campaigners on social issues of the day and were, as such, ‘known’ to the British authorities – Davitt was a known member of the Supreme Council of the IRB and spoke publicly about the need “..to bring out a reduction of rack-rents..to facilitate the obtaining of the ownership of the soil by the occupiers..the object of the League can be best attained by promoting organisation among the tenant-farmers ; by defending those who may be threatened with eviction for refusing to pay unjust rents ; by facilitating the working of the Bright clauses of the Irish Land Act during the winter and by obtaining such reforms in the laws relating to land as will enable every tenant to become owner of his holding by paying a fair rent for a limited number of years..”

Davitt realised that the ‘Land League’ would be well advised to seek support from outside of Ireland and, under the slogan ‘The Land for the People’, he toured America, being introduced in his activities there by John Devoy and, although he did not have official support from the Fenian leadership – some of whom were neutral towards him while others were suspicious and/or hostile of and to him – he obtained constant media attention and secured good support for the objectives of the organisation.


He died before he could accomplish all he wanted to, at 60 years of age, in Elphis Hospital in Dublin, on the 30th of May 1906, from blood poisoning : he had a tooth extracted and contracted septicaemia from the operation. His body was taken to the Carmelite Friary in Clarendon Street, Dublin, then by train to Foxford in Mayo and he was buried in Straide Abbey, near where he was born. The ‘Father of the Irish Land League’ was gone, but will not be forgotten.




‘WE ASK FOR NO MERCY AND WE WILL MAKE NO COMPROMISE’ – edited highlights of a speech on the 13th March, 1920, by Terence MacSwiney.
From ‘The United Irishman’ newspaper, October 1954.



“I come here more as a soldier stepping into the breach than an administrator to fill the first post in the municipality. We see in the manner in which our late Lord Major was murdered an attempt to terrify us all. Our first duty is to answer that threat in the only fitting manner by showing ourselves unterrified, cool and inflexible for the fulfilment of our chief purpose – the establishment of the independence and integrity of our country. To that end I am here.


The menace of our enemies hangs over us and the essential immediate purpose is to show the spirit that animates us and how we face the future. I wish to point out again the secret of our strength and the assurance of our final victory.


This contest of ours is not on our side a rivalry of vengeance, but one of endurance – it is not they who can inflict most but they who can suffer most will conquer. But it is conceivable that they could interrupt our course for a time ; then it becomes a question simply of trust in God and endurance…” (MORE LATER).






ON THIS DATE (19TH DECEMBER) 97 YEARS AGO : “FULL INDEPENDENCE AND NOTHING SHORT OF IT” – AUSTIN STACK, ‘TREATY OF SURRENDER’ DEBATE, DÁIL ÉIREANN* (*..the 32-County body, not the Free State Leinster House assembly).

Austin Stack (pictured) was born on the 7th December, 1879, in Ballymullen, Tralee, County Kerry, and died in the Mater Hospital in Dublin, from complications after a stomach operation, on the 27th April 1929, at only 49 years of age. That wasn’t soon enough, as far as his former comrades were concerned – he had remained a republican, and completely rejected their politics and their Free State.


He was arrested with Con Collins on the 21st April 1916 while planning an attack on Tralee RIC Barracks in an attempt to rescue Roger Casement. He was court-martialed and sentenced to death, but this was commuted to twenty years penal servitude and he was released in the general amnesty of June 1917, and became active in the Irish Volunteers again. He was elected Secretary of Sinn Féin, a position he held until his death. His health was shattered due to the number of prison protests and hunger strikes for political status that he undertook. In the 1918 general election, while a prisoner in Crumlin Road Jail in Belfast, he was elected to represent West Kerry in the First (all-Ireland) Dáil, and the British sent him off to Strangeways Prison in Manchester, from where he escaped in October 1919. During the ‘Black and Tan War’, as Minister for Home Affairs, Austin Stack organised the republican courts which replaced the British ‘legal’ system in this country.


He rejected the Treaty of Surrender in 1921 (stating, during the debate on same – “Has any man here the hardihood to stand up and say that it was for this our fathers suffered, that it was for this our comrades have died in the field and in the barrack yard..” ) and, following a short fund-raising/public relations tour of America, returned to Ireland to fight on the republican side in the Civil War.

In the general round-up of Irish republican leaders in April 1923 (during which Liam Lynch was shot dead by Free State troops) Stack, the Deputy Chief of Staff of the rebel forces, was arrested in a farmyard in the Knockmealdown Mountains in County Tipperary – this was four days after Lynch’s death. Imprisoned in Kilmainham Jail in Dublin, he took part in the mass hunger-strike by republican prisoners in October 1923, which was his 5th hunger-strike in 6 years. Shortly after the end of that forty-one day hunger-strike, in November 1923, he was released with hundreds of other political prisoners, and he married his girlfriend, Una Gordon, in 1925. In April 1929, at forty-nine years of age, he entered the Mater Hospital in Dublin for a stomach operation. He never recovered and died two days later, on 27th April 1929. He is buried in the Republican Plot, Glasnevin Cemetery, in Dublin.

‘Austin Stack was born in Ballymullen, Tralee and was educated at the local Christian Brothers School. At the age of fourteen he left school and became a clerk in a solicitor’s office. A gifted Gaelic footballer, he captained the Kerry team to All-Ireland glory in 1904 and also served as President of the Kerry Gaelic Athletic Association County Board. He became politically active in 1908 when he joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood and, in 1916, as commandant of the Kerry Brigade of the Irish Volunteers, he made preparations for the landing of arms by Roger Casement, on Banna Strand.


Although Austin Stack was made aware that Casement was arrested and was being held in Ballymullen Barracks in Tralee, he made no attempt to rescue him : RIC District Inspector Kearney treated Casement very well and made sure Stack was aware that Casement could so easily have been rescued, yet Stack refused to move (possibly sensing that a trap had been laid for him?) but he was arrested anyway and sentenced to death for his involvement, but this was later commuted to penal servitude for life. He was released under general amnesty in June 1917 after the death of fellow prisoner and Tralee man Thomas Patrick Ashe and was elected as an abstentionist Sinn Féin Member of Parliament for Kerry West in the 1918 Westminster election, becoming a member of the 1st Dail and was automatically elected as an abstentionist member of the ‘House of Commons of Southern Ireland’ and a member of the 2nd Dail as a Sinn Féin Teachta Dála for Kerry-Limerick West in the Irish elections of 1921.

He opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 and took part in the subsequent Irish Civil War. He was captured in 1923 and went on hunger strike for forty-one days before being released in July 1924…when Eamon de Valera founded Fianna Fail in 1926, Stack remained with Sinn Féin..his health never recovered after his hunger strike and he died in a Dublin hospital on April 27th 1929, aged 49.’ (from here, slightly edited.)


A commemorative pamphlet, entitled ‘What Exactly is a Republican?’ was issued in memory of the man – ‘The name republican in Ireland, as used amongst republicans, bears no political meaning. It stands for the devout lover of his country, trying with might and main for his country’s freedom. Such a man cannot be a slave. And if not a slave in heart or in act, he cannot be guilty of the slave vices. No coercion can breed these in the freeman. Fittingly, the question – ‘What is a republican?’ fails to be answered in our memorial number for Austin Stack, a man who bore and dared and suffered, remaining through it all and at the worst, the captain of his own soul. What then was Austin Stack, republican? A great lover of his country. A man without a crooked twist in him. One who thought straight, acted straight, walked the straight road unflinchingly and expected of others that they should walk it with him, as simply as he did himself. No man could say or write of him “He had to do it”. That plea of the slave was not his. His duty, as conscience and love dictated, he did. The force of England, of the English Slave State, might try coercion, as they tried it many times : it made no difference. He went his way, suffered their will, and stood his ground doggedly, smiling now and again. His determination outstood theirs, because it had a deeper foundation and a higher aim. Compromise, submission, the slave marks, did not and could not exist for him as touching himself, or the Cause for which he worked and fought,lived and died.’


Pictured – an IRA unit in Kerry, circa 1921.

Austin Stack fought physically and verbally for the Irish Republic and, on the 19th December, 1921 – 97 years ago, on this date – he said the following in Dáil Éireann in relation to the Westminster-‘offered’ (and Free State accepted) ‘Treaty of Surrender’ : “It happens to be my privilege to rise immediately after the President to support his motion that this House do not approve of the document which has been presented to them. I shall be very brief ; I shall confine myself to what I regard as the chief defects in the document, namely, those which conflict with my idea of Irish Independence.


I regard clauses in this agreement as being the governing clauses. These are Nos. 1, 2, 3, and 4. In No.I, England purports to bestow on Ireland, an ancient nation, the same constitutional status as any of the British Dominions, and also to bestow her with a Parliament having certain powers. To look at the second clause, it starts off — “Subject to provisions hereinafter set out..” — and then she tries to limit you to the powers of the Dominion of Canada. What they may mean I cannot say, beyond this, that the Canadian Dominion is set up under a very old Act which considerably limits its powers. No doubt the words “law, practice, and constitutional usage” are here. I cannot define what these may mean. Other speakers who will come before the assembly may be able to explain them. I certainly cannot. To let us assume that this clause gives to this country full Canadian powers, I for one cannot accept from England full Canadian powers, three-quarter Canadian powers, or half Canadian powers.


I stand for what is Ireland’s right, full independence and nothing short of it. It is easy to understand that countries like Australia, New Zealand and the others can put up with the powers which are bestowed on them, can put up with acknowledgements to the monarch and rule of Great Britain as head of their State, for have they not all sprung from England? Are they not children of England? Have they not been built up by Great Britain? Have they not been protected by England and lived under England’s flag for all time? What other feeling can they have but affection for England, which they always regarded as their motherland?


This country, on the other hand, has not been a child of England’s, nor never was. England came here as an invader, and for 750 years we have been resisting that conquest. Are we now after those 750 years to bend the knee and acknowledge that we received from England as a concession full, or half, or three-quarter Dominion powers? I say no. Clause 3 of this Treaty gives us a representative of the Crown in Ireland appointed in the same manner as a Governor-General. That Governor-General will act in all respects in the name of the King of England. He will represent the King in the Capital of Ireland and he will open the Parliament which some members of this House seem to be willing to attend. I am sure none of them, indeed, is very anxious to attend it under the circumstances, but, if they accept this Treaty they will have to attend Parliament summoned in the name of the King of Great Britain and Ireland. There is no doubt about that whatever. The fourth paragraph sets out the form of oath, and this form of oath may be divided into two parts. In the first part you swear “true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of the Irish Free State as by law established.” As the President has stated, according to the Constitution which will be sanctioned under that Parliament, it will be summoned by the representative of the King of England and Ireland and will acknowledge that King.


I say even that part of the oath is nothing short of swearing allegiance to the head of that Constitution which will be the King. You express it again when you swear, “and that I will be faithful to His Majesty King George V., his heirs and successors by law.” That is clear enough, and I have no hesitation whatever in reading the qualifying words. I say these qualifying words in no way alter the text, or form, or effect of this oath, because what you do in that is to explain the reason why you give faith, why you pledge fealty to King George. You say it is in virtue of the common citizenship of Ireland with Great Britain and the meaning of that is that you are British subjects. You are British subjects without a doubt, and I challenge anyone here to stand and prove otherwise than that according to this document.


If ever you want to travel abroad, to a country where a passport is necessary, your passport must be issued from the British Foreign Office and you must be described as a British subject on it. If you are mean enough to accept this Treaty, time will tell. You wind up by saying that you further acknowledge that King in virtue of Ireland’s adherence to and membership of the group of nations known as the British Commonwealth of Nations, and all that, of course, is really consistent with the whole thing. You will become a member of the British Empire. Now this question of the oath has an extraordinary significance for me, for, so far as I can trace, no member of my family has ever taken an oath of allegiance to England’s King. When I say that I do not pretend for a moment that men who happened to be descended from, or to be sons of men who took oaths of allegiance to England’s Kings, or men who themselves took oaths of allegiance to England’s Kings are any worse for it. There are men in this assembly who have been comrades of mine in various places, who have been fighting the same fight as I have been fighting, the same fight which we have all been fighting, and which I sincerely hope we will be fighting together again ere long. There are men with whom I was associated in this fight whose fathers had worn England’s uniform and taken oaths of allegiance, and these men were as good men and took their places as well in the fight for Irish independence as any man I ever met.


But what I wish to say is this: I was nurtured in the traditions of Fenianism. My father wore England’s uniform as a comrade of Charles Kickham and O’Donovan Rossa when as a ’67 man he was sentenced to ten years for being a rebel, but he wore it minus the oath of allegiance. If I, as I hope I will, try to continue to fight for Ireland’s liberty, even if this rotten document be accepted, I will fight minus the oath of allegiance and to wipe out the oath of allegiance if I can do it. Now I ask you has any man here the idea in his head, has any man here the hardihood to stand up and say that it was for this our fathers have suffered, that it was for this our comrades have died on the field and in the barrack yard. If you really believe in your hearts that it was vote for it. If you don’t believe it in your hearts vote against it. It is for you now to make up your minds. To-day or to-morrow will be, I think, the most fateful days in Irish history. I will conclude by quoting two of Russell Lowell’s lines : —
“Once to every man and nation comes a moment to decide,


In the strife ‘twixt truth and falsehood for the good or evil side.”



Unfortunately, the “evil side” is, at the time of writing, in the majority. But it’s early yet…



(Incidentally, on this date, 97 years ago [19th December 1921], one of those who signed and accepted the ‘Treaty of Surrender’ attempted to explain, probably more so to himself than to those who were in his presence, why he had done so – “I do not seek to shield myself from the charge of having broken my oath of allegiance to the Republic — my signature is proof of that fact. That oath was, and still is to me, the most sacred bond on earth…” – a poor effort at absolving himself for doing the wrong thing, in our opinion : more here.)




SAN FRANCISCO.


From ‘The United Irishman’ newspaper, February 1955.



At a special meeting of the San Francisco branch of the ‘Irish Republican Prisoner’s Aid Committee’, held on January 20th, 1955, the following resolution was unanimously passed : ‘WHEREAS the English Government, for eight centuries, has been guilty of invasion, confiscation, aggression and persecution in Ireland, and still pursues the policy, despite the world-wide maxim of peace-loving nations that all people should be allowed to govern themselves, free of outside interference and WHEREAS at the present time a number of young Irish patriots have been brutally sentenced to from four to twelve years penal servitude in English prisons and in Crumlin Road Jail in Belfast for asserting their God-given rights to freedom from an alien enemy tyrant, therefore BE IT RESOLVED that we, Americans of Irish birth and extraction, meeting under the auspices of the ‘Irish Republican Prisoner’s Aid Committee’ of San Francisco, on this twentieth day of January 1955, emphatically protest the foul policy of Britain in imposing barbarous measures of punishment on Irish patriots who are entitled, under the circumstances, to treatment of prisoners of war and BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we pledge our moral support to these patriotic soldiers of Ireland and our financial support to their dependents during their long and trying years ahead.”

(END of ‘San Francisco’ : NEXT – ‘Derry Men Fined’, ‘GAA Support’ and ‘Mistaken Identity’, from the same source.)




ON THE TAKE…

The question is no longer whether there is corruption within our political establishment but whether the political establishment is itself corrupt.


By Vincent Browne.

From ‘Magill’ magazine, February 1998.


At present, private investors on the Irish Stock Exchange own shares to an estimated value of £8 billion ; over the last year alone, the value of these shares would have increased by about £200 million. The tax on this realisable gain alone has been cut by £40 million! Of course, the capital gain on such stocks would be far greater that £40 million, taking the gain over the last several years.


And that capital gain represents only a fraction of the capital gain generated generally in the economy – it does not include, for instance, the capital gain from investment in property. Therefore, the benefit to the rich by this tax reduction is probably of the order of £100 million, although Charlie McCreevy stated that the cost to the exchequer in a single year was only £19 million. Either this was done to benefit the rich generally – on top of the benefit they gained by the reduction in the top rate of income tax – or perhaps for the benefit of a particular individual. Either way, it is a disgrace. And particularly a disgrace given the paucity of the increases in social welfare and the deferral (again) of the implementation of the benefit, such as it was.


In that vivid phrase of the hapless Michael Lowry, the cosy cartels are indeed very cosy. They have three parties to represent their interests (Fianna Fáil, the Progressive Democrats and Fine Gael) and they have little to fear from a tame Labour Party and a timorous Democratic Left. (END of ‘ON THE TAKE’ ; Next, from the same source : ‘A NEW THEORY OF RELATIVITY’, by Pat Rabbitte.)





A WORKING HOLIDAY…!

We’ll be busy ourselves over the Christmas period, as usual – but, again as usual, we don’t mind, as it’s for a good cause! The 42nd successive Cabhair Christmas Swim will be held on Christmas Day 2018 at about 12 noon, at the 3rd Lock of the Grand Canal in Inchicore, Dublin, and we hope to be fit enough after it to post a few words and pics here on Stephen’s Day (or thereabouts – probably thereabouts!) – if you can make it, well and good, you’ll be made welcome and we’ll see ya there but, if you can’t make it, not to worry : we know you’ll be there in spirit and, if you want to contribute, donations can be sent to CABHAIR – Irish Republican Prisoners Dependants Fund, 223 Sráid Pharnell, BÁC 1, Éire. All donations are gratefully received and a receipt will be issued.

CABHAIR is a charitable organisation, solely dependant on public subscriptions. It was established in early 1987, following the revolutionary / reformist split in the republican movement, for “the relief of cases of distress arising out of republican activity”. Immediately following the Ard-Fheis of Sinn Féin in 1986 when the Provisionals departed from the republican road a number of Irish political prisoners in England, the Six Counties and the 26 Counties adhered to the revolutionary path and refused to accept support from the Provisionals.


To meet this pressing need CABHAIR was formed and has continued with this noble work. Prisoners that they have cared for have been released on completion of sentence and others have gone to prison. At no time since 1987 have no prisoners been in CABHAIR’s care. As long as British rule continues in Ireland, Irish people will resist that foreign occupation and, unfortunately, there will be political prisoners.


We hope you have a Happy Christmas, and thank you for continuing to visit our wee corner of the interweb – much appreciated!



Thanks for reading, Sharon.




About 11sixtynine

A mother of three and a political activist , living in Dublin , Ireland.
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