Michael Davitt was born in Mayo 25 March 1846. His family were evicted from their home when he was still young, and moved to Liverpool to start a new life. Davitt grew up with a sense of hatred of British landlords, and the injustice suffered by the peasants in Ireland.
Member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood
He worked as a child labourer in a cotton mill, and an accident left him severely injured and his arm had to be amputated. As an adult, Davitt joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood. He was arrested after arranging a delivery of weapons in London, and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Davitt suffered harsh treatment but managed to get a message to Irish MP John O’Connor Power who campaigned for his release. During his sentence, Davitt became convinced that the best way to improve the lives of the Irish working classes, was for them to gain ownership of the land which they farmed.
John O’Connor Power managed to get Davitt released after seven years. He returned to Mayo and set up the Land League of Mayo. The organisation gathered support and they successfully got the rent of people in Mayo reduced by 25%.
With the support of Davitt, Charles Parnell was made president of the now nationwide Land League. The group successfully ousted Captain Charles Boycott (a British land agent) from Ireland, by refusing to farm his land, pay his rent or serve him in shops. The whole community backed the campaign until Boycott lost patience and returned to England.
Davitt was arrested and put back in prison in 1881, after he had accused the chief secretary of Ireland W. E. Forster of “infamous lying” during a speech. Parnell fought for his release in the British parliament. Davitt continued to back Parnell’s leadership after his release, although the relationship between the two men turned sour in the following years as they disagreed on the best way forward for the good of the Irish peasants.
Davitt and the Glasgow Celtic Football Club
Not only was Davitt admired in Ireland against his stand against unfair landords, but also in Scotland, especially the Irish in Glasgow. Celtic Football Club, Glasgow, made him an honourable Patron of the club. In 1892, when the club moved to Celtic Park, Davitt laid the first sod of turf on the pitch – it was from Co Donegal. He said;
“On alien soil like yourself I am here;
I’ll take root and flourish, of that never fear;
And though I’ll be crossed sore and oft by the foes,
You’ll find me as hardy as Thistle or Rose.
If model is needed on your own pitch you’ll have it.”
He is thought to have said that ‘ the green sod brought from dear old Donegal will prove so slippery that any Saxon rival who ran over it will fall a cropper!”
After the first match after the laying of the turf, against Clyde Football Club, the turf was stolen that night.
“The curse of Cromwell blast the hand
That stole the sod that Michael cut;
May all his praties turn to sand –
The crawling, thieving scut”!