Trinity College Library is home to the papers of Michael Davitt, 1846-1906. Davitt was a convicted Fenian, Irish nationalist, Irish Parliamentary Party MP, investigative journalist and agrarian campaigner, who is well known for being one of the founders of the Irish National Land League. This extensive collection was presented to TCD library from 1978 to 1980 by Davitt’s son, Cahir Davitt and includes over 6000 letters, 550 photographs, 40 diaries as well as newspaper cuttings, published pamphlets and articles.
The Davitt photographic collection provides a visual record of the latter half of Davitt’s career, when he toured across the prairies and mountains of Northwest Canada, the gold fields of Australia and the battlefields of South Africa during the Second Boer War. The photographs document Davitt’s investigations, as a social campaigner and journalist, into the migration of Scottish crofters to Northwest Canada following the Highland Clearances, the Murray River communal settlements in South Australia, the rush to settle Western Australia fuelled by the gold fields at Coolgardie and the aftermath of the Kishinev pogrom in the Russian Empire.
Davitt was an important figure to a generation of the Irish diaspora who migrated from Ireland to the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand after the devastation of the Great Famine. As a migrant himself, his family left Mayo for Haslingden in Lancashire, his commitment to improving the lives of agricultural tenants and labourers in rural Ireland through his work in the Land League cemented his reputation amongst Irish people living abroad. This is demonstrated in MS 9649/32, which depicts a large crowd of people gathered to welcome Davitt to Maryborough in Victoria.
These photographs are currently being catalogued and digitised. While the Davitt collection is one of the most heavily used historic collections in Trinity Library, this important and extensive collection of photographs within the Davitt papers is less well known due to limited cataloguing. The project aims to update the existing catalogue, the digitisation of the photographs and the publishing of the photographs on Trinity’s digital collections repository to increase accessibility to this significant collection.
The online catalogue has now been updated and can be viewed here.