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.
The Michael Davitt Papers, held in the Manuscripts & Archives Research Library, are a rich source for historians of late nineteenth-century Ireland. Davitt, a Mayo-born man of humble origins, was one of the leading political figures of the day. He exerted a significant influence over popular opinion, as an author, journalist and public speaker in Ireland, Britain, and internationally. For many years, Dr Carla King has studied this rich collection, in preparation for her newly published study, Michael Davitt After the Land League. Here she reflects upon Davitt’s life, the provenance of the Davitt papers, and the invaluable insights which the collection offers to researchers. Continue reading “The Michael Davitt Papers in the Manuscripts & Archives Research Library”
Sydney Auchinleck – female despite the name – was an impressive woman from an early age. A published poet in her teens, she wanted to be an engineer but Trinity College wasn’t ready for that in the early 1900s, or indeed even by the end of the 1960s. Sydney consoled herself by becoming the first female chemistry graduate and a mechanic in her spare time. Her story is included in a memoir recently published by her family one of whom has volunteered this guest blog post.
The role of Trinity College Dublin during the Easter Rising has been well documented, and during the course of the commemorations, numerous personal experiences of this period have been brought to public attention. An eye-witness account by alumnus James Alexander Glen was presented to the Manuscripts & Archives Research Library just over 50 years after the events of 1916, and it is a record of his involvement in the protection of the College (TCD MS 4456). We know from other manuscript sources that JA Glen, the son of a farmer, was born in Newtowncunningham, County Donegal, and entered College in October 1911, aged 17 years. He received his early education at Foyle College, Derry. In 1914 he was awarded a scholarship in classics, graduating with a BA in Winter 1915 and MA in Summer 1919. He joined the TCD Officer Training Corps (OTC) in his second year as an undergraduate. He was a recipient of a silver cup, one of a number of replicas of the two original cups that were presented to the College by local business who had benefited from OTC actions during the Rebellion.
At the outbreak of trouble, a uniformed Glen and a fellow artillery officer, with whom he had enjoying an outing to the Phoenix Park, made a cautious journey to TCD after their tram was halted in O’Connell Street. They met with a group of Australian and South African soldiers en route, who subsequently volunteered to act as lookouts on a portion of the College roof. Under the direction of AA Luce and EH Alton (both OTC captains and College professors), operations began to protect the College from within the walls. The gates were closed, ammunition distributed and sentries were posted at various locations.
As events unfolded during Easter Week, Glen was ordered to follow a colonel to an attic window in one of the College buildings that overlooked Westmoreland Street and O’Connell Street. The ‘red-tabled and red-hatted senior officer’ was considering a possible plan to demolish Nelson’s Pillar, and enquired of Glen about the type of artillery that would be required for such an operation. The pillar was seen to act as a shelter for the rebels as they moved between Clery’s department store and the General Post Office. As Glen himself recognised, even with his limited knowledge of firearms, this method would not have been a success even with the most powerful of guns. While parts of central Dublin were destroyed during Easter week, the pillar remained standing until 8 March 1966 when, fifty years after the events of 1916, it was severely damaged by explosives planted by the Irish Republican Army. The remnants were later removed.
The manuscript is in very good condition, consists of five sheets written in the author’s hand, and can be consulted in the Manuscripts & Archives Research Library.