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13 September 2001 Edition

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Remembering the Past

Thomas Davis




By ART Mac EOIN

The year of 1848 was a time of revolution in Europe, with outbreaks in Austria, Italy and France. In Ireland, the Great Hunger had reached its peak and the Irish population had been devastated by years of famine and emigration. Despite this, a group of young idealists devoted themseves to plans of revolution.

Known as the Young Irelanders - partly due to their similarity to revolutionary movements then sweeping Europe, which included Young Italy, Young Switzerland,Young France and Young Germany - they shared with the United Irishmen an internationalist outlook and the belief that Ireland must be completely independent of England and that this must be achieved by force if necessary.

The young Irelanders had been associated with Daniel O'Connell and the mass movement for the Repeal of the Act of Union. But increasingly convinced that radical action was the answer to Ireland's problems, they eventually broke from O'Connell.

One of the most influential Young Irelanders was Thomas Davis, a Protestant barrister from Cork. Davis founded a radical newspaper, called the Nation, in 1842 with Charles Gavan Duffy, an Ulster Catholic, and John Blake Dillon, a Catholic lawyer.

The Nation advocated the development of a non-sectarian, cultural and inclusive nationalism, Irish freedom and development of the Irish economy. The Nation reached over 100,000 people, an enormous circulation at the time and was useful to the Repeal Movement led by Daniel O'Connell, which sought to repeal the Act of Union.

Until his premature death at the age of 31 in September 1845, Davis was the chief writer of The Nation and the most potent exponent of the Young Ireland philosophy. He presented an inspiring image of a future Ireland that would embrace and combine the heritage of all its people, Gaels and settlers, Protestant and Catholic, in a vibrant, bilingual and prosperous future.

On the issue of nationalism, Davis wrote: ``Surely the desire of nationality is not ungenerous, nor is it strange in the Irish (looking to their history); nor, considering the population of Ireland and the situation of their home, is the expectation of it very wild.''

Davis wrote a number of ballads such as A Nation Once Again, which became popular throughout Ireland and remain so to this day.

The Young Irelanders eventually launched an unsuccessful rebellion aganst British rule in 1848. The main conflict took place at the Battle of Ballingarry in County Tipperary on 29 June.

Thomas Davis, writer, revolutionary and inspiration of the Young Ireland Movement, died on 16 September 1845, 156 years ago this week.

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