Thomas Davis (Young Irelander)

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Thomas Osborne Davis
Davis in the 1840s
Davis in the 1840s
Born(1814-10-14)14 October 1814
Mallow, Ireland
Died16 September 1845(1845-09-16) (aged 30)
Dublin, Ireland
EducationArts degree
Alma materTrinity College, Dublin
Literary movementYoung Ireland
Notable worksThe West's Asleep A Nation Once Again

Thomas Osborne Davis (14 October 1814 – 16 September 1845) was an Irish writer who was the chief organiser of the Young Ireland movement.

Early life[edit]

Thomas Davis was born in the town of Mallow in County Cork, the son of a Welsh father, a surgeon in the Royal Artillery, and an Irish mother. Through his mother he was descended from the Gaelic noble family of O'Sullivan Beare.[1] His father died one month after his birth and his mother moved to Warrington Place near Mount Street bridge in Dublin. In 1830, they moved to 67 Lower Baggot Street. He attended school in Lower Mount Street before studying in Trinity College, Dublin. He graduated in Law and received an Arts degree in 1836, before being called to the Irish Bar in 1838.


Davis gave a voice to the 19th-century foundational culture of modern Irish nationalism. Formerly it was based on the republicans of the 1790s and on the Catholic emancipation movement of Daniel O'Connell in the 1820s-30s, which had little in common with each other except for independence from Britain; Davis aimed to create a common and more inclusive base for the future. He established The Nation newspaper with Charles Gavan Duffy and John Blake Dillon.

He wrote some stirring nationalistic ballads, originally contributed to The Nation and afterwards republished as Spirit of the Nation, as well as a memoir of Curran, the Irish lawyer and orator, prefixed to an edition of his speeches, and a history of King James II's parliament of 1689; and he had formed many literary plans which were unfinished by his early death.

He was a Protestant, but preached unity between Catholics and Protestants. To Davis, it was not blood that made a person Irish, but the willingness to be part of the Irish nation.[2] Although the Saxon and Dane were, Davis asserted, objects of unpopularity, their descendants would be Irish if they simply allowed themselves to be. Davis was of the opinion that national identity was the natural human condition, and spoke out against cosmopolitanism. In a speech to the College Historical Society at Trinity College Dublin, Davis said:

"The country of our birth, our educations, our recollections, ancestral, personal, national; the country of our loves, our friendships, our hopes; our country: the cosmopolite is unnatural, base - I would fain say, impossible. To act on a world is for those above it, not of it. Patriotism is human philanthropy."[3]

He was to the fore of Irish nationalist thinking and it has been noted by later nationalist notables, such as Patrick Pearse, that while Wolfe Tone laid out the basic premise that Ireland as a nation must be free, Davis was the one who built this idea up promoting the Irish identity.

He is the author of influential songs such as The West's Asleep, A Nation Once Again and In Bodenstown Churchyard. He also wrote the Lament for Owen Roe O'Neill.[4]

Relationship with Daniel O'Connell[edit]

Davis supported O'Connell's Repeal Association from 1840, hoping to recreate the old Irish Parliament. They split during a debate on the proposed new Queen's University of Ireland, when Davis was reduced to tears by O'Connell's superior debating skill. Davis was in favour of a university that would inclusively educate all Irish students; O'Connell and the Catholic hierarchy preferred a separate system for Catholic students within Ireland that would remain under church control (see: Catholic University of Ireland)

O'Connell generally referred to his inexperienced allies as "Young Ireland", initially as a dismissive term, that from the 1870s became the accepted term for nationalists inspired by Davis. He also preferred a federal arrangement with Britain in the 1840s while Davis sought a greater degree of autonomy. Both agreed that a gradual and non-violent process was the best way forward. Despite their differences O'Connell was distraught at Davis's early death.[5]


He died from scarlet fever, in 1845 at the age of 30.[6] He is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery, Dublin.


Dame Street - Thomas Davis

A series of state events were staged around Ireland for a week in September 1945 on the 100th anniversary of his death.[7]

A statue of Davis, created by Edward Delaney, was unveiled on College Green, Dublin, in 1966, attended by the Irish president, Éamon de Valera.

One of the secondary schools in Davis' home town of Mallow, Davis College, is named after him. A number of GAA clubs around the country are also named after him; including one in Tallaght, Dublin and one in Corrinshego, County Armagh.

Fort Davis, at the entrance to Cork Harbour, is named after him.

Thomas Davis street, off Francis Street in Dublin 8 is also named after him.


  • The Patriot Parliament of 1689: first edition (1843); third edition, with an introduction by Charles Gavan Duffy (1893)
  • The Life of the Right Hon. J. P. Curran (1846)
  • Letters of a Protestant, on Repeal [Five letters originally published in The Nation.] Edited by Thomas F. Meagher (1847)
  • Literary and Historical Essays (edited by Charles Gavan Duffy) (1846)
  • The Poems of Thomas Davis (with notes and historical illustrations edited by Thomas Wallis) (1846)

Further reading[edit]

  • 'Munster Outrages', written by Davis, first published in The Nation
  • The Politics of Irish Literature: from Thomas Davis to W.B. Yeats, Malcolm Brown, Allen & Unwin, 1973.
  • John Mitchel, A Cause Too Many, Aidan Hegarty, Camlane Press.
  • Thomas Davis, The Thinker and Teacher, Arthur Griffith, M.H. Gill & Son 1922.
  • Brigadier-General Thomas Francis Meagher: His Political and Military Career, Capt. W. F. Lyons, Burns Oates & Washbourne Limited 1869
  • Young Ireland and 1848, Dennis Gwynn, Cork University Press 1949.
  • Daniel O'Connell The Irish Liberator, Dennis Gwynn, Hutchinson & Co, Ltd.
  • O'Connell, Davis and the Colleges Bill, Dennis Gwynn, Cork University Press 1948.
  • Smith O'Brien and the "Secession", Dennis Gwynn, Cork University Press
  • Meagher of The Sword, edited By Arthur Griffith, M. H. Gill & Son, Ltd. 1916.
  • Young Irelander Abroad: The Diary of Charles Hart, edited by Brendan O'Cathaoir, University Press.
  • John Mitchel: First Felon for Ireland, edited By Brian O'Higgins, Brian O'Higgins 1947.
  • Rossa's Recollections 1838 to 1898, intro by Sean O'Luing, The Lyons Press 2004.
  • Labour in Ireland, James Connolly, Fleet Street 1910.
  • The Re-Conquest of Ireland, James Connolly, Fleet Street 1915.
  • John Mitchel: Noted Irish Lives, Louis J. Walsh, The Talbot Press Ltd 1934.
  • Thomas Davis: Essays and Poems, Centenary Memoir, M. H Gill, M.H. Gill & Son, Ltd MCMXLV.
  • Life of John Martin, P. A. Sillard, James Duffy & Co., Ltd 1901.
  • Life of John Mitchel, P. A. Sillard, James Duffy and Co., Ltd 1908.
  • John Mitchel, P. S. O'Hegarty, Maunsel & Company, Ltd 1917.
  • The Fenians in Context: Irish Politics & Society 1848–82, R. V. Comerford, Wolfhound Press 1998
  • William Smith O'Brien and the Young Ireland Rebellion of 1848, Robert Sloan, Four Courts Press 2000
  • Irish Mitchel, Seamus MacCall, Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd 1938.
  • Ireland Her Own, T. A. Jackson, Lawrence & Wishart Ltd 1976.
  • Life and Times of Daniel O'Connell, T. C. Luby, Cameron & Ferguson.
  • Young Ireland, T. F. O'Sullivan, The Kerryman Ltd. 1945.
  • Irish Rebel: John Devoy and America's Fight for Irish Freedom, Terry Golway, St. Martin's Griffin 1998.
  • Paddy's Lament: Ireland 1846–1847, Prelude to Hatred, Thomas Gallagher, Poolbeg 1994.
  • The Great Shame, Thomas Keneally, Anchor Books 1999.
  • James Fintan Lalor, Thomas, P. O'Neill, Golden Publications 2003.
  • Charles Gavan Duffy: Conversations With Carlyle (1892), with Introduction, Stray Thoughts On Young Ireland, by Brendan Clifford, Athol Books, Belfast, (ISBN 0 85034 1140). (Pg. 32 Titled, Foster's account Of Young Ireland.)
  • Envoi, Taking Leave Of Roy Foster, by Brendan Clifford and Julianne Herlihy, Aubane Historical Society, Cork.
  • The Falcon Family, or, Young Ireland, by M. W. Savage, London, 1845. (An Gorta Mor) Quinnipiac University


  1. ^ Helen Mulvey, Thomas Davis and Ireland, p. 22
  2. ^ Thomas Davis – Dame Street (17 March 2012). "90,000 Photographs By William Murphy - 90,000 Photographs By William Murphy". Archived from the original on 27 March 2014. Retrieved 1 March 2014.
  3. ^ The Pocket Book of Great Irish Speeches. Dublin, Ireland: Gill Books. 2017. p. 27. ISBN 9780717172917.
  4. ^ 108. Lament for the Death of Eoghan Ruadh O’Neill by Thomas Davis Colum, Padraic. 1922. Anthology of Irish Verse]
  5. ^ Podcast by "Newstalk" radio, accessed 7 January 2015
  6. ^ Hachey, Thomas E.; Lawrence John McCaffrey (2010). The Irish Experience Since 1800: A Concise History. M.E. Sharpe. p. 62. ISBN 0765628430. Retrieved 29 May 2013.
  7. ^ Press cutting, 8 Sept 1945

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainCousin, John William (1910). A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature. London: J. M. Dent & Sons – via Wikisource.

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