A Week in the Life of Daniel Davitt

Published in Personal History, Uncategorized

Daniel Davitt was, like so many of the Irish Volunteer Army, an ordinary working man. At the time of the Easter Rising he was 30 and living in the tenements of Russell Street, Dublin, with his wife, Elizabeth and two small children, Vincent and Eileen. The family were poor but proud, just about surviving on Daniel’s wages as a labourer. He had no military training or background. But he was willing to die for Ireland. 

Through pension records, and military archives Daniel’s story can be told. Tracing his part in the blowing up of a railway bridge on the North Circular Road, to his capture and internment as a prisoner of war and final release on Christmas Eve 1917. Despite his service, Daniel’s applications for a Special Allowance for old IRA servicemen were repeatedly turned down, and with ill health meaning he was unable to work, the family was struggling once more. A shameful indictment of how the ‘heroes’ of the Easter Rising were treated with contempt by their own Government.

Daniel’s application for a Service Certificate shows that he began active service in the Easter Rising on the 24thApril 1916. He served as a Private in B Battalion of the Dublin Brigade.

His statement to the Advisory Committee reveals that they were mobilised about 9 o’clock on Easter Monday, to the railway bridge next to Pibsborough Chapel. They were armed with a revolver and ammunition and under orders from Commanding Officer Sullivan told to blow the bridge up.

 Daniel says: ‘We took possession of two houses, blowing up the bridge…we went over to Glasnevin Cemetery and arranged to go down to the Post Office. We saw that the (British) soldiers were up as far as Prospect Road’.

They held their position at the bridge until Tuesday evening when they were mobilised to the Post Office, armed with a rifle and ordered to go to the top of Pillar House on Henry Street. There he remained until Friday when he returned to the Post Office. He was involved in moving the barricades and was hit in the hand by a stray bullet. 

The O’Rahilly took a group including Daniel up to Moore St. It was here that The O’Rahilly was fatally wounded by the British military and Daniel and some other volunteers fled to a stable in a lane off Moore St where they remained until the military ‘routed them out’ on the Saturday evening. They were marched down O’ Connell St to the Parnell Monument and then to the Rotunda where they were arrested. 

Daniel was first sent to Brocton PoW Camp in Stafford, before being moved to Frongoch, Wales, where he remained until 24thDecember 1916. 

Figure 1shows Frongoch as illustrated by prisoner Cathal Macdowell

Conditions at Frongoch were appalling, with prisoners complaining of the camp being overrun by rats. Herbert Samuel, then Home Secretary stated that the US Embassy had visited the camp and ‘commented most favourably’ on it. The Home Office also noted that prisoners were allowed extra clothing when doctors ‘considered it necessary’ and that prisoners could receive ‘approved’ educational material. 

Daniel Davitt was determined not to suffer the torment of captivity any longer and so on the 3rdAugust, he managed to escape from Frongoch Prison Camp. The photo below, from https://www.rte.ie/centuryireland/index.php/articles/irish-prisoner-escapes-frongochshows a letter relating to his escape. It describes Daniel as ‘about thirty, sallow complexion, dark hair, greyish eyes, about 5’ 8 and slightly built’. It says Daniel was ‘one of those who the Committee recommended should be kept interned’ and advises to ‘take whatever steps necessary.’

Figure 2(Image: National Archives of Ireland, CSO RP 1916 13549 10)

But Daniel was without food, money or transport and was inevitably recaptured on the 5thAugust and kept in solitary confinement for 7 weeks. 1,800 men (including Michael Collins) were interned at Frongoch. Daniel was eventually released on Christmas Eve 1916. 

Daniel was a civilian who fought for Irish independence, he was injured during service and, coupled with later ill health meant that he struggled to work. Daniel’s daughter died of TB aged 33 and he and his wife were now also responsible for two growing boys. His claims for an allowance and a military pension were refused time and again as the family struggled. The hearing committee poured scorn on his testament, suggesting he was ‘mentally deranged and delusional’, doubting his account, until Daniel provided them with several references to prove his role. Despite all this he was denied a special allowance for financial hardship. 

Daniel’s family have no medal or certificate to show his involvement in the Easter Rising, in fact it was only recently that they became aware of his story. They want his story to be known because it must reflect the untold stories of so many others. The contemptible treatment he received when in need must never be buried away. 

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