Thomas Davis


 Thomas Davis 1


Thomas Davis was one of Ireland’s greatest patriots. He was born on 14th October 1814, at number 72 Main Street (now `Thomas Davis Street’). He was the youngest of four children. His father, an army surgeon, died a month or two before Davis was born.

In 1818, his mother and her four children moved to Dublin, eventually settling in Lower Baggot Street, where they remained affectionately together until Davis’ death. In 1836 Davis graduated from Trinity College and was called to the Irish Bar a year later. Like others of his generation he spent some time on the ‘grand tour’. He toured England and the Continent studying languages and building up his library. He published an anonymous pamphlet on Reform of the Lords in 1837.

He joined the National Repeal Association founded by Daniel O’Connell and in 1840, in a notable speech at Trinity’s Historical Society, he pleaded for studies of the Irish history. Davis’ few productive years lay ahead.


He began writing for the `Citizen’, a monthly established by leading members of the Historical Society, also for the Dublin Morning Register. Then in 1841, he and his college friend, John Blake Dillon, a barrister, met a young journalist called Charles Gavin Duffy. Duffy shared their burgeoning allegiance to Irish nationhood and independence. While walking in the Phoenix Park they conceived the idea of producing a newspaper. Davis was Protestant, the others were Roman Catholics and with Duffy as Editor they published the ‘Nation’, whose first weekly issue appeared on 15th October 1942. Its slogan was “Educate that you may be Free”.

The readership soon reached 250,000 outstripping every other Dublin journal and fulfilling its aim `to direct the popular mind and the sympathies of educated men of all parties to the great end of Nationality’. Davis was the principal contributor, and found he could write stirring patriotic ballads such as ‘A Nation Once Again’ and `The West’s Asleep’. The `Nation’ also published John Kells Ingram’s `Who fears to Speak of `98’, and in 1843 the best songs were reprinted as `The Spirit of the Nation’. Davis also planned a monthly series of shilling volumes forming `the Library of Ireland’ (1845-1847), in which his own `Literary and Historical Essays and Poems’ were to influence subsequent patriots.

Thomas Davis 2

Although on the committee of the Repeal Association, Davis felt its approach was too sectarian. He and his associates became known as `The Young Irelanders’. Ultimately they became impatient with O’Connell’s rather limited aims, particularly after he accepted a ban on his Clontarf meetings in 1843. Davis and O’Connell quarrelled publicly over the 1845 College Bill, which proposed non-denominational university colleges, Davis approved of non-sectarian education, while O’Connell spoke of `godless education’. What is unknown is whether Davis would have supported John Mitchel and the other Young Irelanders as they moved towards rebellion in 1848, for he died at home of a fever on 16th September 1845. He is buried in the family plot in Mount Jerome cemetery in Dublin.