Carla King
St Patrick’s College, Dublin

Michael Davitt (1846-1906) was one of the most important influences in Irish nationalism and a significant figure in the labour movements of Ireland and Britain in the late nineteenth century. His family evicted during the Great Famine, he grew up in Haslingden, an industrial town near Manchester, and lost an arm in a factory accident. Becoming a Fenian as a young man he served a long prison term for treason-felony, following which he founded and led the Irish National Land League to campaign for tenants’ rights. An advocate of land nationalisation, he became closely involved in the Irish and British labour movements, and later gave active support to the British Labour Party in the 1906 election. He earned his living as a public speaker, author and journalist, and became a significant influence on Irish, British and Irish-American public opinion. In the 1890s he served as an Irish Party MP at Westminster.

Between September 1890 and May 1891 Davitt edited a penny newspaper, the Labour World, published in London. This sixteen-page weekly was initially successful, with some 60,000 copies of the second issue ordered. Covering a wide range of topics, it introduced the new journalism to labour issues. Eventually it became a victim of the Parnell split and ran into financial difficulties.

The paper proposed will examine Davitt’s reasons for founding the paper, its focus and content and the factors behind its ultimate demise. It will analyse the philosophy of the Labour World and its relationship to the labour movement of the day. It will be argued that despite its short life the paper was an innovative contribution to the journalism of its day and came at an important point in the development of the Irish and British labour movements.

Newspapers and Periodicals in Britain and Ireland from 1800 to 1900