Alarmed at the popularity Davitt was enjoying and suspicious of the links between him and leaders of the Fenian movement, Charles Stewart Parnell, leader of the Home Rule Party, accepted the presidency of the new movement.
Parnell was the most popular Irish leader of his day and his parliamentary efforts to secure repeal of the Act of Union that joined the parliaments of Great Britain and Ireland in 1801, enjoyed huge popular support.
His support certainly raised the profile of the Land League movement and this movement
was ultimately to achieve its objectives, agrarian reform and a passing of the ownership
of the land from the landlords to the people. This created a new factor in Irish
society, the farmer class that was to significantly influence the shape of future
social and economic trends in the country.
The interplay between the three ideologies, agrarian reform, constitutional party politics and pure physical force was an interesting and complicated one but outside the scope of this document. Besides, information on Davitt, Parnell and the Fenians is freely available on the Internet and indeed relevant sources can be accessed from the links here at my own site.
However, I am tempted to make mention of two matters. Firstly, one really cannot
mention Davitt without referring to Captain Boycott, the man who gave his name to
the English language in a way he would have preferred not to and also the name of PW
Nally, from Balla, deserves honourable mention.
Boycott was a hated land agent a glorified overseer for an absentee landlord. He managed the estates of Lord Erne on the shores of Lough Mask and when he refused to lower the rent of his tenants in 1880 they refused to help him secure the harvest. Unable to coerce them because of their united front he called in 50 Unionist labourers from Ulster to break the strike.
The whole country watched and waited. Davitt's new movement was being put to an immediate and stern test. The result is well known. Boycott found the cost of securing the harvest to be far too costly to be successful and left the country a broken man. The policy of Boycott, peaceful and united non co-
Davitt's Land League was the first popular movement in Irish history to gain what it sought and by relatively non-
Not so Patrick William Nally.
Nally was the son of a prosperous farmer and born at Rockmount House, near Balla
in 1856. He showed early promise as an athlete and won widespread notice in his home
county. He also had strong Fenian sympathies and although asked to join the Land
League at an early stage he declined. Probably he preferred more direct methods to
achieve his aims!
However, he did set up a sports organization in Mayo and had discussions with Michael Cusack of GAA fame, as he was very interested in forming a countrywide nationalistic sports movement. Nally provided the impetus that led to Cusack and others forming the GAA, at a meeting in Hayes' Hotel in Thurles in 1884.
By this time Nally was in Mountjoy Jail having been sentenced the previous year to
10 years penal servitude for his alleged part in what was known as the "Crossmolina
Conspiracy'. He was due for early release in November 1891 because of good behaviour
but died in mysterious circumstances just before the release date.
His death led to widespread public unrest as it was feared he had died of foul play and not typhoid fever as was reported. His funeral to Glasnevin Cemetery on 15 November 1891, was a huge affair with the entire Central Council of the GAA marching behind the cortege. His coffin was draped with the flag used to cover the coffin of Parnell who had been buried a fortnight before.
Today PW Nally is a forgotten man. His grave lies neglected and unmarked in Glasnevin. Granted, a Celtic cross was erected to his memory in his native Balla in 1900 and the GAA named a stand in his honour at Croke Park in 1952. However, when I contacted the GAA authorities recently looking for information about Nally I was told none was available. No one there knew anything about the man or his part in forming the GAA.
Information on the man and his life has been very hard to come by. If any reader of this can help me I would be glad to get information. Please get in touch. People need not support his physical force policies but his work in organizing athletics on a national basis deserves more credit. He put the middle "A' in the GAA, Gaelic Athletic Association.