Thomas Osborne Davis

From A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878

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Davis, Thomas Osborne, poet and politician, was born at Mallow, 14th October 1814. From his very earliest years he was noted for his passionate love of Ireland. In 1835 he graduated with distinction at the University of Dublin, mathematics and modern history being his favourite studies. In the debates of the College Historical Society he was distinguished more for talents and learning than for eloquence. Although called to the Bar in his twenty-fourth year he afterwards evinced little taste for following up the profession of the law. He travelled on the Continent, and collected a good library.

In 1840 he contributed a series of articles on the state of Europe to the Dublin Morning Register — contending that a crisis was approaching in which Ireland would be able to obtain her legislative independence. He became an active member of the Repeal Association, where his ability and the sincerity of his character soon obtained for him an effective and influential position. At times he did not shrink from opposing O'Connell, for whom he had the greatest veneration.

In 1842, with a few other persons desirous of strengthening the spirit of nationality in Ireland, he started the Nation newspaper. The success of his poetical contributions to the paper astonished himself, his friends, and the country. His fancy clothed many localities of Ireland with a great interest, and illuminated many dry incidents in the history of the country. "Thenceforth, as a political writer and poet, he continued till his premature death to be the chief of that party who, under the name of 'Young Ireland' swayed the democracy of Ireland with extraordinary power. And so he laboured at his great mission from that day with indefatigable industry, unabating zeal, unquenchable enthusiasm; giving the energies and resources of his vigorous intellect, and his large erudition, to what he deemed the work of his life; producing a wonderful mass of writing, while he toiled incessantly behind the scenes, organizing measures and aiding in committees, till at last he exhausted his constitution, and died of fever at his residence, 67 Baggot-street, Dublin, 16th September 1845, aged nearly 31."[39]

He passed away in the zenith of hopefulness, before the famine had desolated Ireland, before the exodus of her people to America, before the splitting up of parties and the imprisonment of his friends. He was buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery, where a marble statue by Hogan marks his resting place. His poems were collected shortly after his decease. They have ever since enjoyed an extensive popularity in Ireland. Davis is described as low-sized, fresh complexioned, aught but poetical in appearance. His character was above reproach, and he earned the sincere respect even of those who differed most from him in politics.

His poetry is so national in its character that few of his pieces can ever attain to more than an Irish celebrity. Many have entered into the life of the people, raising their self-respect and giving them a keener interest in all that belongs to their country and its history.

Thomas O. Davis was a Protestant. He died unmarried. The Nation said about the time of his death: "The characteristic features in the public life of Davis were a simple, spontaneous truth, that scorned all subterfuges, personal or political, and counted candour the soundest policy; an absolute unselfishness; an earnestness that nothing could abate or dishearten; and an industry that has had no parallel in the history of young men in this country... His industry was something miraculous... In the Royal Irish Academy, in the Art Union, in the Eighty-two Club, on the committee of the Dublin Library, he was a zealous, steady worker, seldom absent, never shrinking from the extra duties that fall upon the able and zealous."


39. Biographical Dictionary, Imperial: Edited by John F. Waller. 3 vols. London, N.D.

116. Dublin University Magazine. Dublin, 1833-'77.

233. Manuscript and Special Information, and Current Periodicals.

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