Michael Davitt was born in Straide, County Mayo, Ireland, at the height of the Great Famine, the second of five children born to Martin and Catherine Davitt. They were of peasant origin, but Davitt's father had a good education and could speak English and Irish. In 1850, when Michael was four and a half years old, his family was evicted from their home in Straide due to arrears in rent. They entered a local workhouse but when Catherine discovered that male children over 3 years of age had to be separated from their mothers, she promptly decided her family should travel to England to find a better life, like many Irish people at this time. They travelled to Dublin with another local family and in November reached Liverpool, making the 77 kilometre journey to Haslingden, in East Lancashire, by foot. There they settled. Davitt was brought up in the closed world of a poor Irish immigrant community with strong nationalist feelings and, in his case, a deep hatred of landlordism.
After attending infant school the young Davitt began working at the age of nine as a labourer in a cotton mill but a month later he left and spent a short period working for Lawrence Whitaker, one of the leading cotton manufacturers in the district, before taking a job in Stellfoxe's Victoria Mill, in Baxenden. Here he was put to operate a spinning machine. On 8 May 1857 his right arm was entangled in a cogwheel and mangled so badly it had to be amputated. He did not receive any compensation.
eBook Leaves from a prison diary