A tree planting and wreath laying ceremony took place on Tuesday, March 22, to mark the 100th anniversary of the death of renowned Connaught Telegraph editor, James Daly. Referred to as the most forgotten person in Irish history, Daly, along with Michael Davitt, launched the Land League and he used the pages of The Connaught Telegraph to
promote land reform, and promote the cause of poor tenant farmers and abolish Irish landlordism and enable tenant farmers own the land they worked on.
Assembly was at the Harlequin Hotel and the group were led by piper Pat Conlon and a colour party from the Castlebar Concert Band to the old cemetery where a tree planting ceremony was performed by Shelia Daly, grand daughter of James Daly and later wreaths were laid on Daly's grave by the Mayor of Castlebar, Councillor Ger Deere, Connaught Telegraph Editor, Tom Gillespie and Councillor Henry Kenny, on behalf of Mayo County Council.
The Concert Band led the short walk to Daly's graveside where Mayor Deere welcomed the large attendance and said Daly should be remembered for what he achieved for his county and country.
"It is time we recognised his contributions. We hope to bring some project to the town in recognition of outstanding work."
Mayor Deere said negotiations were at an advanced stage for the purchase of the Imperial Hotel in the town in a joint venture by Mayo County Council and Castlebar Town Council.
The hotel was once owned by Daly and was the venue for the founding of the Land League.
Connaught Telegraph Editor Tom Gillespie said he was honoured to be in attendance on such an historic occasion.
He added: "I am privileged to have followed in Daly's footsteps. It would be fitting if a suitable memorial was part of the Imperial Hotel project."
Master of ceremonies Mr. Noel Byrne extended a particular welcome to retired Judge John Garavan, a relative of Daly, and said it was fitting the Mayo Peace Park was located close to Daly's grave.
A ecumenical blessing was performed by Rev. Val Rodgers, Westport and Canon John Cosgrove, P.P., Castlebar.
Canon Cosgrove recalled as a youth playing football in the field in Irishtown where the famous Land League meeting took place.
An oration was read by Ms. Nancy Smyth, chair of the Michael Davitt Museum, Straide and a noted expert on James Daly.
She said: "James Daly, the most forgotten man in Irish history, was born in Cloonabina, Lahardane, in 1838, he family moved to Breaffy and he attended the Franciscan Monastery in Errew, he spoke fluent Irish. He was first elected to the Board of Guardians in 1869 for Breaffy, when he was 31 years, later changed to County Councils in Local Government Act 1898.
"Two years before the Land League he was promoting land reform using The Connaught Telegraph to do so. On February 10, 1877, he wrote: "The soil is the property of the tiller".
"The Tenants Defence Association in which he played a big part embraced all sections of society, urban middle class, shopkeepers along with tenant farmers. This was the foundation base of the Land League. The spark that lit the fuse was the Irishtown meeting and was provided by Rev. Canon Geoffry Bourke who put pressure on the tenants for arrears of rent.
"Rev. Bourke's brother Walter had died in 1873, his son Captain Joseph was serving in India and Rev. G. Bourke was also the local Parish Priest and lived in the family home at Oldtown managed the estate.
"When he found his tenants were in arrears with their rent, he threatened them with eviction. The tenants went to Daly, of The Connaught Telegraph, at the January quarter-session in Claremorris.
"He advised and helped them to organise a critical meeting at Irishtown under the auspices of Tenant Defence Association.
"The meeting was to highlight their grievance and he would publish it in the paper. The meeting was held on April 20, 1879, with some 8,000 present, resulting in the reduction of the rent by 25 per cent.
"The success of the meeting showed they could achieve their aim by Peaceful Protest, which was the policy of the Land League.
"On November 2, 1879, Daly, Davitt and James Boyce Killeen, Barrister were arrested in Gurteen, Co. Sligo on the charge of seditious speeches and came before the Sligo court on November 24. The proceedings were farcical. One policeman swore and gave evidence that Daly said: "There would be no peace in Ireland until the landlords or landlordism was abolished." Johnson, journalist of The Daily Express read extracts of Daly's speech to the court: "Don't pay the landlord until you have some guarantee from him or from government that they won't see your children starve."
"James Daly was the only Land Leaguer to give evidence at the Bessborough Commission in 1881. He highlighted the injustices of the Landlord system. He was one of only two in Ireland in 1878 who gave evidence before the Select Committee of the House of Commons relating to Gerrymandering and undemocratic procedures of the landlords on the Boards of Guardians.
"On the Board of Guardians he recommended Polling Booths in dispensaries, police barracks for secret ballot to wipe out intimidation of tenant farmers from their landlord.
"In 1892 Daly sold his interest in The Connaught Telegraph to R.C. Gillespie. His journalist style has been described as bellicose, abrasive and liberal. He continued in full time farming and local politics, serving on both Urban and County Council and lived out his family life in Spencer Street Castlebar.
"He was a constitutional politician who detested violence. The leadership of James Daly was necessary in the promotion and development of the Tenants' Defence Association, which was the foundation on which the Land League was built.
"He used his position as editor in The Connaught Telegraph as a means to promote Land Reform and the Land League and urging his readers to unite.
"According to P. Bull "what turned the agitation of 1879-82 into the 'Land League Revolution' was this strongly based political leadership and direction."
The proceedings ended with the playing of a lament by piper Conlon and the Last Post was played by Castlebar Concert Band member Karen Hynes, a great- great-grand niece of James Daly.
The organising committee of the centenary event were: Mayor Deere, Noel Byrne, Tom Gillespie, Nancy Smyth, Ernie Sweeney and Brian Hoban.