THOMAS OSBORNE DAVIS (1814-1845), Irish poet and journalist, was born at Mallow, Co. Cork, on the 14th of October 1814. His father, James Thomas Davis, a surgeon in the royal artillery, who died in the month of his son's birth, belonged to an English family of Welsh extraction, and his mother, Mary Atkins, belonged to a Protestant Anglo-Irish family. Davis graduated B.A. at Trinity College, Dublin, in 1836, and was called to the bar two years later. Brought up in an English and Tory circle, he was led to adopt nationalist views by the study of Irish history, a complicated subject in which text-books and the ordinary guides to knowledge were then lacking. In 1840 he made a speech appealing to Irish sentiment before the college historical society, which had been reorganized in 1839. With a view to indoctrinating the Irish people with the idea of nationality he joined John Blake Dillon in editing the Dublin Morning Register. The proprietor very soon dismissed him, and Davis saw that his propaganda would be ineffective if he continued to stand outside the national organization. He therefore announced himself a follower of Daniel O'Connell, and became an energetic worker (1841) on the committee of the repeal association. He helped Dillon and Charles Gavan Duffy to found the weekly newspaper, The Nation, the first number of which appeared on the 15th of October 1842. The paper was chiefly written by these three promoters, and its concentrated purpose and vigorous writing soon attracted attention. Davis, who had never written verse, was induced to attempt it for the new undertaking. The "Lament ofj Owen Roe O'Neill" was printed in the sixth number, and was followed by a series of lyrics that take a high place in Irish national poetry - "The Battle of Fontenoy," "The Geraldines," "Maire Bhan a Stoir" and many others. Davis contemplated a history of Ireland, an edition of the speeches of Irish orators, one volume of which appeared, and a life of Wolfe Tone. These projects remained incomplete, but Davis's determination and continuous zeal made their mark on his party. Differences arose between O'Connell and the young writers of The Nation, and as time went on became more pronounced. Davis was accused of being anti-Catholic, and was systematically attacked by O'Connell's followers. But he differed, said Sir Charles Gavan Duffy, from earlier and later Irish tribunes, "by a perfectly genuine desire to remain unknown, and reap neither recognition nor reward for his work." His early death from scarlet fever (September 15th, 1845) deprived "Young Ireland" of its most striking personality.
His Poems and his Literary and Historical Essays were collected in 1846. There is an edition of his prose writings (1889) in the Camelot Classics. See the monograph on Thomas Davis by Sir Charles Gavan Duffy (1890, abridged ed. 1896), and the same writer's Young Ireland (revised edition, 1896).
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