James Daly was the Connaught Telegraph's most celebrated editor. He became a part owner of the newspaper with Alfred O'Hea before taking over complete ownership at the beginning of 1879 following the death of Mr O'Hea a short time earlier. Daly held the reigns of editor and proprietor until 1892, during which time he utilised the power of the printed word to campaign forcefully against absentee landlords, rack rents and evictions. James Daly was born in 1838 at Cloonabinna, Boughadoon, near Lahardaun, the eldest son of a family of eight. Shortly after his birth, the Daly family moved to Coachfield, Belcarra.
By the standards of the nineteenth century, the Daly family were relatively well-off, having interests in four different farms, including at Ballyshane, near Breaffy. Daly grew up a staunch Catholic conservative and he was totally against violence and drink. He began his political career in 1869 when he won a seat, in the Breaffy Electoral Division, on the Castlebar Board of Guardians and later succeeded his father as a guardian for the Litterbrick Division in Ballina union.
The late 1860s and early 1870s was a time of great political change in Ireland, with a number of politically conscious reformers being elected to the poor law unions in the West. With widespread landlord absenteeism, politically conscious farmers had an opportunity to secure a niche within the local political framework. Daly became a strong defender of the local tenants cause and as such attended a meeting in Louisburgh in 1875, convened to establish a local tenants defence association.
This interest and activity on local causes was to become central to his political values as he strove to further the tenants cause in the years ahead. In February of the next year, 1876, he went into partnership with Mr. Alfred O'Hea and purchased the ailing Castlebar-based newspaper, The Connaught Telegraph. He took over complete ownership of the newspaper at the beginning of 1879. Daly's newspaper was to be the land movements most effective propaganda vehicle, giving western farmers an outlet to express their grievances.
Many Nationalists had become disillusioned with the Home Rule movement and the organisation of demonstrations to show their views began to win favour. In May 1876, the Ballinasloe Tenants Defence Association was founded, a movement which greatly impressed Daly. Daly and O'Hea regularly attended meetings of the association and in, 1878, the Mayo Farmers Club was established. The club, however, never succeeded in its objectives. No demonstration were organised and before long it became inactive.
Following this, Daly's views on how to act on the tenants behalf changed and he abandoned his policy of publishing their grievances and organising demonstrations. Instead he encouraged them to organise meetings, a policy that ultimately resulted in the formation of the Land League in Daly's Hotel (now the Imperial Hotel, on the Mall, in Castlebar. Daly was appointed secretary of the new organisation. In Claremorris in January 1879, Daly was approached by tenants of Canon Burke's Irishtown Estate requesting him to publish their grievances, of which the list was extensive. Daly declined in fear of libel but advised a mass meeting be held in Irishtown, which he would publicise. This great historic meeting, for which he was largely responsible for organising, took place on the 20th April, 1879 at Irishtown (Dry Mills). John O'Connor Power was to be the main speaker at the meeting, which had originally been planned for February. The meeting was postponed and, as a result, one Michael Davitt became involved with its organisation.
The year 1879 proved to be a busy and fruitful year for James Daly. He was firstly elected chairman of the historic Westport meeting addressed by Charles Stuart Parnell. On August 16th of the same year, he became vice-president of the Land League of Mayo in Castlebar. He was also elected to the committee of the Irish National Land League founded in Dublin on October 21st, 1879.
Daly's importance and the liberal approach of his newspaper in furthering the movement's objectives was constantly cited at land meetings throughout Connaught. He also had a restraining affect on the League, with his strong anti-violence policies, and ensured the League remained within the law. He told the Bessborough Commission: "I am a Land Leaguer myself, and I would not be a Land Leaguer if it had anything behind it like revolution. I would fight against it."
However frustrations were to arise, particularly as a result of increased evictions, and many Fenian leaders openly called for rebellion against the Government. Daly himself was arrested and jailed along with Michael Davitt and J.B. Killeen for a speech given at Gurteen on November 2nd 1879. 'The Gurteen Three', as they were called, had their charges eventually dropped at a trial in Carrick-on-Shannon.
Daly earned himself a high profile, even at national level. As the agitation caused by the Land Reform movement moved onto the national stage, other leaders came to the fore. Daly, however, opted to remain at a local level and didn't pursue a position in the national movement or in party politics. His decision not to enter the national scene was largely due to the fact that his strongly locally orientated views would be in direct conflict with Parnell's centralised political system. His newspaper was also in a precarious position at the time, and he also had a wife and young family to support. As the emphasis of the Land League began to spread to the farmers in the east and south of the country, Daly felt the organisation had deserted the group it was originally set up to serve. This lost the movement much of its appeal. Daly was also critical of the organisation's finances and the drift towards physical force and the centralisation of the political movement.
By 1882 he had left the Land League and he eventually sold the Connaught Telegraph to one of his employees, T.H. Gillespie, in 1888 and became a full time farmer. Up to his death in 1910 he was involved with local Government and served both on Mayo County Council and Castlebar Urban District Council.
The initiation of the Land War and the beginnings of the Land League are all traced back to the works of James Daly. His input into activities which changed the course of Irish history have never been fully recognised. (Extracted from 'James Daly and the rise and fall of the Land League in the West of Ireland' by Gerald Moran, Department of Modern History, St. Patrick's College, Maynooth. He is a son of the late Mr. & Mrs. Tommy Moran, Newline, Castlebar)
James Daly was brother of the late Mr. Charles Daly, Coachfield, Belcarra, Castlebar, and father of the late Mr. James Daly, accountant with Mayo County Council. He was grandfather of Mr. Seamus Daly, Mulranny, and of the late Mrs. Nollie Mongey, Newport Road, Castlebar. He was also grand-uncle of District Justice J.F. Garavan, Pontoon Road, Castlebar, and is survived by his great-grandchildren and other relatives.