Daly, James (1836?–1911), newspaper editor, farmer, and local politician, was born in the later 1830s at Boghadoon, parish of Addergoole, Co. Mayo, second son of Charles Daly (d. 1869), tenant farmer, hotelier, and poor law guardian. Educated at national school and at the Franciscan friary at Errew near Castlebar, in the 1840s and 1850s he acted as bailiff and leased 120 acres of pasture on the estate of Harriet Gardiner in the parish of Breaghwy in the 1860s. He held stock farms throughout Mayo until the 1900s.
Daly's first venture into politics came in May 1869, when he won a seat on the Castlebar poor law board after his father's death. During the general election of May 1874 he flung himself into the off-on electoral campaign of John O'Connor Power (qv) in Mayo, in the company of unreconstructed local Fenians. In 1875 he set up public meetings near Castlebar to raise money for the erection of a monument to French soldiers killed in 1798. Late that year he began to appeal for tenant organisation and solidarity in the west, where bodies such as the short-lived Tenant Defence Association (TDA) he helped found in Louisburgh (December 1875) had traditionally been scarce and unassertive. Together with Alfred O'Hea he purchased (February 1876) and resuscitated the Connaught Telegraph, a Castlebar weekly newspaper defunct since 1870, primarily ‘to advocate the cause of the poor struggling tenantry’. Stern editorials called for Mayo farmers to imitate a robust tenant association set up in Ballinasloe (May 1876) by radical local Fenians. Both editors took part in the association and appeared on the platform at public meetings. Daly's speeches and editorials exhibited a characteristic mix of noisy nationalist sentiment and concern for smallholders threatened with eviction, oppressively high rents, and capitalist agricultural practices.
Response in the county was muted, partly due to a stand-off in local leadership between catholic clergy and Fenians. Charles Stewart Parnell (qv) spoke at the unveiling of the 1798 monument in December 1877, suggesting respect for the local authority of Daly and the Telegraph, which endorsed the home rule obstructionists. Sole proprietor of the Telegraph on the death of O'Hea early that year, Daly helped establish the Mayo Farmers’ Club on 26 October 1878, proposing to ‘secure the tenant farmers of Mayo against capricious eviction and rack-renting’. The desirability of union between land reformers and republicans was aired weeks before the announcement of the New Departure by John Devoy (qv), at a meeting of the Ballinasloe TDA (3 November 1878), where speakers included Daly, Power, and Parnell. For Daly, such a union vindicated his personal convictions. The origins of the Irishtown land demonstration have been enveloped in controversy since the publication of Davitt's memoirs (1904), but Daly was clearly the principal organiser.
In January 1879 at the Claremorris quarter sessions, several tenants from estates in the neighbourhood of Irishtown begged him to publicise cases of excessive rent. Apprehending libel action, he advised holding a mass protest meeting instead, and offered to organise it, working with Fenians and others to ensure wide attendance. He accepted resolutions ‘of national character’ drawn up by Michael Davitt (qv) and presided at the meeting, made memorable by the enthusiastic attendance of about 10,000 people and by his declaration that ‘land-grabbers’ were as culpable as unjust landlords. The Telegraph broadcast the claims and demands of the meeting in Connacht. On 8 June Daly chaired the Westport meeting, at which Parnell spoke. In speeches and editorials he belittled the orthodox clerical analysis of the land question, and propounded the emerging consensus of Parnellite and Fenian views on land reform and agitation, urging a rent strike by tenants and ostracisation of unyielding landlords. He singled out particular landlords such as Lord Ardilaun of Cong for sustained scrutiny, though wary at all times of the risk of libel prosecution. He took a place on the (notional) executive committee of the (notional) National Land League of Mayo established in the family hotel in Castlebar (16 August 1879), whose manifesto called for peasant proprietorship. Though sending a letter of support to the committee of the Irish National Land League (founded 10 October 1879), he did not then attend or formally join, already dubious of a movement extending beyond what he considered its natural roots. Arrested with Davitt and James Killen (19 November) for use of seditious language in a speech at Gurteen, Co. Sligo, he was released on bail at the end of the month.
Despite a developing aversion to the personnel and tactical objectives of the Land League, he took part in over 100 land meetings in the west between May 1879 and May 1880. By the early summer of 1880 he had become critical of the Land League for its lukewarm pursuit of the interests of evicted tenants in Mayo, and guardedly convinced that Davitt and others wished him discredited. An unresolved dispute over League or Fenian funds soured relations, but Daly was election coordinator in the successful campaign of the Rev. Isaac Nelson (qv), the home rule and League candidate for Mayo in July 1880. Happy to testify at the Bessborough commission of inquiry (August 1880), though it was boycotted by the Land League, he amassed voluminous evidence in support of injustices on Mayo estates. Swingeing accusations that the League was composed of ‘self-seeking men ambitious for notoriety’ appeared in the Telegraph in June and July. He deprecated the centralisation of the League and the loss of its original integrity, and alleged financial malpractice at local and national level (though this was given little credence in Mayo or Dublin). The last major episode in which he took part specifically in the Land League campaign was the ostracisation of the farm and household of Capt. Charles Boycott (qv) of Lough Mask (September–October 1880), during which he personally intervened to maintain calm.
Though undeniably a skilled organiser and propagandist, Daly constructed something of a myth around his contributions. Hectoring, jealous of competitors, too splenetic to keep up friendships through the period, he pioneered few ideas and never worked out clearly the contradictions between his opposition to ‘grazierism’ and his own expansion into large-scale pastoral farming (his brother Charles and uncle Patrick were also substantial ranchers). He subscribed to a mixture of separatist, anti-revolutionary, reformist, and clerical views, generated often by the audience or enemy of the moment. Though generally affectionate towards him, Mayo smallholders periodically evinced misgivings on this score. Imprisoned on 14 April 1881, Daly was released on 8 May, ostensibly on the grounds of his wife's ill-health. He welcomed the land act of August that year, printing extra application forms in Castlebar for Mayo farmers seeking ‘an instalment of their long lost rights’, and deplored the ‘no-rent manifesto’ of October 1881. In late 1881 he supported abortive efforts to reorganise tenant committees in Mayo under clerical control. Editorial assaults on Davitt and the Land League continued in the Connaught Telegraph until its collapse in mid 1882. During the 1880s and 1890s he persisted with calls for the return of grassland to small tillage farms.
He sold the Connaught Telegraph in 1888, and though claiming to revert to full-time farming, continued as a highly active and opinionated member of the Castlebar board of poor law guardians (vice-chairman (1881–2) and chairman (1892–8)), the Castlebar town commissioners, and later the Castlebar urban district council (1899–1908). Between 1896 and 1898 he launched committees for the commemoration of the 1798 rising in Connacht, and spoke for the United Irish League (which advocated the redistribution of large ranches to small farmers), but after 1900 became more conservative in defending the interests of Mayo graziers. He died 21 January 1911 at his residence on Spencer St., Castlebar.
He was married and had one son and two daughters; other details of his family are not known.