Maud Gonne

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Maud Gonne
Maud Gonne ca. 1900
Born (1866-12-21)21 December 1866
Tongham, England
Died 27 April 1953(1953-04-27) (aged 86)
Clonskeagh, Republic of Ireland
Occupation activist
Spouse(s) John MacBride
Children Seán MacBride and Iseult Gonne
Parents Thomas Gonne and Edith Frith Gonne (née Cook)

Maud Gonne MacBride (Irish: Maud Nic Ghoinn Bean Mac Giolla Bhríghde, 21 December 1866 – 27 April 1953) was an English-born Irish revolutionary, feminist and actress, best remembered for her turbulent relationship with poet William Butler Yeats. Of Anglo-Irish stock and birth, she was won over to Irish nationalism by the plight of evicted people in the Land Wars. She was also active in Home Rule activities.

Early life[edit]

She was born at Tongham[1] near Farnham, Surrey, as Edith Maud Gonne, the eldest daughter of Captain Thomas Gonne (1835–1886) of the 17th Lancers, whose ancestors hailed from Caithness in Scotland, and his wife, Edith Frith Gonne, born Cook (1844–1871). After her mother died while Maud was still a child, her father sent her to a boarding school in France to be educated. "The Gonnes came from Co Mayo, but my great-great grandfather was disinherited and sought fortune abroad trading in Spanish wine," she wrote. "My grandfather was head of a prosperous firm with houses in London and Oporto - he destined my father to take charge of the foreign business and had him educated abroad. My father spoke 6 languages but had little taste for business, so he got a commission in the English army; his gift for languages secured for him diplomatic appointments in Austria, the Balkans and Russia, and he was as much at home in Paris as in Dublin."[2]

Political activity[edit]

In 1882 her father, an army officer, was posted to Dublin. She accompanied him and remained with him until his death. She returned to France after a bout of tuberculosis and fell in love with a right wing politician, Lucien Millevoye. They agreed to fight for Irish independence and to regain Alsace-Lorraine for France. She returned to Ireland and worked tirelessly for the release of Irish political prisoners from jail. In 1889, she first met William Butler Yeats, who fell in love with her.

In 1890 she returned to France where she once again met Millevoye. In 1891, she briefly joined the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, a magical organisation with which Yeats had involved himself.[3] Between 1893 and 1895, she and Millevoye had two children together named Georges and Iseult. Only the second, a girl named Iseult Gonne, born 1894, survived. (At age 23, Iseult was proposed to by then-52-year-old William Butler Yeats, and she had a brief affair with Ezra Pound. At age 26, Iseult married the Irish-Australian novelist, Francis Stuart, who was then 18 years old.)

During the 1890s, Gonne travelled extensively throughout England, Wales, Scotland and the United States campaigning for the nationalist cause. In 1899 her relationship with Millevoye ended.

Maud Gonne McBride, no date. Library of Congress.

Gonne, in opposition to the attempts of the British to gain the loyalty of the young Irish during the early 1900s, was known to hold special receptions for children. She, along with other volunteers, fought to preserve the Irish culture during the period of Britain's colonisation.[clarification needed] In her autobiography she wrote: "I have always hated war and am by nature and philosophy a pacifist, but it is the English who are forcing war on us, and the first principle of war is to kill the enemy."[4]


In 1897, along with Yeats and Arthur Griffith, she organised protests against Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. On Easter 1900, she founded Inghinidhe na hÉireann ("Daughters of Ireland"), a revolutionary women's society, to provide a home for Irish nationalist women who, like herself, were considered unwelcome in male-dominated nationalist societies. In April 1902, she took a leading role in Yeats's play Cathleen Ní Houlihan. She portrayed Cathleen, the "old woman of Ireland", who mourns for her four provinces, lost to the English colonizers.

In the same year, she joined the Roman Catholic Church. She refused many marriage proposals from Yeats, not only because she viewed him as insufficiently radical in his nationalism (and unwilling to convert to Catholicism) but also because she believed his unrequited love for her had been a boon for his poetry and that the world should thank her for never having accepted his proposals. When Yeats told her he was not happy without her she replied,


After having turned down at least four marriage proposals from Yeats between 1891 and 1901, Maud married Major John MacBride in Paris in 1903. The following year, their son, Seán MacBride, was born. However, after the marriage ended, Gonne made allegations of domestic violence and according to W B Yeats of sexual molestation of her then 11-year-old daughter Iseult Gonne,[6] However, many critics have suggested that Yeats may have fabricated the event due to his hatred of McBride over Maud’s rejection of him in favour of McBride. The divorce papers submitted by Gonne made no mention of any such incident, Iseult's own writings make no mention of the allegation. The belief that Yeats had made up the story seemed even more plausible, when In 1916, in his fifties, Yeats proposed to the 22-year-old Iseult who promptly refused his advances. He had known her since she was four and often referred to her as his darling child. . Many Dubliners wrongly suspected that Yeats was her father and saw this as evidence that Yeats had been malicious in the earlier allegations against Mc Bride.[7]

Gonne and her husband agreed on the need for an end to their marriage; she demanded sole custody of their son Seaghan. MacBride refused, and a divorce case began in Paris on February 28, 1905.[8] The only charge against MacBride that was substantiated in court was that he was drunk on one occasion during the marriage. A divorce was not given, and MacBride got visiting rights to see his son twice a week at his wife's home. He exercised these rights briefly but returned to Ireland and never saw his child again. Gonne raised the boy in Paris until her husband was executed in 1916. Then she felt that she could safely return to live permanently in Ireland.[9]

John MacBride was a veteran who had led the Irish Transvaal Brigade against the British in the Second Boer War. MacBride was executed in May 1916 along with James Connolly and other leaders of the Easter Rising. Yeats proposed to Gonne once again in 1916, and she once again turned him down. She remained in Paris until 1917.

Maud Gonne (far right) with relief agency members in Dublin in July 1922

In 1918, she was arrested in Dublin and imprisoned in England for six months. During the War of Independence, she worked with the Irish White Cross for the relief of victims of violence. In 1921, she opposed the Treaty and advocated the Republican side. She settled in Dublin in 1922.

Yeats' muse[edit]

Many of Yeats's poems are inspired by her, or mention her, such as "This, This Rude Knocking."[citation needed] He wrote the plays The Countess Cathleen and Cathleen Ní Houlihan for her. His poem Aedh wishes for the Cloths of Heaven ends with a reference to her:

I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

Few poets have celebrated a woman's beauty to the extent Yeats did in his lyric verse about Gonne. From his second book to Last Poems, she became the Rose, Helen of Troy (in No second Troy), the Ledaean Body (Leda and the Swan and Among School Children), Cathleen Ní Houlihan, Pallas Athene and Deirdre.

Why should I blame her that she filled my days
With misery, or that she would of late
Have taught to ignorant men most violent ways
Or hurled the little streets upon the great.
(from 'No second Troy', 1916)


Maud Gonne MacBride published her autobiography in 1938, titled A Servant of the Queen, a reference to both a vision she had of the Irish queen of old, Cathleen (or Caitlin) Ní Houlihan and an ironic title considering Gonne's Irish Nationalism and rejection of the British monarchy.

Her son, Seán MacBride, was active in politics in Ireland and in the United Nations. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1974.

She died in Clonskeagh, aged 86 and is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.


  1. ^ 1881 census, Rosemont School, Tormoham, Devon
  2. ^
  3. ^ Lewis, page 140
  4. ^ Gonne, Maud; Jeffares, A. Norman; White, Anna MacBride (1995). The autobiography of Maud Gonne : a servant of the queen. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p. 115. ISBN 978-0-226-30252-2. 
  5. ^ Jeffares, A. Norman (1988). W. B. Yeats, a new biography. London and New York: Continuum. p. 102. 
  6. ^ p. 286, Foster, R. F. (1997). W. B. Yeats: A Life, Vol. I: The Apprentice Mage. New York: Oxford UP. ISBN 0-19-288085-3
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ Jordan, Anthony J. (2000). The Yeats-Gonne-MacBride triangle. Westport. pp. ?. ISBN 978-0-9524447-4-9. Retrieved 14 March 2011. 

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