Maud Gonne

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Maud Gonne
Maudgonne.jpg
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 also actively agitated for Home Rule.

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]

Early career[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 1891 and 1894, 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 colonization, founding Inghinidhe na hEireann[4] Twenty-nine women attended the first meeting. They decided to "combat in every way English influence doing so much injury to the artistic taste and refinement of the Irish people".[5]

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."[6]

Acting[edit]

In 1897, along with Yeats and Arthur Griffith, she organised protests against Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. 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. She was already spending much of her time in Paris.[7]

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,

Marriage[edit]

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 eleven year old daughter Iseult Gonne,[9] Some 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, that this was evidence that Yeats had been malicious with earlier allegations against Mc Bride.[10]

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.[11] 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 never to see his child again. Gonne raised the boy in Paris until her husband was executed in 1916. Thereafter she felt that she could safely return to live permanently in Ireland.[12]

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

Women's Movement[edit]

Gonne remained very active in Paris. In 1913, she established L'Irlande Libre a French newspaper. She wanted Cumann namBan to be considered seriously: her idea was to get affiliation with the English Red Cross, and wrote to Geneva to gain an international profile for the new nationalist organization.[13] In 1918, she was arrested in Dublin and imprisoned in England for six months.

She worked with the Irish White Cross for the relief of victims of violence. Gonne MacBride moved in upper-class circles. Lord French's sister, Mrs Charlotte Despard was a famous feminist, who was already a Sinn Feiner when she arrived in Dublin in 1920. She naturally accompanied Gonne on a tour of County Cork, seat of the most fervent revolutionary activity. Cork was under Martial Law Area (MLA) prohibited to Irishmen and women outside the zone. But the Viceroy's sister had a pass.[14]

In 1921, she opposed the Treaty and advocated the Republican side. The committee that set up White Cross in Ireland asked Gonne to join in January 1921 to distribute funds to victims administered by Cumann na mBan.[15] She settled in Dublin in 1922. During the street battles she headed up a delegation called The Women's Peace Committee which approached the Dail leadership, and her old friend Arthur Griffith. But they were unable to stop the indiscriminate shooting of civilians, being more interested in law and order. In August she set up a similar organization, the Women's Prisoner's Defence League. The prisons were brutal: and many women were locked up in men's prisons. The League supported families wanting news of inmates. They worked for prisoners rights, began vigils, and published stories of tragic deaths. Through her friendship with Despard and opposition to government they were labeled "Mad and Madame Desperate".[16] Historians have related the extent of the damage done to her home at 75 St Stephen's Green, when soldiers of the Free State Army ransacked the place. Maud was arrested and taken to Mountjoy Jail. On 9 November 1922 the Sinn Fein Office was raided in Suffolk street; the Free State had swept the capital, rounding up opposition committing them to prison for internment. The evidence comes from Margaret Buckley, who as Secretary of Sinn Fein acted as legal representative for the ladies. But there was nothing prudish about their concerted opposition to civil rights abuses.

On 10 April 1923, Maud Gonne MacBride was arrested. The charges were: 1. painting banners for seditious demonstrations, 2. preparing anti-government literature.

According to colleague, Hannah Moynihan's diary account it all happened when

Last night [10th April] at 11pm, we heard the commotion which usually accompanies the arrival of new prisoners...we pestered the wardress and she told us there were four - Maud Gonne MacBride, her daughter Mrs Iseult Stuart and two lesser lights...Early this morning...we could see Maud walkin majestically past our cell door leading on a leash a funny little lap dog which answered to the name that sounded like Wuzzo - Wuzzo.[17]

She was released on 28 April, after twenty days in custody. Months later the women spread a rumour that Nell Ryan had died in custody in order to gain a propaganda victory.[18]Women continued to be arrested. On 1 June Maud was standing in protest outside Kilmainham Jail with Dorothy Macardle, the writer and activist, and Iseult Stuart. They were supporting hungerstriker Maire Comerford. Again the source for this story seems to be fellow ex-prisoner Hanna Moynihan.[19]

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)

Autobiography[edit]

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.

References[edit]

  1. ^ 1881 census, Rosemont School, Tormoham, Devon
  2. ^ http://www.bureauofmilitaryhistory.ie/reels/bmh/BMH.WS0317.pdf
  3. ^ Lewis, page 140
  4. ^ At Easter 1900. It translates as Daughters of Erin. Cross-reference to Daughters of the American Revolution 1776.
  5. ^ Sinead McCoole, "No Ordinary Women: Irish Female Activists in the Revolutionary Years1900-23." The O'Brien Press Dublin 2004.,p.20-1
  6. ^ 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. 
  7. ^ McCoole, "No Ordinary Women", p.24
  8. ^ Jeffares, A. Norman (1988). W. B. Yeats, a new biography. London and New York: Continuum. p. 102. 
  9. ^ 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
  10. ^ http://amandafrench.net/amandafrench/files/IseultGonne.pdf
  11. ^ http://www.ricorso.net/rx/library/criticism/major/Yeats_WB/Jordan_A.htm
  12. ^ Jordan, Anthony J. (2000). The Yeats-Gonne-MacBride triangle. Westport. pp. ?. ISBN 978-0-9524447-4-9. Retrieved 14 March 2011. 
  13. ^ McCoole, p.30 cites Barry Delany, 'Cumann na mBan', William Fitzgerald (ed.) "The Voice of Ireland", London, Virtue & Co Ltd, p.162.
  14. ^ Diary of Hanah Moynihan, KGC, Dublin, cited in McCoole, p.80.
  15. ^ Diary of Hannah Moynihan, Autograph Books, Kilmainham Gaol Collection, Dublin.
  16. ^ Margaret Mullvihill, "Charlotte Despard", p.143-145., cited by McCoole, p.96.
  17. ^ Diary of Hannah Moynihan, KGC, Dublin, as cited by McCoole, p.118-119.
  18. ^ Nellie O'Cleirigh, p.12
  19. ^ McCoole, p.129.

Writings[edit]

  • Servant of the Queen Dublin, Golden Eagle Books Ltd.

Bibliography[edit]

  • Cardozo, Nancy, (1979) Maud Gonne London, Victor Gollancz
  • Coxhead, Elizabeth,(1985) Daughters of Erin, Gerrard's Cross, Colin Smythe Ltd, p.19-77.
  • Fallon, Charlotte, Republican Hunger Strikers during the Irish Civil War and its Immediate Aftermath, MA Thesis, University College Dublin 1980.
  • Fallon, C, 'Civil War Hungerstrikes: Women and Men', Eire, Vol 22, 1987.
  • Levenson, Samuel, (1977) Maud Gonne London, Cassell & Co Ltd
  • Ward, Margaret, (1990), Maud Gonne California, Pandora.

External links[edit]