Maud Gonne

From Infogalactic: the planetary knowledge core
Jump to: navigation, search
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, Ireland
Occupation activist
Spouse(s) John MacBride
Children Seán MacBride and Iseult Gonne
Parent(s) 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, suffragette and actress, best remembered for her turbulent relationship with the 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

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

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 1889 she had a son, Georges, with Millevoye; he died, possibly of meningitis, in 1891. Gonne was distraught, and buried him in a large memorial chapel built for him with money she had inherited. Her distress remained with her; in her will she asked for Georges's baby shoes to be interred with her, but made no mention of the daughter born a few years after him. In Dublin, London and Paris she was attracted to the occultist and spiritualist worlds deeply important to Yeats, asking his friends about the reality of reincarnation. In 1891 she briefly joined the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, a magical organisation with which Yeats had involved himself.[3] Gonne separated from Millevoye after Georges' death, but in late 1893 she arranged to meet him at the mausoleum in Samois-sur-Seine and, next to the coffin, they had sexual intercourse. Her purpose was to conceive a baby with the same father, to whom the soul of Georges would transmigrate in metempsychosis.[4] In August 1894 Gonne's daughter Iseult was born. (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[5] 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".[6]

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."[7]


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.[8]

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, who had led the Irish Transvaal Brigade against the British in the Second Boer War, in Paris in 1903. The following year their son, Seán MacBride, was born. Afterwards Gonne and her husband agreed to end their marriage. She demanded sole custody of their son; MacBride refused, and a divorce case began in Paris on 28 February 1905.[10] The only charge against MacBride substantiated in court was that he was drunk on one occasion during the marriage. A divorce was not granted, and MacBride was given the right to visit his son twice weekly.

After the marriage ended, Gonne made allegations of domestic violence and, according to W. B. Yeats, of sexual molestation of Iseult, her daughter from a previous relationship, then aged eleven.[11] Some critics have suggested that Yeats may have fabricated his allegations due to his hatred of McBride over Maud’s rejection of him in favour of McBride. Neither the divorce papers submitted by Gonne nor Iseult's own writings mention any such incident which is unsurprising, given the reticence of the times around such matters but Frances Stuart, Iseult's later husband, attests to Iseult telling him about it.[12] In 1917 Yeats, in his fifties, proposed to the 23-year-old Iseult, who did not accept. He had known her since she was four, and often referred to her as his darling child and took a paternal interest in her writings. Many Dubliners wrongly suspected that Yeats was her father.[13]

MacBride visited his son as allowed for a short time, but returned to Ireland and never saw him again. Gonne raised the boy in Paris. MacBride was executed in May 1916 along with James Connolly and other leaders of the Easter Rising. After MacBride's death Gonne felt that she could safely return to live permanently in Ireland.[14]

Yeats proposed to Iseult Gonne once again in 1918, and she considered the proposal. The three travelled back together to London, from France, where Iseult finally turned him down, because he was not really in love with her and it would upset her mother too much.[15]

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

Women's Movement

Gonne remained very active in Paris. In 1913, she established L'Irlande Libre a French newspaper. She wanted Cumann na mBan 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.[16] 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 suffregist, 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.[17]

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.[18] 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".[19] 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 Féin 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 Féin 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, and 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.[20]

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.[21] 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.[22]

Yeats' muse

Maud Gonne's gravestone, Glasnevin Cemetery
May 2015

Many of Yeats's poems are inspired by her, or mention her, such as "This, This Rude Knocking."[23] He wrote the plays The Countess Cathleen and Cathleen ni Houlihan for her.[23] 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.[24]

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)

In 1893, after the death of Gonne's son Georges, Yeats wrote the poem "On a Child's Death", thought to have been inspired by the death of Georges, whom Yeats thought Gonne had adopted. The poem was not published in Yeats's lifetime; scholars say he did not want the poem to be part of his canon, as it is of uneven quality.[4]


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 a founding member of Amnesty International and its Chairman and 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
  3. Lewis, page 140
  4. 4.0 4.1 Schofield, Hugh (31 January 2015). "Ireland's heroine who had sex in her baby's tomb". BBC. Retrieved 31 January 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. At Easter 1900. It translates as Daughters of Erin. Cross-reference to Daughters of the American Revolution 1776.
  6. Sinead McCoole, "No Ordinary Women: Irish Female Activists in the Revolutionary Years1900-23." The O'Brien Press Dublin 2004.,p.20-1
  7. Gonne, Maud (1995). The autobiography of Maud Gonne : a servant of the queen. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p. 115. ISBN 978-0-226-30252-2. Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. McCoole, "No Ordinary Women", p.24
  9. Jeffares, A. Norman (1988). W. B. Yeats, a new biography. London and New York: Continuum. p. 102.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. 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
  12. Cell Block Section He p.19
  14. Jordan, Anthony J. (2000). The Yeats-Gonne-MacBride triangle. Westport. pp. ?. ISBN 978-0-9524447-4-9. Retrieved 14 March 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Yeat's Ghosts, Brenda Maddox
  16. McCoole, p.30 cites Barry Delany, 'Cumann na mBan', William Fitzgerald (ed.) "The Voice of Ireland", London, Virtue & Co Ltd, p.162.
  17. Diary of Hanah Moynihan, KGC, Dublin, cited in McCoole, p.80.
  18. Diary of Hannah Moynihan, Autograph Books, Kilmainham Gaol Collection, Dublin.
  19. Margaret Mullvihill, "Charlotte Despard", p.143-145., cited by McCoole, p.96.
  20. Diary of Hannah Moynihan, KGC, Dublin, as cited by McCoole, p.118-119.
  21. Nellie O'Cleirigh, p.12
  22. McCoole, p.129.
  23. 23.0 23.1 "Monologue about Yeats' and his muse set to open at Epsom Playhouse". Epsom Guardian. 4 September 2012. Retrieved 31 January 2015. Many of Yeats's poems are inspired by her, or mention her, such as "This, This Rude Knocking". He also wrote the plays The Countess Cathleen and Cathleen ni Houlihan for Maud.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. Pratt, Linda Ray (Summer 1983). "Maud Gonne: "Strange Harmonies Amid Discord"". Biography, University of Hawai'i Press. 6 (3): 189–208. Retrieved 1 January 2015 – via JSTOR. Unknown parameter |registration= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


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


  • 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