Guest Author - Mary Ellen Sweeney
Maud Gonne was one of the most influential Irish revolutionaries of her time.
She was born in 1865 in England, and her mother died when she was only six. When she was 17, she moved to Ireland, taking up residence in Dublin Castle. Her family were well-to-do, and she soon became a fashionable young woman.
Bad luck, her father also died before she was 21, and she then lived in London with an uncle. She was soon sent to Auvergne, France to convalesce from a lung condition. She fell in love with a French polititian, Lucien Millevoye, and together they had two children.
Four years later, on the death of her father, she and her sister returned to London to live with an uncle, but having contracted what we would today call a “blood clot” on the lung, she was sent to Auvergne in France for recuperation. Gonne and Millevoye worked together for Irish Independence, following the model of the French Revolution.
Gonne was an associate of the poet W. B. Yeats. Together, they formed the “Association Irlandaise de Paris,” and he was quite smitten with her. She, on the other hand, preferred to be "just a friend," though they did have one assignation, after which she preferred to return to being just friends.
At that time, the Irish Republican Brotherhood was an outlawed and secret organization, but Gonne brought it back into public prominence with her many protests against slum landlords and the cruel eviction laws of her day. She managed to attract police and political attention when she vehemently protested the celebration of Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee.
Shortly thereafter, she founded the Daughters of Ireland as part of the Irish Women’s Republican Movement and set about developing opposition to the English recruitment for soldiers to fight in the Boer War.
For a short time, she toyed with acting and actually took the lead role in one of Yeats’ plays about Ireland’s struggle for freedom, then suddenly in Paris in 1903, she married a John Mac Bride who had formed an Irish Brigade to fight on the side of the Boers, but their marriage failed almost immediately, and he returned to Ireland to face his destiny of being executed as part of the Easter uprising in 1916.
Maud continued to live in France for a period, then she returned to Dublin where she suffered internment for her “revolutionary” ideas and spent some time in the dreadful Holloway prison in England.
She spent much of her time as an organizer for family relief for republican prisoners and their dependents during the fight for Irish Independence and was finally released from prison in 1923 after maintaining a sustained hunger strike.
Although rarely spoken of today and more rarely recognized as a forthright and strong leader in the fight for Irish Nationalism, Maud Gonne was a celebrity in her day, loved or hated, depending on people’s politics and religious affiliation.
After release from prison, she lived near Dublin in Roebuck House, Clonskeagh, where she died on April 27th 1953.