Gonne, Maud

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Gonne, Maud

Maud Gonne (1866–1953), lifelong nationalist activist, was born in England. Her father was an army officer and her mother died when she was five. The family then moved to Ireland, a country that Gonne adopted as her own. Educated privately at home, Gonne was given an unusual amount of freedom at an early age. In 1887 she went to France, where she published L'Irlande Libre (Free Ireland) and took part in the extreme nationalist Boulangist movement along with her lover, Lucien Millevoye, with whom she had two children, Georges (1890–1891) and Iseult (1894–1954). Back in Ireland in the 1890s, Gonne took part in the ongoing land campaign, focusing media attention on hunger and poverty in Donegal. In 1900 she founded Inghínidhe na hÉireann (Daughters of Ireland), a nationalist organization that concentrated on the teaching of the Irish language, support for Irish manufactures, and antirecruitment activities. In 1903 she married John MacBride, who had fought with the Boers against the British. Their only child, Seán, was born in 1904, and a year later, they were acrimoniously divorced. Thereafter, Gonne divided her time between her house in Normandy, where Seán was mainly reared, and Ireland, where she continued to campaign politically, presiding over the foundation of Inghinidhe na hEireann's newspaper, Bean na hÉireann (Woman of Ireland) in 1908. She was closely associated with James Connolly and Arthur Griffith. The outbreak of the First World War found Gonne working for the Red Cross in France. The execution of John MacBride after the 1916 Rising elevated her nationalist status as a 1916 widow and enabled her to return to Ireland with Seán. In 1918 she spent time in Holloway gaol with Constance Markievicz and Kathleen Clarke; she was also imprisoned during the Civil War of 1922 to 1923, in which she took the republican (antitreaty) side. Gonne was a lifelong republican and a tireless campaigner for prisoners' rights. Her autobiography, provocatively entitled A Servant of the Queen, was published in London in 1937. Many people know of Gonne only as the inspiration for some of W. B. Yeats's finest love poems, but though she was fond of "poor Willie," as she called him, she played a much greater part in his life than he did in hers.

SEE ALSO Arts: Modern Irish and Anglo-Irish Literature and the Arts since 1800; Literary Renaissance (Celtic Revival); Sinn Féin Movement and Party to 1922; Struggle for Independence from 1916 to 1921; Women in Nationalist and Unionist Movements in the Early Twentieth Century; Yeats, W. B.


Gonne, Maud. A Servant of the Queen. 1937.

Ward, Margaret. Maud Gonne: Ireland's Joan of Arc. 1990.

Caitriona Clear