Macardle, Dorothy (1889–1958)

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Macardle, Dorothy (1889–1958)

Irish historian, novelist, and drama critic . Born Dorothy Margaret Macardle in Dundalk, County Louth, Ireland, on March 7, 1889; died in Drogheda, County Louth, Ireland, on December 23, 1958; daughter of Sir Thomas Callan Macardle, KBE, DL, and Minnie Lucy (Ross) Macardle; attended Alexandra College, Dublin; University College, Dublin, B.A. with First Class Honors in English Language and Literature, 1911.

Selected writings:

(plays) Atonement (1918), Ann Kavanagh (1922); (fiction) Earthbound (1924), The Old Man (1925), Uneasy Freehold (1944), Fantastic Summer (1946), Dark Enchantment (1953), The Uninvited ; (history) Tragedies of Kerry (1924), The Irish Republic (1937); (nonfiction) Children of Europe (1949), Shakespeare Man and Boy (1961).

Born in 1889, Dorothy Macardle was a member of a well-known brewing family in Dundalk, County Louth, Ireland. In later life, she referred to her family's pro-British and unionist sympathies, which conflicted with her own republicanism. She had a distinguished academic career at Alexandra College, where she also participated in the philanthropic activities of the Alexandra Guild. After graduating from University College, Dublin, with a first class degree in English (she also spoke fluent French), Macardle returned to Alexandra to teach and maintained a close connection with it for the rest of her life. The college even kept her teaching position open when she was imprisoned for her republican activities.

Before 1916, Macardle was active in Sinn Fein and the Gaelic League. She supported the 1916 Rising, even though two of her brothers were fighting with British forces at the time. Between 1919 and 1921, during the Irish war of independence, she worked as a publicist for Sinn Fein and for a time lived in the same house as Maud Gonne and Charlotte Despard . When the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed in December 1921, Macardle sided with the republicans in rejecting its terms as inadequate. She worked for republican publicity but was arrested at the end of 1922 after civil war had broken out. In a talk years later at Alexandra, she recalled how she had longed for something to write with while incarcerated, even the stub of a pencil. Instead, she received a parcel of cosmetics which she considered a prime example of lack of imagination on the part of the well-meaning sender. She was released from prison in 1923 and, in 1924, published Tragedies of Kerry. One of her most famous books, it is a short account of the civil war in Kerry which had seen some of the worst atrocities of the war. She wrote of the "ominous wall of silence" which surrounded events in Kerry in 1922–23, events which her own book did much to uncover. It has never gone out of print, with the most recent edition being published in 1991.

Macardle resumed her teaching and literary career. She wrote several plays, one of which, Dark Waters, was performed at the Gate Theater in 1932 and showed the influence of Maurice Maeterlinck, whose work she studied and admired. She also published volumes of short stories. When Eamon de Valera, the republican leader, founded a new political party, Fianna Fail, in 1926, she was elected to the first executive. When de Valera started his own newspaper, the Irish Press, in 1931, Macardle became the drama critic and a regular feature writer. In 1932, when de Valera was president of the League of Nations Council, she went to Geneva as a special correspondent to cover the event. She was also a frequent broadcaster on Irish radio.

In the late 1920s, de Valera had asked her to write a history of the turbulent revolutionary years between 1916 and 1923, a task which was to take nearly ten years and which took valuable time away from her own literary work. The result was The Irish Republic (1937), a massive, scrupulously researched chronicle which for several decades was the standard reference work on the period. In her foreword, Macardle allowed a glimpse of some of the tensions, and admiration, in her relationship with de Valera. The book was, she made clear, "an account of the Irish Republican struggle from the viewpoint of an Irish Republican." She thanked de Valera doubly, not only because he had read the manuscript and written the preface for the book but also because "when he disagreed with my expressed or implied opinions he resisted the temptation to exert all his formidable powers of persuasion to make me alter them."

Although Macardle admired and respected de Valera, she was not uncritical of him. In 1935, she was vice-chair of the committee set up by the National Council of Women to examine legislation being introduced by the de Valera government which was considered discriminatory towards women. In 1937, just as The Irish Republic was published, she was expressing her opposition to the clauses of his new constitution relating to women.

Macardle continued to write fiction; two of her novels, Uneasy Freehold and The Uninvited, were made into successful films. During World War II, she worked for refugee causes and at the end of the war traveled to Czechoslovakia, Poland, Greece, Yugoslavia, Norway, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, Luxemburg, France and Austria where she gathered reports on what had happened during the Nazi occupation. The results of these investigations were published in a moving book, Children of Europe (1949), about the plight of Europe's children during and after the war. "The tale of what children endured in country after country," she wrote, "is a repetitive one burdened with a bitter reiteration, a monotony of terror and distress." She was most aware of the mental trauma which hurt children's "faith in life." She was particularly concerned with the plight of Germany's children, as was her close friend Dr. Kathleen Lynn .

When she returned to Ireland in the late 1940s, Macardle became vice-president of the Irish Association for Civil Liberties. She was not a pacifist, unlike many of her friends, and had refused to join the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom because "you can't put peace before freedom. You've got to have freedom first." She also took a keen interest in youth movements. Dorothy Macardle died in December 1958; her funeral was attended by an Old IRA guard of honor. "I have never met anyone more intellectually honest," wrote de Valera in the Irish Press. "She had a horror of hypocrisy or pretence in any form. She worked incessantly. Of her indeed could it be truly said she was 'a lover of labour and truth.'"


Irish Press. December 24–27, 1958.

Irish Times. December 24–29, 1958.

The Times. December 24, 1958.

Ward, Margaret. Unmanageable Revolutionaries: Women and Irish Nationalism. Brandon, 1983.

related media:

The Uninvited (98 min. film), starring Ruth Hussey , Ray Milland, and Gail Russell , screenplay by Dodie Smith and Frank Partos, 1944.

Deirdre McMahon , Lecturer in History, Mary Immaculate College, University of Limerick, Limerick, Ireland