Young, Ella (1867–1951)

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Young, Ella (1867–1951)

Irish poet, mythologist, and children's writer. Born in Fenagh, County Antrim, Ireland, on December 6, 1867; died in California in 1951; daughter of John Young (a high sheriff); sister ofRose Maud Young (1865–1947); earned political science and law degree at University College, Dublin.

Selected writings:

Poems (1906); The Coming of Lugh (1909); Celtic Wonder Tales (1910); The Rose of Heaven (poetry, 1920); The Weird of Fionavar (1922); The Wonder-Smith and His Son (1925); The Tangle-Coated Horse (1929); To the Little Princess (poetry, 1930); Marzilian and Other Poems (1930); The Unicorn with Silver Shoes (1932); Flowering Dusk (1945); Seed of the Pomegranate (memoirs, 1949); Smoke of Myrrh (poetry, 1950).

Ella Young was born in 1867 in the small village of Fenagh, County Antrim, in Ireland, where her Scottish ancestors had been granted land in the 17th century. Her father was a prosperous Unionist and Presbyterian who moved his family to the Rathmines district of Dublin in 1880. She read the classics of English literature in her youth, and later read Plato as well as the Norse sagas, unaware of the rich Celtic literary heritage of her own country. After earning a political science and law degree at University College in Dublin, Young immersed herself in the Irish past. She traveled to the west of Ireland where she lived among the peasants and listened to them recite the old poetry. She read every translation of Celtic literature she could find, and learned the Irish language and the tales of the Gobhan Saor, which she later collected in The Wonder-Smith and His Son. Young, who was encouraged to study folklore by Æ (George Russell), belonged to his Hermetical Society and later joined the Irish Theosophical Society. She also began to write verse and poetry for young and old alike, recounting stories of Irish fairies and ancient Celtic myths.

During this period, Young, a steadfast Irish republican, also became deeply involved in political activities. She joined Sinn Féin in 1912 and smuggled guns for the Irish Republican Army. She lived on Achill Island for a period during World War I, but returned to Dublin to continue gun-running in 1916. While sharing a flat with Maud Gonne , she became a founding member of Cumann na mBan and was active in the Easter Rising. Targeted by the government and fearing capture and execution, she fled to the Connemara countryside of Galway. In 1919, she returned to Dublin. She was eventually imprisoned in Mountjoy Gaol and in the North Dublin Union Internment Camp by the Free State. All the while, she continued to write.

Young, who had lectured at Trinity College in Dublin and before the Irish Literary Society, traveled to the United States in 1925. She lectured at numerous American universities before moving to California, where she held the Phelan Memorial Lectureship on Celtic mythology and literature at the University of California. She also studied Mexican and Indian folklore, and enjoyed life on the West Coast, listening to the sound of the sea. Young believed that The Unicorn with Silver Shoes, written in 1932 and generally considered her finest literary accomplishment, was especially informed by her California surroundings, including the Mojave Desert. In 1931, she attempted to secure a permanent American visa but was denied because of her age and the fear that she might become a public charge. Young died in California in 1951, having attempted to rewrite the myths of Celtic creation and keep alive the Irish consciousness. She claimed that she wrote for children and grownups alike who "hunger as I did for a lost inheritance."


Dictionary of Irish Literature. Rev. ed. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1996.

Dictionary of Ulster Biography. Kate Newmann, comp. Belfast: Institute of Irish Studies, Queen's University of Belfast, 1993.

Kunitz, Stanley J., and Howard Haycraft, eds. Twentieth Century Authors. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1942.

Susan Wessling , freelance writer, Worcester, Massachusetts

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