The Making of Maud

Famous for her association with W.B.Yeats, it was the influence of others and a steely individualism that marked out a most unlikely Irish rebel

MAud Gonne

IT WAS, according to Maud Gonne’s biographer Margaret Ward, a moment straight out of ‘the pages of any Victorian melodrama’. After grieving her deceased father, and while still under the guardianship of her genteel Ascot cousins, Maud made for London in a bid to make it as a West End actress. Her uncle William wrote in a frenzy, begging her to take a stage name to save the family from disgrace.

‘The name belongs to me,’ replied Maud, ‘and I thought I was honouring it by earning my bread’. In any case, while her ‘lowly’ career was cut short with severe bronchitis, it was her correspondence with her uncle which marked her out as someone who differed in thoughts and actions from that of her class.

The spectre of post-Famine Fenian revolution ‘haunted the age into which Maud was born’ noted another biographer, Nancy Cardoza, with Maud’s father ‘Captain Tommie’ summoned to Ireland with the Crown’s expectation of separatist rebellion.

Living in a Dublin ‘enclave of Empire’, with friends like the whiskey Jamesons, the Gonnes became established members of the Anglo-Irish set. Before his untimely death, however, and perhaps influenced by his Celtic lineage, the Captain would declare his support for the Home Rule campaign.

Maud’s own unalterable awakening came at a hunt ball in the midlands when she was nineteen. Her landlord host spat insults at the Land League for ‘laying waste the countryside and interfering with the hunt’. Maud then questioned him for ignoring one of his tenants, who lay starving on the side of the road. ‘Let her die …’ he snapped. ‘These people must be taught a lesson.’ It was this moment that redirected Maud on the road from regal belle to Irish rebel.

While recuperating from her bronchitis in France her new cause was strengthened. Here, during a July thunderstorm, she met Lucien Millevoye. A man of fierce patriotism for his own country, obsessing over its lost territory, and future glory, he was to become the next great influence in Maud’s life.

‘I will help you to free Ireland,’ he later told her ‘You will help me regain Alsace-Lorraine.’

Her belief that such lofty ambitions could become a reality was buttressed by what her father had called ‘the Will’. It was, he said, ‘a strange incalculable force’. If he had willed himself to be Pope, he once told Maud, it would have been so.

With his memory inspiring her, a new love supporting her, and a natural force propelling her, anything seemed possible for Maud in those early summer days.

Jody Moylan

Jody is a BA History student at NUI Galway.

 

References

Cardozo, N. (1978). Lucky Eyes and a High Heart. New York: Bobbs-Merrill.

Levenson, S. (1977). Maud Gonne. London: Cassell.

Ward, M. (1993). Maud Gonne. London: Pandora.

Dictionary of Irish Biography. (2009). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

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The Scottish Sniper that fought and nearly died for Ireland during the 1916 Rising

Margaret Skinnider was born and raised in Coatsbridge, Glasgow, in an immigrant community to Irish Parents James Skinnider from Co. Monaghan and Jane Dowd from Co. Meath. Margaret was a qualified maths teacher and a passionate equal rights activist for women which lead to her becoming a member of Cumann na mBan in Glasgow under Anne Devlin. Ironically Margaret along with the other members of Cumann na mBan in Glasgow received military training in British rifle clubs where Margaret quickly became a formidable markswoman.

Margaret Skinnider 1

(1916 Societies 2017)   

It seemed inevitable that once Margaret heard of the conflict in Ireland she felt compelled to “do her bit” (Skinnider, 1917) and fight for Ireland’s independence and the chance to endorse and promote equality. With a keen interest in politics and being an active member of Cumann na mBan it was not long before she encountered Countess Markievicz or Madam as she fondly referred to her. Margaret’s commitment was so absolute that she once smuggled materials for bomb assembly on her person while travelling to Ireland via boat to meet with countess Markievicz “In my hat I was carrying to Ireland detonators for bombs, and wires were wrapped around me under my coat.” (Skinnider, 1917).

Having received word from Countess Markievicz on the proposed date of the rising, Margaret arrived in Surrey House, Rathmines, residence of Countess Markievicz on Holy Thursday, just five days before the beginning of the rising on Easter Monday 24th April 1916 and joined the citizens army. During the rising Margaret assumed her position beside the Countess Markievicz and Michael Mallin. Dressed in ordinary clothing so not to arouse the suspicion of the British troops during her comings and goings on a bike that she had borrowed from Nora Connolly, James Connolly’s daughter. Margaret delivered military dispatches to and from Connolly, Pearse and Clarke, as well as updates on the movements of the British troops and ammunition.

That Monday night the revolutionaries camped out in St. Stephen’s Green, Margaret alongside some hundred men and fourteen women didn’t realise that the British troops had taken control of the Shelbourne hotel and with machine guns opened fire from the rooftop on the Irish men and women that had camped out in St. Stephen’s Green early Tuesday morning. Left with no alternative the Irish revolutionaries fled to the College of Surgeons for shelter from the hail of bullets where Margaret assumed a sniping position on the top floor and although Margaret never revealed how many British soldiers she shot she did indicate a few “I could look across the tops of trees and see the British soldiers on the roof of the Shelbourne. I could also hear their shot hailing against the roof and wall of our fortress, for in truth this building was just that. More than once I saw the man I aimed at fall.” (Skinnider, 1917).

During the course of her duties Margaret was shot three times “they found I had been shot in three places, my right side under the arm, my right arm, and in the back of my right side.” (Skinnider, 1917).  Amazingly Margaret being a young woman of 23 years of age was less concerned about the bullets lodged in her body and more bothered that she did not manage to bomb the Shelbourne hotel “the probing did not hurt as much as I expected it would. My disappointment at not being able to bomb the Hotel Shelbourne was what made me unhappy.” (Skinnider, 1917).

For three days Margaret refused to leave the College of Surgeons and stayed on a cot until she was transferred to St. Vincent’s hospital where she remained for five weeks. Once released from hospital she fled to America. Upon her return she was captured and imprisoned. Margaret in an interview recorded in 1955 said “We did not win a military victory in 1916 but we roused the people and all over the country. Men joined in the fight for independence and rid at least part of our country of the foreign army that had held us in bondage for hundreds of years.” (Independent.ie 2016).

Upon her release from prison Margaret continued to fight for independence in the IRA and sided with the anti-treaty side during the civil war, after the war Margaret returned to teaching and became a spokesperson for women’s rights in the INTO campaigning for equal pay for women. She became president of the union in 1956.Margaret died in October 1971 at the age of 79. Margaret’s story is one that can be echoed through countless untold stories regarding the brave women that stood beside the men that fought and died for their country’s independence, her story is an inspirational one that highlights the cultural and social history from the perspective of a woman fighting for her adopted country and equality.

Martin O’Sullivan

Martin is a student in the History Diploma, NUI Galway.

 

Further reading

Independent.ie (2016) Margaret Skinnider dressed as a man [image online], available: http://www.independent.ie/irish-news/1916/audio-and-video/listen-to-stories-from-1916-margaret-skinnider-the-rebels-sniper-34540910.html [accessed 11 October 2017].

Independent.ie (2016) ‘Listen to Stories from 1916’, Margaret Skinnider, the Rebels’ sniper [podcast], 2016, available: http://www.independent.ie/irish-news/1916/audio-and-video/listen-to-stories-from-1916-margaret-skinnider-the-rebels-sniper-34540910.htmml [accessed 8 October 2017].

RTE Radio 1 (1971) ‘Documentary on one’, Women of the Revolution [podcast],2017, available: http://www.rte.ie/radio1/doconone/2014/0107/647597-radio-documentary-women-revolution-easter-rising-1916/ [accessed 8 October 2017].

RTE (2012) ‘Reabhloid episode 3’, Margaret Skinnider a woman of calibre , available: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2-zQbaGNAgU&t=580 [accessed 7 October 2017].

Skinnider, M., 1917. Doing My Bit For Ireland, New York: The Century Co.

Wikipedia (2017) Markievicz in uniform with a gun, 1915. [image online], available: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constance_Markievicz [accessed 10 October 2017].

1916Societies.com (2017) Cumann na mBan. [image online], available: http://1916societies.com/2017/09/14/cumann-na-mban-women-in-struggle/ [accessed 10 October 2017].

 

 

 

Possible Cannibalism in Connemara during the Great Famine

I initially wrote this as part of a History assignment. I decided I would write the blog on an event that occurred locally during the famine. Hailing from Kilkerrain (Cill Chiaráin), a small village in Connemara, I decided to focus on the issue of cannibalism, a topic that has been addressed by Cormac Ó Gráda in particular.

In 1841, the Irish census recorded 8,175,124 people in Ireland compared to 40 years later when the national figure had fallen by over three million to 5,174,836. These numbers are attributed to death but also emigration. Before the famine hit, emigration in 1845 was at approximately 50,000 a year. In 1846 this figure doubled as the famine hit. The following year these figures hit their highest with over 250,000 emigrating and on average 200,000 a year for the subsequent five years before falling again.

 

(Anon, 1999)

As emigration was not a possibility for the vast majority suffering through the great famine, most tried to persevere the impossible conditions that they faced. One such account is recorded by Kathleen Villiers-Tuthill.

Kathleen Villiers-Tuthill is an Irish historical writer who was born and raised in Clifden, County Galway. During the famine, Clifden was the location for a new workhouse that occupied a four-acre site, it opened its doors in 1845 and could accommodate 300.

Famine pic 2

(Higginbotham, 2000)

One of the many accounts that Kathleen Villiers-Tuthill writes about took place in Cill Chiaráin. Bart Flaherty, his wife and children had resided at the Clifden workhouse but were discharged on 9 December 1848. The family then had no alternative but to move back to Cill Chiaráin where they were all struck with fever killing three of their four children. Driven to desperation Mr. Flaherty and his wife stole a calf but were caught, arrested and transported to Clifden jail by horse and cart on the famine path, some twelve hours travel. En route Bart Flaherty’s wife died due to her frail condition and the severe conditions under which they were travelling. Upon reaching Clifden jail, the jail keeper felt pity for Mr. Flaherty and spoke to him that night. Mr. Flaherty confided his story to the jailkeeper who was shocked by the husbands claims that his wife was so desperately hungry that she had cut the feet of one of their dead children and eaten them.

Famine pic 3

(Kinealy, 2009)

The magistrate not believing Flaherty’s claims decided to investigate and sent a Doctor Suffield to the cottage where the family had lived. Dr. Suffield discovered a shallow grave near the entrance to the cottage which contained the remains of two children. The bodies were so decomposed and deteriorated that Dr. Suffield could not determine whether the skin had been torn or cut off the remains of the children. No definitive verdict was reached however one must question why a husband/father would possibly invent such a story and to what end.

Cannibalism isn’t recorded highly during the famine in Ireland and one can completely understand why, but as one becomes more familiar with the plight of our ancestors and the unbearable hopelessness that they endured then surely desperate times called for desperate measures. I am not suggesting that this was common practice of course but perhaps isolated incidents may have been buried in shallow graves rather than recorded.

Martin O’Sullivan
Martin is a student in the History diploma at NUI Galway.

Further reading

Anon., 1999. Ireland’s Population in the mid 1800’s. [Online]
Available at: http://www.mapspictures.com/ireland/history/ireland_population.php
[Accessed 19 September 2017].

Dungan, S. (2013). “Blighted Nation: Episode One – The Famine Arrives in Ireland”. Available at: http://www.rte.ie/radio1/blighted-nation/programmes/2013/0304/371964-episode-1/ (Accessed: 21 September 2017).

Gráda, C. Ó., 2015. Eating people is wrong, and Other Essays on Famine, Its Past, and its Future.. Oxford: Princeton University Press.

Higginbotham, P., 2000. Clifden Co Galway. [Online]
Available at: http://www.workhouses.org.uk/Clifden/#Staff
[Accessed 20 September 2017].

Kinealy, C., 2009. International Relief Efforts During the Famine. [Online]
Available at: http://irishamerica.com/2009/08/international-relief-efforts-during-the-famine/
[Accessed 21 September 2017].

Villiers-Tuthill, K., 1997. Patient Endurance: the Famine in Connemara. Clifden: Connemara Publications.