By Mike Webster
It is perhaps a little curious to imagine a situation where an Irishwoman would be employed at the court of the Russian royal family. Even so, it did take place between the years 1898 and 1904.
This remarkable achievement was made by one Margaretta (Margaret) Alexandra Eagar who was born in Limerick on 12th August, 1863, to a protestant couple – Francis McGillycuddy Eagar and Frances Margaret Holden.
Margaret initially trained as a medical nurse in Belfast after which she worked at one point as matron in an orphanage.
Her reputation was evidently as good as her credentials for eventually she became strongly recommended to the Tsarina Alexandra of Russia and her family. Her contract with the royal family began on 2nd February, 1899, when she arrived at the Winter Palace in Russia. Her duties were those of nanny, nurse and governess to the daughters of Tsar Nicholas II and his wife the Tsarina Alexandra. As such she was responsible for running the day to day lives of Olga, born 1895, Tatiana, 1897, Maria, 1899, and Anastasia, 1901.
Through Margaret, the four girls began learning English but it was with a pronounced Limerick accent, and the Tsar decided at a later stage that it was necessary for this to be corrected. In 1908, an English tutor by the name of Charles Sydney Gibbs was employed to do this.
It was noted by the Russian royal family that Eagar had a great love of politics and she was very knowledgeable on all aspects of current affairs and world events.
The Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna, an aunt of the girls, later recalled how when Maria was a toddler and had escaped from having a bath, she ran down one of the long corridors. The Grand Duchess picked her up and carried her back to Margaret who was busily engaged in talking about the Dreyfuss affair to some others in the palace.