On the 70th anniversary of her death, PAULA REDMOND remembers the English-born Irish activist, journalist and feminist who devoted over 50 years to Irish political, cultural, and social causes. She became one of the most prominent and colourful activists in various nationalist, socialist and feminist causes. She conducted lecture tours of Europe and the USA, promoting the message of Irish independence. But Gonne’s most notable contribution was the establishment in April 1900 of Inghinidhe na hÉireann (Daughters of Ireland). The organisation was solely for women and it’s agenda was political, social and feminist.
Maud Gonne, though British by birth, was a lifelong Irish nationalist and activist who campaigned for Irish independence, women’s suffrage and tenant rights amongst other issues.
She was born in Surrey, England on December 21st, 1866. She was the eldest of two daughters born to Thomas and Edith Frith (née Cook) Gonne. Her father was a British Army Officer who in 1868 was transferred to the Curragh, Co. Kildare. His mission was to assist in suppressing Fenian activity and preventing another rising – the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) had attempted an insurrection in early 1867, however, it proved unsuccessful.
The family took up residence in Donnybrook, Dublin but Maud’s mother contracted tuberculosis (TB) and before she could be moved to Italy, where it was hoped the drier weather would help her condition, she died in 1871.
Sometime afterwards Maud began to suffer respiratory problems – she would suffer the effects of TB throughout her life – so the family doctor recommended sea air. Thus, Maud and her sister were moved to Howth and placed in the care of an English nanny.
When Maud was six, she and her sister were sent to London to their mother’s aunt. They then moved between various other family members before being sent to France to be educated while their father served in India. In France, they learned all aspects of French life including the language, culture and history.
Throughout the nineteenth century France experienced a period of radicalism and republicanism which Maud and her sister were exposed to. This influenced Maud’s future political views.
Maud’s father returned home from India in 1879 to take up the role of military attaché in London which involved extensive travel in the Middle East, Asia and Europe. Maud often accompanied him on these trips and met politicians, diplomats and royalty.
The 1870s-1880s were a period of unrest in Ireland with land wars raging, the fight for Home Rule ongoing and an IRB dynamite campaign occurring in England.
In 1882, Maud’s father became Assistant Adjutant-General based in Dublin Castle. His role was to supress the general unrest that the country was experiencing. Maud and her sister were brought back to Dublin and through their father’s social and work circles were exposed to many loyalist and British landlords.
Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own