By Cathal Coyle
On April 7th 1926, an incident that occurred that day in Rome almost changed the course of world history. Dublin native Violet Gibson, who had been living in Rome for a few years, shot Italy’s Fascist leader Benito Mussolini, known as Il Duce ‘the leader’ – at point-blank range in an attack that shocked the Italian capital.
Violet was born the seventh of eight children in Dublin on 31st August 1876, and grew up in a life of privilege. The Gibson family lived in Merrion Square, and her father was Irish lawyer and politician, Edward Gibson; later Lord Ashbourne, Lord Chancellor of Ireland from 1885 to 1905.
She suffered numerous illnesses during her youth, including scarlet fever when she was five, and grew up dividing her time between Dublin and London – at the age of 18 was a debutante in the court of Queen Victoria. Three years later, Violet moved to Chelsea. She got engaged to an artist; tragically he died a year later.
In 1913, Violet moved to Paris, working for a number of pacifist organisations. She contracted Paget’s disease (an abnormal breakdown of bone tissue); a mastectomy left a nine-inch scar on her chest. She returned to England, where a bungled surgery for appendicitis resulted in lifelong chronic abdominal pain.
As the years passed by, Violet became more and more obsessed with religion.