Seán Hall takes a look at the fascinating relationship that existed between W.B. Yeats and Maud Gonne.

William Butler Yeats, Nobel Laureate for Literature, and one of the best regarded poets and playwrights in the history of Ireland. Maud Gonne, feminist socialist who agitated for Irish republicanism and was mother to the political animal, Seán MacBride.

What do these too have in common?

Well, a bit of unrequited love on William’s part is one of the most famous “will-they, won’t-they” stories of every Leaving Cert student of English. Dante described such feelings as “love that moves the sun and stars”, and for Yeats it was very much a cataclysmic and dramatic love story.

Yeats was born in 1865 in Sandymount to a Church of Ireland family, his father being the artist John Butler Yeats and his mother, Susan Mary Pollexfen.

Maud Gonne was born in Surrey in 1866 to a British soldier, Captain Thomas Gonne, with distant ancestry from Mayo and his wife, Edith Cook, who died when her daughter was very young.

She spent most of her youth in boarding school with Thomas being very much an absent father in every manner except financially.

Compared to the close-knit family of the Yeats – which consisted of six children who emigrated everywhere with their parent – Maud’s family was nowhere near as traditional or happy.

She fell in love with French politician, Lucien Millevoye who was sixteen years her senior, at a young age, and it was in the context of their failing relationship she would end up meeting the well-known Irish poet, W.B. Yeats in 1889, who immediately took a shine to her.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own