Does Maud Gonne deserve a statue in Dublin? Some feminists believe so and want to see her recognized for her lifelong devotion to progressive causes.
It will be an uphill battle. To many, Maud Gonne is still just a famous beauty and WB Yeats's muse, the woman the Nobel laureate poet immortalized in the twentieth century's finest love poetry in English.
Gonne knew the world would remember her through those poems and she valued WB's writings and friendship dearly… but the purpose of her own life was political. She was an activist from the start of her life, to the end.
Her uncompromising political opinions, and flamboyant style won her the soubriquet of “Maud Gonne Mad” from her enemies. And in Dublin, “Maudgonning” is still remembered by some as slang for being over-passionate about a political cause.
It's time to recognize Gonne as the activist, revolutionary, and muse that she was, acknowledging her significant contributions to multiple Irish cultural, political, and national narratives.
More Than A Muse
Maud Gonne wasn't just muse to W.B. Yeats, though he was the person, besides herself, who played the most part in making her famous. She also inspired countless other people–particularly women, prisoners and other outsiders.
Beyond this, she was an artist and writer in her own right, actively participating in the Irish Literary Renaissance. Celebrating Gonne's artistic contributions would expand Dublin's commitment to its literary legacy beyond the great men, into those who helped forge the nation through minor works and literary coteries that were immensely powerful in effecting change.
A Fearless Nationalist
Gonne's commitment to the Irish nationalist cause was deep and enduring. As well as supporting luminaries like Arthur Griffith and James Connolly emotionally and financially, she founded the Daughters of Ireland (Inghinidhe na hÉireann), dedicated to the promotion of Irish culture and the idea of a free Ireland. In the aftermath of the Irish War of Independence, Maud Gonne, along with other women activists, organized weekly demonstrations by “The Mothers” to protest against the ongoing repression of Irish nationalists within their own country.
Every Sunday, these women dressed in mourning attire would lead silent processions on O'Connell Street, Dublin's main thoroughfare, carrying pictures of the executed leaders of the Easter Rising.
This silent, yet deeply symbolic act of defiance became a potent symbol of Irish resistance. It was typical of Gonne's genius as an activist – understanding the power of visual imagery and public performance to stir emotions and galvanize public opinion. Her consistent presence and leadership in these weekly protests solidified her status as one of the most prominent and passionate advocates for Irish independence, often at great personal risk.
A Feminist Icon
Long before the global surge of feminism in the 20th century, Gonne was advocating for the rights of women in Ireland. She recognized the intersectionality of national and gender oppressions, and her work laid the foundation for later feminist movements in Ireland.
A Voice for the Voiceless
From her support of the landless in Mayo and Donegal during the Land Wars of the 1880s and 1890s, to her food programs for hungry children, to her support for prisoners, Gonne was not just a national activist, but always an advocate for those she called “The People, and most of all for those who were most downtrodden and marginalized.
A Lasting Legacy
Her impact wasn't restricted to her own lifetime. Gonne's work, ideals, and spirit influenced subsequent generations of Irish activists, writers, and artists. A statue would ensure that future generations remember and are inspired by her legacy.
Dublin's landscape is dotted with statues and monuments, many of which celebrate men of history. By erecting a statue of Maud Gonne, Dublin would be acknowledging the equally significant role women played in shaping the country's history.
Maud Gonne's life was dedicated to the betterment of Ireland, to its culture, its independence, and its people. She was a beacon of hope, resilience, and unyielding spirit.
It's time she took up room in her rightful place in the heart of Dublin, a city she loved and fought for. A statue would not only honour her, but also serve as a daily reminder of the ideals she stood for – ideals we're still working to enact.