More Than A Muse Campaign: A Statue for Maud Gonne in Dublin

It's official! (And a little crazy!) I'm putting together an application (and the campaign I expect will  be necessary) to press for a commemorative statue of Maud Gonne statue on the streets of Dublin.

I've called the campaign More Than A Muse… and its focus will be on highlighting Gonne's political and social activism and achievements.

Images have invaded my mind of Gonne in her middle and later years, no longer the great beauty that turned male heads but a powerful activist and symbol of freedom for Ireland and women everywhere. Organizing meals and treats for schoolchildren.  Organizing symbolic processions of widows and mothers dressed in black. Up on a soapbox plinth with her fist in the air, roaring at the Irish Free State of how they were failing Ireland as badly as England ever had.

The Republican Ireland, free and equal, that her ex-husband and so many of her friends had suffered or died for in 1916.

I'm in the early stages, reaching out to feminist historians and Gonne's descendants to seek their support and permission. But I'm hopful that the time has come to honor this extraordinary woman as the multi-faceted pioneer she truly was—an activist, a revolutionary, a peacemaker, and an inspiration to so many.

And a challenge to our contemporary ideas of freedom, diversity, peace, and women's social roles.

The More than a Muse campaign will use the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter to raise money and awareness, supported by my novel A Life Before, about her coming of age and meeting the poet she inspired, WB Yeats.
Sign up here to receive news and notifications.

More Than A Muse Campaign: Maud Gonne's Legacy

Maud Gonne's extensive contributions have left an indelible mark on many facets of Irish culture, politics, and national identity.

  • a radical activist and women's rights trailblazer who recognized the intertwined nature of national and gender-based oppressions.
  • an accomplished artist, writer, speaker, and performer who played an active role in the Irish Literary Renaissance as patron as well as muse, contributing significantly to a movement that shaped the nation.
  • a philanthropist who supported so many socialist, nationalist and feminist causes with her personal monies.
  • a mother, who organized other mothers into a powerful symbolic protests against repression in the new Irish state
  • a beacon of inspiration, not just to the great poet, W.B. Yeats but also to so many others, especially women, prisoners, and social outcasts.

Gonne's activism for Irish political prisoners and against injustice deeply influenced her son, Sean MacBride, shaping his commitment to peace and human rights. This influence laid the foundation for MacBride's role in founding Amnesty International, an organization focused on protecting human rights worldwide.

Honoring Gonne with a statue would recognize her indirect yet profound influence in the creation of this leading human rights organization and highlight the impact mothers can have on shaping their children's values and actions. In this way, the statue would also celebrate the broader power of maternal influence.

And more troubling aspects of her legacy can contribute to much-needed discussions of anti-semitism, zionism and the Israeli state.

Gonne's legacy, in all its aspects, is timeless.

Gonne's Anti-Semitism

A few of the people so far approached about honoring Maud Gonne have raised the issue of her anti-Semitism and pro-German support in World War II as a reason why this project should not proceed or succeed.

Gonne's anti-semitism is undeniably troubling. Her activism focused always on uplifting the downtrodden and voiceless, yet for her “Jew” was a shortcut word, that played into ageless stereotypes depicting the Jewish community as powerful, monied, and to be feared.

Is this awful? Absolutely.

Does it mean she doesn't deserve to be honored? Absolutely not.

I go deeply into her motivations and influences in my novels, showing how her particular brand of anti-Semitism grew out of fin-de-siecle Paris and French right-wing politics. As a young woman, Gonne was co-dependent with the love of life, Lucien Millevoye, a writer and supporter of the reactionary, anti-German, monarchist nationalism of Georges Ernest Boulanger. 

Gonne met Millevoye when he was almost 40 and she was 21, grieving for her recently deceased father. Her politics were forever influenced, to a degree, by this association. Like Millevoye, she was anti-semitic and anti-masonic–in a French context, which emphasised the supposed disloyalty of Jewish people to France, and other nation-states. It led her down many troubling pathways (as did her marriage to one of Ireland's “heroes”, John MacBride.

There is no attempt, either in my books, or in the application to have this comemorative statue erected, to claim that Maud Gonne was a perfect person. She was a complex, flawed, and mult-faceted individual… like us all.

If you had to be perfect to be honored for your achievements, we'd have to topple every statue in Dublin into the Liffey.

Almost No Street Statues of Women in Dublin

A statue of Maud Gonne would also begin to address a notable oversight in Irish public monuments, that needs addressing.

Dublin, a city rich in recorded history, has long honored its notable figures through various forms of commemoration, including statues and busts, but, as Simon Tierney recently noted, in his excellent article in The Irish Examiner, in terms of the public realm, Dublin “belongs to men.”

The office building where I work is named after a man. The same building is surrounded by William, George and Stephen… streets all named after men. Bridges, parks, buildings, streets and statues in Dublin virtually all commemorate historical men. The city centre is a penis parade. – Simon Tierney

Tierney's research revealed that in Dublin city center:

  • Not a single park bears the name of a woman.
  • The two largest sports stadiums in the city are named in honor of men: Archbishop Thomas Croke and Henry Petty Fitzmaurice, the Third Marquess of Lansdowne.
  • Dublin's three primary train stations all carry male names, commemorating Sean Houston, James Connolly, and Padraig Pearse.
  • 23 out of 24 bridges that cross the Liffey are named for men.
  • 27 of the 936 streets in the city centre are named after women– and of these, seventeen are saints' names and six of them are English queens.

And when it comes to statues or street monuments, only five (13%) historical women are honored.

Constance Markievicz bust
Constance Markievicz bust, one of the few statues of women in Dublin

Constance Markievicz, the artist, revolutionary and first female MP in Westminster, who has than once). Sister Catherine McCauley, who founded the Sisters of Mercy. Constance Lloyd Wilde, writer and wife of the infamous Oscar, who's depiction is very much about her husband ( see this link, and scroll to the end to read about the sculptor's intentions with this work).  The assassinated journalist Veronica Guerin, an old colleague of mine at the Irish Independent. And Margaret Ball, the Catholic martyr honored for harbouring priests in a time of persecution, who is part of a dual statue with her husband.

Not exactly representative of women's contribution to the city, across centuries.

The 44 remaining statues of historical figures on Dublin's streets are all of men. A number of these have more than one representation, and can be found in both statue and bust format.  James Joyce, for example, is on North Earl Street as a statue, and in St Stephen’s Green, and on the campus of University College Dublin in bust form.

Why A Campaign?

It would be marvellous if the application was just shooed through but from here, that feels unlikely. Ruairí Ó Cuív is public art manager for Dublin City Council, charged with developing and managing commissioning opportunities and applications.

Ó Cuív says his office receives an average of two or three requests a year. “The city centre is really choc-a-bloc [with sculptures] and it amazes people there are so few suitable sites,” he says.

Yet a recent commemoration of singer Luke Kelly Yet, a recent tribute to the singer Luke Kelly in Dublin led to the erection of not one but two statues in his honor, while his wife, the extraordinary Deirdre O’Connell who founded and managed the Focus Theatre, a significant small theatre that played a crucial role in Dublin’s cultural landscape in the dry years of the 60s, 70s and 80s, goes without public recognition.

It's really not okay.

It's time to better acknowledge the pivotal role women have played in Ireland's history. In a city over-adorned with monuments celebrating historical male figures, a statue of Maud Gonne is long overdue.

Other Images of Maud Gonne

Bust of Maud Gonne at 80 years by Helen Hooker O'Malley
Bust of Maud Gonne at 80 years by Helen Hooker O'Malley

There are already some tributes to Maud on public view in Dublin, most recently the beautiful bust of her at 80 years by Helen Hooker O'Malley, which was donated to Kilmainham Gaol by her daughter Hooker O'Malley's daughter, Étaín, last year.

She can already be found in a large collection of photographs in the National Library of Ireland and in pictures and busts in Dublin's art galleries and museums

Maud Gonne at The National Gallery of Ireland:

  • Portrait in oils by Sarah Purser (c.1889)
  • Pastel drawing by Purser (1898),
  • Pencil and watercolour drawing by J. B. Yeats (1907)
  • Chalk and charcoal drawing by Seán O'Sullivan (1929).

Maud Gonne at The Hugh Lane Gallery of Modern Art:

  • Oil portrait by Sarah Purser.
  • Plaster bust by Laurence Campbell in bronze that inspired Yeats great poem, A Bronze Head (“…who can tell/Which of her forms has shown her substance right? Or maybe substance can be composite…”)

Maud Gonne at Kilmainham Jail Museum

  • Bust by Helen Hooker O'Malley

Do we really need a street statue too?

Yes, we do.

 

Pic Simon Tierney and Daughters by Moya Nolan
Simon Tierney and Daughters by the bust of George Russell. Pic: Moya Nolan for The Irish Examiner

More than a Muse: A Street Tribute

The father of two girls Tierney says, “I want my girls to see that they live in a country which recognises and celebrates the achievements of women.”

Street monuments serve not only as memorials but also as sources of inspiration. For passers-by, especially women and girls, seeing a monument dedicated to a strong female figure like Maud Gonne can be empowering.

It symbolizes the possibility of making significant contributions to society, regardless of gender.

Having Gonne's portraits in galleries and museums, while valuable for historical and cultural preservation, doesn't provide the same public recognition and accessibility as a street monument. Statues on the street are seen by everyone, not just museum-goers, and they integrate historical figures into the daily lives of passers-by–Dubliners and visitors.

Museum portraits also fail to capture the essence of her activism, most of which was conducted in public spaces. She was known for her public speaking, participation in public protests and processions, and her direct, public engagement with the community.

From the marches against Queen Victoria's jubilees to “The Mothers” processions of her old age, Maud Gonne's activism saw her pace the streets in protest. Up on soap boxes and orange boxes, preaching and teaching, impassioned to the end.

A monument to her on the streets of Dublin would physically connect her legacy to the locations where she made most impact, linking her commemoration to the sites of her speeches, protests, and public engagements.

Let's keep that image of her, standing outside the GPO in O'Connell St, 70-years-old and still impassioned, her fist raised in fiery rhetoric against injustice.

Let's raise the money we need, get the application passed, run a prize to award the commission to an artist.

I have absolutely no idea how we'll get through all the logistics, but I know we will.

Come join us!

The “More than a Muse” campaign will use the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter to raise money and awareness. We are on the move! Sign up here to receive news and notifications.