Maud Gonne’s Political and Social Achievements

Maud Gonne was a powerful woman committed to cultural, feminist, labor, nationalist, penal, social and spiritual emancipation and expansion.

A fervent and effective activist, and a significant figure in Irish artistic, amnesty and social reform movements, her  political and social achievements were considerable, by any measure.

She was a passionate advocate for Irish and female independence, when these were unpopular positions, and she not only understood and explained the connections between national and female suppression, she translated that understanding into meaningful protests, both symbolic and practical.

image of Maud Gonne Activist
Maud Gonne Activist

Once, she was famous throughout Ireland and Irish-America, but today her achievements are mostly known to a small group of historians and their readers and followers.

Maud Gonne: More Than A Muse Presentation

I'm working on a presentation “More than a Muse”  that introduces the breadth and depth of this influential, inspiring, and elegant woman, which I'll give first to a live audience at Kino-Teatr, St Leonards, on St Patrick's Day.

The aim is to start a series of discussions, with all who are interested, about all she did and explain why she deserves a statue in Dublin. And invite people to join the campaign on Kickstarter to see a statue erected in her honor on Dublin's O'Connell St.

Maud Gonne deserves a statue as a testament to her profound and multifaceted influence. Her activism, literary contributions, and political involvement in the quest for Irish independence not only shaped the course of history but also inspired generations. A statue would not only honor her legacy but also serve as a reminder of the power of dedication, passion, and the fight for justice. It would symbolize the importance of her contributions to cultural and political movements, ensuring her remarkable life and work continue to inspire future generations–especially girls and young women who walk streets where the statue are overwhelmingly male.

Below is the bullet-point outline of my talk, and some of the images I'll use in the presentation.

And yes, I'll also produce an online version.

Sign up here to learn more about the campaign, and my novel series about Gonne, Yeats and seven kinds of love

Sign here to be part of the campaign

Thomas Gonne, Maud Gonne's father
Thomas Gonne, Maud Gonne's father

Maud Gonne: More Than A Muse

Background: Brief overview of Maud Gonne's life and why she was important: Irish revolutionary, journalist, feminist, philanthropist, actor and artist, mother, penal and amnesty activist, humanitarian.

1. Influences and Political Awakening: 1880 to 1888

Background: Born in England in 1866, early years travelling between France, England and Ireland

  • 1880s: Madame, her Republican French governess and Tommy, her father, an officer in the British army
  • 1885: Moves to Ireland, when Tommy is appointed Assistant Adjutant in British Army.
    • Debut at Dublin Castle.
Image of Lucien Millevoye, journalist, politician and lover of Maud Gonne
Lucien Millevoye, journalist, politician and lover of Maud Gonne
  • 1886: See first eviction and Tommy plans to leave army and become a Home Rule candidate
    • Tommy dies and she is sent to her patriarchal Uncle William in London.
  • 1887: Comes into her inheritance, giving her an independence unknown to most other women of the time.
    • Meets Lucien Millevoye, a married journalist with fervid right-wing politics, a supporter of General Boulanger, and a revanchist, later a deputé in French parliament. Inherits trust funds and an unentailed sum from her mother's estate. Her liaison with Millevoye was motivated by both passion and politics; he aimed to restore France's glory by reclaiming Alsace-Lorraine, while her focus was on liberating Ireland. United, they formed an “alliance” in opposition to the British empire.
  • 1888: Clandestine Boulangist mission to Russia
    • Sets up an apartment over Morrow's bookshop in Dublin's Nassau St.
    • Exchanges “Éire” rings with Ida Jameson, daughter of a staunchly unionist family, testament to their shared commitment to home rule.
    • Both are invited by him to the meetings of the Contemporary Club at 116 Grafton Street, the only women allowed in.
    • Befriends the old Fenian John O'Leary and his sister Ellen, along with George Russell (AE) and many others, and spends much time at his house reading Young Irelander books and other canonical nationalist texts, including ‘Speranza', Lady Wilde, the mother of Oscar.
    • Witnesses evictions of Irish tenants and horrendous incarcerations of Irish political prisoners.  Determines to become Ireland's “Joan of Arc”–involved with the Plan of Campaign in Donegal and elsewhere.

2. Early Activism: 1889 to 1898

Background: The Land Wars in Ireland (1879-1882). Rent racking, famines, and evictions. The Irish Republican Brotherhood, later the IRA, and attitudes to women (refused entry). Use of her beauty (Stead: ‘the most beautiful woman in the world’) to wield influence.

  • 1889: Calls to Yeats home in Bedford Park and involved in amnesty campaigns in Britain
    • Given introductions to Michael Davitt, who was suspicious of her, and to Timothy Harrington , who saw her propaganda potential
  • 1890: Takes her cousin May Gonne and giant dog Dagda to the Olphert estate in Falcarragh, where she dined with the bishop and parish priests, and galvanised local opinion.
    • Paris apartment at 61 Avenue Wagram, birth of her son, Georges Sylvère (Jan)
    • Campaigns with Harrington on the electoral platform for the home rule candidate D. Duncan at Barrow-in-Furness, Lancashire (June)
    • Lectures on the horrors of eviction to English audiences, and visits long-term Fenian prisoners in Portland jail. Yeats dubs her ‘the new Speranza
    • Inspired by the journal Shan Van Vocht, forms Irish radical nationalist publication L’Irlande Libre, to be distributed in France and around Europe.
  • 1891: Death of son, Georges (August)
    • Writes Yeats a letter of ‘wild sorrow’ telling him that an ‘adopted’ child had died
    • Travels to Dublin on 11 October on the boat that carries Parnell's coffin, in deep mourning for her son, thought to be theatrically grieving the lost leader.
    • Yeats comforts her, he and Russell instruct her in rituals of reincarnation
    • Initiated into the Order of the Golden Dawn in London (Nov).
  • 1892:
  • 1893: Reincarnation of son in ritual inspired by Yeats and George Russell (Æ)
  • 1894: Birth of daughter, Iseult
  • 1895: Returned to work for her various nationalist and political organisations, notably the Amnesty Association
  • 1896 onwards: Contributed personal funds to Arthur Griffith’s newspaper the United Irishman, which she also wrote and fundraised for.
  • 1898: Proposal to Yeats

3. Cultural Activism

Background: Role in the Celtic Revival alongside figures like Æ, Augusta Gregory, Arthur Griffith, Douglas Hyde, Constance Markievicz, WB Yeats, and Ella Young.

  • image of constance markievicz
    Constance Markievicz sister activist and rebel, with whom Maud Gonne is often confused

    Literary nationalism: Drama and the arts to further political aims: Yeats poetry in her life

  • 1902: Lead role in ‘Cathleen Ni Houlihan’, Yeats's and Lady Gregory's play at their new national theatre, The Abbey
  • Personal art and writings–Dawn, about British brutality and irresponsibility in the famine years;
  • coauthored “The Right to Life and The Rights of Property” with socialist James Connolly

4. “Advanced” Irish Nationalism


  • 1898: Cenntenial commemorations of 1798 rebellions and Hoche statues in Mayo
  • 1900: Gonne (36) organised a patriotic children’s picnic, to counter the one organised in celebration of Queen Victoria's visit to Dublin.
  • 1900: Forms Inghinidhe na hÉireann (Daughters of Ireland) in 1900, a women's organization to promote Irish culture and political independence.
  • 1903: Marriage to John MacBride
  • John MacBride - The Soldier
    Maud Gonne and John MacBride with their son, Seán, revolvers and bullets on the table.

    1904: Birth of son, Sean MacBride and docu-drama Dawn published in United Irishmen

  • 1905: Divorce and its impact on her political engagement. Rejection by the most powerful Irish nationalists
  • 1908 through 1911: Inghinidhe's newspaper Bean na hEireann (Woman of Ireland) “Freedom for our nation and the complete removal of all disabilities to our sex.”

6. Social Activism

Background: Work for the poor and disenfranchised, especially children.

  • 1912: Paris schoolchildren
  • 1914: Stance against World War I and her work with the White Cross for war relief.

7. Irish War of Independence and Civil War

  • 1916: In Paris when she reads of the Rising and MacBride's arrest … must get to Ireland

    Maud Gonne, Charlotte Despard and other Anti-treaty Activists
  • 1918, Gonne accused of assisting the falsified “German plot,” and imprisoned alongside Constance Markievicz, Kathleen Clarke, and Hanna Sheehy Skeffington in Holloway women’s prison in London.
  • Opposition to the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921: Advocacy for a complete break from Britain.
  • Civil War with Iseult and Francis Stuart

8. Legacy and Impact

image of Maud Gonne in old age
Maud Gonne in old age, after a lifetime of social and political achievement

  • Legacy: Contributions to Irish (partial) independence, to  socialism and feminism, penal reform and Amnesty international.
  • Impact: Memorials, writings, and how she is viewed today.
  • Complexity: Terrorist turned pacifist; visionary turned Roman Catholic, socialist humanitarian and right-wing anti-Semite
  • Diversity: Perfect role model for our time. Illustrating the diverse roles women have played in history, beyond their relationships with men but also beyond the need to be perfect. Always a reason not to honor her but women are not saints, any more than men.
  • More than a Muse: “Statue for Maud” campaign



I'll issue the finished presentation here soon!


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