The daughter of an Irish army officer and his English wife, Maude Gonne converted to republicanism by an eviction she saw during the 1880s, and became a speaker for the Land League. Gonne founded the Nationalist group, Inghinidhe na hÉireann (Daughters of Ireland), and helped to organise the Irish brigades that fought against the British in the South African War.
Maud Gonne had a relationship with poet, William Butler Yeats and was the inspiration for some of his poems and was a member of his early theatre movement. Yeats fell in love with her and was the heroine of his first play, Cathleen ni Houlihan (1892), was modeled after her; she played the title role when the play was first produced at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin. However, Gonne refused Yeats’s many marriage proposals.
Gonna had become involved with a French journalist, Lucien Millevoye, in 1887 while recovering from an illness, and she later bore him two children. Gonne claimed that Iseult was conceived in the mausoleum of Iseult’s late brother, Georges Silvère (1890–1891) who died of meningitis, in an attempt by her parents to reincarnate their dead and still adored infant. Iseult was educated at a Carmelite convent in Laval, France; when she returned to Ireland she was referred to as Maud’s niece or cousin rather than daughter.
In 1903 Gonne married a fellow revolutionary, Major John MacBride. After suffering abuse at the hands of MacBride, she legally separated from him. MacBride took part in the 1916 Easter Rising, after which he was executed. Following his death, Gonne began using MacBride’s name again to advance her standing in revolutionary circles. She herself was imprisoned for six months in 1918 for her supposed involvement in a pro-German plot. Their son, Sean MacBride, later became foreign minister of Ireland and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.
Maud Gonne MacBride published her autobiography in 1938, titled A Servant of the Queen, a reference to both a vision she had of the Irish queen of old, Cathleen (or Caitlin) Ní Houlihan and an ironic title considering Gonne’s Irish Nationalism and rejection of the British Queen.
She died aged 86 and is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.