Maud Gonne was an Irish revolutionary, suffragette, actress and a romantic muse for William Butler Yeats, as well as the mother to Nobel Peace Prize-winner, Sean MacBride.
Maud Gonne was born near Farnham, Surrey, England. She founded the Irish Nationalist group, Inghinidhe na hÉireann (The Daughters of Ireland). She had a relationship with poet, William Butler Yeats and was the inspiration for some of his poems.
In 1890 she married Lucien Millevoye in France and had a son, Georges. Georges died, possibly of meningitis, in 1891. Gonne was distraught, and buried him in a large memorial chapel built for him with money she had inherited. Her distress remained with her; in her will she asked for Georges’s baby shoes to be interred with her, but made no mention of the daughter born a few years after him. In Dublin, London and Paris she was attracted to the occultist and spiritualist worlds deeply important to W.B. Yeats, asking his friends about the reality of reincarnation. In 1891 she briefly joined the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, a magical organisation with which Yeats had involved himself. Gonne separated from Millevoye after Georges’ death, but in late 1893 she arranged to meet him at the mausoleum in Samois-sur-Seine and, next to the coffin, they had sexual intercourse. Her purpose was to conceive a baby with the same father, to whom the soul of Georges would transmigrate in metempsychosis. In August 1894 Gonne and Millevoye’s daughter Iseult was born. At age 23, Iseult was proposed to by then-52-year-old William Butler Yeats, and she had a brief affair with Ezra Pound. At age 26, Iseult married the Irish-Australian novelist, Francis Stuart, who was then 18 years old.
In 1897, along with Yeats and Arthur Griffith, she organised protests against Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. In April 1902, she took a leading role in Yeats’s play Cathleen Ní Houlihan. She portrayed Cathleen, the ‘old woman of Ireland’, who mourns for her four provinces, lost to the English colonisers.
During 1899 and 1902, members of the British-Israel Association of London came to Co Meath to dig up the Hill of Tara. These ‘British-Israelites’ believed they would find buried there the Ark of the Covenant, the chest said to contain the Ten Commandments inscribed on stone tablets. Their strange and unlawful activity provoked a protest from cultural figures such as William Butler Yeats, Arthur Griffith, Douglas Hyde and Maud Gonne. It clearly captured the imagination of Maud Gonne who experienced so vivid a vision there, she fell to her knees, and reported in an article published less than a fortnight after the visit: “I seemed to see shuddering, misty forms gazing curiously at us. A weird procession wound round the great raths where the palaces had stood. Some tossed white arms as they moved in rhythmic circles.” Her companions saw nothing.
In 1903, she married Major John MacBride and the couple’s son, Sean MacBride, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1974.
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, Caitlin Ní Houlihan and an ironic title considering Gonne’s Irish Nationalism and rejection of the British Queen.
She died in Clonskeagh, aged 86 and is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.