“More and more I realised that Ireland could rely only on force, in some form or another, to free herself.” –Maud Gonne MacBride
The daughter of an Irish army officer and his English wife, Maud 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.
Gonne 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 1889 she met William Butler Yeats, with whom she would be forever linked. Yeats was overwhelmed by her, and for years to come she would be his muse and his great unrequited love. Many of his poems and plays were inspired by her. She was his Countess Cathleen and his Cathleen Ní Houlihan, she was his Rose, his Helen of Troy and his Deirdre. He proposed marriage to her many times, but she always turned him down. The first proposal came in 1891, when Maud travelled back to Ireland on the same ship that was carrying Charles Stewart Parnell’s coffin. She was met by Yeats at Dún Laoghaire.
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.