Maud Gonne

Maud Gonne

[gon, guhn]

Maud Gonne MacBride (Maud Nic Ghoinn, Bean Mhic Giolla Bhríde, 21 December 186627 April 1953) was an English-born Irish revolutionary, feminist and actress, best remembered for her turbulent relationship with William Butler Yeats. Of Anglo-Irish stock and birth, she was won over to Irish nationalism by the plight of evicted people in the Land Wars. She was also active in Home Rule activities.

Early life

She was born at Tongham near Farnham, Surrey, as Edith Maud Gonne the eldest daughter of Captain Thomas Gonne (1835–1886) of the 17th Lancers, whose ancestors hailed from Caithness in Scotland, and his wife, Edith Frith Gonne, née Cook (1844–1871). Her mother died while Maud was still a child, and so she was sent to France to be educated.

Freedom fighter

In 1882 her father, an army officer, was posted to Dublin. She accompanied him and remained with him until his death. She returned to France after a bout of tuberculosis and fell in love with a right wing politician, Lucien Millevoye. They agreed to fight for Irish freedom and to regain Alsace-Lorraine for France. She returned to Ireland and worked tirelessly for the release of Irish political prisoners from jail. In 1889, she first met William Butler Yeats, who fell in love with her.

In 1890 she returned to France where she once again met Millevoye. In 1891, she briefly joined the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, a magical organization with which Yeats had involved himself. Between 1893 and 1895, she and Millevoye had two children together. Only the second, a girl named Iseult Gonne survived, and would later marry the Irish-Australian novelist, Francis Stuart.

During the 1890s, Gonne travelled extensively throughout England, Wales, Scotland and the United States campaigning for the nationalist cause. In 1899 her relationship with Millevoye ended.


In 1897, along with Yeats and Arthur Griffith, she organized protests against Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. On Easter 1900, she founded Inghinidhe na hÉireann ("Daughters of Ireland"), a revolutionary women's society, to provide a home for Irish nationalist women who, like she herself, were considered unwelcome in male-dominated nationalist societies. In April 1902, she took a leading role in Yeats' play Cathleen Ní Houlihan. She portrayed Cathleen, the "old woman of Ireland", who mourns for her four provinces, lost to the English colonizers.

In the same year, she joined the Roman Catholic Church. She refused many marriage proposals from Yeats because she viewed him as insufficiently nationalist and because of his unwillingness to convert to Roman Catholicism.


She married Major John MacBride in Paris in 1903. The following year, their son, Sean MacBride, was born. However, after the marriage ended in divorce her husband returned to Ireland. He was a veteran who had led the Irish Transvaal Brigade against the British in the Second Boer War. MacBride was executed in 1916 along with James Connolly and other leaders of the Easter Rising. She remained in Paris until 1917.

In 1918 she was arrested in Dublin and imprisoned in England for six months. During the War of Independence she worked with the White Cross for the relief of victims of violence. In 1921 she opposed the Treaty and advocated the Republican side. She settled in Dublin in 1922.

Yeats's muse

Many of Yeats's poems are inspired by her, or mention her, such as "A Prayer for my Daughter" and "This, This Rude Knocking." He wrote the plays The Countess Cathleen and Cathleen Ní Houlihan for her. His poem Aedh wishes for the Cloths of Heaven ends with a reference to her:

I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

Few poets have celebrated a woman's beauty to the extent Yeats did in his lyric verse about Gonne. From his second book to Last Poems, she became the Rose, Helen of Troy (in No second Troy), the Ledaean Body (Leda and the Swan), Cathleen Ní Houlihan, Pallas Athene and Deirdre.


Maud Gonne MacBride published her autobiography in 1938, titled A Servant of the Queen, a reference to a vision she had of the Irish queen of old, Cathleen (or Caitlin) Ní Houlihan.

Her son, Sean MacBride, was active in politics in Ireland and in the United Nations. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1974.

She died in Clonskeagh, aged 86 and is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.


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