Irish Women Rising: Gender and Politics in Revolutionary Ireland, 1900-1923

On April 24, 1916, Patrick Pearse launched an armed insurrection in Dublin. Nationalist forces took control of several of key locations and government buildings, including the General Post Office, where Pearse stood to read the proclamation of new independent Irish republic, free from British control. The Proclamation was a powerful statement of freedom, sovereignty, and equality. Although British authorities forced the revolutionaries to surrender after six days and executed Pearse and the other leaders in the weeks following, the Easter Rising marked a turning point in Irish history that would bring an end to centuries of colonial rule. The Rising was not just a product of men’s struggles for independence and freedom: Irish women, too, were instrumental in the rebellion. Some organized a paramilitary auxiliary to the all-male Irish Volunteers called Cumann na mBan. Others founded activist organizations and publications, and advocated for labor causes and women’s suffrage. For Irish women, the Easter Rising did not mark the birth of their political consciousness, but rather a manifestation of it.

The current Burns Library exhibit, Irish Women Rising, which will remain on display through March 25, 2017, examines the participation of Irish women in revolutionary activities from the turn of the twentieth century through the Irish Civil War in 1922-23. Beginning with an exploration of  the lives of six exemplary women, the exhibit illustrates the ways many women participated in the struggle toward an independent Ireland in ways that have been overlooked in traditional historical narratives. Drawing from the recently acquired Loretta Clarke Murray Collection, Irish Women Rising showcases dozens of artifacts and papers from the revolutionary period. One exhibit highlight is a remarkable embroidered panel, designed and executed by Maud Gonne, that features the flags of the four provinces of Ireland and motifs from Celtic mythology. Another standout is an original copy of the Proclamation of 1916 on loan from the Strokestown Park National Famine Museum.


Inghinidhe na hEireann assembly, unknown photographer, 1908 (?). [Courtesy of Kilmainham Gaol Museum, 13PO-1B54-14]

The exhibit explores the themes of nationalism, suffrage, labor, and the Celtic Literary Revival to highlight the ways in which women engaged with revolutionary republicanism and how they contributed to political, labor, and charitable movements. Over the next several months, this blog will present the lives of six women of the Irish Revolution as lenses through which the exhibit’s broader themes and concepts can be examined. Look for upcoming posts about Maud Gonne MacBride, Constance Markievicz, Mollie Gill, Margaret Skinnider, Hannah Sheehy Skeffington, and Kathleen Clarke.

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Hilaire Belloc: Correspondence and Family

This sampling of correspondence between Hilaire Belloc, notable British author of the twentieth century, and his son Louis, a pilot for the 84th Field Company of the Royal Flying Corps, the antecedent to the Royal Air Force, provides insight into how families of soldiers attempted to maintain a sense of normalcy through communication. Sons and parents exchanges updates about life on the front and events at home. Even through the uncertainty of war, Louis always made an effort to share updates, drawings, and well-wishes to his family. Throughout the course of these exchanges, the love shown between father and son remained clear.

In spite of the distance between the two, Hilaire still upbraids his son for removing a book from his private study without permission. This seemingly normal correspondence between Hilaire and Louis almost makes one forget that there was a war going on. In becoming upset with his son over a more trivial matter, Hilaire was trying to restore a sense of normalcy to their lives.


Letter to Louis Belloc from Hilaire Belloc, Box 4, Folder 21, Belloc Family Correspondence, Ms.2007.007, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

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Philip Caraman, SJ: the Travelling Jesuit

Philip George Caraman, S.J., Jesuit priest and author, was born in 1911 in London, England, to René André Caraman and Betina Pasqua. Both parents were Armenian Catholics and instilled strong religious beliefs in their nine children; their sons, Philip and John, became priests and two of their daughters became nuns. Despite being a first generation immigrant, Caraman was staunchly British according to his friends and biographers.

Like several of the authors in this series (Anthony Rhodes, Peter Levi, and Graham Greene) Caraman was a traveler and a scholar; he was also born in the 20th century. Rather than being a part of a Catholic revival, these authors all enjoyed a sort of Catholic ascendancy. Writing on the cusp of the Cold War and rising secularism, these authors straddle a fine line between popular and Catholic literature, and many times it is hard to separate the two. They all spent large parts of their lives “on location” researching to better understand the fictional or real subjects their literature. Lastly, all of their works permeate the Catholic values of their upbringing or conversions.  They would all face their own trials and experience moments of success, but ultimately they all faded from public memory. In some ways it is too hard to tell the impact they have had on modern literature because their writing is so recent, and for all of them a contemporary revival is long overdue.

Philip Caraman and his brother John attended Stonyhurst College, a Jesuit institution, in Lancashire. Upon graduation, Philip Caraman joined the Society of Jesus in 1930, six years after his brother. Caraman continued his religious training at Oxford under mentor Father Martin D’Arcy, Master of Campion Hall. With D’Arcy’s guidance, Caraman made connections with influential Catholic writers, including Laura and Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene, and Edith Sitwell.

A few of the numerous laters exchanged by Fr. Philip Caraman and contemporary Catholic authors. Starting at the top and going clockwise: A Post Card from Graham Green (MS1998-30, Box 10-2, Folder 3), a letter from Dame Edith Sitwell (MS1998-30, Box 11-1, Folder 1), and a letter from Evelyn Waugh (MS1998-30, Box 12-1, Folder 1). Philip Caraman, S.J. Collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

A few of the many letters exchanged by Fr. Philip Caraman and contemporary Catholic authors. Starting at the top and going clockwise: A Post Card from Graham Green (MS1998-30, Box 10-2, Folder 3), a letter from Dame Edith Sitwell (MS1998-30, Box 11-1, Folder 1), and a letter from Evelyn Waugh (MS1998-30, Box 12-1, Folder 1). Philip Caraman, S.J. Collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

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“Through Adversity to the Stars”

Louis Belloc was the son of British Catholic author Hilaire Belloc. He served in the Royal Air Force during World War I and tragically lost his life.


Death certificate, August 26, 1918, Box 5 Folder 1, Belloc Family Correspondence, MS.2007.007, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

The above certificate was sent to his family after his death. “Before Cambrai” refers to the 2nd Battle of Cambrai which occurred between October 8th and 10th, 1918. The army did not send the certificate until August 26th 1918, at least two months after the death of Louis. The army did not, in fact, declare his death definite until it sent a letter October 4th, 1919. The “R.E” may refer to the plane Louis was flying. The line in Latin along the bottom, “Per Ardua Ad Astra,” was, and still is, the motto of the British Royal Air Force and translates to “Through Adversity to the Stars.”

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The Witches, Werewolves, and Vampires of Montague Summers

“This is exactly the Vampire who with his sharp white teeth bites the neck of his victim and sucks the blood from the wounds he has made, gorging himself, like some great human leech, until he is replete and full, when he retires to his grave to repose, lethargic and inert until such time as he shall again sally forth to quench his lust at the veins of some sleek and sanguine juvenal.”

You would be forgiven for guessing the above to be a quotation from Dracula. Remarkably, though, it is from the early 20th century, and it is not fiction, but an expression of the author’s professed belief. This lurid depiction of vampiric feeding was written in 1928 by Montague Summers (The Vampire, His Kith and Kin 136), one of the strangest authors in the Burns Library’s British Catholic Authors collection. In 1928, when transatlantic flight was a reality, the world’s tallest building (the Woolworth Building) rose 792 feet above the New York skyline, and Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity was well-established, Montague Summers worked to alert the public to the dangers of the hungry undead.

Summers portarit 1925

Montague Summers, circa 1925

Summers (1880-1948) cultivated an air of colorful eccentricity. A Roman Catholic convert at age 29, he claimed to be a clergyman, although no verifiable records of his ordination have ever been found. (He was, however, permitted to say Mass at churches on the Continent while travelling.)  Summers had an interest in the theater, particularly regarding Restoration drama, and made a mark on Restoration studies by editing numerous works by authors including Dryden and Aphra Behn. But it is for his works on European folklore and the occult that Summers achieved notoriety, for when he wrote about supernatural horrors, he insisted that he did, in fact, believe in them wholeheartedly:

The vampire is believed to be one who has devoted himself during his life to the practice of Black Magic, and it is hardly to be supposed that such persons would rest undisturbed, while it is easy to believe that their malevolence had set in action forces which might prove powerful for terror and destruction even when they were in their graves. (The Vampire, His kith and Kin 78; emphasis added)

It is amply evident from the etymological history of the word ‘werewolf’… that the tradition is not only most anciently and universally diffused throughout the whole of this great continent… Nor is it merely a grim superstition; it is a terrible and dangerous truth, and one, moreover, which is by no means confined to Europe alone.  (The Werewolf 20; emphasis added)

Witchcraft does not belong to the antiquarian past; it lives and energizes, a monstrous and fearful menace to-day, and it is perhaps only by a clear and understanding view of the history of black magic that we can be aware of the immanent dangers that surround us. (A Popular History of Witchcraft 104; emphasis added) Continue reading

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Mary Boyle O’Reilly: World War I Journalist

Mary Boyle O’Reilly was born on May 18, 1873 in Charlestown, Massachusetts. Her father, John Boyle O’Reilly, was a noted poet and Irish nationalist, and her mother, Mary Smiley (Murphy) O’Reilly, was a journalist.

In 1913, O’Reilly accepted a position as foreign correspondent for the Newspaper Enterprise Association, and was placed in charge of the London office. As war threatened in Europe, she traveled undercover to report from the continent. She was the first American journalist in Belgium and witnessed the burning of Louvain. She was subsequently held prisoner by the Germans. After her release, she remained in Europe and was present in Paris during the Battle of the Marne, and at Calais during the Battle of Loos. She returned to Belgium to work with refugees and also spent a number of months of 1915 in Warsaw doing relief work as people fled Poland. O’Reilly returned to the United States in 1917, and went on a speaking tour of the country on the topic of her war experience.

The below excerpts comes from the Mary Boyle O’Reilly papers. The text describes a heroic act by an American soldier after he received word that there were 1800 wounded soldiers being brought in to camp. The words that O’Reilly used to describe the soldier seem to be an appeal to American nationalism, as one can easily get a sense of the man’s machismo and heroic attitude from reading the excerpt.


Box 1, Folder 12, Mary Boyle O’Reilly Papers, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

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Hilaire Belloc: the Poet, the Author, and the Humorist

Hilaire Belloc, G.K. Chesterton, and Maurice Baring were a literary tour de force that in many ways were the culmination of the Catholic revival begun by the series’ earlier subjects. These three authors were close friends and collaborators who generated some of the best titles and works of the era. While the first two have surged in popularity since the time they were first published, the last has tragically declined into obscurity. Nevertheless, the British Catholic Authors Collection in the Burns Library contains considerable amounts of material on all three of the authors, which will be discussed in this and previous posts.

The Anglo-French writer Joseph Hilaire Pierre René Belloc was born in Celle Saint-Cloud, France, on July 27, 1870. His mother was an English citizen, and the family moved to England when Belloc’s French father died in 1872. Due to this move he often was called by the Anglicized form of his name, Hilary. He would later give this name to his son. Nevertheless his legal name was Hilaire, and he often chose to sign documents with this name or simply the initial. Thus, for simplicity’s sake our collection use the spelling Hilaire.

Hilaire Belloc attended the Birmingham Oratory School (founded by John Henry Newman) from 1880-1887, and had some contact with the aging Newman. After Belloc finished school, he returned to France to complete his compulsory military service to maintain his French citizenship. From 1893 to 1896 he attended Balliol College, Oxford, graduating with first class honors in modern history. Also in 1896 he married an American, Elodie Hogan, with whom he had five children – three sons and two daughters.

Belloc began his literary career with Verses and Sonnets (1895), and he always thought his poetry was his best writing. Next he published The Bad Child’s Book of Beasts (1896), a collection of nonsense verse that was so popular it sold out in four days and continues to stay in print. Belloc also worked a series of biographies that included Danton (1899) and Robespierre (1901). In 1902 Belloc published Path to Rome, perhaps his most representative work for its combination of his love for travel and his ardent Roman Catholicism, in it he recounts his journey on foot from Toul, France, to Rome, Italy.

The Title Page and some of Belloc's sketches in The Path to Rome

The title page and some of Belloc’s sketches in The Path to Rome, D919 .B44 1902b, British Catholic Authors Collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Original illustrations by Belloc for the Path to Rome

Original illustrations by Belloc for The Path to Rome, Hilaire Belloc Collection, MS2005-03, Box 130, John J. Burns Library, Boston College. (Note that the top right sketch would be used as the image for the title of chapter one, as seen in the image above)

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