Irish Women Rising: Maud Gonne (1866 – 1953)


Maud Gonne. F. Czira, photographer, 1887. Loretta Clarke Murray Collection(MS2016.016), John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

In a letter to her suitor, William Butler Yeats, who complained that he was unhappy without her, Maud Gonne wrote “Oh yes, you are, because you make beautiful poetry out of what you call your unhappiness and you are happy in that. Marriage would be such a dull affair. Poets should never marry. The world should thank me for not marrying you.” This letter both succinctly captures the extraordinary Maud Gonne and, paradoxically, overshadows her. Known as Yeats’ unrequited love, Gonne was, in her own right, a powerful woman committed to social, cultural, spiritual, feminist, and nationalist causes.

In the 1890s,Gonne witnessed evictions of Irish tenants and incarcerations of men for rebellious acts. She believed each to be unjust, and this inspired her lifelong commitment to issues of humanitarianism and social justice. In 1900, Gonne was a founding member of Inghinidhe na hÉireann (Daughters of Ireland),  a nationalist women’s organization that supported an independent Ireland, the promotion and education of Gaelic culture and language, the promotion of Ireland’s domestic economy, and discouraged all uses of English and displays of English culture. It began a monthly publication, Bean na hÉireann (Woman of Ireland), in 1908 and published pieces supporting women’s rights and suffrage as well as Irish nationalism.She served as its president until 1914 when the group merged with Cumann na mBan (The Irishwomen’s Council).

Through this endeavor, Gonne was introduced to and included in a wide web of Irish activists that included fellow female radicals such as Constance Markievicz and Helena Molony. Gonne’s activism also extended to the labor movement, where she coauthored “The Right to Life and The Rights of Property” with famous Irish Socialist and 1916 Proclamation signer James Connolly.


Maud Gonne. Unknown photographer, dated 9/23/1939. Loretta Clarke Murray Collection (MS2016.016), John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

In 1918, Gonne was accused of assisting the “German plot,” and imprisoned alongside Constance Markievicz, Kathleen Clarke, and Hanna Sheehy Skeffington in Holloway women’s prison in London. Following the  War of Independence, Gonne opposed the Free State, was imprisoned twice, and worked tirelessly on behalf of republican prisoners and their families. A prolific writer on many social causes, she was also very much an active participant in aiding the poor, the dispossessed, and disenfranchised.

The letter mentioned at the start indicates much more than her curious relationship with Yeats. It hints at the language of a strong, feminist woman who believed in her own strength and put her beliefs into action. She was active and influential in women’s suffragist, labor, humanitarian, cultural and nationalist causes. Maud Gonne is best understood not as Yeats’ unrequited love, but as a strong and influential woman.

  • Michael Bailey,  Student Assistant to Kathleen Williams and Ph.D. candidate in the Department of History
  • Kathleen Williams,  Senior Reference Librarian, Bibliographer for Irish Studies, John J. Burns Library

Works Consulted:

Maud Gonne, The Autobiography of Maud Gonne: A Servant of the Queen. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1938.

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The Red Scare and the Liturgy and Life Pamphlet Collection


The Parish Turns “Red” – price, ten cents. Box 411, Liturgy and Life collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

The odds are high that, at some point, you have noticed the pamphlets that tend to be offered in the vestibules of churches and other houses of worship. Often cheaply designed and produced, usually free to take or sold for a trivial cost in religious bookstore racks, pamphlets of this nature often offer advice to the first-time visitor for following the proceedings, argue for the veracity of the denomination’s theology, or stake out a position on a moral or social issue. Among the most ephemeral of literary productions – lost or discarded, as a rule, more often than kept – such pamphlets may appear at first as an odd thing for a library to archive. The John J. Burns Library does, however, maintain a collection of these pamphlets – no fewer than 319 boxes of them, organized by subject as part of the Liturgy and Life collection. The collection’s value lies, perhaps paradoxically, in the very cheapness and ephemerality of its constituent items. These pamphlets, published for maximum accessibility, form the record of the printed advice and argumentation that would have been most familiar in the discourse of popular Catholicism, particularly among the poor and the working class, in the years 1925-1975. Astute readers will note that that fifty-year span covered by the collection begins at the tail-end of the First Red Scare and ends in the midst of the Cold War. Perhaps unsurprisingly for their time, several entire boxes consist entirely of pamphlets devoted to attacking Socialism and/or Communism; without exception, the pamphlets addressing the issue weigh in on the side of Western capitalism. These pamphlets afford us an often quirky and surprising look into mid-century popular American Catholic propaganda.


Communism Today, Or Red Fascism, by Raymond T. Feely, S.J. Box 410, Liturgy and Life collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

The Catholic Left does find occasional representation in the pamphlet collection. The November 1939 issue of Christian Social Action (price, $0.10), while rejecting Communism per se and dismissing its leaders as Utopian “phonies,” does denounce Catholic publications printed without the “union bug” (indicating that it had been produced by unionized labor) and contains some harsh critiques of the West. A feature titled “Why This War?” asserts that “A liberal bourgeois’s condemnation of Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia was as convincing as an inebriate’s harangue against drunkenness. There were never wars more unjust than those in which Americans robbed and murdered Mexicans, Spaniards, and Indians” (173). The source of these unjust wars? “The trouble comes from the inherent tendency of Capitalism toward imperialism” (171), a view the author might well have pulled straight out of Marx. The author’s bold and unvarnished conclusion that “Industrial Capitalism is not the American way” (174)  seems to open a space for a Catholic Left rethinking of its role in American politics and economic life. Unfortunately, the author fails to follow through with what that would look like, leaving the readership outraged but without a plan. Continue reading

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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.


Kathleen Williams,  Senior Reference Librarian, Bibliographer for Irish Studies, John J. Burns Library

Elizabeth Pingree,  Student Assistant to Kathleen Williams and Ph.D. candidate in the Department of History


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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” stands for Royal Engineers. 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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