(Edith) Maud MacBRIDE nee GONNE (1866-1953)

Surrey In the Great War Jenny Mukerji

(Edith) Maud MacBRIDE nee GONNE (1866-1953)

Born in Tongham, Surrey and imprisoned in May 1918 for her supposed involvement in a Pro-German Plot.

Known as Maud, Edith Maud GONNE was born in Tongham, Surrey on 21 December 1866, the elder daughter of Lt Col Thomas GONNE (1835-1886) of the 17th Lancers and his wife Edith Frith, nee COOK (c1844-1871). Her sister was Kathleen Mary (born in Ireland in about 1868) who married the future Major-General Thomas David PILCHER (c1858-1928) of the British Army at St Mary’s Graham Street, London on 18 December 1889 when he was a captain in the 5th Fusiliers. He went on to serve in West Africa, in the South African Wars (Boer Wars) and during the Great War as Colonel of the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment.

Maud’s mother, who was born in East Peckham, came from a wealthy merchant family that manufactured silk, linen, woollen and cotton goods. She died of tuberculosis when Maud was still a child. The girls were then raised with the help of a French nanny. In the 1871 Census (2 April) their mother was still alive and she was living with Maud and Kathleen in Paddington at the home of Mrs Gonne’s aunt, Augusta TARLTON. However, once her mother died, Maud began to live a very cosmopolitan lifestyle and often acted as a hostess when her father entertained.

In the 1881 Census she was living in Torquay with her sister as a pupil at Miss Margaret WILSON’s school. After her father’s death at the Royal Barracks, Dublin on 30 November 1886, Maud inherited wealth and was able to enjoy an independent lifestyle. She was interested in the theatre and became an actress on the Irish stage. Being beautiful and flamboyant (and rich) she was never short of suitors. One of the most famous, yet unsuccessful (despite four proposals), was the Irish poet W.B. YEATS (1865-1939) whom she met in 1889 through the theatre. She was his muse for the heroine of his play Cathleen Ni Houlihan (1892).

Maud travelled widely and when in Paris in 1887 and recovering from an illness she met and fell in love with the married, right-wing nationalist, Lucien MILLEVOYE (1850-1918). The couple had two children: Georges (1889-1891) and daughter, Iseult (1894-1954). It was the death of Georges, aged two, that rekindled her interest in spiritualism. The BBC Website https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-31064648 expands on her interest in this subject. Yet it was her father’s native Ireland that won her heart. She had spent time there as a child and after watching an unpleasant eviction in the 1880s, she had great sympathy for the poor and downtrodden. She became a speaker for the Land League and in 1900 she founded the nationalist group Daughters of Ireland to promote and preserve Irish culture.

During the South African Wars (Boer Wars) Maud helped to organise the Irish brigades that fought against the British army in South Africa. It was during a fund raising tour of the United States of America that she met the Irish revolutionary Major John MacBRIDE (1868-1916) who had fought against the British in South Africa (and against Maud’s brother-in-law, Major-General PILCHER). Maud married John MacBRIDE in Paris in 1903. The couple’s son Sean was born in Paris on 26 January 1904. He remained in Paris after his father’s execution for his part in the Easter 1916 Rising and later became an important Irish politician. He was the Irish minister for External Affairs from 1948 to 1951 and involved himself in Human Rights issues. He died in Ireland in 1988.

However, Maud and John MacBRIDE’s marriage was a stormy one and the couple separated in 1906. Because of his involvement in the Easter 1916 Rising in Dublin, John MacBRIDE was executed by the British on 5 May 1916 in Killmainham Goal, Dublin. Nevertheless, Maud continued to support the revolutionary cause and she was arrested in May 1918 in Dublin for revolutionary activities when it was assumed that she was involved in a Pro-German plot. She was never tried and having been imprisoned in England for six months, she was released due to her poor health. There was, however, a condition placed on her release: she was not to return to Ireland! Immediately she returned to Ireland and began to campaign on behalf of political prisoners in an effort to improve their conditions in gaol.

Maud not only continued to campaign for a Republic of Ireland, but also for women’s rights and universal suffrage. Her objections to the Treaty which divided the island of Ireland into the Republic and (the six counties that formed) Northern Ireland saw her in trouble again, this time in 1923 when she was imprisoned for 20 days by the Irish Free State forces for seditious activities.

Maud died on 27 April 1953 in Dublin and was buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin. Her son, Sean and his wife, Catalina Bulfin MacBRIDE (1901-1976) were later buried in the same grave.

Here is a story with a very different perspective on Surrey in the Great War. Much has been written about Maud; some parts of it are contradictory. However, where Surrey, the place of her birth, is concerned, she appears to have been almost forgotten.

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