Anthony J. Jordan, The Yeats Gonne MacBride Triangle (Westport 2000), 154pp.

[Jordan takes issue with the commonplace allegation in biographies of Yeats and Maud Gonne to the effect that the charges of sexual assault on Iseult Gonne and ’adultery’ with Eileen Wilson, the illegitimate half-sister of Maud Gonne are based in fact, rather than lies told my Maud Gonne in order to advance her legal right to separation from MacBride in filing for divorce on 25 Feb. 1905. Eileen Wilson denied in court that she had been assaulted, while her husband Joseph said that his wife had been slandered by ’vile women in the pay of the vilest creature upon earth’. (Jordan, p.91.) Iseult was not made to stand witness but MacBride - who countered the divorce claims with a defamation suit - comprehensively denied the charges, admitting to occasional drunkenness though neither to making ’filth’ in the rooms nor to kicking his wife, as alleged. Biographers of Yeats who share in this supposition are J. M. Hone, A. N. Jeffares, Keith Aldritt, Brenda Maddox and Terence Brown; those of Maud Gonne, Elizabeth Coxhead and Margaret Ward. Jordan ’s chief original source of the Fred Allan Manuscripts, being the papers of John MacBride relating to the divorce, Maud Gonne’s charges and his own suit against the Irish Independent for reported allegations of the same kind.

In the autumn of 1991, the poet, Paul Durcan, who is directly related to both the Gonnes and the MacBrides, made an intervention, when he gave a lengthy interview to Mary Dalton for the Fall issue of the Irish Literary Supplement, published in the USA . Eileen Wilson who married Joseph MacBride had five children, one of whom is Paul Durcan’s mother. Paul spent much of his childhood at Mallow Cottage, near Westport, where Eileen Wilson lived with her daughter. after the death of her husband in 1938. Durcan described it as ’a place that was Eden to me’.

It is clear from the interview and his poetry, that he dearly loved Eileen Wilson. Eileen was the daughter of Thomas Gonne, outside of marriage, and thus Maud’s half sister. Durcan says that it was Nancy Cardozo in her 1979 biography of Maud Gonne, who related the story that one night in [9] Paris John MacBride assaulted ’my grandmother ... No evidence was produced in the book, although it was presented as a scholarly book’. He said that since then, the story had occurred in several books ’- again never with any evidence’. He then expressed his shock to read in Professor Norman Jeffares’ life of Yeats, the story of the sexual assault of ’my grandmother, without any substantiation whatsoever’. Durcan adverts to I lie possibility that the, ’story may be true but no evidence has been offered by anybody’. He then states, ’it may well be - this is speculation on my part .. that the source of all the pain I’ve been talking about in the last while, inay be in the letters from Maud Gonne to Yeats’. Durcan said that ’the people in the Yeats-Maud Gonne Industry, would not have published this story about my grandmother, Eileen, until she was dead’. He also added’ 1 think that the person who has been unquestionably defamed, from the day almost of his execution in 1916, is John MacBride himself’. (End; pp.9-10.)

Refers also to the ’long-awaited Gonne-Yeats Letters, ed., Anna MacBride-White and A. N. Jeffares, containing detailed account of the allegations made by Maud to Yeats, ajudged by the editors to be ’on the whole [.] a reasonable account, allowing for a certain one-sidedness’. Jordan sets out to rebut the charges chiefly on the basis that MacBride’s rebuttal of them seems more reasonable still and concludes that R. F. Foster’s assertion, in The Apprentice Mage, that ’the truth was spectacularly shocking’ and that MacBride’s ’catalogue of crimes’ includes the seduction of the 17-yr old Eileen Wilson and the molestation of the eleven year old Iseult, [’]the blackest thing you can imagine’ (in Yeats’s words to Lady Gregory - here p.9), is a calumny without foundation in the facts and that, therefore, ’there is no moral or legal justification’ for Foster to write in such terms (p.141.) In confronting Foster with his challenge, Jordan was told (as he reports) that ’W. B. Yeats believed it and so do I’. [q.p.; note: Foster is omitted from the index.]

MacBride, b. Westport, 1886; son former ship’s captain from Glens of Antrim who married Honoria Gill and ran a successful general business on the Quay in Westport; ed. St. Malachy’s, Belfast; briefly attended medical school and then worked at wholesale chemists in Dublin; sworn into IRB by Dr. Mark Ryan in Londo; emig. to S. Africa, 1896 and persuaded Arthur Griffith to join him for a period; collected and forwarded money for Amnesty Assoc., London; organised and led Irish Brigade, 1899; commissioned Major by Kruger; supported by Irish Transvaal Committee, with Maud Gonne as fundraiser in America; lost election in S. Mayo, standing in the seat of Davitt; money forwarded from Brussels intercepted by Frank Hugh O’Donnell, a Boer agent and an IRB member, acting for Mark Ryan.

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