Is it not strange that two of the most fervent (and least likeable) Irish “republicans” were not Irish at all? Neither Maud Gonne (Aldershot, England, 1866 - Dublin, 1953) nor her son, Seán MacBride (Normandy, France, 1904 - Dublin, 1988) were born on Irish soil. Maud Gonne’s mother was English, her military father only vaguely of Irish descent, and she herself was born in England. Her son was born in France and was baptised as Jean Seagan. But let us not quibble.
Maud Gonne had a rich and varied life in Paris right from her arrival in the late 1880s. She started out as an actress before she met Lucien Millevoye, a right-wing politician and journalist who supported the failed putschist, Général Boulanger. To be near Millevoye, she took an apartment at 61, Ave. de Wagram (16th arrondissement), but when she gave birth to Millevoye’s son—called Georges Silvère—she moved to a larger flat nearby, at 66, Avenue de la Grande Armée (17th arrondissement). She was to change residence at least three more times, remaining always in the beaux quartiers in the west of the city, before leaving Paris definitively in the autumn of 1917.
For some time, Maud Gonne hid the existence of an illegitimate child from a number of people, including her friend-cum-lover, W.B. Yeats, to whom she explained that Georges Silvère had been adopted. Her son died of meningitis on Aug. 31, 1891 and is buried in the village of Samois, near Fontainbleau. In August 1894 Gonne gave birth to another child, Iseult,—perhaps, as Maud liked to believe afterwards, as a result of cavorting with Millevoye at the memorial chapel they had built for Georges Silvère in Samois. A BBC report in January 2014, suggested that Maud convinced Millevoye to have sexual intercourse with her in the memorial chapel (on a freezing December afternoon!) as part of her belief that she could reincarnate the soul of her beloved Georges if a new child were conceived beside his body. Maud initially passed off Iseult—who was born at 51, rue de la Tour (16th arrondissement) and who was to marry Francis Stuart—as her adopted niece and also described her as a "kinswoman" or "cousin".
From April 1895 to late 1902, Gonne lived at 7, avenue d’Eylau (16th arrondissement). It was during this period that she started a newspaper called L’Irlande Libre to support the cause of Irish nationalism in the run-up to the centenary of the 1798 rebellion. With editorial offices at 6, rue des Martyrs (9th arrondissement) the first of 18 issues (plus one “special issue”) came out on May 1, 1897. At the same time, with the help of Yeats, she founded the Young Ireland Society (or Association Irlandaise), also with an address at 6, rue des Martyrs. One member of the Association was J.M. Synge, a student of linguistics and acolyte of Yeats. But Synge had little time for either the histrionics of Gonne or the "Fenian" turn she gave to the Association Irlandaise and soon drifted away.
The Gonne-MacBride's French connection did not end there. Maud Gonne’s son went back to Paris, via Boulogne-sur-Mer, in 1920, on a mission to obtain arms on behalf of the IRA. However, the go-between he met in Boulogne, a gangster of some sort, did not inspire the confidence of the young Seán MacBride. They took the train together to Paris, with MacBride repeatedly assuring the gangster that he would think about his offer to raid a French arms dump. Here is the rest of his account: He [the gangster] got up from his seat and walked out into the corridor to smoke a cigarette: suddenly, I saw his face grow pale and his face become that of a hunted man. He started running down the corridor. The sound of footsteps, running. A group of policemen rushed by, each of them holding a pistol. But the go-between half-opened the door of the train carriage and threw himself out of the train in the middle of the night. The train didn’t stop.
In January 1922, MacBride accompanied Eamon De Valera (disguised as a priest) to the farcical Irish Race Conference at the Grand Hotel in rue Scribe (9th arrondissement). After marrying, MacBride moved back to Paris in 1926, working as a journalist and living on the same rue d’Annonciation where he had spent his childhood. He was later known in press clubs as ‘Death takes a holiday’—a reference to his incessant womanising (especially on his diplomatic trips to Paris and Strasbourg) combined with conspicuous religiosity.
Maud Gonne Maud Gonne (1993)
Lucky Eyes and a High Heart : A Biography of Maud Gonne (1978)
A Servant of the Queen: Reminiscences (1994)
Maud Gonne MacBride, A. Norman Jeffares, Anna MacBride White
Seán MacBride, A Biography (1993)
Anthony J. Jordan
L’expérience de la liberté (1981)
Seán MacBride, avec la collaboration d’Eric Laurent
That Day’s Struggle : A Memoir 1904-1951 (2005)
Seán MacBride and Caitriona Lawlor
“From hero to zero”, Weekend Herald, Jan. 24, 2004