Mary Maguire Colum (1887-1957)
Irish Nationalist, Literary
Mary Maquire Colum was born Mary Maguire on
June 14, 1884 in Collooney(1) Co. Sligo to Charles Maquire
and Catherine Gunning. Mary’s father, Charles, was a constable of the
Royal Irish Constabulary and, later on in his carrier, a District
Inspector. Her mother, who died in 1895, was a descendent of the
mid-18th century Irish family that produced the alluring and vivacious
rag-to-riches Gunning sisters who charmed, wowed and married British
After her mother’s death Mary went to live
with her maternal grandmother, Catherine Gunning, in Ballissodare in Co.
Sligo. At the age of thirteen she enrolled in the Convent of St. Louis
boarding school in Monaghan. After completing her secondary education
there she entered University College Dublin (UCD) where she studied
Mary arrived in Dublin at the height of the
Irish Literary Revival that took hold and flourished during the latter
half of the 19th century through the first quarter of the 20th century. The
movement spearheaded the revival of Ireland's Gaelic heritage and the
growth of Irish nationalism. Its participants included such notables as
James Clarence Mangan, William Butler Yeats, Douglas Hyde, Maud Gonne,
Ella Young, George
Russell, Thomas McDonagh, Alice Milligan, Padraic Pearse,
and many other talented writers, artists and warriors, whose hands and
minds shaped and changed the course of Irish history.
In addition to the Literary
Revival movement other nationalistic inspired movements took root in
its shadow including the Gaelic League, the Gaelic Athletic Association,
the Home Rule movement, Inghinidhe na hÉireann, Cumann na mBan, The
Irish Volunteers and na Fianna Eireann. There is little doubt that the
nationalistic nature of the challenge posed by these movements to British
colonial rule in Ireland would lead to anything other than insurrection.
Mary was a member of Inghinidhe na hÉireann.
Inghinidhe na hÉireann became a branch of Cumann na mBan when it was
founded in 1914.
Mary was not immune to the fervor, talent
and activism associated with the reawakening of Irish nationalism in its
many forms. Gifted with a keen intellect and a pride in her Irishness
she was in her element in the vibrant and culturally rich setting that
Dublin city was at that time. She availed of UCD clubs and societies to
interact with other students of like mind as well as with lecturers,
alumni and other activists who were in the forefront of Ireland’s effort
to reassert its legitimate right to its own rich culture and its place
in the company of sovereign nations.
Apart from her involvement in the literary
scene she, together with a small circle of her student friends, set up
their own club named the Twilight Literary Society of which she was the
president. The essence of the Society was to examine or study W. B.
Yeats’s ‘Celtic Twilight’s a collection of folklore and myth’.
As a result of that endeavor she became a close friend of Yeats. Other
objectives of the Society were to attend and critique plays at the Abbey
theatre and to engage in many of the literary and political debates and
discussions abounding around Dublin at that time.
For a short time after graduated in 1909,
Mary taught English to university students before been drafted to teach
at St Ita's, a companion school to Patrick Pearse's St.
Enda's(1). In 1911, while teaching at St. Ita’s, she and David Houston
founded ‘The Irish Review’ a monthly magazine focused on Irish
literature, arts and science. Together with Padraic Colum she edited
the magazine until it ceased publication in 1914.
In 1912 Mary married Padraic Colum, a
fellow traveler in every sense of the word. He was an Irish
Nationalist, a renowned poet, playwright, author and folklorist; shared
attributes that enriched their lives.
In response to the formation of the Ulster
Volunteers, a Unionist militia founded in 1912 to block Home Rule for
Ireland, Irish Nationalists founded the Irish Volunteers in 1913, an
opposing force whose goal was “to secure and maintain the rights and
liberties common to the whole people of Ireland”.
On April 2, 1914 a group of women, a
hundred or so, met at Wynn’s Hotel in Dublin to establish Cumann na mBan
(The Irish Women’s Council). The initial provisional committee consisted
of Agnes O’Farrelly, Agnes MacNeill, Nancy O’Rahilly, Mary Colum, Jennie
Wyse-Power, Louise Gavan-Duffy, Maire Tuohy and Maureen MacDonagh
O’Mahoney. Agnes O’Farrelly, a Gaelic scholar, read the proposed
constitution in English and Irish for approval. The constitution stated
that the aim of organization was:
• Advance the cause of Irish
• Organize Irishwomen in furtherance of
• Assist in arming and equipping a body
of Irishmen for the defense of Ireland
• Form a fund for these purposes to be
called the “Defense of Ireland Fund”
In response to concerns raised at that
meeting regarding the organizations subordinate role to the Irish
Volunteers Mary set the record straight by stating:
“We would collect money or arms, we
would learn ambulance work, learn how to make haversacks and bandolier…
we would practice the use of the rifle, we would make speeches, we would
do everything that came in our way—for we are not the auxiliaries or the
handmaidens or the camp followers of the Volunteers—we are their
From April of 1914 through September Mary
worked in the Cumann na mBan office and helped Elizabeth Bloxham set up
branches in Dublin and its environs.
On July 26 while staying at a hotel in
Howth they were inadvertently caught up in the Howth gun-running. It so
happened that a column of Irish Volunteers marched by the hotel to take
possession of rifles aboard the Asgard that was fast approaching
Howth harbor. Padraic, who was a member of the Volunteers, joined the
column and sometime later arrived back at the hotel with a rifle on his
In September Mary and her husband departed for the United
States for what was to be a short vacation. That vacation was the
beginning of an extraordinary lifetime odyssey that did not include
returning to Ireland other for short visits.
Shortly after arriving in the United States
the Columns’ were introduced to leading Irish nationalists, academics
and Irish literary figures by friends or letters of introduction. On a
visit to the offices of the Gaelic American newspaper they met with
John Devoy, the paper’s
editor. During that visit they met
Roger Casement who
was on a fund raising tour for the Irish Volunteers. The Colum’s had met
Casement some months earlier in London while on their honeymoon.
One notable early contact was
B. Kelly. In October of 1914 Dr. Kelly issued a call to "the women
of Irish blood" to join the first chapter of Cumann na mBan in the
United States. Hundreds of women responded and shortly afterwards at a
meeting was held at the Hotel McAlpin in New York City. Dr. Kelly, Mary
Colum and Kathleen Gifford, both recently arrived émigrés from Dublin,
outlined the aims of the organization. Simply put, the organization
would follow the lead of Cumann na mBan in Ireland which was to raise
funds and garner support for the Irish Volunteers.
On Tuesday morning, April 26, 1916 Mary
read in the daily newspaper news of the Rising in Dublin. She saw the
names of its leaders including Padraic and Willie Pearse, Thomas
MacDonagh, Joseph Plunkett, Countess Markievicz, Roger Casement,
Rahilly and other brave men and women whom she knew so well. On
reading of the executions of Pearse, McDonagh and
Thomas Clarke on May 3,
at Grand Central she spent the rest of the day in the waiting room
mourning their loss. When the last of the 17 executions occurred on
August with the hanging Roger Casement she intuitively knew that the
energy and genius that fueled the Gaelic Revival was severely damaged
and probably would not survive the loss of such great luminaries.
In 1917, the Colums’ together with Gertrude
B. Kelly, Peter and Helen Golden, Leonora O'Reilly,
Mellows and other leading Irish-American activists founded the
‘Irish Progressive League’ (IPP). At that time any individual or
organization who criticized British policy in Ireland was considered
pro-German by the Wilson administration and subject to scrutiny and
The IPP viewed Clan na Gael, whose members
were on the government watch list, too compromised to function as the
voice of Irish freedom in America. They believed they could better
handle that role. Its’ members were not intimidated by the government’s
pro-British bias and went about their business lobbying the government
in Washington D.C. to recognize the Irish Republic declared a sovereign
nation by the first Dáıl Éıreann in 1919.
In 1919 Mary and
served as trustees for the ‘Save St Enda’s Fund’ set up to purchase St
Enda’s for the Irish nation, as a memorial to Padraic Pearse. A sum of
$6,500, enough to purchase St Enda’s, was turned over to Margaret Pearse
(Padraic’s mother). The school was eventually forced to close in 1935
due to the lack of funds and the absence of its charismatic founder,
Padraic Pearse. The building is now a museum dedicated to the memory of
Shortly after the Treaty War ended in 1923
Mary and Padraic returned to Ireland to visit with friends from the
heady days of the Gaelic Revival. What they experienced from the moment
they set foot on Ireland’s shore was a sense of foreboding, a sense that
everything they hoped to reconnect with was gone and replaced by
hopelessness for the Ireland that could have been.
The British-backed Free State government
that had taken over after the Treaty War was misogynistic,
anti-republican and opportunistic to its core. The brutality directed at
its opponents, particularly women, during the Treaty War, far exceeded
that meted out by the British during the War of Independence. There was
no place in the dominion state for those who fought for or supported the
Republic proclaimed in 1916.
After returning home to the United States
Mary concentrated on her literary career. The Ireland she had worked and
hoped for had become no more than a cherished dream. The vision of the
great men and women of the Gaelic Revival that of a Gaelic, inclusive,
gender equal, 32-county sovereign Irish Republic was sacrificed on the
altar of greed and opportunism by hollow men.
Mary became a well-known personage in
literary circles in New York, New Canaan CT., the MacDowell Colony in
Peterboro NH, Dublin, London, and Paris; places she lived or visited
during her lifetime with her husband, Padraic, She was regarded as an
authority on literature criticism. She wrote essays on many of her
friend including Yeats, James Joyce, Elinor Wylie, T.S. Eliot, D.H.
Lawrence, Rebecca West, Ernest Hemingway, and Virginia Woolf
Throughout her illustrious career she
authored over 160 articles for numerous publications including
Scribner's Magazine, The Nation, The New Republic, Freeman, The New York
Times Review of Books, The Saturday Review of Books, the Forum and The
Tribune. She also authored three books Life and the Dream (1947), From
these Roots (1938), Our Friend James Joyce (1959).
She received a number of awards for her
work including an award from The American Academy of Arts and Letters
and two Guggenheim Fellowships. She taught at the Miami University in
Florida and at Columbia University where she co-taught a modern
literature course with her husband.
Mary suffered from arthritis and neuralgia
that grew more severe during the 1950’s. It was during that time that
she co-authored ‘Our Friend James Joyce’ with her husband, Padraic.
Mary Maguire Colum died at her home in New
York City on October 22, 1957.
Tomás Ó Coısdealha
1, The Battle of Collooney was a
battle which fought on 5 September during the Irish Rebellion of 1798
when a combined force of French troops and Irish rebels defeated a force
of British troops outside of Collooney near Sligo Town. It is also known
as the Battle of Carricknagat.
During the battle a young Irish aide to
General Humbert, Lieutenant Bartholomew Teeling, distinguished himself
during the encounter. Teeling cleared the way for the advancing
Irish-French army by single handedly disabling a British gunnery post
located high on Union Rock when he broke from the French ranks and
galloped towards the gunner's position. Teeling was armed with a pistol
and he shot the cannon's marksman and captured the cannon. After the
loss of the cannon position the French and Irish advanced and the
British retreated towards their barracks at Sligo, leaving 60 dead and
In 1898, the centenary year of the battle,
a statue of Teeling was erected in Carricknagat. Far Famed Johnnie Woods
of Aughamore, Sligo (St John's Parish, Carraroe, Co Sligo) was a
far-famed reliable scaffolder and it was him who erected the spire for
2, St Enda's
distinguished itself as a modern, liberal centre of learning. The school
had two homes during Pearse's tenure as headmaster. The first,
Cullenswood House in Ranelagh, Dublin, was the site of St Enda's early
years. Later, in 1910, the growth of the school necessitated a move to
the Hermitage in Rathfarnham.
Cullenswood House became
the home of a girl's school, St Ita's, which Pearse had established in
1911. The House fell into a state of dereliction before it was
restored. Gaelscoil Lios na nÓg is to be based at Cullenswood House as
soon as refurbishment is complete, while the Hermitage in Rathfarnham
now houses the Pearse Museum dedicated to Padraic Pearse's life and
educational work. (Sources: Irish Times and other)
cemetery AND grave location
Carrickbrack Rd. Sutton, Dublin
GRAVE & HEADSTONE
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