Mary Maguire Colum (1887-1957)

Irish Nationalist, Literary Critic, Writer


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 aristocrats.

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 literature.

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, James Connolly 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 Liberty

•    Organize Irishwomen in furtherance of that object.

•    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 allies."

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 shoulder. 

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 Dr. Gertrude 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, The O’ 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, Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington, Liam 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 possible prosecution.

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 Joseph McGarrity 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 Pearse.

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.


Contributor:  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 100 prisoners.

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 this monument.


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

NAME:      St. Fintan's Cemetery                                                                                             

ADDRESS:   Carrickbrack Rd. Sutton, Dublin





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