Ella Young (1867 - 1956)

Ella Young was born on December 25, 1867 in Fenagh, Co. Antrim, Ireland  to James Bristow Young, a cornbroker,  and Matilda Ann Russell Young,  She was the oldest of six children, five girls and one boy. Although the Young's were middle class Presbyterians,  they were not members of the ruling Protestant Ascendency, a predatory institution consisting solely of members of the Established Protestant Churches of  England and Ireland.  Presbyterians were not trusted by the British or their vassals in Ireland, consequently they were also victims of the Penal Laws, albeit, to a lesser extent than the native Irish.

 For reasons possibly related to business, the Young family moved residence a number of times during Ella's youth, first to Limerick, and later to Portarlington in Co. Laois. In the late 1880's or early 1890's the family's final move was to a residence in Grosvenor Square in Rathmines, Dublin  After moving there Ella became a friend and protégé of Irish nationalist and writer, George William Russell who also resided in Grosvenor Square.

Ella attended Alexandra College in nearby Milltown. None of the Irish colleges including Alexandra College could award recognized degrees as they were not granted  the necessary royal charter.  In order to graduate, students including Ella, took their final exams at the Royal University of Ireland. Ella  graduated from there with a  BA degree in law and political science in 1898.

During her student years she became a member of the Theosophical Society whose members engaged in the comparative study of religion, science and philosophy and the practice of self-realization. Her membership in the society brought her in contact with intellectuals and artists who were also interested in spiritualism and the meaning of life.  Later on she became a member of the Hermetic Society after George W. Russell took over control  in 1898.  Members of that Society included such literary and political notables as James Connolly, Padraic Colum, Seamus O'Sullivan and Standish James O'Grady placed great emphasis on meditation and considered the occult an alternative to scientific materialism and established dogmatic religions.

After graduating Ella became a teacher, one of the few professions open to young women whether protestant or catholic at that time.

At the turn of the century Ella's circle of friends and collaborators in the Irish Literary Revival movement included W. B. Yeats, Maud Gonne, Padraic Pearse, Isabella Augusta (Lady Gregory) and many other distinguished writers, poets and artists. The essence of their writings, lectures, plays and oratory was idealistic, nationalistic and patriotic intended to invoke in the nation's psyche a sense of self-worth, freedom and nationhood. The fervor generated  by their efforts spawned several nationalistic leaning organizations, institutions and trade unions including The Gaelic League, Inghinidhe na hEireann,  Sinn Fein, St. Enda's School,  Na Fianna Ereann, Cumann na mBan and the Irish Volunteers. Most of these organizations were involved to some extent in the 1916 Easter Rising,  the War of Independence and the war caused by the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in December 1921.

Influenced and motivated by such talented individuals and lofty ideals Ella, inadvertently, became deeply immersed in the study of Irish history, nationalism and the struggle for Irish independence. To that end she spent a considerable amount of time in the west of Ireland learning Irish, collecting fairy tales, tales of yore, and studying the ways and customs of the people of the west, a people she considered comfortable and confident in their Irishness, aloof and immune to anglification.

Shortly after Maud Gonne founded Inghinidhe na hEireann (Daughters of Ireland) in 1900 Ella attended one her lectures in Dublin. She was impressed with Maud's courage in criticizing the widespread use of evictions and other abuses by the British overseers in Ireland at a time when criticism could result in arrest and  imprisonment.

Soon after attending that lecture Ella joined Inghinidhe na hEireann and worked closely with Maud teaching young Irish girls about the country's past and explaining how they could make a difference by joining the organization and working to achieve gender equality and better working conditions for women..

Ella became a close friend of Padraic Pearse and occasionally lectured on Celtic Mythology to students at St. Enda's School Irish-speaking school founded by Pearse in 1908.

In addition to her work for the societies and organizations she was affiliated with as well as her prolonged periods or research in the west of Ireland she found time to write children's books on Celtic mythology including The Coming Of Lugh published in 1905 and Celtic Wonder Tales published in 1910. Her book of verse, The Rose of Heaven, published in 1920 was illustrated by Maud Gonne 

In 1912 Ella went to live in Temple Hill, a dilapidated farmhouse she renovated in Co. Wicklow. It was during her time there that she became directly involved in the preparations leading up to the 1916 Easter Rising. After Erskine Childers yacht The Asgard  unloaded its cache of weapons in Howth harbor on July 26, 1914 a considerable quantity of the cache was hidden in a cellar in the farmhouse. It was Ella's job to ensure that the weapons were distributed to the intended recipients. This was accomplished by notes passed under the door instructing her to give X number of rifles to so-and-so caller who would use a prearranged password to gain access. The caller would deliver the rifles into the hands of the Volunteers.

At the onset of WWI in 1914, in an act of folly, John Redmond, the leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) called on the Irish Volunteers to enlist in the British army.  Those who heeded his call were sent to the Western Front and far off Gallipoli. Mounting casualties within their ranks coupled with the execution of Easter Rising leaders by the British resulted in the demise of the IPP.

The women of Cumann na mBan vehemently opposed Redmond's call and worked tirelessly to convince young Irishmen not to enlist, reasoning that they should  serve Ireland's cause instead of expansionist aims of the British Empire. In the General Election of 1918 the IPP  won only  (6) of the 125 seats contested. 

Ella had left Temple Hill and was back in Rathmines some months before the Easter Rising.  She took no direct part in the Rising nor did she have any knowledge of when it  was scheduled to take place. She was distressed that the initial call- to-arms by the Army Council was countermanded by the Irish Volunteers Chief-of-Staff, Eoin MacNeill. His countermanding order caused confusion in Volunteer units throughout the country and instead of having to deal with a nationwide Rising the British only had to deal with one major Rising in Dublin and smaller ones in Meath, Wexford, and Galway.

After the Rising and the execution of its leaders, Ella left Dublin to avoid possible arrest as her rebel activities had attracted the attention of British intelligence. She laid low in Waterford and in Achill Island of the Mayo coast.  When her friend Countess Markievicz's was released from prison in June of 1917 she joined Cumann na mBan. She returned to Dublin in 1919 and resumed her rebel activities, hiding arms and ammunition and smuggling weapons and, on occasions, helped escaped prisoners and on-the-run Volunteers get out of Dublin safely during the War of Independence. .

After a Truce went into effect in July of 1920 Erskine Childers sent Ella to Kerry to meet with representatives of the IRA to deliver details of the Truce and to gauge their reaction. Their attitude was, at best, ambivalent as was the reaction of other IRA units  throughout the country.

Their ambivalence was well founded as provisions of the ensuing Anglo-Irish Treaty signed in December of 1921 fell far short of the Proclamation of 1916. Ireland would not be an all-Ireland Republic -- instead Ireland was partitioned into two sectarian entities; the 26 county Irish Free State and the 6-county state of Northern Ireland. 

In the minds of those who fought for the Republic proclaimed in 1916 the Treaty amounted to total capitulation to the British.  In June of 1922 hostilities broke out between anti-treaty Republicans Volunteers and pro-treaty British backed Free State forces. At the onset of hostilities the Free State had 7,000 men under arms; the Republicans had 17,000 poorly armed men. At the end of the war Free State forces had swelled to 55,000 men. Most, if not all, of those who joined the Free State were former Irish Volunteers who heeded Redmond's call who had survived the Western Front or the Gallipoli campaign. They were generally unemployed and signed-up the money. Other amongst them also signed-up for the money and the chance to hit out at those Irish Volunteers who, in 1914,  refused to heed  Redmond, opting instead to fight the British usurper for Irish freedom.

Ella sided with the anti-Treaty Republican Volunteers as did the vast majority of the women of Cumann na mBan.  For the duration of the hostilities she hid arms and ammunition and smuggled weapons as she did leading up to the Easter Rising and during the War of Independence. In her memoirs she recalled how a Thompson sub machine gun was hidden under the floorboards when the house was raided by Free State troops. Luckily for her they did not find it.   

Hostilities ended in May of 1922 with a Free State victory achieved with the help of British intelligence, an unlimited supply of British arms and equipment, an boundless stream of ex-British army veterans and the money to pay for their services.  

After hostilities ended "Ireland's Age of Enlightenment" spearheaded by the Irish Literary Revival movement also ended. It was replaced by a despotic Free State regime who ruled by fear, retaliation, executions, internment and censorship whose roots extended back to the Land League War of the early 1880's. That war resulted in the slow decline of the ruling  Protestant Ascendency. In its place another pro-British Ascendency emerged,  comprised of an alliance between the Catholic Hierarchy and the IPP.

The main focus of the IPP was home rule for Ireland within the confines of the British Empire. Such an arrangement would offer its leaders limited control over domestic affairs. The IPP was adamant in its resolve to continue discriminating against women if or when it achieved Home Rule .

The Free State party, Cumann na nGaedheal, that took control after the Treaty War  embodied the same policies and misogynist tendencies as the IPP with an added advantage that the IPP never had -- the unbridled power to punish their adversaries. Republicans were hunted down imprisoned, marginalized or forced into exile. For thousand of Republicans the situation in Ireland became untenable and those who could left, sadly for most never to return. Such was the situation for Ella. The Ireland that she had grown to love had turned into a foreboding place.

In 1925 Ella availed of the opportunity to leave Ireland when invited by a lecture tour agent in New York to give a series of lectures on Celtic mythology and culture at various venues along the east coast.  Her tour started at Columbia University in New York and from there proceeded to Vassar College in the Hudson Valley and Smith College in Boston. She also lectured at venues in Washington DC, and numerous other venues along the east coast and the mid-west. .

When her east coast lecture tour ended in 1926 she journeyed by train to the west coast stopping along the way at the Grand Canyon, in New Mexico and at other places of interest along the train route. After arriving in Pasadena her agent arranged a series of lectures at various colleges, clubs, classrooms, libraries and halls up and down the west coast.

When Ella first arrived in the United States she did so on a temporary visa expecting to leave after her lecture ended. In 1930 she visited Canada for the purpose of reentering the U.S. with a work visa and become an American citizen  However, the American Vice-Consul in Vancouver held up her application, purportedly, because of her age. After several months and a firestorm of letters to the State Department from influential friend and fellow academics and pointed questions to President Hoover she was admitted back in with the desired visa.  Shortly after been readmitted she became an American citizen

For the next number of years, Ella lectured at the University of California at Berkeley on Celtic Mythology oftentimes dressed as a Druid in long flowing purple robes. Her lectured were well attended sometimes drawing as many as 500 people from within and without the university.

During her years in California, Ella had journeyed to Toas and other destinations in New Mexico on a number of occasions.  It was there that she came to know and spend time with renowned photographer Ansel Adams and his wife Virginia.  She also met Ernie O'Malley a fellow traveler, Georgia O'Keefe and numerous other artists and writers who made Taos their home.

After Ella retired in the late 1930's she moved to Halcyon, a Theosophical commune near Oceano, in northern California where she had spent some time shortly after arriving in California. She bought a little cottage on an acre of land close to the beach and the dunes she loved and revered.  She named the cottage "Cluan Ard" which, became a meeting place for her many visitors as well as her eclectic circle friends, the Dunites, who lived amongst the dunes.

It was there she completed her autobiography, "Flowering Dusk: Things Remembered Accurately and Inaccurately" in two volumes. Volume I dealt with her life in Ireland and Volume II, with her life in America as an author of children's books, a lecturer on Irish literature and mythology and a member of literary and artistic circles in the western states.

Over the years Ella donated manuscripts, books and artwork to various libraries and museums. Although she never returned to Ireland she remained in contact with her family and extended financial assistance her struggling sisters in their old age.

Toward the end of her life Ella suffered from terminal stomach cancer. On July 23, 1956 Ella passed away at Cluan Ard in a manner of her own choosing, She left few instruction regarding her funeral other than having expressed a desire to have her remains cremated and her ashes scattered in a Redwood grove.

In October of 1956, several of Ella's friend gathered at the site selected for the scattering of her ashes  on the property of her old friend William Lyman near St. Helena in the Napa Valley. After William Lyman scattered the ashes Jane Redmond Thompson, a save the redwoods advocate, read the following old Celtic prayer that Ella had requested

"Oh Earth, Mother and Goddess, to thee we give back this body purified by fire, may the winds be comrade to it, may the rain be a benediction, mat the stars look on it with kindness,  may the sun evoke blossoms from this dust.

It is common knowledge that Ella's ashes were scattered amongst the Redwoods north of Napa Valley as she had requested. However, their is a grave marker in a cemetery in Santa Marie inscribed with Ella's name, date of birth and date of death. Prevailing wisdom has it that her ashes was divided into two parts; one part interned in the cemetery and the other scattered amongst the Redwoods.


Contributer;  Tomás Ó Coısdealha

 cemetery AND grave location

NAME:    Santa Maria Cemetery                 PHONE NO.  805-925-4595                                         

ADDRESS:   1501 S College Dr, Santa Maria, CA 93454

LOCATION:    Grave 7, Plot 736, Section 5


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