Ella Young (1867 - 1956)
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.
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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 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
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
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
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
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"
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
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
a fellow traveler, Georgia O'Keefe and numerous other artists and writers who made Taos
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.
Tomás Ó Coısdealha
cemetery AND grave location
PHONE NO. 805-925-4595
Santa Maria, CA 93454
LOCATION: Grave 7, Plot 736,
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