Dorothy Macardle: A biography which gives her the literary treatment she has long deserved

Book review: Leeann Lane does justice to the activist who has been unfairly underestimated

A great irony lies at the heart of the life and legacy of Dorothy Macardle. A fiercely independent and talented woman, who decried inequality between the sexes, she is chiefly remembered as the keeper of the reputation of a man: Eamon de Valera. In 1937, her book The Irish Republic was published; a large-scale history of the Irish revolution commissioned by de Valera. It came in the midst of the history wars prompted by the divisions over the Anglo-Irish Treaty that led to civil war, and unashamedly promoted the anti-Treaty position and therefore de Valera’s stance. It was much more than that - a decade of research underpinned it - but given her bias, the political polarisation of the era and de Valera’s visage gracing the cover, it became primarily associated with his contested stature. It was, however, just one of Macardle’s many endeavours; she was a teacher, political and social activist, journalist, playwright and novelist.

Leeann Lane deserves great credit for the originality and insightfulness of this biography; she has done justice to a complex and interesting career with a balanced analysis of Macardle’s words and deeds and has a confident grasp not just of the thundering political feuds that bordered her life, but also the subtleties and nuances of Macardle’s private thoughts. Lane proves her contention that Macardle “had a strong political influence in her own right” and that her gender, despite the ethos of her era, “did little to hinder the realisation of her intellectual aims”. Making the biographer’s task more complicated, and therefore Lane’s achievement more noteworthy, is that Macardle’s brother destroyed most of her papers on her death in 1958, and the biographer is left working with the fragments that survived.

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