Maud Gonne sought widow’s allowance

Revolutionary had separated from Major John MacBride a decade before the Rising

Maud Gonne. Photograph courtesy of the Yeats Society of Sligo Military Service Pension

Maud Gonne. Photograph courtesy of the Yeats Society of Sligo Military Service Pension


Maud Gonne, the Anglo-Irish revolutionary and muse for WB Yeats, applied for an allowance in the 1930s as widow of her executed husband Major John MacBride, despite the fact that the pair had separated a decade before the 1916 Rising.

Files released by the Military Pensions Archive show that she was initially awarded £22 per annum less than she was entitled to because she had not applied under an earlier Act.

Her application in 1933 included a copy of her 1903 Paris marriage certificate to MacBride.

Gonne’s admirer, WB Yeats, immortalised MacBride, unfairly it would seem, as “a drunken, vainglorious lout”.

However, MacBride was described by the British officer who presided at his court-martial as “one of the bravest men I ever met”.

Because Gonne’s application was not made under an earlier Act used by other 1916 widows, she received a payment of £67, 10 shillings rather than £90.

The minister for defence sought the attorney general’s advice to see if her claim could be considered under the earlier Act because no form “had been prescribed” to cover “cases such as hers”.

“Madame MacBride could have claimed under section eight of the Army Pensions Act 1923 but did not do so,” the department of defence wrote.

However, the attorney general said she was not entitled to the higher amount because time had run out on the Act.

After the new military pension law was introduced in 1937, Gonne sought and was granted an increased payment.

“I understand I am entitled to an additional allowance . . . Will you kindly arrange for payment,” she wrote .

The standing of the Anglo-Irish feminist is shown in efforts to correct a near faux pas.

A draft letter granting her the allowance in August 1933 refers to her as Mrs Maud Gonne MacBride. “Note I have changed Mrs to Madame,” an officer wrote, adding that she “should be so addressed in future”.

Some widows received allowances for their executed husbands as well as military pensions for their own roles.

Kathleen Clarke, widow of Tom Clarke and later a TD, was awarded a £70 pension for her role in Cumann na mBan in 1951.

However, this was cut by 30 per cent because she also received a widow’s allowance of £500. Her file contains a handwritten reference from then president Seán T O’Kelly .

Siblings and parents of 1916 rebels also applied for allowances but not all of these were successful.

An unmarried sister of Con Colbert was awarded an allowance as a dependant.

His brother Mark Colbert, who wrote long, colourful letters in 1937 and 1938 seeking compensation due to alleged victimisation because of his 1916 and IRA connections, was unsuccessful.

In one three-page letter he seeks compensation for all he has “suffered”.

He wrote that he had seven children under 15 and “luck ” was against him.

The jockey wrote that racing authorities “made racing so impossible” that his profession became “useless” .

It was not until 1963 that a British-based sister of Con Colbert, Bridget, was awarded money. She lived in Britain and was a housekeeper for a priest.

However, a nun wrote to the Irish authorities on her behalf: “I feel she should be able to settle down in Ireland in her old age and not be looking for public assistance in a cold place like Bristol.”

Despite her not being a dependant the Department of Finance awards her £166.

Margaret Pearse applied in 1928 for an allowance due to the execution of her two sons William and Pádraig Pearse after the Rising.

She notes that she and his two sisters were
“wholly dependent” on him.

She was granted an allowance but died just a few years later, in 1932.