Unpublished photographs of Maud Gonne appear in new documentary

Ireland’s most famous unrequited love story recalled in Scéalta Grá na hÉireann

 

Photographs of Maud Gonne from the family collection will be shown for the first time in a new TV documentary about her relationship with the poet William Butler Yeats.

The photographs include a picture Maud Gonne carried around with her all her life of her son Georges who died aged two in France.

There are photographs of her in her apartment in Paris and an undated picture of her as an old woman, most likely taken by her grandson Tiernan McBride. Gonne died in 1953 aged 86.

The story of Ireland’s most unfamous unrequited love affair between the revolutionary Gonne and the poet Yeats is the subject of the latest episode of Scéalta Grá na hÉireann on TG4 on Wednesday night.

Yeats fell in love with Maud Gonne when he first met her in 1889. She was then 22 and living in Paris.

In his memoirs, Yeats wrote: “I had never thought to see in a living woman so great beauty. It belonged to famous pictures, to poetry, to some legendary past.”

An undated photograph of Maud Gonne taken in her apartment in Paris. Photograph courtesy of Iseult White
An undated photograph of Maud Gonne taken in her apartment in Paris. Photograph courtesy of Iseult White

Yeats proposed marriage at least four times but Gonne refused him on every occasion, stating once, “...you make beautiful poetry out of what you call your unhappiness and are happy in that. The world should thank me for not marrying you”.

Yeats disapproved of her belief in violent methods in the promotion of the nationalist cause and was horrified and heartbroken when she married the nationalist rebel, Major John MacBride. MacBride was later executed for his part in the 1916 Easter Rising.

In Yeats’ poem ‘No Second Troy’, Yeats criticises Gonne for her activism and compares her to Helen of Troy, a beauty so powerful and dangerous that she caused the destruction of cities.

The photographs for Scéalta Grá na hÉireann W.B.Yeats and Maud Gonne on TG4 were supplied by Maud Gonne’s great-granddaughter Iseult White.

Maud Gonne’s son Georges, who died aged two. Photograph courtesy of Iseult White
Maud Gonne’s son Georges, who died aged two. Photograph courtesy of Iseult White

She said she was “very moved” by the newly colorised photographs that director-producer Derek Nagle used in the documentary.

“The familiar images came to life in a way that allowed me to relate to her beauty for the first time, and perhaps, understand Yeats obsession a little more. They say men are very visual,” Ms White added.

She maintained the focus on her great-grandmother’s relations with famous men is understandable, but there was much more to her life than that.

“ For instance, do you know what she and Marcus Rashford have in common? More than 100 years ago she campaigned for free school meals for Irish children,” Ms White said. “It was just one of the many social justice campaigns she was involved in; fighting evictions in Donegal, supporting the rights of political prisoners, and fighting for a basic income to combat ‘poverty amidst plenty’.”

Ms White said Maud Gonne was very upset about Yeats’s description of McBride in his poem Easter 1916 as as “drunken vainglorious lout, He had done most bitter wrong. To some who are near my heart.”

Ms White said therer was no love lost between Gonne and her ex-husband but the description was “unnecessarily nasty” and caused a lot of upset.

The documentary features contributions from the poet Rita Kelly and historian Helene O’Keeffe.

Scéalta Grá na hÉireann W.B.Yeats and Maud Gonne is on Wednesday 10th February 10th at 8.30pm.