Writing Ireland's wrongs: Nineteenth-century women, politics, and violence

Date of Completion

January 2010


Literature, English




Writing Ireland's Wrongs: Nineteenth-Century Women, Politics and Violence retrieves the rhetorically forceful and consciously political writing of four Irish women poets who supported the radical nationalist movements Young Ireland in the 1840s and the Fenian movement in the 1860s. Jane Wilde (later Oscar Wilde's mother), Eva O'Doherty, Ellen O'Leary and Mary Jane O'Donovan Rossa advocated the achievement of Ireland's independence from Britain through violent revolution. This period of the mid nineteenth century was critical in the formation of an independent Irish political culture, and these women were at the center, making their contributions important to understanding how the Irish fight for independence was eventually won. Moving chronologically from the 1840s to the early twentieth century, this dissertation places these women in their original publication context of radical Irish nationalism. This project offers a double thesis. First, it argues that Irish women's involvement in preparations for revolution form part of what Antonio Gramsci calls the "war of position" that is the prerequisite to revolution. As much of this "war of position" took place through nationalist newspapers that fostered an "imagined community," to use Benedict Anderson's concept, women played a major role through publishing letters to the editor, articles, and a substantial amount of poetry. Second, this dissertation demonstrates that a "refashioning" of these women's contributions to the Young Ireland and Fenian movements took place in later decades as a result of the conciliatory political and cultural climate of the Irish Literary Revival, led by W. B. Yeats. Their original work was edited, revised or excluded from anthologies and poetry collections. Parliamentary or constitutional nationalism in the form of the Home Rule movement became the dominant political strategy to achieve partial independence from Britain. At the same time the Irish Literary Revival aimed to create an Irish literature and culture that was national, but that would not be "anti-British." Although the poetry of Eva O'Doherty, Jane Wilde, Ellen O'Leary and Mary Jane O'Donovan Rossa underwent selective reprinting, their nationalist balladry connected them to both women and men (such as Maud Gonne and Yeats) who would become leaders of twentieth-century Irish political and cultural nationalism. ^