Gonne but not forgotten – an Irish patriot who would have shunned Centenary Stone

I would suggest many people were surprised to hear the `effusive tributes’ to the Duke of Edinburgh who died this week, delivered in the Assembly by the Speaker, West Belfast MLA Alex Maskey and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill. She spoke of `a regrettable legacy of suffering’ acknowledging that the Royal Family also were `directly impacted’ by the conflict. Alex Maskey said few would ever be able to compare with the Duke’s `record of public service’.

Saturday, 17th April 2021, 9:56 am
Irish patriot Maude Gonne

I would suggest many people were surprised to hear the `effusive tributes’ to the Duke of Edinburgh who died this week, delivered in the Assembly by the Speaker, West Belfast MLA Alex Maskey and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill. She spoke of `a regrettable legacy of suffering’ acknowledging that the Royal Family also were `directly impacted’ by the conflict. Alex Maskey said few would ever be able to compare with the Duke’s `record of public service’.

During the week I had been reading a biography of Maud Gonne, a woman born of the aristocracy but who shunned its trappings to become a passionate advocate of Irish freedom.

Ireland’s leading poet of the day, William Butler Yeats,`devotedly pursued her for years’ but Maud did not return his devotion. Her greatest love was Ireland, her lifelong fight was to get rid of the English whose record in the country she constantly trashed.

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By the time she died in 1953, aged 87 she hadn’t achieved that goal and mostly today she is remembered for the battles she fought to feed the children of impoverished Ireland and her support for the rebels who didn’t succeed in making Ireland a united country. Many Irish politicians of those years regarded her as more of a nuisance. WB Yeats died loving her to the end. Today’s younger generation may never have heard of Maude Gonne but she’s a worthy historical figure.

Samuel Levenson who wrote her biography mentions `the relative quiet that attended her passing’. He believed she had `lived too long’ at a time when `patriotism was in a slump’.

The Irish Republican Army was again `blowing up buildings in London but no-one knew why. Emigration and poverty were continuing and people were still in jail but there was nothing new or exciting in that’ he wrote.

In some respects she was the Bernadette Devlin of the day, a fighter for a united Ireland who was also hero worshipped. Where is Bernadette now? Where are all those names which filled our newspapers daily as Ulster strived to withstand its enemies who wanted to blow it into a united Ireland?

This is Northern Ireland’s Centenary year and already the event is being `snubbed’ by Republicans. Sinn Fein Communities Minister in the Assembly Deirdre Hargey was accused this week of `a callous snub’ when she declared her department in Stormont had no plans to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of Ulster.

Unionists want a centenary stone to be installed at Stormont. Ms Hargey declares it ‘reflects only one political perspective’ declaring, when criticised, `that there is nothing callous in my approach’.

Yet Michelle O’Neill and Alex Maskey took a completely unexpected tone when they praised His Royal Highness for his contribution to public service. Shinners praising a Royal, even one who has passed on, is not something we are used to. And then there is the question of the stone. The Protestant community of Ulster feels it deserves a commemorative stone to be erected at Stormont in this centenary year. Go anywhere in the world and you will find commemorative stones and statues which represent achievement and give a visitor an instant history lesson of the place.

By now the stone should have been erected – after all we are four months into the centenary year – but one suspects it is still on the drawing boards because it requires majority approval of the Assembly and despite the generous aknowledgements from Sinn Fein this week regarding the Duke of Edinburgh’s contribution to the world and his exemplary support of the Queen who did her bit for peace here by meeting Martin McGuinness, the stone is viewed in stony silence by nationalist politicians.

I suppose you could say if Maud Gonne was around today she would be proud of them.

Now I wonder what Maud would have thought of the NI Protocol the battles over which have left over 90 police officers injured and street riots the like of which we haven’t seen for a decade or two?

Maud’s speciality was street protests to make her claims heard. I think she would have been in the thick of them.

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