FANNY ISABEL PARNELL / Poet, Irish nationalist


Fanny Isabel Parnell, 1848–1882

Poet, Irish nationalist

Fanny’s memory–and that of her sister, Anna – has been overshadowed by brother Charles, but she was a trailblazer in her own right. Her poetry was celebrated by Irish nationalists and her activism helped to bring many Irish and Irish-American women into politics. However, the Catholic archbishop of Dublin castigated the Ladies’ Land League for inducing women to ‘forget the modesty of their sex and the high dignity of their woman hood.’ More generally, Irish nationalist men did not concern themselves with women’s rights.

Fanny was born in a country suffering the ravages of famine, disease and emigration – events that would shape her early Fenianism. The eleven Parnell children were educated at home by private governesses and masters until their father’s death in 1859. In 1865, aged 17, Fanny accompanied her American mother, Delia, to Paris, where they lived with her uncle until 1874. His death prompted Fanny, Anna and Delia to move to the Stewart family estate in New Jersey. Their dependence on extended family support is a stark reminder that even elite women were denied independent incomes.

Fanny, Charles and Anna held ardent nationalist views, developed through independent reading and personal experience. In 1864, Fanny’s nationalist poetry first appeared, under the pen-name Aleria, in the Fenian newspaper, the Irish People; within six months, twelve more of her poems were published. While living in Paris, Fanny published scathing descriptions of elite social life in the American Register. She and Delia also volunteered with the American Ambulance during the Franco-Prussian War. This voluntary service probably prepared her for her later work on behalf of the Irish poor.

In America, Fanny gave full vent to her commitment to Irish nationalism and social justice, at first by volunteering 10 hours per day in the New York headquarters of the Irish Famine Relief Fund; 1879 saw the fourth successive failure of the potato crop. The Ladies’ Land League (LLL) was formed as an offshoot of Michael Davitt’s Land League, which was founded in 1879 with the aim of reforming landholding in Ireland, but the League’s male leadership were disabled by imprisonment. It was thought that a Ladies’ Land League would be immune from prosecution. The LLL was established in New York on 15 October 1880, with Fanny, Delia and Anna at the helm. Branches quickly sprang up all over the USA and Canada, and Fanny undertook an exhausting lecture tour, raising thousands of dollars for famine relief.

In January 1881, the Irish LLL was established under Anna’s leadership, giving Irish women their first opportunity to participate in a political movement. It was a massive undertaking, and members endured police harassment. Fanny promoted awareness of the plight of the Irish poor through her writing. Her pamphlet The Hovels of Ireland (1880) went through several editions, with profits going to famine relief. Her poetry, published in newspapers in Ireland, Britain and the USA, harnessed powerful, emotive language and was criticised as ‘unfeminine’. Her best-known poem, ‘Hold the Harvest’ was hailed by Michael Davitt as ‘the Marseillaise of the Irish peasant’, and made her the heroine of the Land League movement.

Despite her early Fenianism, by 1879 Fanny advocated peaceful resistance. ‘Hold the Harvest’ appealed to the Irish poor: ‘Hold your peace and hold your hands–not a finger on them lay, boys! / Let the pike and rifle stand–we have found a better way, boys.’

Fanny died, suddenly and prematurely, in her thirty-third year. Her funeral procession was witnessed by thousands, and her grave in Mount Auburn cemetery, Massachusetts, was a pilgrimage site for many years. Sadly, the devotion she and Anna showed to the cause of social justice was still not enough to make Irish men see women as political equals.

Sources:Jane McL. Côté,Fanny and Anna Parnell(Macmillan, 1991);Oxford Dictionary of National Biographyonlineedition; Margaret Ward,Unmanageable Revolutionaries([1989] Pluto Press, 1995).

Research by Dr Angela Byrne, DFAT Historian-in-Residence at EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum. Featured in the exhibition 'Blazing a Trail: Lives and Legacies of Irish Diaspora Women', a collaboration between Herstory, EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

LOLA RIDGE / Modernist poet, anarchist, labour activist

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Lola Ridge, 1873–1941

Modernist poet, anarchist, labour activist

Rose Emily Ridge was born in Dolphin’s Barn, Dublin in 1873. Her medical student father died when she was three, so her mother emigrated to Australia, before moving on to New Zealand. Her mother remarried in 1880 to a Scottish miner and the family lived in a three-roomed shack on the Hokitikagold fields, among Maori and European and Chinese immigrants.

At 22, Ridge married a gold-mine manager in Kanieri, Hokitika. Their first son, born in 1896, died of bronchitis in infancy; their second, Keith, was born in 1900. In 1901 and 1902, under the name ‘Lola’, she published her first poems, ‘A Deserted Diggings, Maoriland’ and ‘Driving the Cattle Home’ in Bulletin and Otago Witness. This was a crossroads moment, when she decided to break with social convention to become an artist.

In 1903, she left her husband and took her son to her mother in Sydney, where she studied art at the Académie Julienne and wrote her first book, Verses. In 1907, her mother and stepfather both died, and she left for San Francisco. Her biographer, Daniel Tobin, understands her many migrations–from Ireland to Australia, to New Zealand, to Australia, to San Francisco, to New York City–as the means by which she reinvented herself. Before leaving San Francisco for New York in 1908, she left her son in an orphanage.

The move to New York saw the birth of Lola Ridge, modernist poet, utopian anarchist and labour activist, claiming to be ten years younger than she was. To support herself, she worked as an illustrator, factory worker, poet, and model. Her first book of American poems,The Ghetto and Other Poems, was published in 1918, and in the following year she gave a series of lectures around the Mid-West on‘Women and the Creative Will’. Throughout the 1920s, she published radical poetry in support of communism and the Soviet Union, including the poem ‘Bolshiviki’ in The New York Post Literary Review (1922), and the book Red Flag (1927). She followed her own maxim: ‘Write anything that burns you.’

Her reputation as a poet developed, and she was twice awarded the Shelley Memorial Award for Poetry (1935, 1936) and was awarded a Guggenheim Poetry Fellowship (1935). In 1927, she was arrested in Boston for protesting the execution of two anarchists. She was devoted to radical politics, and dedicated one of her poems to the Irish labour leader, James Larkin. She published five books of poems that, as a whole, deal with representing the harsh realities of life on the New Zealand goldfields and in the immigrant neighbourhoods of New York’s Lower East Side, while also attempting to reconcile her own radical politics and spirituality. This reflects her own life story, her political radicalism, and the ethereal image she shaped for herself.

A well-recognised feminist poet and modernist in her own lifetime, she has since been largely forgotten, possibly in part due to the inhospitality of mid-twentieth century America towards socialists and communists. Despite this neglect, she remains significant for the courage with which she addressed social issues in her writing and for her pivotal position among the modernist and women writers of twentieth-century America.

Sources:To the Many: Collected Early Works by Lola Ridge,ed.Daniel Tobin (Little Island Press, 2018);Light in Hand:Selected Early Poems of Lola Ridge,ed.Daniel Tobin (Quale Press, 2007); Terese Svoboda, Anything that Burns You:The Dialect of Modernism (Scheffer Press, 2016).

Research by Dr Angela Byrne, DFAT Historian-in-Residence at EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum. Featured in the exhibition 'Blazing a Trail: Lives and Legacies of Irish Diaspora Women', a collaboration between Herstory, EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

EVA GORE-BOOTH / Suffragist, Trade Unionist, Poet, Mystic

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Eva Gore-Booth, 1870–1926

Suffragist, trade unionist, poet, mystic

Eva Gore-Booth led a rich and active life beyond what might have been expected of her–not because of her gender,or her aristocratic background, but because of her physical frailty and susceptibility to illness. She collected 30,000 signatures for a suffrage petition in 1901, campaigned for the rights of women to work as barmaids and acrobats, was a member of the executive committee of the North of England Society for Women's Suffrage, and was a vegetarian and animal rights advocate. She has long been overshadowed by her more famous sister, Constance Markievicz; even in childhood,her governess recalled, Eva was ‘always so delicate ... rather in the background’.

Eva met her lifelong partner, Esther Roper in 1896 in an Italian olive grove; wordlessly, a lifelong connection was made. Roper was a Manchester suffragist and trade unionist; inspired, Gore-Booth established the Sligo branch of the Irish Women’s Suffrage and Local Government Association. In 1897,Gore-Booth left Lissadell to join Roper in Manchester, where Constance Gore-Booth got her ‘first taste of political campaigning’ when she went to help Eva and Roper in Manchester in the 1908 by-election. She also helped with Eva’s campaign in support of barmaids. In the same year, Gore-Booth published her first book of poems. Gore-Booth and Roper were a team, both believing in the need to marry trade unionism and suffrage, not least because in Lancashire, cotton factory work–and therefore union membership–was dominated by women. They were joint secretaries of the Women’s Textile and Other Workers’Representation Committee, and jointly ran the The Women’s Labour News. Together, they campaigned for pit-brow workers, florists, and barmaids, bringing large numbers of working-class women into the suffrage movement–a radical, unprecedented move.

In 1914, Gore-Booth threw herself into pacifism and the Committee for the Abolition of Capital Punishment. Despite her enduring ill-health, she travelled all over Britain with the Women’s Peace Crusade and attended the courts-martial of conscientious objectors.Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington recalled how, in the aftermath of Easter 1916, Gore-Booth travelled to Dublin to plead for leniency for the Rising’s leaders.

The historian Sonja Tiernan has done much to restore the commitment of Roper and Gore-Booth’s partnership, in every respect, to the historical record. Roper and Gore-Booth’s loving written tributes to one another bear every mark of devotion and tenderness. Roper wrote that ‘Even simple everyday pleasures when shared with her became touched with magic’. Eva, for her part, dedicated her poem ‘The Travellers’ to Roper :‘You whose Love’s melody makes glad the gloom’. In addition to their tireless work for women’s suffrage and trade unionism, Gore-Booth and Roper publicised gay and trans issues. In 1916, together with trans woman Irene Clyde, they founded the periodical Urania, publishing articles on transvestitism and advocating for a genderless society. Gore-Booth died of cancer in January 1926, in the home that she and Roper shared. In a final testament to their partnership, they are buried in the same grave.

Sources:Poems of Eva Gore Booth, ed. Esther Roper (Longmans, Green and Co., 1929);Sonja Tiernan, ed.,The Political Writings of Eva Gore-Booth(Manchester University Press, 2015);Anne Marreco,The Rebel Countess([1967] Phoenix Press, 2000);Sonja Tiernan, ‘Challenging Presumptions of Heterosexuality: Eva Gore-Booth, A Biographical Case Study’,Historical Reflections / Réflexions Historiques, 37, issue 2 (2011); ‘LGBT History Month’,https://wearewarpandweft.wordpress.com/stature-project/lgbt-history-month/

Research by Dr Angela Byrne, DFAT Historian-in-Residence at EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum. Featured in the exhibition 'Blazing a Trail: Lives and Legacies of Irish Diaspora Women', a collaboration between Herstory, EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.