The romantic historian of the Irish Republic

The romantic historian of the Irish Republic Dorothy Macardle Photo: The Irish Times
Dorothy Macardle
by Leeann Lane (University College Dublin Press, €25.00)


In this study the author sets out to explore Dorothy Macardle’s writings to reveal the development of her political thought and feminism. In so doing she has provided an excellent biography of her subject.

Dorothy was born on March 7, 1889 in Dundalk, Co. Louth. Her father was the proprietor of a brewery – Macardle, Moore & Co. She was educated at home and later in Alexandra College and University College Dublin.

In her early years, owing to the strong influence of her English mother, she was very much an anglophile. Her two brothers were educated at the Oratory School in Birmingham – which some called the ‘the Catholic Eton’. Both enlisted and fought in World War I and one was lost during the battle on the Somme.

Following her graduation Dorothy secured a teaching post at Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire, where she immersed herself in the lore surrounding Shakespeare.

Dorothy was appointed a member of the staff at Alexandra College in 1917. Back in Dublin she moved in theatrical circles. She had a number of her plays produced and one was staged by the Abbey in December 1918.


Through her theatrical activities she became associated with Maud Gonne MacBride and Constance Markiewicz, then under their influence she became a zealous republican, joining Cumann na mBan in 1918. During the war of independence, she assisted Erskine Childers, the Director of Sinn Féin Publicity, for whom she reported on Black and Tan atrocities. Among other assignments she visited Belfast to provide a first-hand account of the anti-Catholic pogroms in June 1922.

She was also involved in relief work with the White Cross established in 1920 to aid victims on both sides of the conflict.

Like Childers, for whom she had a high regard, she opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty. Following the outbreak of the Civil War she worked with him on An Phoblacht until he was arrested. Later she produced a journal, Irish Freedom, with Countess Markiewicz. She was arrested on November 9, 1922 and interned in Mountjoy, Kilmainham and the North Dublin Union.

During her incarceration she wrote a jail journal and short stories. She was also involved in the disruptive actions of her fellow internees.

With the end of the Civil War, Dorothy was released from prison in May 1923. She was unemployed, as she had been dismissed from her position in Alexandra College. However, she was hired as a political propogandist by Sinn Féin.

She contributed to republican newspapers such as Éire and in 1924 she published Tragedies of Kerry. This was an exposé based on eye-witness accounts of atrocities committed by Free State troops in Co. Kerry during the Civil War. Next came her magnum opus – The Irish Republic – published in 1937. It was a documentary account of the war of independence and the civil war entirely narrated from an Anti-Treaty perspective. Commissioned by Éamon de Valera, it was more a polemic than a history.

Dorothy was a life-long friend and supporter of de Valera. She supported him when he broke with Sinn Féin and set up Fianna Fáil, of which she was a founder member and its Director of Publicity. She was a frequent contributor to the Party’s newspapers The Nation and later the Irish Press.

She campaigned for his 1937 Constitution, but was critical of its emphasis on women’s domestic role. Earlier she had been outspoken in her opposition to the Conditions of Employment Act of 1936, which excluded women from certain industries.

This study shows that Dorothy Macardle was a remarkable literary figure’

Dorothy supported de Valera’s policy of neutrality during World War II. However, in a gesture of solidarity to the embattled British, she opted to reside in London during the war. In the post-war period she spent most of her time in mainland Europe assisting war orphans and refugees.

During her imprisonment Dorothy abandoned adherence to her Catholic Faith in reaction to the bishops’ condemnation of the Anti-Treatyites for their prosecution of the Civil War. She died a member of the Church of Ireland on December 23, 1958.

This study shows that Dorothy Macardle was a remarkable literary figure and a political propagandist with few peers, but the author is also at great pains to show her to have been an iconic feminist in the context of her own time.