Major John MacBride
South Mall, Westport, Co Mayo, Ireland
The life of a shopkeeper was not to be for this shopkeeper’s son from the Mayo town of Westport. By the young age of 15 in 1883, he’d joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood. I swore an oath to do my best to establish a free and independent Irish nation, he’d later write. At the time, John was new to the struggle, but it had been going on for generations as the Irish wrestled for control of their country from the English. It wasn’t long before John MacBride was travelling the world, especially the USA and South Africa, to raise support for the IRB and the Irish cause. And it was while he was in Paris that he met the actress and revolutionary, Maud Gonne. Their marriage produced a son, Seán, who years later would win a Nobel Peace Prize for his work in human rights. But it wasn’t an easy ride. Maud was the muse and inspiration for the poet W.B. Yeats. She’d turned down several proposals from Yeats, and so the marriage caused a considerable amount of bad feeling, Yeats writing years later that John was a ‘drunken, vain-glorious lout’. During John’s divorce proceedings from Maud four years later, WB Yeats accused John MacBride of many ugly things, such as the abuse Maud’s young daughter from a previous relationship. Ugly things that were unsubstantiated, but have been written about and debated ever since. In April 1916, John MacBride, who’d been made a major when fighting in the Boer War against the English in 1902, joined the column of Irish Volunteers marching to occupy the Jacob’s biscuit factory as part of the Easter Rising. He was fighting against the English once more. The occupation of the factory, like the Rising itself, was doomed. MacBride was arrested. And eleven days later, on 5 May 1916, he was executed by firing squad. He refused a blindfold. ‘I have looked down the muzzles of too many guns to fear death,’ he said. My husband, Maud Gonne would write of her former spouse, has entered eternity by the great door of sacrifice…so that praying for him I can also ask for his prayers. John MacBride was just two days short of his forty-eighth birthday. His death was indeed a sacrifice. A sacrifice for his country.