Yes. I admit it, okay!? I’m taking an Irish history course and a lot of my posts (ok, just two of them now) have been inspired by class lecture. So there. Deal with it. Irish history: potatoes (or lack thereof), alcohol, oppression, and apparently a lot of sex.
Let’s set the scene, shall we? It’s turn of the century Ireland and instead of being all into political independence (overrated — am I right, Canada?) a lot of artists, writers, and intellectuals are all about reviving Gaelic culture. People are learning to speak Irish, they’re writing Irish poetry, they’re learning traditional Irish dance and theatre and art. They even re-popularized a Gaelic form of football. They were so alternative, so hip. If these people were around in the US today, they’d be living in DUMBO or Williamsburg. Do you catch my clove cigarette-induced drift? These people were the hipsters of 20th century Ireland and they knew it.
But let’s get to the good stuff. The dirty stuff. And to do that, we’re going to have to filter out the weak and get to the hippest of the hip. Yes, I’m talking about magical-society attending, over-sized scarf-toting, dark-rimmed glasses wearing, poetry-writing, espresso-sipping Maud Gonne and William Butler Yeats.
Maud Gonne was English, but she had lived in Ireland for a while and thought that the Irish were sort of being oppressed or whatever so she was like, “That sucks!” and then converted to Catholicism and became a hard-core Irish Nationalist. She moved to France and met a very sexy (married) politician named was Lucien Millevoye (sounds like LUCIUS MALFOY!!!) Even though he was married, separated at the time (but still!), Lucius Malfoy had to get what was his. So he left his wife for good (but not before he and Maud did it a bunch) and they were married. They had two children, but only one survived, the girl, Iseult who, just like mommy, became wrapped up in a couple of literary sex scandals herself. More on that later.
Yeats met Gonne in Paris (where else? so hip.) after her divorce from the mustached Lucien and he instantly fell in love with her. But the feeling wasn’t exactly mutual. He proposed to her at least 4 times in the first few years of their friendship and she coyly (I imagine) refused each time. To Yeats’ horror, Gonne married the Irish Nationalist (and world-class asshole) John MacBride who shortly after supposedly molested Gonne’s daughter, Iseult, then only 11 years old. They were already divorced in, like, 1905, a few years after their “I Do’s” so they weren’t really hanging out together much in 1916 when MacBride was hung for his role in the Easter Uprising of 1916 — and by hung, I mean executed, get your mind out of the gutter.
Yeats, with his ever perfect timing, swooped in right after MacBride’s execution and proposed to Gonne AGAIN! Smooth, Yeats. You don’t want to seem too desperate or anything. Especially since they had already had a brief affair in 1908 after which Gonne wrote him a really nice letter saying the early 20th century equivalent of “It’s not you, it’s me. Maybe we should just be friends.” So. Yeats. Apparently not such a good lay.
Well, maybe that was just what Maud thought. Because, guess what, here’s a little bonus factoid for everyone. Although, Yeats was pretty much in love with Maud for his entire life, for about a year, in the late 1890s, he had an affair with a woman named Olivia Shakespear (no, I didn’t spell it wrong, she only has the two e’s.) He knew this girl, Olivia, who was, you guessed it, married with children, who he thought was pretty hot and smart. So he was like, “Well, Maud’s not into me right now, I’ve already proposed to her 4 times, maybe I can get this Olivia chick to come out of town with me for a little bit and we can do it for a while until Maud comes around again.” But he was sort of pussy-footing around and was having sort of a rough time of it getting up the nerve to go make shit happen with her. (So sensitive. So hip.) But when he finally did get over to Olivia to ask her to go away with him, she was like, “Yeats! DUH! I’m totally in love with you, I’ll risk everything — my financial security, my children, my social standing, everything, just to do it with you, you LITERARY STALLION!” So she legally separated from her hubby, not a divorce, and they shacked up together for, like, a year.
But then Yeats went back to Ireland and Maud came back in town and he started to follow her around again with his beautiful, bespectacled, puppy-dog eyes. Olivia lived with her daughter, Dorothy, for most of the rest of her life. And then Dorothy married (drum roll please) Ezra Pound.
Which brings me to a final little tale that makes this story of sex and scandal inter-generational, motherfuckers!!
Gonne’s daughter, Iseult (remember her? I told you we’d come back to her) and had grown up in the Irish freedom fighting circle doing a bunch of badass shit, so it’s not really surprising that she PROPOSED to a 52 year old Yeats when she was just 15. Yeah! She proposed to him! What a badass! And then he turned around and proposed to her, because Yeats was a fucking gentleman, OK? But that whole thing didn’t end up working out because, you know it, it’s gross and he was, like, the only father figure she had throughout her life so it’d sort of be weird if she married him. And Maud wasn’t into it, understandably. But then Iseult had a steamy little affair with (drum roll please) Ezra Pound (!!) before settling down with a young Australian writer 6 years her junior. Her love letters to Yeats and Pound are published and now on my summer reading for fun list. (Holy crap balls! Just look at that link — the book costs $100! Bitch better be juicy.)
So, I don’t know if you noticed, but SHIT JUST WENT FULL CIRCLE.
Shall we review?
Maud Gonne (had an affair with/was proposed to multiple times by) WB Yeats (who had an affair with) Olivia Shakespear (whose daughter) Dorothy (married) Ezra Pound (who once had an affair with) Isuelt (Maud’s daughter, who proposed to) WB Yeats (who was in love with her mother) Maud Gonne.
That’s a lot of scandal for just 6 people. But that’s how bitches were rolllin’ in early 20th century Europe. They were sexy. They were smart. They were hip.
But perhaps most important for this blog, they were D. T. F.
Charles Stewart Parnell was the father of Irish Home Rule. And also of three illegitimate children.
All right. Let’s not get ahead (aha! head) of ourselves. (I swear, we’ll stop with the BlowJ puns eventually.)
Back in the late 19th century — that’s the 1800s, for those you who have trouble with that (Mom) — an Englishman named William Gladstone was trying to push an Irish Home Rule bill through parliament. See, England had been fucking with Ireland for some time now. Since, like, 1066. And as one of the first single-issue politicians in history, Gladstone had decided that it was time to “pacify Ireland.” Our story isn’t about Gladstone, but it’s probably important and totally relevant to mention that he was an evangelical christian obsessed with saving the prostitutes of London’s slums, who also engaged in self-flagellation as punishment for his frequent participation in masturbation. He should really have his own entry. We’ll work on that. But anyway, his idea about Irish Home Rule came from a guy named Charles Stewart Parnell.
Parnell was an Irish MP in Parliament who was promoting this idea of home rule for Ireland. Home Rule would allow Ireland to govern itself with only some superficial, but still very real, connection to the crown. (Like how Canada and Australia are now. Which brings me to another irrelevant point: You know what, Canadians? I like your syrup, I do. But take a look at your coinage, will you? You’re not really your own country, are you? And July 3 is the stupidest day for an independence day ever.)
But Parnell actually didn’t coin the term “Home Rule.” It was a guy named…get ready…Isaac Butt. Yeah. You can’t make this shit up, people. But Parnell is really thought of as the father of this Home Rule idea because he’s the one in parliament working with Gladstone to push this bill through.
The bill fails. Gladstone and Parnell try again, it fails a second time, but there’s more hope the second time.
Parnell probably could have tried again, because he was the only really popular Irish nationalist political leader around at the time, and would have…Except for that he became involved in the biggest sex scandal of the British Isles in the late 19th century. (Which, just as a quick reminder to my mother, is the late 1800s.)
Here’s what went down. So Parnell had been living and fornicating with a woman named Katherine O’Shea (who now has lots of pubs named after her). And they had three children together, one of whom died as an infant. The only teeny-weeny (haha!) issue was that Kate was married to one of Parnell’s colleagues, a fellow MP named Captain O’Shae (who we’ll call “the Captain” because it’s funnier that way). In the beginning, the Captain’s only real act of defiance towards Parnell was challenging him to a duel, which never ended up happening. And he wouldn’t divorce his wife because she was supposed to be getting a big phat inheritance from a relative who wasn’t quite dead yet. But when Kate’s aunt did finally kick it, the money the Cap thought she was getting actually went into a trust.
He filed for divorce almost immediately and named Parnell as a co-respondent. This created a BFD situation in good ol’ Victorian England and Ireland. Apparently adultery was still a No-No for a lot of people. Parnell’s parliamentary party totally abandoned their support of him and so did his Catholic Irish constituency along with the Church with a capital Cee. He faded into obscurity, and did get to marry his baby-mama eventually. But he died soon after in 1891 of a heart attack at the ripe young of 45.
And so it was that the 7th commandment (or whatever the adultery one is) scandalously killed Irish Home Rule and the Irish Nationalist fight for freedom was never the same again.
So in the spirit of St. Patrick’s Day, I would like to raise a pint of Guinness to our friend, Charles. Whose actions may have cost Ireland its liberty, but at least he got what was his.
To getting what’s yours!
I’ll drink to that.