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Friday, 23 December 2016

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23 December 1958: Dorothy Macardle, historian and playwright died on this day. She was born in Dundalk in 1889. Her mother was Minnie Ross Macardle and her father Thomas Callan Macardle, the chairman of Dundalk’s Macardle Moore brewery. The Macardles were a wealthy Catholic family with a foot in both camps as it were. She was educated at Alexandra College and UCD. She worked as a journalist and publicist during the War of Independence and the Civil War, when she supported the anti-Treaty side and served time in Mountjoy and Kilmainham jails for her activities with Cumann na Ban. She wrote the short but very influential booklet Tragedies of Kerry as the Civil War ended dealing with atrocities carried out by Free State Army personnel in that County. This ‘made her name’ in Republican circles and set the tone of her approach to writing on Irish History.

In 1926 she left Sinn Féin and joined Fianna Fáil, and went with Dev that further progress of the Republican cause was best served through constitutional means. However her main claim to fame is her monumental The Irish Republic which sets out in considerable detail the Republican perspective on the events of 1912-1923 ie The Home Rule Crises; The Easter Rising; The War of Independence and the Civil War.


Macardle worked on The Irish Republic during a critical phase in the development of the modern Irish historical profession. It met with much popular acclaim in Ireland, as well as some misgivings, and brought Macardle widespread recognition when it was published in 1937. However its great strength was that Macardle was an active participant in the events she described and she personally knew many of the men and women who took part in the drive to secure the Country’s Independence from the British. On the other hand it is from this perspective only that she describes those episodes in her narrative.


The Irish Press, the newspaper linked with de Valera and Fianna Fáil, actively promoted the book by publishing extracts as well as a glowing review. The Irish Times review offered measured praise, as did the Times Literary Supplement, which brought the book to the attention of British readers. The most hostile responses in Ireland came from the Irish Independent, the newspaper of Fine Gael supporters and the Catholic Bulletin…


…Although stocks of the book were blown to bits when the Luftwaffe dropped bombs on a warehouse in London during World War II, The Irish Republic, like the phoenix, rose from its own ashes and was reprinted several times, most recently in 2005.

Nadia Clare Smith History Ireland May/June 2007

While Dev gave his Imprimatur to her great work she herself was becoming increasingly disillusioned with the cultural direction of the Irish Free State, a stance that gained in strength with the passing of the Irish Constitution in 1937 – which in her eyes and that of many other women was shaped towards seeing little role for females outside of the family Home.

She changed tack after this and pursued her artistic interests in writing about the occult, and supernatural themes, including ghosts, extra-sensory perception and witchcraft! Her most successful novel, Uneasy Freehold, a haunted-house mystery set in England, was adapted for the screen and released as a film called The Uninvited in 1944 & was quite successful.


After the War she made it up with Dev and turned her focus to World Peace & the United Nations. She wrote Children of Europe in 1949 which was an account of the plight of children during and after the war.

She died in 1958 at the age of 69 of cancer in a hospital in Drogheda Co Louth – her home town. Though she was still somewhat disillusioned with the new Irish State (in particular, regarding its treatment of women), she left the royalties from The Irish Republic to her close friend Eamon De Valera who visited her when she lay dying. Her great work The Irish Republic still remains the best account from the Republican side ever written.