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Dorothy Macardle: The rediscovery of an unlikely rebel and overlooked novelist

Macardle was a friend of Éamon de Valera, and he wrote the foreword to her book The Irish Republic.

Dorothy McArdle with Eamon De Valera
Dorothy McArdle with Eamon De Valera

THE AUTHOR DOROTHY Macardle’s life, politics and career were utterly remarkable, and all the more so given her upbringing.

Dorothy grew up with privilege as the daughter of Thomas and Minnie Macardle. Thomas owned the Macardle brewing company in Dundalk and it was a national brand. He was Catholic, and an ardent Irish Home Rule supporter.

His wife Minnie was a Protestant Englishwoman who raised her children to respect the British Empire. The family’s affluence afforded Dorothy the advantage of an education that was otherwise off-limits to women of her time.

The Macardle family is an example of the rising Catholic middle class in Ireland in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Macardle trained at Alexandra College in Dublin and University College Dublin, where she earned a first-class degree in English Language and Literature.

Her access to formal education positioned her as a woman with the credentials to navigate life in the political and professional public sphere, during a time when women were almost entirely excluded from it.

While Macardle was absent from Ireland during the 1916 Easter Rising, she returned home, and became radicalised quickly during the War of Independence.

She was ultimately imprisoned by the Free State government during the Civil War, spending six months between Mountjoy and Kilmainham gaols and the North Dublin Union from November 1922 to May 1923.

During this time, she wrote Earth-Bound: Nine Stories of Ireland and utilised her educational advantage to organise classes in Irish history and literature for the women with whom she shared the prisons.

She kept a journal and wrote accounts of women’s treatment in prison, which would later be distributed as Anti-Treaty propaganda. Her reports of such treatment that these women endured are haunting. Hunger striking and its subsequent side effects, coupled with physical abuse from prison guards, left women in poor health and sleeping in overcrowded cells.

In one account, Macardle writes of particularly bad beatings when she and other prisoners were transferred from Kilmainham. She recalls being dragged and then hit so hard that the blow blinded her and caused her to lose her breath, knocking her to the ground. The notion that someone might find the headspace to write under these conditions is staggering.

Still, Earth-Bound, a collection that speaks to the dreams of united Ireland that were so crucial during this revolutionary period, would be published in 1924 after she was released.

The Irish Republic

Macardle later worked as a journalist and also undertook a major work of research in writing of a major work of non-fiction entitled The Irish Republic which was published in 1937 and went on to be printed several times.

Macardle’s friend and fellow-political traveller Éamon de Valera wrote the foreword for the book which was well received and commercially successful – although some historians described her as a hagiogapher for de Valera and his views. Macardle cared little: “I am a propagandist, unrepentant and unashamed”, she declared in 1939.

The shocks that Macardle endured in prison might explain her preoccupation with trauma, which is evident in much of her writing. In 1949, only four years after the end of the Second World War, Macardle published Children of Europe, a tome that documents and analyzes wartime experiences of children across Europe from 1939-1945.

Macardle points to the limitations of social mobility for women, likely influenced by the anger and disappointment she felt in the 1937 Constitution, which legally positioned married women’s roles within the home.

Outspoken politically, Macardle wrote her novels as creative responses to the changing world that she saw around her.

Her novels, recently republished by Tramp Press, The Uninvited, The Unforeseen, and most recently, Dark Enchantment, all feature instances of trauma for women. In Dark Enchantment Terka, the village pariah, has been harmed physically and mentally, outcasted as a sexually deviant woman to be feared by wives everywhere.

The official book launch for Dark Enchantment – published by Tramp Press as part of its recovered voices series – takes place tonight at 6.30pm at the Gutter bookshop in Temple Bar, Dublin, as part of the Dublin Book festival.

About the author:

Caroline B Heafey

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