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  • Dying for Ireland:Violence, Silence, and Sacrifice in Dorothy Macardle's Earth-Bound: Nine Stories of Ireland (1924)
  • Jennifer Molidor

Although the Irish struggle for independence provided increased access to the public sphere for republican women like Dorothy Macardle (1889–1958), women's political activism also frequently provoked scorn from male nationalists. William T. Cosgrave, for instance, responded to Cumann nam Bán's opposition to the Anglo-Irish Treaty by publicly blaming the bitter Irish Civil War on women's interference. Cosgrave claimed female activists were no "ordinary females"; quieting this "women's war" meant instigating a so-called "war on women."1 In 1922, this antagonism was demonstrated in a series of raids aimed at weakening the IRA by arresting female republican advocates like Dorothy Macardle, Maíre Comerford, and Mary Mac Swiney. Though Macardle and others protested their detention by going on a hunger strike, many were held without charge until the end of the civil war in 1923.

Writing to the Freeman's Journal, the Irish Times, and the Irish Independent from Mountjoy Prison in 1922, Dorothy Macardle responded to Cosgrave's remarks on the detention and hunger strike of her friend, Mary Mac Swiney. "We were maintaining the Republican idea as writers, speakers, editors and members of the Publicity Departments Staff,—we were, that is, engaged, like Miss Mac Swiney, in speaking truths which the Provisional Government desires to keep concealed."2 By documenting the events of the Irish Civil War as an historian; by addressing injustices as a journalist; and representing the conflicts between nationalist and feminist agendas in her fiction, Macardle's life was devoted to "speaking truths."

Most of Macardle's short story collection, Earth-Bound: Nine Stories of Ireland (1924) , was written during her internment in Mount joy and Kilmainham Gaols. The collection draws attention to overlooked sacrifices made by women [End Page 43] in the Irish cause. Stories like "The Brother" and "The Prisoner" present heroic male narratives of rebellion, while other stories, like "By God's Mercy" and "A Story Without An End," address women's experiences as wives and mothers of male republicans. Macardle's stories "The Return of Niav" and "The Portrait of Roisin Dhu," however, attend to the relationships between women, and demonstrate what Gerardine Meaney calls "an acute awareness of the dangers of women's symbolic function in nationalist ideology."3

The received narrative of Irish nationalism has tended to presume the masculine nature of the fight for an Irish republic, though recent scholarship has shown that women fought and suffered alongside their male compatriots, and that they did so amid gendered discourses of sacrifice—for example, the myth of Mother Ireland.4 Macardle's writings challenge such representations by linking violence against women with images of women in nationalist iconography. As Anne McClintock and others have argued, in the process of decolonization "women serve as the visible markers of national homogeneity" and as such "they become subjected to especially vigilant and violent discipline."5 For women, the noble sacrifice of "dying for Ireland," in the context of a masculine project of national solidarity, meant the sublimation of sexual difference.

Dorothy Macardle's literary reputation rests in large part on her substantial 1937 history of the independence era, The Irish Republic.6 Only limited attention has been paid to her other works. Gerardine Meaney provided an intelligent discussion of Macardle's short story "The Portrait of Roisin Dhu," which is reprinted in the fifth volume of the Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing. Macardle also features briefly in Margaret Ward's Maud Gonne: A Life and Unmanageable Revolutionaries, in Terry de Valera's recent memoir, in Sinéad McCoole's No [End Page 44] Ordinary Women, and in a notable article by Peter Beresford Ellis. In 2007, Nadia Smith published the first full biography of Macardle in Dorothy Macardle: A Life; Macardle also featured in Smith's study of Irish women historians. A number of encyclopedia entries make reference to Macardle, but many contain factual errors.7 Despite her complex participation in feminist and republican movements, no full-length study has yet directly addressed Macardle's novels, poems, plays, stories, and literary criticism in the...


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