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The Life of Dorothy Macardle

Peter Berresford Ellis, © March 2016

Peter Berresford Ellis is a historian, literary biographer, and novelist who has published over ninety books to date under his own name and that of his pseudonyms Peter Tremayne and Peter MacAlan. His non-fiction books, articles and academic papers have made him acknowledged as one of the foremost authorities on Celtic history and culture. Under his Tremayne pseudonym he is the author of the international bestselling Sister Fidelma Mystery series. sisterfidelma.com

Dorothy Macardle, who died nearly sixty years ago, is remembered today by two books. She was the author of one of the greatest ghost mystery stories ever written in the English language — Uneasy Freehold (1941), made into an Oscar nominated film in 1944 as The Uninvited, the title used by subsequent editions of the novel.

The second book was her history The Irish Republic, published by Victor Gollancz in 1937. It is still the standard history of the period 1916-23 in Ireland and secured her reputation as a major historian.

However, Dorothy Macardle was also a playwright; a poet, a short story writer as well as a novelist; an investigative reporter and political correspondent, a film and theatre critic, a regular broadcaster on Irish and British radio; an active Irish republican; a political prisoner; a feminist campaigner and worker for refugee children during World War II.

Dorothy Marguerite Callan Macardle was born in Dundalk, Co. Louth, on 8 March 1889. She was the eldest of five children, three boys and two girls. The family background was one of wealth and privilege. Her father was Thomas Callan Macardle (later Sir Thomas), owner, among many other business enterprises, of the Macardle Moore & Co. — the Dundalk Brewery. He once held a sear on Louth County Council, became Louth’s Deputy Lieutenant and in 1917 was High Sheriff for the county as well as a Justice of the Peace. He was a Catholic and home-ruler.

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As Civil War broke out, Dorothy worked alongside Maud Gonne in the Women’s Defence League of which Charlotte Despard was now president, helping the families of imprisoned republicans. She assisted Erskine Childers (famous author of The Riddle of the Sands) in producing the republican newspaper An Phoblacht and then edited Irish Freedom.

During a meeting in O’Connell Street, Dublin, in October 1922, being addressed by Maud Gonne, Charlotte Despard and Dorothy, protesting at the arrest of Mary MacSwiney, a member of the Irish Parliament, pro-Treaty forces opened fire, and fourteen people were seriously wounded while hundreds were injured in the subsequent stampede. It was that event that made Dorothy decide to devote full time to the cause and she wrote at the beginning of November to the Board of Governors of her College to announce that she was going to understand “premeditated public political work”. What more public political work she meant on top of what she was already doing is hard to say. The Governors discussed the matter on November 15 and decided to sack her.

A few days later she was arrested by Free State troops. As she wrote, “It was in 1922 that I was suddenly translated from the position of lecturer in Alexandra College to that of a military prisoner in Mountjoy Jail . . . ”

Dorothy shared her cell with the Waterford novelist and historian Rosamund Jacob. She now became part of the small band of famous republican women prisoners and suffragettes. She used her incarceration, first in Mountjoy, then Kilmainham, and finally the North Dublin Union, to start writing short stories — in fact she wrote nine weird tales, ghost stories but each with subtle political messages. These were first published in such magazines as Éire, The Dublin Magazine, Columbia and the Irish World (New York). These stories were collected and published in America as Earth-Bound in 1924. Each story was dedicated to a fellow female prisoner.

The full article appears in issue seven of The Green Book.

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