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Mabel FitzGerald Correspondence, December 1914 & November 1923

Desmond and Mabel FitzGerald Papers, UCD Archives, P80/1552, P80/1554 & P80/16491
All images courtesy of UCD Archives.

Mabel McConnell, born in 1884, was the daughter of a Belfast Presbyterian. Having met Desmond FitzGerald at Gaelic League classes, they married in 1911 and subsequently had four sons. The youngest – future Fine Gael leader and Taoiseach – Garret FitzGerald was born in 1926. Drawing on his mother’s religious background when he announced his Constitutional Crusade – an attempt to create a more pluralist Ireland – in the 1980s, he claimed to understand the northern unionist community because he ‘belonged’ to them and he was ‘brought up with them’.

Both Desmond and Mabel FitzGerald were in the GPO during the 1916 Rising. In his memoir, Desmond FitzGerald recalled approaching the imposing building on Dublin’s O’Connell Street as the flag of the Irish republic was being hoisted above the roof. ‘This is worth being wiped out for’, he commented to his wife. In the subsequent independence struggle, he was director of publicity. When the Treaty was signed, he supported the settlement. Mabel FitzGerald, however, was opposed.

Reproduced below are letters written to Mabel FitzGerald from George Bernard Shaw, for whom she had worked as a secretary, and Ernie O’Malley. They offer an insight into the environment in which the woman who so strongly influenced Garret FitzGerald lived. For example, Shaw wrote in 1914 ‘As an Ulster woman, you must be aware that if you bring your son up to hate anyone except a Papist, you will go to hell’. His correspondence also offers an insight into Irish attitudes towards World War One and the question of recruitment to the British army, as well as pro-German propaganda and the possible implications for Home Rule (which had been shelved for the duration of the War). Shaw was particularly wary of Sinn Féin’s intentions, and criticised Mabel FitzGerald for playing at being a peasant.

The letter from Ernie O’Malley, an anti-Treaty IRA commander who was on hunger strike, reveals Mabel FitzGerald’s continued association after the birth of the Free State with those who opposed the Treaty. It is noteworthy that O’Malley was writing to her from the detention ward of St Bricín’s Hospital at a time when her husband was Minister for External Affairs in the Free State government. In his letter, he detailed the deterioration of his health and the conditions in Mountjoy prison for those coming off hunger strike. Reproduced below is just one example of several letters that O’Malley wrote to her between January 1923 and February 1924.

P180/1552: George Bernard Shaw to Mabel FitzGerald, 1 December 1914

P80/1554: George Bernard Shaw to Mabel FitzGerald, 12 December 1914

P80/1649: Ernie O’Malley to Mabel FitzGerald, 24 November 1923

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