Ireland's most famous unrequited love story
Scéalta Grá na hÉireann on TG4 explores the most iconic love stories throughout the history of our land. These stories echo through time and each one has played a major part in the formation of modern Ireland.
From the stormy passion of the Pirate Queen (Grace O'Malley) to Oscar Wilde's scandalous affair with Lord Alfred Douglas, Ireland's Greatest Loves reveals the greatest romances of the most iconic people ever to shape our nation's remarkable history.
This week's episode (at 8.30 p.m. this evening) explores Ireland’s most famous unrequited love story – W.B. Yeats’ complex relationship with Maud Gonne.
On January 30, 1889, Yeats met the then 22-year-old Maud Gonne when she arrived at the Yeats family home to visit his father. In his memoirs, Yeats wrote: “I had never thought to see in a living woman so great beauty. It belonged to famous pictures, to poetry, to some legendary past.”
It was love at first sight for Yeats and he would love her and write about her for the rest of his life. Yeats' great love (Ireland's great unrequited love) caused him much pain throughout his life. Gonne played a deeply significant role in his life and in his work becoming his greatest muse.
The poet proposed marriage at least four times but Gonne refused him on every occasion, stating once: “...you make beautiful poetry out of what you call your unhappiness and are happy in that. The world should thank me for not marrying you.”
Yeats disapproved of her belief in violent methods in the promotion of the nationalist cause and was horrified and heartbroken when she married the nationalist rebel, Major John MacBride. MacBride was later executed for his part in the 1916 Easter Rising.
In the poem No Second Troy, Yeats criticises Gonne for her activism and compares her to Helen of Troy, a beauty so powerful and dangerous that she caused the destruction of cities.
Nevertheless, their friendship was life-long and when Yeats died in France in January 1939 at the age of 73, it was Maud and her son Sean MacBride, then Minister of External Affairs, that brought his body home to be buried in Co. Sligo. Maud Gonne survived him by 14 years and died in 1953, aged 86.
Both Yeats and Gonne had an impact on each other and on the history, literature and politics of Ireland that can still be seen and felt today.
W.B. Yeats is our national poet and acknowledged as one of the great Anglo-Irish writers and one of world's greatest poets. His work and creative output would not have been what it is without his love for and the influence of Maud Gonne. Yeats, Nobel Laureate, was a driving force behind the Irish Literary Revival and a founding member of the Abbey theatre. These achievements still impact cultural life in Ireland today and continue to shape and influence Irish identity.