The story opens in 1916. The world is at war, Irish freedom fighters have just staged an armed rebellion in Dublin, and the three characters we first met in Her Secret Rose are deeply unsettled. The world famous poet, WB Yeats, Yeats, “having come to 50 years” has decided he is in need of a wife. The love of his life, Maud Gonne, has just heard about the band of revolutionaries in Ireland who’ve decided, once again, that England’s difficulty (the war) was Ireland’s opportunity (to strike for freedom) and is frantic to join them. And her daughter, Iseult, longs for love and artistic achievement.
As three talented mavericks try to redeem their past against a background of escalating war and revolution, can they rise to what they truly need from each other? Or will lack of understanding destroy their intense love triangle and their work together?
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Dancing in the Wind: This week’s extract: MacBride is Shot
It’s been half a decade since we last called in on this family, and when we last saw them they were still in 13, rue de Passy, where Maud’s marriage had unravelled and Willie had received his reward for years of loyalty. In 1912, that house that had seen so much distress was pulled down. Forced to move, Maud didn’t go far, just a half-mile down the road, still in her beloved 16th arrondissement with its elegant houses, wide avenues, and the joys of the Bois de Boulogne. To 17, rue de l’Annonciation, where she set up house as that rare thing at that time, or any time, a household headed by a woman of independent income who has no intention of ever again taking a man.
That’s where they are, when they get the news, in the late spring of 1916, lying off in their roomy drawing room, enjoying what is now Maud’s favorite hour of the day, the quiet time before dinner. She and her secretary, Miss Barry M. Delaney are writing letters, Seán and Iseult are reading and then the newspaper arrives, exploding the rifles, shotguns, revolvers, pistols, and grenades of Irish rebellion and English warmongering all over their sleek drapery.
Now Maud sits forward in her armchair, alert and agitated, leaning into the big pages as she turns them, stopping whenever she sees an item that might tell them more, pointing paragraphs out to twelve-year-old Seán, who has moved to sit beside her on the arm of the chair. His eyes read what she reads, his face is a mini-mirror of her intensity.
Delaney too has left her papers to move across and stand over them and look over their shoulders into the pages. “Sweet Jesus,” she keeps murmuring. “Holy mother of god and all her angels. Sweet Lord above”
Iseult, lying on her front on the floor before the fireplace, still reads or appears to read. Ostentatiously ignores the others’ disquiet, she strokes Minnalouche the cat with one hand, turns her pages with another.
For days now, each newspaper arrives bearing news of another “ringleader” of the rebellion–another dear friend or personal hero of Maud’s–taken out to be shot by firing squad.
Executed, Maud calls it, as she weeps and Delaney wails. Padraig Pearse and Francis Skeffington and Joseph Plunkett, fine men with whom Moura spent many happy evenings in Dublin, all executed. Sean Heuston, only 25 years old, executed. Willie’s great friend, Thomas MacDonagh, executed. Her own dear, dear friend James Connolly, wounded and suffering from gangrene, strapped to a chair and wheeled out, unconscious, to face the volley. Executed.
Maud puts her hand to her heart. “MacBride has been shot” she says, in tones of high melodrama. Maud’s ex-husband, Seán’s father, Iseult’s stepfather, and old enemy, John Mac Bride. “Executed.”
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