The West Brits who Helped the Cause

By Aileen Atcheson

A few of the British aristocratic women helped the Irish Cause down the years were

Mary Anne McCracken, the two Parnell sisters, Maud Gonne McBride, the Countess, Ms. Despard, Mary Spring Rice and Gobnait Ní Bhruadair, to name but some of them.

The Hon. Albinia Lucy or Brodrick Gobnait Ní Bhruadair (the Irish version of her name she used for the last forty years of her life) was born in Belgravia, London. She was the fifth daughter of William Brodrick, 8th Viscount Midleton and his wife, Augusta neé Freemantle, daughter of the 1st Baron Cottesloe. Albinia spent most of her childhood in London. 

Educated privately, she travelled round the continent and spoke German, French and Italian fluently. Her family were English Protestants. They had been at the forefront of British colonial rule in Ireland for years. Her brother, Sir John, was head of the Irish Unionist Alliance and he had a low opinion of the Irish people. 

In her early years, Albinia shared his views. She wrote the pro Unionist song ‘Irishmen Stand Still’. From the time she started to visit her father’s estate in Co. Cork, she began to see the Irish people in a different light. She developed an interest in the Gaelic revival and paid regular visits to the Gaeltacht. She became fluent in speaking the Irish language and was horrified at the poverty in which the people she saw lived.

In 1907, her father died and as a result she became financially independent. She bought a house in Caherdaniel, Co. Kerry and there she established an agricultural co-op to develop local industry. She organised classes for the locals on diet and vegetarianism. During the smallpox epidemic of 1910, she nursed many of her neighbours. She saw the need for a hospital for poor people and travelled to America to raise funds for it and while she was there she studied American nursing methods. When she return to Ireland, she set up a hospital in Caherdaniel. She remained the area Baile an Chunaimh but the hospital was not very successful and eventually closed as there was always a shortage of money. As a member of the National Council of Trained Nurses, she wrote on health matters and gave evidence to the Commission on venereal disease.

Using the Irish version of her name Gobnait Ní Bhrudair from then on, she joined Sinn Féin and Cumann na MBan. In 1916, she visited the prisoners interned in Frongoch internment camp in Wales and canvassed for Sinn Féin candidates during the run up to the 1918 election. As a Sinn Féin member on Kerry Co. Council during the War of Independence, she sheltered IRA volunteers. Her home was a target for the Black and Tans as she herself, travelled round Kerry on her bicycle taking messages for the IRA and helped to look after the sick and wounded. One of the most vociferous speakers against the Treaty, she spoke at meetings around Kerry objecting to its adoption. The Free State soldiers shot her on one occasion and arrested her. Imprisoned in the North Dublin Union, she went on hunger strike. A fortnight later, the prisoners were released. When Éamon de Valera founded Fianna Fáil, she remained a hardline Sinn Féin supporter. Together with her friend, Mary McSweeney, she set up Mná na Poblachta, but that wasn’t very successful. 

She regularly contributed articles to the Sinn Féin paper, Irish Freedom and her home was a target for Free State forces for some years.

She remained a member of the Church of Ireland all her life though and she helped many Catholic neighbours. She played the harmonium at Church of Ireland services in Sneem’s  Church of Ireland Graveyard and was a woman of frugal lifestyle, who could be difficult at times. She died in January 1955 and was buried in Sneem Church of Ireland Graveyard. In her will, most of her money was bequeathed to republicans but this was too vague and led to legal rows for years but finally the bequest became void.