Skip to main content

Trinity College Dublin, The University of Dublin

Menu Search

‘The wonder & the splendour’: Nancy Campbell’s record of the Easter Rising

MS10238_1_WEB Nancy Campbell 1
TCD MS 10238 f. 1

There is one hint in the family background of Nancy Maude (b. 23 May 1886) that might explain her transformation from British society debutant into avid Irish nationalist. Although she was the daughter of Colonel Aubrey Maude, Cameronian Highlanders and the granddaughter of Colonel Sir George Maude (Crown Equerry to Queen Victoria for thirty-five years), her great-grandmother was half-sister to Lord Edward Fitzgerald, hero of 1798.

Nancy met the poet Joseph Campbell during a visit to Ireland in 1909; her family strongly opposed her proposed marriage to this penniless Irish Catholic poet; nevertheless the wedding went ahead in May 1910 whereupon Nancy became completely estranged from her family. The couple returned to Ireland in 1911 and their home, Kilmolin House near Enniskerry, became a gathering place for young poets. They eventually moved to a farm at Lackandarragh, Co. Wicklow and separated in 1924.

The Campbell family presented the papers of Joseph and Nancy Campbell to the Library in the 1990s. Most of it comprises Joseph’s papers (which includes his prison diary from the Curragh in the 1920s), but there are also letters written by Nancy, during Joseph’s imprisonment, as well as her poetry and diaries. Among the papers is a school-exercise book in which Nancy recorded, with great fluency and immediacy, her experience of the Rising in 1916.

This account of events includes a very lively story of Joseph Campbell, under fire, bravely assisting a dying Volunteer. There is also an entertaining account of the Campbell family harbouring Desmond Fitzgerald after the Rising. He was rumoured to be dead, to his wife Mabel’s great distress; Nancy wrote that he had been ‘slain by word of mouth dozens of times’ but that the most recent luridly-detailed account of him ‘lying in the street with 14 bullet wounds’ was so unlikely to be true that it gave Mabel Fitzgerald reason to hope.

What is most remarkable about this diary is the fervour with which Nancy Campbell spoke of the high principles and impeccable behaviour of the insurgents, from going to Confession before going into battle, to their insistence on writing receipts for money taken, to purchase necessities, while occupying the Four Courts.

She was clearly inspired by the spirit which moved these men and women. At the end of her account she says: ‘It is a month now since it all happened but to me & I think to all Ireland … the wonder & the splendour has grown. It has so much roused the national spirit that one feels anything is possible. What faith Pearse must have had! He said that it was only by a sacrifice of blood Ireland’s soul could so awaken and he made it against all common sense, all advice. 2000 fought against 20,000 and though the 2000 in the end were tricked … into surrendering after the most gallant cleanest fight, I think the 2000 will win in the end. Theirs was the spiritual force & that’s immortal’.

MS10238_33_LO Nancy Campbell
TCD MS 10238 f. 33

Nancy contrasted the spiritually-impoverished ‘public school’ version of honour, evident in the behaviour of the British troops, with the chivalric honour – the ‘true human democracy’ – of the Irish side. She ends ‘there was no chaos or creed or sex among them – they fought almost it seems to me as spirits might have fought’.

For further information on the diary and the Campbell collection, please see the MARLOC online catalogue.

Jane Maxwell
Manuscripts & Archives Research Library