When Maud Gonne (1865-1953), a well-known Irish nationalist, arrived in Omaha in early 1900 for a speaking engagement, the Nebraska Irish were clearly delighted to have her in the city again. Dubbed the “Irish Joan of Arc,” Gonne was a tireless worker for Irish independence. In early 1900 she visited Omaha for the second time, speaking on behalf of the Boers, then fighting Great Britain in southern Africa.
The Omaha World-Herald of March 1, 1900, reported her arrival and details of a subsequent interview with her at the Paxton Hotel. Gonne said, “‘I am lecturing . . . upon the relation of the Irish cause to the war in the Transvaal. I think that this is a splendid opportunity for the Irish and one that should not be lost. By aiding the Boers we are doing a double work of good.'”
Gonne’s address on the evening of March 1 was introduced by Nebraska Governor William A. Poynter. The Irish Joan of Arc declared, “Some day, too, Ireland will find her time to strike for liberty, and die for it, if need be, as those brave Boers are doing. Irishmen, I beseech you to strike wherever you can the power that is trying to crush those two brave [Boer] republics, as it has crushed Ireland, and by it strike against wrong, against oppression and against greed.” Those attending the program included delegations from Chadron, Norfolk, Papillion, Lincoln, Council Bluffs, and South Omaha.
Predictably, not everyone was pleased with Gonne’s efforts. The Nebraska State Journal (Lincoln) on March 4 said, “It is a painful thing to see civilized Nebraska people making a great fuss over Maud Gonne; the Girl Orator from Ireland, who is interlarding the atmosphere with language when she ought to be at home washing dishes.”
Maud Gonne lived a long and eventful life after her brief visits to Nebraska. In 1903 she married John MacBride, later executed after the 1916 uprising in Ireland against the British. With William Butler Yeats she helped establish the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. Yeats fell in love with her, and his feelings for her inspired many of his poems. Active in Irish causes, Gonne lived in Dublin from 1922 until her death in 1953.