Military Wiki
John MacBride
Born (1868-05-07)7 May 1868
Died 5 May 1916(1916-05-05) (aged 47)
Place of birth Westport, County Mayo, Ireland
Place of death Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin, Ireland
Allegiance Irish Transvaal Brigade
Irish Volunteers
Irish Republican Brotherhood
Years of service 1913–1916
Rank Major
second-in-command (4th battalion)
Commands held 4th Battalion
Battles/wars Second Boer War
Easter Rising

Major John MacBride (sometimes mistranscribed as McBride) (8 May 1868[1] – 5 May 1916) was an Irish republican executed for his participation in the 1916 Easter Rising.

Early life[]

John MacBride was born at The Quay, Westport, County Mayo, Ireland to Patrick MacBride, a shopkeeper and trader, and the former Honoria Gill, who survived her son.[2] A plaque marks the building on the Westport Quays where he was born (now the Helm Bar and Restaurant). He was educated at the Christian Brothers' School, Westport and at St. Malachy's College, Belfast. He worked for a period in a drapery shop in Castlerea, County Roscommon. He had studied medicine, but gave it up and began working with a chemist firm in Dublin.

He joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood and was associated with Michael Cusack in the early days of the Gaelic Athletic Association. He also joined the Celtic Literary Society through which he came to know Arthur Griffith who was to remain a friend and influence throughout his life. Beginning in 1893, MacBride was termed a "dangerous nationalist" by the British government. In 1896 he went to the United States on behalf of the IRB. On his return he emigrated to South Africa.

Participation in the Second Anglo-Boer War[]

He took part in the Second Boer War, where he raised the Irish Transvaal Brigade. Despite being known as MacBride's Brigade its first commander was in fact an Irish American, Colonel John Blake, an ex-US Cavalry Officer. MacBride recommended Blake as Commander since MacBride himself had no military experience.[3] The Brigade was given official recognition by the Boer Government with the commissions of the Brigade's officers signed by State Secretary F.W. Reitz. MacBride was commissioned with the rank of Major in the Boer army and given Boer citizenship.

The 500 Irish and Irish-Americans fought the British. Often these Irish commandos were fighting opposite such Irish regiments as the Dublin Fusiliers and the Inniskillings. From the hills around the besieged town of Ladysmith to the plains of the Orange Free State, MacBride's Brigade first looked after the Boers' great Long Tom gun, then fought in the Battle of Colenso and later held the rearguard, harassing Lord Roberts' cavalry as the Boer army retreated. However, a larger number of Irish (whose sympathies led to them being labelled West British) fought for the British against the Boers.

A Second Irish Brigade was organised by Arthur Lynch.[4] The arrival in the Irish camp of an Irish-American Ambulance Corps bolstered MacBride's Brigade.[5] Michael Davitt who had resigned as an M.P due to the Boer War visited MacBride's Brigade. When Col. Blake was injured at Ladysmith MacBride had to take sole command of the Brigade. Though Blake later returned for a short period he later left the Brigade to join another commando.[6] Meanwhile, back home Irish pro-Boer fever, whipped up by Arthur Griffith and Maud Gonne in what was the most popular and most violent of the European pro-Boer movements, proved to be a 'dry run' for 1916.

Marriage to Maud Gonne[]

After the war he travelled to Paris where Maud Gonne lived. In 1903, he married her much to the horror and undying hatred of W. B. Yeats, whose muse she was and to whom Yeats had proposed many times. The following year their son Sean MacBride was born. Yeats wrote to Lady Gregory in January 1905, the month MacBride and Maud separated, that he had been told MacBride had molested Iseult, his stepdaughter, who at that time was going on 11 years old.[3] The marriage had already failed but the couple could not agree on custody of their baby. When MacBride would not agree to Maud's terms, she made accusations against him and instituted divorce proceedings in Paris. Yeats was her main advisor. No divorce was given but a separation with Maud having custody to the baby until age 12. The father got visiting rights and one month each summer. However, MacBride did not remain in Paris but returned to Dublin and never saw his son again.[7]

1916 Easter Rising[]

After returning permanently from Paris to Dublin in 1905 MacBride played an important part with other Irish nationalists in preparing for an Insurrection. Because he was so well known to the British the conspirators thought it wise to keep him outside their secret military group planning a Rising.[8] As a result he happened to find himself in the midst of the Rising without notice. He was in Dublin early on Easter Monday morning to meet his brother Dr. Anthony MacBride who was arriving from Westport to be married on the Wednesday. The Major walked up Grafton St and saw Thomas MacDonagh in full uniform. He offered his services to Thomas MacDonagh and was appointed second-in-command at the Jacob's factory.[9] MacBride, after a court martial under the Defence of the Realm Act, was shot by British troops in Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin.

Kilmainham Gaol

He was executed on 5 May 1916, two days before his forty-eighth birthday. Facing the British firing squad, he refused to be blindfolded, saying "I have looked down the muzzles of too many guns in the South African war to fear death and now please carry out your sentence." He is buried in the cemetery at Arbour Hill Prison in Dublin.

Yeats was jealous of MacBride for marrying Maud Gonne, and later heard negative reports of MacBride's treatment of Gonne in their marriage (from Gonne herself). He was also aware of MacBride's alleged sexual abuse of their step-daughter, Iseult, who Yeats later proposed to.

He gave him the following ambivalent eulogy in his poem "Easter, 1916":

"This other man I had dreamed
A drunken, vain-glorious lout.
He had done most bitter wrong
To some who are near my heart,
Yet I number him in the song;
He, too, has resigned his part
In the casual comedy;
He, too, has been changed in his turn,
Transformed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born."

Maud Gonne wrote to Yeats "No I dont like your poem, it isn't worthy of you & above all it isn't worthy of its subject... As for my husband he has entered eternity by the great door of that praying for him I can also ask for his prayers".[10]


  1. p210, Brian Barton: From Behind a Closed Door: Secret Court Martial Records of the Easter Rising, Blackstaff Press Ltd, 2005
  2. John MacBride. The National Library of Ireland. Retrieved on 23 September 2007.
  3. Jordan, Anthony J. Boer War to Easter Rising, Westport Books 2006 p.13 ISBN 978-0-9524447-6-3
  4. Jordan, Anthony J. Boer War to Easter Rising, Westport Books 2006 pp.60–61 ISBN 978-0-9524447-6-3
  5. Jordan p. 70
  6. Jordan. p. 76
  7. Jordan Anthony J. 'The Yeats Gonne MacBride Triangle' Westport Books 2000 pp. 49–104
  8. Jordan pp. 130–156
  9. Jordan p. 158
  10. Gonne-Yeats Letters Eds. Anna MacBride White & Norman Jeffares, Pimlico 1993 p. 384

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