Kate O’Brien “Ireland’s Forgotten Lady”

Kate O’Brien was born in Limerick in 1897. After her mother died at the age of 6,she was sent to Laurel Hill, a Convent of FCJ Nuns for 12 years,which although she enjoyed her time there, it both instilled a strong Catholic feeling, yet an outward resentment for Catholicism which lasted all of her life.

After University in Dublin, having helped the fund raising effort for the Irish Republican movement in the USA in 1920, she then spent time near Bilbao as a governess to a wealthy family. Returning to an Ireland in the grip of civil war, and not liking the De Valera brand of Republican Catholicism, she moved to England where she worked as a journalist on the Manchester Guardian.

Reputedly for a bet, she wrote a play “Distinguished Villas” which was well received.
Encouraged she wrote “Without my Cloak” a historical novel set in mid 19th Century Ireland. This was published to great acclaim in 1931.

She wrote many books and travel writings, she spent time in the Spain she loved, yet her underlying sexuality which appeared in all her books either overtly – causing 2 of her books to be banned in Ireland- or indirectly in that no personal relationship ever seemed to be satisfactory, caused both outrage and great affectation.

A supporter of the Republican cause in Spain, and her novel “That Lady” which apparently upset Franco himself so much that he banned her from Spain. Kate only being allowed to return after 20 years in 1957.

She set up home in Roundstones, Co Galway, creating an artistic haven, particularly for the “exiles” from a post war austere & rationed England, where she proceeded to entertain away all her money. She moved again to England in 1960.

Her remaining years were spent in England – at Faversham – where she died alone and penniless in 1974. Her simple grave says “Kate O’ Brien – Irish Novellist”

But the story of her life is well worth the telling, as befits one of Ireland’s leading writers, whose books have never been out of print and are now set texts world-wide in English speaking schools.