Emily Lawless

Emily Lawless books and biography

Emily Lawless

Emily Lawless (1845 – 1913) was an Irish writer.


Life account

She was born at Lyons House below Lyons Hill, Ardclough, County Kildare. Her grand-father was a member of the United Irishmen Valentine Lawless and son of a convert from Catholicism to the Church of Ireland. In contrast her brother Edward Lawless was a landowner with strong Unionist opinions, a policy of not employing Roman Catholics in any position in his household, and chairman of the Property Defence Association set up in 1880 to oppose the Land League and "uphold the rights of property against organised combination to defraud".

Emily wrote 19 books of fiction, biography, history, nature studies and poetry, many of which were widely read at the time. She is most famous nowadays for her Wild Geese poems.

She spent part of her childhood with the Kirwans of Castlehackett, County Galway and drew on West of Ireland themes for many of her works. She occasionally used ‘Edith Lytton’ as pen name. Her books were:

  • A Chelsea Householder (1882)
  • A Millionaire's cousin (1885)
  • Ireland: A Study (1885)
  • Hurrish (1886)
  • Major Lawrence FLS (1887)
  • With Essex in Ireland (1890)
  • Grania (1892)
  • Maelcho (1894)
  • Plain Frances Mowbray and Other Tales (1889)
  • A Colonel of the Empire (1895)
  • Traits and Confidences (1898)
  • Atlantic Rhymes & Rhythms (1898)
  • A Garden Diary (1901)
  • With The Wild Geese (1902)
  • Maria Edgeworth (1904)
  • Book of Gilly (1906)
  • The Point of View (1909)
  • The Race of Castlebar (1914)
  • The Inalienable Heritage (1914)


Some critics identify a theme of noble landlord and noble peasant in her fourth book, Hurrish, a Land War story set in the Burren County Clare which was read by William Gladstone and said to have influenced his policy. It deals with the theme of Irish hostility to English law. In the course of the book a landlord is assassinated, and Hurrish's mother Bridget, refuses to identify the murderer, a dull witted brutal neighbour.

It described the Burren Hills as 'skeletons - rain-worn, time-worn, wind-worn - starvation made visible, and embodied in a landscape.' The book was criticised by Irish-Ireland journals for its 'grossly exaggerated violence', its embarrassing dialect, staid characters. According to The Nation 'she looked down on peasantry from pinnacle of her three generation nobility'.

Her reputation was damaged by William Butler Yeats who accus'd her in a critique of having 'an imperfect sympathy with the Celtic nature’ and for adopting 'theory invented by political journalists and forensic historians.' Despite this Yeats included With Essex in Ireland and Maelcho in his list of the best Irish novels

Essex & Grania

Her historical novel With Essex in Ireland was better received and was ahead of its time in developing the unreliable narrator as a technique.

Her seventh book, Grania, about “a very queer girl leaping and dancing over the rocks of the sea” examined the misogynism of an Aran Island fishing society.

'An unflagging unionist, she recognised the rich literary potential in the native tradition and wrote novels with peasant heroes and heroines, Lawless depicted with equal sympathy the Anglo-Irish landholders,' Betty Webb Brewer wrote in the Irish American Cultural institute journal Éire/Ireland in 1983.

Her papers are in Marsh's Library in Dublin.

With the Wild Geese

Unusually for such a strong Unionist, her Wild Geese poems became very popular and were widely quoted in nationalist circles, especially the lines:

War-battered dogs are we,
Fighters in every clime;
Fillers of trench and of grave,
Mockers bemocked by time.
War-dogs hungry and grey,
Gnawing a naked bone,
Fighters in every clime
Every cause but our own

This article might use material from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

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