Passion and Cunning: An Essay on the Politics of W. B. Yeats

  • Conor Cruise O’Brien


The day the news of Yeats’s death reached Dublin I was lunching with my mother’s sister, Hanna Sheehy Skeffington. Hanna was the widow of Frank Skeffington, pacifist and socialist, who had been murdered on the orders of a British officer, Bowen-Colthurst, in Easter Week 1916. She was not consistently a pacifist; she was an Irish revolutionary; Madame MacBride and Countess Markievicz were among her close political friends, Countess Markievicz being, however, politically the closer. Physically she looked a little like Queen Victoria and — a comparison that would have pleased her better — a little like Krupskaya. Mentally she was extremely and variously alert. Her conversation, when politics were not the theme, was relaxed, humorous and widely tolerant of human eccentricity; when politics were the theme she always spoke very quietly and economically, with a lethal wit and a cutting contempt for ‘moderates’ and compromisers. Hers was the kind of Irish mind which Yeats could call — when he felt it to be on his side — ‘cold’, ‘detonating’, ‘Swiftian’, or when — as in this case — it was not on his side, ‘bitter’, ‘abstract’, ‘fanatical’.1


Irish People Hunger Strike Irish Time Free State Force Practical Politics 
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1965

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  • Conor Cruise O’Brien

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