By Ciara Joyce, Special Collections & Archives
Opening the boxes of a literary collection, you have certain expectations as to what you may find. Drafts of published and unpublished work, correspondence – official and personal, family photographs, cards, and the usual array of documents that people accrue during the course of their lives are the usual fare. The archive of renowned multi-lingual poet Pearse Hutchinson (1927-2012) is no exception. The vast majority of this collection consists of documents relating to Hutchinson’s career, but fortuitously it also contains a substantial number of items belonging to his parents and wider family. While every family’s archive contains treasures with insight into the family history, what makes Hutchinson’s family history of particular interest is that his parents were involved in the republican movement throughout their lives.
Hutchinson was an only child and lived in the family home in Rathgar until his death in 2012. As a result, Hutchinson became the custodian of the family archive with the house acting as a repository for the memory of his family, in particular his parents Henry Warren Hutchinson and Caitlín McElhinney. Hutchinson’s parents were both involved in Irish politics and Irish republicanism in the early years of the state. They counted many of Ireland’s leading political figures of the time as friends, including Éamon de Valera, Margaret Pearse and Constance Markievicz.
Caitlín McElhinney was born Kathleen Sarah McElhinney in 1888 in the Cowcaddens, Glasgow, Scotland. Her parents William McElhinney, a shopkeeper and Jeanie McElhinney (née Heron) emigrated from County Donegal as teenagers and met on the boat to Scotland. Her father attained a level of success in business and the family enjoyed a middle class lifestyle. Caitlín trained as a primary school teacher at the Glasgow Roman Catholic Training College and graduated in 1910. Her Catholic faith was always important to Caitlín, as was her Irish heritage, but it is unclear from this collection whether she had an interest in Irish politics before 1916. She married Henry Warren Hutchinson, an Irishman, who as a child moved with his parents to Glasgow. Both became very involved in supporting the Irish struggle for independence, joining Sinn Féin (Henry was treasurer of the Glasgow branch) and Cumman Poblacht na h-Eireann n-Albain.
Caitlín had the opportunity to meet many Irish political figures when they visited Scotland on fundraising trips, including Margaret Pearse and Arthur Griffith. It is likely that on one of these trips Caitlín met Countess Constance Markievicz. The two women struck up a friendship, of which Henry Hutchinson wrote in his draft autobiography, that his guests included ‘the Countess’ for long periods-she loved my wife and painted her portrait’.
Surviving in the archive are three letters that Constance wrote to Caitlín, an autographed postcard and the portrait that Constance painted to Caitlín in 1923.
The letters are undated, but from the content they appear to have been written in the late 1920s. They are a mixture of friendly conversation and political opinion, in particular the removal of the Oath of Allegiance, de Valera’s resignation from Sinn Féin, and the future of the Irish Republic. Constance is very frank in her opinions of a number of individuals associated with the party, particularly those she perceives to be a threat to de Valera. Of de Valera’s efforts to have the oath removed she writes ‘Dev is trying all he can to prevent bitterness growing between those who differ…..Dev has always held that if the war failed we should take political action to get the oath of allegiance removed from the constitution, and if we succeeded in doing so take our seats in the Dail and fight for the Republic there. This does not mean that we would not fight if we got a chance…..It simply means, to use the Parliament (north & South) as we used the Councils in times past to establish the Republic bit by bit’. Speculating on what the removal of the Oath might lead to, she writes ‘It should set a lead to Australia, S. Africa, Canada, to kick at the oath too. It even might result in a movement which might eventually break up the Empire’, but she accepts that ‘to quarrel over whether we or our childrens children should go into the Dail if the oath was removed, seems to be quarrelling over the ghost of a hypothesis’.
She also writes about what she sees as hypocrisy from a member of the Sinn Féin party, in particular Father Michael O’Flanagan of whom she writes ‘When the 16 leaders were hardly cold in the quicklime graves, and I was in a convicts dress shut up helpless in Mountjoy, a newspaper was smuggled in to me in which I read a letter from him approving of partition….He makes me ill’.
She writes regarding the end of the Republican Government ‘You cannot logically claim to be the government of a people who dont want you and wont support or obey you’.
The personal relationship between the two women is also clear from the letters. Constance shares news about her family and asks about Caitlín’s mother and husband. Of her time in Scotland she writes ‘I often think of that long, hot summer in Glasgow, I should never have stood it only for you, Your friendship was the only thing that made up for the being out of the country, away from the fighting and shut up in a town, so big and dusty’. She also mentions that her daughter has a job ‘as a gardiner in a garden village in England, she is very keen on motors and wireless and things of that sort’. She writes of the death of her own mother that ‘It was so soon after my sisters death too, and seemed such a break-up of everything that tied one to this world’. In a letter which must have been written in early 1927, she offers advice on Caitlín’s pregnancy and the imminent arrival of her baby writing that ‘I believe that God is sending you a little baby to comfort you in all your trouble’ stating that ‘There is very little danger nowa days with a strong, and wellmade woman like yourself, in the prime of life’.
Surprisingly there are only three letters in this series but Constance likely had an extremely large volume of correspondence to deal with on a daily basis. Constance Markievicz died in July 1927, only weeks after she had been re-elected to her Dáil seat. Caitlín moved to Ireland in 1932, where she lived for the remainder of her life. She continued to take an interest in Irish politics and corresponded with a number of political prisoners in the Curragh over the years. She died in 1968.
These two women, from very different backgrounds, appear to have been united by strong republican beliefs. Cailtín, like Constance was staunchly anti-treaty and uncompromising and this is likely to have bonded the woman even further. Each of the letters from Constance are signed ‘do ċara i gcúis Poblaċt na h’Eireann’.
This collection can be accessed by contacting Special
Collections and Archives
 MU/PP10 Pearse Hutchinson Archive