['Moira O'Neill', pseudonym of Irish poet Agnes Shakespeare Skrine, mother of novelist Molly Keane ('M. J. Farrell').] ALS from her, explaining her reticence; and letters about her background from John Stevenson ('Pat M'Carty') and H. C. Montgomery.

'Moira O'Neill', pseudonym of Agnes Shakespeare Skrine [née Higginson] (1864-1955), Irish poet, mother of Molly Keane [née Mary Nesta Skrine] (1904-1996; 'M. J. Farrell') [John Stevenson of Coolavin]
Publication details: 
Skrine from Wellfield, Ballymore Eustace, Co. Kildare; 12 February 1910. Stevenson from Coolavin, Belfast; 17 February 1910. Montgomery from Central Buildings, 40 Rosemary Street, Belfast; 17 February 1910.
SKU: 21903

Three excellent letters relating to the reclusive Antrim poet 'Moira O'Neill', mother of the novelist Molly Keane ('M. J. Farrell'): an ALS from the poet herself, explaining her reticence; an ALS from the poet John Stevenson of Coolavin ('Pat M'Carty') regarding the poet and her background, and reporting information received from the antiquary Francis Joseph Biggers and 'Rev. H D Murphy of St. George's'; and a TLS from H. C. Montgomery of Belfast, telling what he knows of the poet and her family. From the papers of Rev. William Andrew Wilson (1869-1918), Minister of New Row Presbyterian Church, Coleraine – father of the poet R. N. D. Wilson [Robert Noble Denison Wilson] (1899-1953) – who initiated the correspondence on inviting the poet to speak before the Coleraine Literary Society. All three items in good condition, with light signs of age and wear. ONE: ALS ('”Moira O'Neill”') to 'Barbara'. On letterhead of Wellfield, Ballymore Eustace, Co. Kildare; 12 February 1910. 4pp, 12mo. Bifolium. Folded once. Forty-four lines of text, giving her reasons for declining 'the request of Mr. Wilson, so very courteously expressed' (and sent to her 'by May'), that she lecture to the Coleraine Literary Society: 'I have refused a great many people before, societies, & photographers & editors of newspapers & periodicals'. She hopes that Wilson and the CLS will 'confine their interest' to her writings, and 'leave my personality & private history in their natural obscurity'. She continues: 'There was a time surely, when such a request would not have laid one open to the charge of being eccentric. In many ways I feel that I belong much more to the generation of my grand-parents than to my own. A love of privacy was nothing uncommon then; and one would not have had to fear being thoght affected, for just saying | “What I write is anybody's affair. | Whzt I am is my own.”' She is 'not really at all indifferent to people's interest' in her writings, 'especially in my own Country in the North', and she would like to show her appreciation to Wilson and the CLS by having 'Barbara' forward the letter to them, '& that would also save you the trouble of trying to excuse the cross-grained contrary disposition of your friend | “Moira O'Neill”'. TWO: ALS from 'Stevenson' to 'Rev W A Wilson'. (The writer of the letter was the Belfast author John Stevenson (1851-1931) of 'Coolavin', who wrote poetry as 'Pat M’Carty, farmer of Antrim'.) On letterhead of Coolavin, Belfast; 17 February 1910. 4pp, 12mo. Bifolium. Folded once. With envelope lacking stamp. A long letter (104 lines of text), beginning: 'Dear Mr Wilson. | Without, perhaps, valid reason for the belief I have thought of Moira O'Neill as one who wished to be and remain a Cold “White Presence on the hills” to the Commonality. I remember speaking to Rev. S. A. Brennan then rector of Cushendun, about her. He told me that her people were among his parishioners and were he alive now I could get for you just the information you need.' Stevenson reveals that 'her name by marriage is Skrine and that she was living, not long ago, in Wexford.' He goes on to give the results of his enquiries to 'Sir John [Bigers?] and Mr. Fras. Bigger', i.e. the antiquary Francis Joseph Bigger (1863-1926). 'Mr B as perhaps you know, is a strong supporter of the Gaelic movement and his expressions are often more forcible than elegant'. He quotes at length Bigger's response beginning: 'She came of a Queer Gang – a cracked lot.' Stevenson also gives a long quotation from a reply to his enquiries from 'Rev. H D Murphy of St. George's', beginning 'Her Grandfatehr was Sir – Higginson, Governor of the Bermudas.' He concludes with apologies, commenting that it is 'a little mysterious that she should not wish to come a little more into the light and be loved'. THREE: TLS ('H. C. Montgomery') from H. C. Montgomery to 'Mr. Stevenson' (i.e. John Stevenson of Coolavin). On letterhead of Central Buildings, 40 Rosemary Street, Belfast; 17 February 1910. 2pp, 4to. Folded twice. Begins: 'Dear Mr. Stevenson | Referring to Mr. Wilson's letter returned herewith: always Moira O'Neill, has been more or less, a mythical character to me. All that I could ever gather about her was that she was a Higginson, and was born in Cushendun. The family have been settled there for several generations. The Higginsons do not, I think, belong to the “County set”. They have a little money, and there is a small demesne about the house. It is said the family belong to the same branch of the Higginsons as the ones who live in the neighbourhood of Ballinderry.' Turning to 'Moira', he reports that 'she seems to have been more or less a “tom-boy” in her ways, and singled a lot with people of the glens; and preferred the company of the old servants – glen folk – to that of her own people. Through this association with the small farmers and their children, and with servants, she got initiated, as it were, and acquired all their tricks and expressions of speech, and an insight into their mystic mode of looking at things, and the notes of melancholy and longing that pervade many of her poems.' He notes her marriage to 'a Mr. Skrine, a land agent I believe in the South of Ireland', and that she 'lived for a time in Co. Kildare. Afterwards she went to Canada, where she now resides. | The family, unlike herself, kept, and still keep aloof from their neighbours of the Glens. It is surmised that she derives her genius from the mother's side of the house.' He has no 'particulars' regarding the mother's family, but hopes for information 'before the end of the week'. His reply to Wilson's question on 'how she is able to translate the joys and griefs of common mortals into speech so sincere and so musical' is: 'Geniuus, and her early days among the people, methinks, account for all the beauty and the magic of her verse.' He has been lent her 'volume in prose, entitled the Elf-errant', by Bigger, and concludes by asking if Stevenson would care 'to have a reading of it'. With covering ANS (signed with initial 'S') from Stevenson [to Wilson] on slip of paper, indicating that it was sent to Wilson with Item Two above: 'I have opened my letter to enclose Mr Montgomery's Communication just arrived. Mr M. is the lover of poetry – referred to | S'.