Identity Statement for Mary Spring Rice

  • Reference code: IE UCDA P235
  • Title: Papers of Mary Spring Rice (1880–1924)
  • Dates: 1921–1922
  • Level of description: Fonds
  • Extent: 1 box
  • Context
  • Content and Structure
  • Conditions of Access and Use
  • Allied Material

Biographical History

Rice, Mary Ellen Spring (1880–1924), nationalist, was born 14 September 1880, second child and only daughter of Thomas Spring Rice, 2nd Baron Monteagle of Brandon, Co. Kerry, and his wife, Elizabeth (d. 1908), eldest daughter of Samuel Butcher, bishop of Meath. The family’s principal estate was at Mount Trenchard, Foynes, Co. Limerick, where Mary Ellen grew up and learned fluent Irish. Influenced by her cousin, Nelly O’Brien, an enthusiastic follower of Douglas Hyde, she joined the Gaelic League in Dublin and London, organised festivals on the banks of the Shannon, and hired a native speaker from Kerry to teach classes in the local national school. She was on the board of her cousin Nelly’s Coláiste Uí Chomhraí, an Irish summer school established (1912) in Carrigaholt, Co. Clare. Nicknamed ‘a kind of parish providence’ (West, 239), she was involved in every endeavour of the local community and was an early member of the United Irishwomen, founded in 1910 as a sister organisation to the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society (IAOS) of Horace Plunkett, to encourage countrywomen’s industries and handicrafts. In 1911 she was on the executive of the Limerick branch of the Irish Countrywomen’s Association.

At an agricultural fair in Westminster Hall, London, where she was selling Limerick lace, she was introduced to Erskine Childers, who helped foster her growing nationalism. She was on the Anglo-Irish committee formed in London in May 1914 to help the Irish Volunteers—Alice Stopford Green was chairman, and Childers, Sir Roger Casement, and Spring Rice’s cousins Conor and Hugh O’Brien were members. Chief among the committee’s problems was how to transport arms from Germany to Ireland; it was Spring Rice who suggested using private yachts for this purpose. Her first suggestion was that they use her fishing smack, the Santa Cruz, but as this was in need of repair, they eventually settled on Childers’ yacht, the Asgard, and Conor O’Brien’s Kelpie. The Asgard left Conway, north Wales, on 1 July 1914 with Childers as skipper and five crew, one of whom reported: ‘Miss Spring Rice is a wonder. She has never been far to sea before, yet she was hardly ill at all and looks and is most useful’ (Martin, 67). She kept a meticulous diary of the journey, which was afterwards published; it reveals her as practical and optimistic. After picking up its cargo of 900 rifles by the Ruytigen lightship off the Belgian coast, the Asgard reached Howth, Co. Dublin, on Sunday 26 July, where it was met by a file of Volunteers led by Cathal Brugha, who conveyed the arms back to Dublin.

Spring Rice continued giving practical assistance to the nationalist movement, nursing Volunteers during the war of independence and setting up first-aid classes. However, her later years were troubled by tuberculosis; she entered a sanitarium in Clwdyy, north Wales, in 1923, and died there 1 December 1924. Her funeral took place at home in Foynes, where she was given a guard of honour by the local IRA, the Gaelic League, and trade unionists. Her Asgard diary was published in Martin, Howth gun running (1964).

Bridget Hourican

Dictionary of Irish Biography © 2019 Cambridge University Press and Royal Irish Academy. All rights reserved. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution. Used by permission.

Archival History

These papers were deposited by John Knox, nephew of Dorothea Knox, in November 2008. 


Scope and Content

Holograph letters from Mary Ellen Spring-Rice to her cousin Dorothea Knox. Most are unsigned but in those which are, she uses the Irish ‘Maíre Rísach’ or a variation thereof. Dates and greetings are generally in Irish. Substantial Irish usage is noted in individual item descriptions. 

Small amount of other material kept with this correspondence.

  • Access: Available by appointment to holders of a UCD Archives reader's ticket. Produced for consultation in digital format.
  • Language: English and Irish.
  • Finding aid: Descriptive catalogue

Related Collections in UCDA

Letters of Mary Spring Rice in UCDA P102 Papers of The O'Rahilly.

Related Collections Elsewhere

IE TCD MSS 7781-7931 Papers of Robert Erskine Childers (1870–1922) and of his wife Mary Alden Childers (née Osgood).

Publication Note

F.X. Martin, The Howth Gun-Running and the Kilcoole Gun-Running: Recollections & Documents. (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2014. Originally published 1964).

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