Rosa Mulholland (1841 - 1921):
Rosa Mulholland was an acclaimed and popular writer of the second half of the nineteenth century, whose artistic talents spread beyond writing alone.
She was born in Belfast, daughter of Joseph Stevenson Mulholland MD and his wife Maria Coleman from Newry; the family was resident at 55 Donegall Street near Belfast city centre. She was educated privately and spent some time travelling in the west of Ireland. Her first artistic interests were as a painter, and had the backing of the painter Sir John Millais, but soon turned to writing, encouraged by none other than Charles Dickens, who published some of her work in his weekly magazine “Household Words”, which flourished in the 1850s. Over the following decades, apart from her novels, she was a frequent contributor to Irish Monthly, founded by Matthew Russell SJ in 1873 and which within a just a few years established itself as one of the leading periodicals dealing with contemporary literature; its original subtitle was “A Magazine of General Literature” and over the course of its eight decades listed among its contributors, amongst others, Charles Gavan Duffy, Dora Sigerson, Emily Hickey, Archbishop Healy, Rose Kavanagh, John O’Leary, Oscar Wilde, Hilaire Belloc, and Alice Furlong.
1891 was a significant year in her life: she married the historian John T Gilbert, who was later knighted, rendering Rosa Lady Gilbert; the lihed at Blackrock, county Dublin. She was anthologised by WB Yeats in Representative Irish Lives, which in the opinion of James H urphy gives her fai claim to be considered an early Irish Revivalist; and she published an article: “Wanted: an Irish Novelist” which lamented the tendency of Irish writers of talent to settle outside the island and tend away from its readership.
Murphy writes of her:
She was the leading exponent of an upper-middle-class catholic fiction which sought to modify the adverse image of Irish nationalism during the years of the land war and home rule crisis, and to promote the claims of its own class to national leadership.
This was reflected in her novel Marcella Grace of 1886 which posits dealing with the Land War not through tenant proprietorship but through a new class of sympathetic Catholic landlords. However, in a later novel, The Return of Mary O"Morrough of 1908, she concedes the reality of small-farmer Ireland and lack of conciliation with Britain.
Her sister Clara was also a prolific and successful novelist, especially for children; her sister Ellen married Charles Russell, who later became the first Catholic Lord Chief Justice of England since the Reformation.
Kate Newmann: Dictionary of Ulster Biography (Belfast, Institute of Irish Studies, 1993); Dictionary of Irish Biography (Royal Irish Academy, 2009, also print volume 6 pp 757-758, article by James H Murphy)
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