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Of A Flag And A Face

May 2024
1min read

The green flag’s career in America is a great human drama,” Thomas Fleming wrote in “The Green Flag in America” (June/July, 1979), “the story of a defeated people who found new strength and pride in a free society and gave generously of themselves to restore some measure of that strength and pride to the land of their fathers.” The flag of which he spoke was that of Ireland, and the giving that of Irish-Americans in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries who supported the home country in its struggle against British dominion.

Now, Mary Z. Gray of Silver Spring, Maryland, brings to light a littleknown participant in that great human drama:

“From 1928 to 1977 a pensive female face appeared on all denominations of Irish paper money. Even today, her shade still haunts Irish currency in its watermark. Who was she? Ask any man or woman under fifty in Ireland and the answers come back shrouded in Irish mist: ‘That’s Kathleen ni Hoolihan, mother of all Ireland, and most famous Irish beauty.’ Or: ‘She’s Katharine O’Shea, uncrowned Queen of Ireland.’ Better still: ‘St. Brigid it is. And that’s a true fact.’ She may even be identified as the Rose of Tralee or Mother McCree. She was in truth Hazel Jenner Martyn Trudeau, Lady Lavery. She was an American, but her picture graced Irish currency during those fifty years for good and sufficient reasons.

“She was born in Chicago in 1881 of Galway stock. After her first husband’s death, she married Belfast-born artist John Lavery, whose success soon made him Sir John Lavery and gave the couple homes in both London and Morocco. Their London home was the meetingplace for such notables as George Bernard Shaw, Lord Birkenhead, and Winston Churchill.

“When the troubles in Ireland once again flared into open violence, Hazel turned her considerable charms to politics—the politics of reconciliation. She gave dinner parties and invited the leaders of the Black and Tans to sit down and eat with British government officials; she arranged to have Sir John do portraits of the top men in the opposing Irish parties, whose sittings were set up at the same hour so that they could meet; she once sat by a window in front of Michael Collins, commander of the Irish Republican Army, to protect him from a gun trained on his head from the street, and personally drove him to the negotiations that led to the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922.

“So effective was her role as a mediator, loved by both sides in the struggle, that she was seriously recommended as the first governor-general of the Irish Free State. That did not come to pass, but Sir John’s portrait of her was placed on the country’s currency—a charming tribute to the Irish-American who, if not the mother, was at least an important midwife in the birth of a free Ireland.”

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