Achill’s Eva O’Flaherty – Forgotten Island Heroine


Galway-based journalist and writer Mary J. Murphy charts the life and legacy of Eva O’Flaherty, the well-connected milliner who moved to Achill Island in the early 20th century and established a successful knitting industry and made a major contribution to local island culture. This 165 page paperback was published in July 2012.

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Published in July 2012 by Knockma Publishing, this 164 page paperback book by Mary J. Murphy tells the story of Eva O’Flaherty, a prominent member of County Galway’s landed gentry in the 19th century who trained in millinery and, after stints in Paris and London, settled on Achill Island in the early 20th century. She established a knitting industry in Dooagh, in the west of Achill, providing much-needed employment for local women up to its closure in 1970. This book charts O’Flaherty’s life and her contribution to the economy and culture of Achill.

Prominent member of County Galway’s 19th century landed gentry, a patron of the arts whose circle included WB Yeats, Paul Henry, George Moore, Marie Howet, Robert Henri, Graham Greene and Heinrich Boll, and reknowned beauty in pre-WWI London café society, Eva Mary O’Flaherty (1874-1963), daughter of lawyer and Young Irelander Martin O’Flaherty and Mary O’Gorman, is Achill’s Forgotten Island Heroine. She grew up amidst the Georgian splendour of Lisdonagh House in Caherlistrane, was schooled in both Mount Anville and Alexandra colleges, and pursued hat-modelling for the newfangled motoring cars in the 1900s in London and Paris before settling in her beloved Achill. There she co-founded Ireland’s oldest summer school, Scoil Acla, in 1910 with Emily Weddall, Darrell Figgis, Anita McMahon and others. In 1914 she was a Cumann na mBan secretary in Dublin but is best remembered for running St. Colman’s Knitting Industries in Dooagh for half a century. As hostess non-pareil in her lamplit salon her contemporaries included Countess Markievicz, Douglas Hyde, Padraig and Willie Pearse, Dr. Mark Ryan, Ella Young, JM Synge, George and Louise Gavan Duffy, Maud Gonne, Ernie O’Malley, Cesca, Linda Kearns, George Russell, Sarah Purser, Dr. Kathleen Lynn, Mary and Padraig Colum, the Freyers and Cardinal D’Alton. The famous pirate queen, Grace O’Malley, features in Eva’s family lineage, as does the poet of the Young Irelanders, Eva of The Nation (born Mary Anne Kelly), her first cousin on the O’Flaherty side. Fifty years after her death this book by Mary J. Murphy attempts to place Eva O’Flaherty’s unrivalled and overlooked economic and cultural contribution to Achill in its proper context.