Mr Stephen Gwynn

Stephen Gwynn.png
Stephen Gywnn in 1912, from family archive[1]
Stephen Lucius Gwynn, 69, (1864-1950), born in Dublin, was an Irish journalist, biographer, author, protestant nationalist politician, MP and founder of the Irish Centre Party and served on the Somme during WW1.[2] [3] At the time of the dinner he has been focused on his literary career, having left front line politics in 1918. A major contributor to Time and Tide, in November 1925 he presided over a Six-Point Group meeting where Rose Macaulay spoke on “Women as News”. The Guardian reported that “She amused her audience very much by reading from some magazine an article about women in which the writer described the qualities that pleased or displeased men. She had altered this slightly and read it as if all the inane hints applied to men. Mr. Stephen Gwynn, who presided, was captivated with this ingenious idea.”[4]


He sounds like someone who would make a good sparring partner for any of this table.   I have wondered if he would have enjoyed a chat with the horticulturalist Mrs Rose Haig-Thomas, Lady Rhondda’s aunt. Not that he necessarily had a strong interest in horticulture but that might have made it all the more interesting for him.

Being seated with fellow Irishman (albeit an Ulsterman) St John Ervine might have been either a good choice or a disaster. I just don’t know enough yet.

puzzle-piece2-50do you have a good idea with whom he’d like to be seated?


A bit of everything? Politics, literary news? Perhaps hoping to have a word on wine with Warner Allen?


Stephen Lucius Gwynn was born on 13th February 1864 at St Columba’s College in Rathfarnham, near Dublin, where his father John (1827-1917) was warden – a biblical scholar and Church of Ireland clergyman. Stephen was the eldest of the eight (or ten) children, being followed by five (or seven) brothers and two sisters.[5] His mother, Lucy Josephine O’Brien (1840–1907), was the daughter of the Irish nationalist William Smith O’Brien. He spent his early childhood in Donegal and was educated at St Columba’s College and then as a scholar at Brasenose College, Oxford where he earned a first class degree.

Stephen married his cousin Mary Louisa Gwynn, daughter of the Revd James Gwynn in 1889. She later converted to Catholicism. They had two sons and two daughters. One son, Aubrey Gwynn, became a Jesuit priest and professor of medieval history at University College, Dublin, whilst the other, Denis Rolleston Gwynn (1893–1971) became professor of modern Irish history at University College, Cork.

Stephen first taught for nine years and then began a writing/journalism career in London, starting with English themes before participating in the emerging Irish literary revival and becoming secretary of the Irish Literary Society. He wrote poetry, biographical works. incl. Tennyson (1899), Thomas More (1904), John Redmond (1919), Scott of the Antarctic (1929), Sir Walter Scott (1930), Mary Kingsley and Horace Walpole (both in 1932, the year before our dinner). His other writings included travel, topography, wine, fishing and 18th century English and Irish historical subjects.

His ODNB biographer Carla King wrote “Perhaps his most cited remark—and one which captures his ambivalence about the temper of his times—came ….. after seeing Yeats’s Cathleen ni Houlihan he ‘went home asking myself if such plays should be produced unless one was prepared to go out to shoot and be shot’.[6]

In 1904 Stephen went into politics, going back to Ireland, and in 1906, as a nationalist, winning the Westminster seat for Galway City – a seat he kept until 1918 when he failed to win the Dublin University seat for the party he had then founded, the Irish Centre Party. Still a literary man he was active in the Gaelic League, founded in 1893 to promote the Irish language at home and abroad[7], and he helped to found the Dublin publishing house Maunsel and Company. At the time of the third Home Rule Bill, he wrote The Case for Home Rule (1911) at the request of his party leader, Redmond.

When war came, Stephen enlisted as a private, in January 1915, – one of seven Irish nationalist MPs to join up – became a captain and served at Messines, the Somme, and elsewhere. With fellow politician Tom Kettle (killed a year later) he undertook a recruitment drive and contributed to a collection of ballads called Battle Songs for the Irish Brigade (1915). He was made a chevalier of the Légion d’honneur in July 1915.

Back in Ireland in 1917 he participated in the Irish Convention, an attempt to avoid partition, taking over as leader of the moderate nationalists in the convention after Redmond’s death in 1918. .

From 1919 onwards Gwynn devoted himself to writing, covering political events in the War of Independence in 1919–20 for The Times and becoming a weekly correspondent for The Observer and was thus fully engaged in his literary career at the time of the dinner.  He was also a major contributor to Time and Tide. He published his autobiography, Experiences of a Literary Man, in London in 1926.[8]


In September 1933 his life of Swift was published, followed by Oliver Goldsmith in 1935, Henry Grattan in 1939 and Robert Louis Stevenson in 1939. Literary honours followed in the 1940s and in 1950.

His ODNB biographer described him as “fair, blue-eyed, somewhat taller than average, and ‘lean but not thin’.” – in turn reporting that the author J.B. Lyons called him ‘intellectually and physically fearless’.[9] In The Times Helen Waddell likened him to “the Blessed Alcuin” (who had died more than a millennium earlier) – “the same humility, the same high pride, the indulgence towards all young creatures, the humanity in scholarship, the exquisite gift for verse, the fisherman’s love of trout streams, the life-long devotion to France and her wines, the ancient courtesy, the faith kept with their friends”.[10]

Mary Louisa, his wife, died in 1941 and Stephen died on 11th June 1950 in Tenerure, co. Dublin.


[1] Stephen Gwynn, Wikipedia, accessed 28.4.2018

[2] Stephen Gwynn, Wikipedia, accessed 28.4.2018

[3] Kate Newman, Stephen Lucius Gwynn, Dictionary of Ulster Biography, accessed 5.1.2018

[4] Presiding at a Six Point Group meeting,,126658,00.html

[5] The ODNB and Wikipedia disagree and I haven’t been able to check original sources.

[6] Carla King, Gwynn, Stephen Lucius, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 23.9.2010, citing from F. Tuohy, Yeats, 1976, p129

[7] Conradh na Gaeilge, website accessed 28.4.2018

[8] Kate Newmann, Stephan Lucius Gwynn, Dictionary of Ulster Biography, accessed 28.4.2018

[9] J. B. Lyons, The enigma of Tom Kettle (Dublin, 1983)

[10] Helen Waddell, The Times, 12.6.1950

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