Wednesday 13 December 2017

An Irish Bohemian who charmed the Californians

Ella Young and Her World;Dorothea McDowell; Academica Press, hdbk, 855pp, $55.95

Druidic dress: Celtic mystic Ella Young in California
Druidic dress: Celtic mystic Ella Young in California

Niall Scully

Ella Young (1867-1956) was a poet and Celtic mythologist who lived two lives, the first 60 years in Ireland and the final 30 in California. She was a mystic, a free spirit and a scholar with a vast knowledge of Irish lore. Communication was her craft. Story-telling was her art.

Ella was born in Antrim but grew up in Dublin where she did a masters in Trinity.

She became a poet and author. George Russell AE was her mentor, publishing her first poems. She was friends with WB Yeats, Maud Gonne and JM Synge and held many a late debate with The O'Rahilly in her home in Terenure.

She was a nationalist, and a supporter of Cumann na mBan, knew Patrick Pearse and was involved in smuggling and hiding weapons. Emigrating alone to the US in 1925, she taught Celtic Mythology at the University of California (Berkeley) for seven years and undertook many lecture tours on Irish folklore to universities across America.

She liked to address her students while wearing traditional Celtic dress or Druid robes. In her later years she associated with the mystical 'Dunites', the dreamers and drifters who lived in the California coastal dunes in the 1930s and 40s.

It's a fascinating story, well told in this book by Dorothea McDowell, who used family papers, letters and diaries in a meticulous journey of research.

Ella Young had a vast fan club in California - writers, artists, poets, philosophers. Her autobiography saw her labelled in conservative eyes as a Bohemian. Yet no matter how people judged her, she was compelling company.

Just like this beautifully produced hardback book.

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