Saturday 17 November 2018

Mary Kenny: The Romanovs' Irish nanny

An idyllic early childhood under nanny Eagar's care before a fateful end in 1918

Mary Kenny, writer and author. Photo: Tony Gavin
Mary Kenny, writer and author. Photo: Tony Gavin
Mary Kenny

Mary Kenny

The Russian Revolution of October 1917 is seen as a stirring event, not unlike the Easter Rising of 1916: when an archaic and reactionary regime is replaced by a vital new leadership. Lenin and Trotsky are charismatic figures, even if the most powerful of the troika, Stalin, is now better known as a ruthless dictator.

The drama of the October Revolution remains compelling, and yet I find the fate of the last Tsar's family - his wife, four daughters and sickly son - a distressing thread in the story. Boris Yeltsin called the murder of the Romanovs (the family were stabbed, bayonetted and clubbed to death - a slow and agonising process) in a cellar in Yekaterinburg "one of the most shameful pages in Russian history".

Nicholas II and his wife, Alexandra, had four daughters - Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia - and in the early years of these girls' lives, they had an Irish nanny, Margaretta Eagar. She came from Limerick, one of 11 children. They were Irish Protestants and, in her memoir, she is firm about being "a subject of King Edward VII", although she is also quite clear about being Irish. She recounts Irish legends to her little charges and observes parallels between the religious fervour of the Russian peasants and "the Roman Catholics of Ireland".

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