It was the year 1880, a year during which the building of the great Panama Canal commenced; that vital shipping conduit, which eventually was to link the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. It was also a year, during which the world was to receive a small gift; a gift which was to blossom into one of great beauty and talent.
On Sunday 14th March 1880, a baby girl was born to Chicago couple: Alice and Edward Jenner Martyn. Because of her beautiful brown eyes, the couple named their daughter Hazel.
Little did Alice and Edward realise, that ultimately their daughter Hazel’s beauty, personality and artistic talents would, for a significant period, shine like a bright star with dazzling luminosity and that she would be involved in some of the most momentous political maneuverings of the early years of the 20th Century, involving both Ireland and Britain.
As a young woman, although Hazel’s heart was firmly elsewhere, under pressure from her Mother, on 28th December 1903 at 23 years of age, Hazel married one Edward Trudeau. At the time of her marriage, Hazel was still very much romantically in love with fellow artist: John Lavery whom she had met years earlier in Brittany, France. However, fate was to take a hand and only four months into their marriage, Edward Trudeau, after a short battle through pneumonia died suddenly, as a result of a pulmonary embolism. Hazel was eventually to be reunited with her beloved John Lavery, but not for several years.
In life, as we know, there are givers and takers. Hazel was, without question, to develop firmly in the former mould. Throughout her adult lifetime, Hazel was given to identifying talent among those with whom she associated and by way of carefully considered introductions, assisting such talent on its way. In no small measure, Hazel’s vivacious and gregarious disposition marked her out for particular attention. Such attributes without question, smoothed the way in matters of introduction and social engagement. While living in England, Hazel’s skill as a hostess also contributed hugely, in the development of a significant and influential social circle. Hazel, needless to say, had no shortage of male admirers.
Hazel’s skill as an artist, coupled with worldliness from being well-travelled and her eventual second marriage to renowned portrait artist: Irishman John Lavery, placed her in good stead for her ultimate adopted role. She was to become a London Society hostess and consummate Political Networker. Hazel’s was truly a beguiling, alluring and most potent currency.
They were troubled times, those of the War of Independence in Ireland. For all, that many of us may think we know, about the Irish and British characters who played a prominent political role on life’s stage, in that era, there is so much that we simply do not know.
While some observers of that time, claim that Hazel espoused Liberal Politics, none can be definitive. However, historic papers do reveal that Hazel was liberal in her affections and also, although not stated but implied, perhaps somewhat insecure. The latter is difficult to understand, for someone who seemed to absolutely thrive, on social interaction.
Irrespective of what politics Hazel truly espoused, she was comfortable in engaging with guests of all political hues and none, at her dinner parties. Such openness saw the Lavery household visited time innumerably by both Irish and British Politician over the years, but in particular, visitations were intense, during the Irish Treaty Negotiations of 1921.
It was during the above period that Hazel was reputed to have struck up a romantic relationship with Irish Free State Representative: General Michael Collins. The relationship of course was denied for years, but upon emergence, in recent times, of personal correspondence between Hazel and Michael Collins, it became clear that such a relationship did in fact occur. Sadly and shockingly however, on the 22nd of August 1922, Michael Collins, while visiting his home county of Cork, at a location named: Beal na Blath, was assassinated.
Two years after the death of Michael Collins, Hazel responded to Kevin O’Higgins, then Minister for Justice of the Irish Free State, with her affections. A relationship blossomed and continued until 10th July 1927, on which day Kevin O’Higgins, also became the recipient in Ireland, of an assassin’s bullet.
Incredibly, despite the above relationships, Hazel’s marriage to Portrait Artist John Lavery remained solid until Hazel’s death on 3rd January 1935. John Lavery died, six years later, on 10th January 1941.
During the period of the Irish Treaty Negotiations, John Lavery completed many portraits, of key individuals involved, from all political hues. This process was facilitated, in no small measure, by the magnificent organisational and social skills of his wife Hazel Lavery, who tirelessly networked among the players, ensuring their frequent presence, within the Lavery household. Many of John Lavery’s wonderful portrait works, of that most significant era in Irish History, can be seen today in the Dublin City Gallery Hugh Lane, Claremont House, Parnell Square North, Dublin 1.
When compared with many women of her time, Hazel Lavery (Nee Martyn) experienced an extraordinary and invigorating journey through life. That journey brought her into contact with so many talented movers and shakers in the world of politics and the arts; people, who like herself, would indelibly stamps their towering presence, onto the history maps of both Ireland and Britain.
Hazel, by all accounts was a person whose intellect and unsurpassed influencing charm, was matched only by her disarming irresistible warmth and beauty. To summarise her in modern parlance I would simply say: beautiful networker extraordinaire.
If, in 1880 the Panama Canal was destined to become a conduit for great ships plying the world’s oceans, then Hazel, who arrived in that same year, was also destined to become a conduit through which the key players, in the ship of state of a yet to be formed Irish Republic, would negotiate their way, to its birth.
A new nation needs a new currency. In 1928, the Irish Free State invited John Lavery to “create an image of a female personification of Ireland” for use, on its new bank notes. The personification, which later came to be known as: Cathleen Ni Houlihan, would be the image of his wife Hazel Lavery set against a Killarney backdrop, with her arm resting upon a harp and a black shawl draped over her head. The image of Hazel would adorn Irish bank notes for 42 years, until our national currency was superseded, in the 1970s, by the Euro. It was indeed a fitting tribute to Hazel, who had done so much, on behalf of Ireland, to facilitate interaction between the various negotiating parties, during that critical year of 1921.
For further detailed information in relation to Hazel Lavery and her remarkable life, I would refer readers to a wonderful book entitled – Hazel: A Life of Lady Lavery 1880-1935 written by: Sinead McCoole. The book was first published in 1996, with a digital edition published in 2012. Here is a link to the digital version –
As a nation, we Irish have spent an inordinate number of years, suffering under the yoke of imperialism. While the Rebellion of 1916 and the later War of Independence, at huge cost in lives lost and in suffering, did eventually lead to twenty-six of our counties, coming out from under that yoke of imperialism, there still remains much angst among us, in relation to our separated six northern counties. Perhaps such angst could be properly described as either latent trauma or even “malignant shame?”
Dr.Garret O’Connor M.D. one of our number, who has spent over thirty-five years in the U.S., has set out a most interesting analysis of a condition which he describes as: malignant shame. Dr.O’Connor’s hypothesis argues, that we as a nation, have been traumatised by years of subjugation under imperialism and that as a result, probably to this day, in one form or other, suffer from a condition which he has named: malignant shame. Here is a link to his analysis –
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