Davies, Moya Llewelyn (1881–1943), political activist, was born Mary O'Connor in Blackrock, Co. Dublin, on 25 March 1881, third of five daughters of James O'Connor (qv) (1836–1910), journalist and nationalist MP, and his first wife, Mary. On 30 June 1890 her mother and four sisters died from food poisoning after eating tainted mussels; Moya ate some of the mussels and was very ill but survived. She spent six years as a boarder with Loreto nuns, which she remembered for execrable food and intellectually stultifying miseducation. In later life she was an atheist, fiercely hostile to catholicism. After her father's remarriage in 1899, Moya lived with relatives in London and found clerical employment. She later worked as a public speaker and organiser for the Liberal party, through which she met Crompton Llewelyn Davies (1868–1935), adviser to David Lloyd George and solicitor to the Post Office, whom she married on 8 December 1910.
Crompton was one of seven children of John Llewelyn Davies, a well-known anglican clergyman and Christian socialist. A member of the confidential Cambridge University debating society, the Apostles, Crompton was a close friend of the philosopher Bertrand Russell (1872–1970). The first years of his and Moya's married life were spent at Three Bridges, Crawley, Sussex, where their son and daughter were born. Through her marriage, Moya encountered – and was tremendously impressed by – the Bloomsbury set, including the literary critic Desmond MacCarthy and the philosopher G. E. Moore. In later life, after political disillusionment with Ireland, she decided her failure fully to appreciate Bloomsbury conversation reflected the deficiencies of catholic education.
Moya had been an orthodox home ruler but was radicalised by the 1916 Easter rising. She and Crompton raised funds for the legal defence of Roger Casement (qv) and lobbied to have his death sentence commuted. In 1918 Moya supported the Sinn Féin candidacy of Robert Barton (qv) for the parliamentary seat previously held by her father, and Crompton advised Sinn Féin (through Batt O'Connor (qv), a relative of Moya) on British political developments.
In January 1919 three Sinn Féin delegates – Barton, Michael Collins (qv) and Seán T. O'Kelly (qv) – visited London seeking a meeting with US President Woodrow Wilson and met the Llewelyn Davieses. Moya was initially unimpressed by Collins, while Crompton was struck by his decisiveness and intellectual qualities, but she soon developed an obsessive infatuation with him. Early in 1920, Moya and the children moved to Furry Park House (a mansion with forty acres of land) in Killester (then a village outside Dublin), reflecting a desire to educate the children in Ireland under her personal supervision (to avoid their being inculcated with religious belief or British imperialism). It also reflected Moya's developing commitment to Collins. Crompton did not live at Furry Park but was a regular visitor.
In Dublin, Moya was conspicuous by her glamour and style, developing friendships with some (notably Kathleen Napoli MacKenna (qv), whose reminiscences bear witness to a personal charm often eclipsed by stridency in correspondence) and arousing suspicion among others. She worked for the dáil publicity department, writing articles. (According to Napoli MacKenna, Moya used the pen-name 'Delta' [sic]; the books An Irish commonwealth (1920) and National land policy (1921) by 'Dalta', later attributed to Crompton, were possibly written or co-written by Moya.)
Moya stored guns at Furry Park and smuggled them, with Leslie Price (Leslie de Barra (qv)), to provincial IRA units. Collins was a regular visitor to the house. Moya 'ghosted' the Collins articles collected posthumously as The path to freedom (1922) on the basis of conversations and notes supplied by Collins, who approved the final texts. (Some eccentricities may reflect Moya's romantic primitivism as well as Collins's nostalgia for his rural upbringing.)
In March 1921 Furry Park was raided and correspondence between Moya, Crompton and Collins discovered; Moya was detained and Crompton lost his Post Office position. Moya later boasted that she communicated with Collins all the time she was in jail, doing more work there than when at liberty. Collins arranged for comforts to be smuggled to her (and to other imprisoned female agents). She aroused the suspicions of some fellow prisoners by the special treatment she received and by boasting about her husband's influential friends and her contacts with Collins. Brought before a court martial on 14 June 1921, she was released on condition she left Ireland, after which she continued to correspond with Collins.
The idea that Moya and Crompton were British agents employed by Lloyd George to seduce Collins was developed by some republicans in later years. These suspicions were strengthened by the Davieses' British establishment contacts: for example, they introduced Collins – who was fascinated by the character of Peter Pan – to J. M. Barrie, who had been employed by the British government to write propaganda during the first world war. (It was the five sons of Crompton's brother Arthur who had inspired Barrie's famous stage character.) Crompton was a paid adviser and speechwriter to Collins in the truce period and briefly considered a career in Ireland before taking up employment with a prominent City of London legal firm. Crompton suggested the form of oath in the Anglo–Irish treaty, and helped draft the Free State constitution (keeping Moya informed by regular letters).
In the post-treaty period Moya returned to Dublin. She briefly moved into the Gresham Hotel, where Collins was staying. Collins distanced himself from her in public, but continued to visit her and Crompton at Killester until shortly before his death; Moya was aggrieved by Collins's request that she advise his fiancée Kitty Kiernan (qv) on ladylike behaviour. Moya later explicitly claimed that she was Collins's mistress, although most students of Collins's career believe their relationship was much less important to him than to her.
In 1924 Moya associated with the army mutineers, and in 1926 she attempted to join the short-lived Clann Éireann party, but it refused her subscription. She worked – at a distance – as an editorial assistant for the publishing house Peter Davies Ltd, founded by her nephew Peter Llewelyn Davies in 1926. Batt O'Connor's 1929 book With Michael Collins in the fight for Irish independence was ghosted by her and published by her nephew.
From the mid 1920s Moya developed an intimate friendship with the classicist and Gaelic scholar George Thomson (qv). His protégé Muiris Ó Súilleabháin (qv) stayed with Moya on his first visit to Dublin, and Moya and Thomson collaborated on Twenty years a-growing (1933), the English translation of Ó Súilleabháin's autobiography, with Thomson preparing the basic translation and Moya polishing the prose. Through Thomson, Moya established contact with the novelist E. M. Forster, an occasional visitor to Killester. In 1935–7 she had some mildly flirtatious social contact with W. B. Yeats (qv). Her subsequent correspondence with Yeats's biographer Joseph Hone (qv) suggests she exaggerated her closeness to the poet. (She also wrote to Hone at great length about Thomson.) Moya's last years were dominated by nostalgia (she was deeply upset by the death of Crompton in 1935) and anger about the development of interwar Europe and post-revolutionary Ireland; she denounced clericalism and xenophobia under Éamon de Valera (qv) (whom she regularly described as Robespierre to Collins's Danton).
Moya disliked Thomson's Marxism and linked what she saw as his subsidence into suburban domesticity and the encroachment of Dublin suburbia on Killester (in 1941 she moved to a remoter dwelling in Newtownmountkennedy, Co. Wicklow) as part of a wider attack on individualism, to which she opposed Bloomsburyite emphasis on the heart's affections and sensuous love of nature.
She made frequent attempts to influence the historical record. A draft memoir of her dealings with Collins was abandoned after anonymous threats from Collins's associates. She was interviewed by Frank O'Connor (qv) for his biography of Collins, but showed him the door after he criticised Arthur Griffith (qv), and she refused to allow Frank Pakenham (qv) to use interview material after realising that his book Peace by ordeal (1935) was supervised by de Valera. In her last years she corresponded with P. S. O'Hegarty (qv). She died from cancer in a Dublin nursing home on 28 September 1943.
Moya Llewelyn Davies's personal papers were allegedly destroyed by her son, the architect Richard Llewelyn Davies (1912–81), though they may have been extant when Margery Forester was preparing her 1971 Collins biography. Like her dealings with Collins and her wider career, Moya's surviving archive is fragmented and surrounded by rumour. One conspiracy theory maintains that Collins was the father of Moya's son and was blackmailed into signing the treaty by a threat to make this public. This was publicised by Micheál Ó Cuinneagáin's On the arm of time (1996) and Vincent MacDowell's Michael Collins and the Brotherhood (1997), neither of which was conspicuous for scholarly rigour. Richard Llewelyn Davies explicitly denied it before his death.
The shadow of Collins, and the whiff of derangement in Moya's actions, should not conceal her significance as an example – albeit an eccentric outlier – of the fin de siècle intellectual-bohemian culture whose role in the Irish revolution and post-revolutionary eclipse is discussed by Roy Foster in Vivid faces (2014). Her partnership with Crompton reflects the overlap between this subculture and some forms of contemporary British radicalism.