Dillon, Elizabeth (1865–1907), diarist, was born 2 March 1865 in England, eldest among five children of Sir James Charles Mathew (qv) (1830–1908) and his wife Elizabeth Blackmore Mathew (d. 1933), daughter of the Rev. Edwin Biron, vicar of Lymphe and West Hythe, Kent. Sir James was a high court judge in England and nephew of the temperance advocate, Fr Theobald Mathew (qv). The Mathews were an old Tipperary family, connected with James Butler (qv), 1st duke of Ormond and viceroy of Ireland under Charles II; however, Elizabeth did not visit Ireland until 1886. She was educated at home in Queen's Gate Gardens, Kensington, London, and was highly intelligent, with keen political interests; from a young age she frequently attended the ladies' gallery of the house of commons. A pious catholic, she varied her busy social life with charity work. From 1879 she began keeping a diary, which she continued until her death. Like other female contemporaries – and indeed, like her ancestor Mary Mathew (qv) – her motive was initially moralistic: she wished to benefit from the discipline of diary keeping. However, she soon developed a love for written expression. The diary is at once lively, politically engaged, descriptive of people and events, unselfconsciously intimate, and perhaps written with an eye to publication. She expressed the wish that future generations would read and derive pleasure from it.
Her father was a liberal who supported land reform in Ireland and was chairman of the evicted tenants commission in 1892. He influenced his eldest daughter; her nationalism was eventually more fervent than his. Her first political reference in the diary (25 February 1883) was to Ireland – she noted the arrest of the Invincibles – and thereafter she makes frequent allusions to land reform. Her interest was thus already awakened when she visited Ireland for the first time in August 1886 and was immediately enraptured by the landscape around Killiney, Co. Dublin, where her parents had rented a house. Two months later she met John Dillon (qv) and was again enraptured. His reputation as a political activist and as one of the handsomest men in Ireland preceded him, and her first descriptions of him are couched in the terms of romantic fiction. She began to follow the Plan of Campaign assiduously, the better to discuss it with Dillon, who became a frequent visitor to the Mathew house in Kensington. Her original devotion to him never wavered, though it soon became more grounded, but she had to wait many years before seeing it reciprocated. Dillon was immersed in politics and was on a number of occasions imprisoned; he was friendly but non-committal. Elizabeth followed his career loyally and became an expert on Irish politics. Her judgement was acute; from the outset she dismissed the Pigott (qv) letters in The Times as forgeries and felt that Capt. O'Shea (qv) was not acting disinterestedly in filing for divorce. However, she was a conservative catholic, and after noting that blackening O'Shea could not whiten Parnell (qv), she became a stern anti-Parnellite. Apart from her radical nationalism, she was conventional: in the sole reference to suffragism in her diary (1 May 1892), she wished that the vote against it had been larger.
In autumn 1895 she pushed her relations with Dillon to breaking point by telling him that they had become the subject of gossip and could no longer meet. Within two weeks he had proposed and they were married (21 November 1895) in Brompton Oratory. They were a passionately devoted couple but busy and often apart, since Dillon had to spend each parliamentary session in London and his poor health often required him to travel to a warm climate. She accompanied him when possible, but was soon the mother of five sons and one daughter and so had little time. Their finances were difficult until Dillon's uncle Charles left them his house at 2 North Great George's St., Dublin (1898), and his cousin Mrs Ann Deane (qv) (née Duff) left them a business in Ballaghadereen, Co. Mayo (1905). Elizabeth then successfully ran the business as well as carrying out her duties as a politician's wife: in June 1905 she opened the Belfast ladies' branch of the United Irish League. The result of such varied work was that her diary suffered: F. S. L. Lyons (qv) notes that it was ‘reduced by domestic preoccupations to a shadow of its former self’ (Lyons, 261). Although all her anxiety was for her husband's health, she predeceased him by twenty years, dying in Dublin on 14 May 1907 after giving birth to a stillborn daughter that morning. The cause of her death was given as pneumonia but was probably medical incompetence. The grief-stricken Dillon recorded the details in A short narrative of the illness and death of my dearest love, written 3–11 June 1907. Her sons were successful: two were university professors (Myles (qv) and Theo (1898–1946)), one, Fr Matthew Dillon (qv), was the headmaster of Glenstal Priory (later Abbey) School, and one was the politician James Mathew Dillon (qv). Her diary and correspondence are in the Dillon papers in TCD.