Dobbs, Margaret Emmeline (1871–1962), Gaelic Leaguer, was born in Dublin on 19 November 1871, one of four children of Conway Edward Dobbs (1818–98) of Glenariff Lodge, Parkmore, Co. Antrim, landowner, justice of the peace (JP) of Co. Antrim and high sheriff of Carrickfergus (1875) and of Co. Louth (1882), and his wife Sarah, daughter of St Clair Helburn Mulholland of Eglantine, Co. Down. The family had been Antrim landowners since the late sixteenth century and were unionists with no tradition of learning Irish; however, Margaret heard Gaelic from her Scottish nurse and then taught herself through the works of Eugene O'Growney (qv) and others. The family lived in Dublin, with holidays to Glenariff Lodge, but after her father's death, Margaret moved permanently to Antrim. She soon joined the ‘Glens’, one of the most unusual of the Gaelic League groups, whose leading figures were all unionists. Her house at Portnagolan in Cushendun, Co. Antrim, was a centre for League activities and meeting-place for her friends Rose M. Young (qv), Douglas Hyde (qv), Alice Milligan (qv), and Roger Casement (qv). Young lived for many years with Dobbs in Portnagolan House, where she died in 1947.
Dobbs – together with Casement and Young – was a founder member of Feis na nGleann, which was first held at Glenariff on 30 June 1904. Competitions included music, dancing, history, and language; there was a hurling match and the Feis was unique in having a Local Industries section. Horace Plunkett (qv) gave out prizes. The event was so successful that it was held annually till the outbreak of the first world war. In 1928 Dobbs was instrumental in its revival, and except for the years of the second world war, it has since taken place every year. Dobbs remained an active committee member till her death, and was presented in 1946 with an illuminated address honouring her contribution. As treasurer of Coláiste Uladh in Cloughaneely in the Donegal Gaeltacht (established 1906), she organised a scholarship scheme to send children to summer school, and herself lectured there on early Irish.
Her interest in the Irish language was mainly centred on early Irish history and genealogy. From about 1910 to within a few years of her death she contributed numerous articles to a wide range of periodicals including the Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, Études Celtiques, Revue Celtique, Zeitschrift für Celtische Philologie, and the Ulster Journal of Archaeology. Subjects ranged variously from the Táin Bó Cuailnge to burial customs in the iron age, spirals and the Tuatha De Danaan.
Of seven plays which she wrote, three were publicly performed, though only one was produced outside the Glens: ‘The doctor and Mrs McAuley’, which won the Warden trophy for one-act plays at the Belfast festival in 1913. Her plays were based on local incidents and people and were mostly humorous. She sent them to John Masefield; he sent kindly rejection letters, and after 1920 she ceased to write drama.
Her politics are unknown. After Casement's arrest in April 1916 she contributed the considerable sum of £600 to the fund for his defence, although her brother had been involved in the Ulster Volunteers' Larne gun-running in 1914. She was motivated by her close friendship with Casement – her name was even romantically linked to his, with locals claiming they used to walk around hand in hand – rather than by sympathy for the rising. Generally reticent about politics, she once said Casement was a friend to her and the Irish people, but that she had no admiration for his judgment.
In 1957 she became too infirm to attend Feis meetings and requested that they be held in her home, Portnagolan House. She died there on 2 January 1962. She never married.
More information on this entry is available at the National Database of Irish-language biographies (Ainm.ie).