Borthwick, Mariella Norma (1862–1934), artist, writer, and Irish-language activist, was born 25 July 1862 in Highfield, Higher Bebington, Chester, one of five daughters and three sons of George Borthwick, merchant, and Mary Elizabeth Borthwick (née MacDonald), of Edinburgh. Despite her birth in Chester, she claimed to be a Scot of Gaelic descent. She took a deep interest in Irish culture from an early age and learned Irish at the Southwark Literary Society in London. An artist of some distinction, she first came to prominence in Ireland when United Ireland published (October–November 1890) her sketches of tenant evictions on the Olphert estate in Gweedore, Co. Donegal. She immersed herself in the growing language movement in London and Dublin, and travelled frequently through the west of Ireland and to the Aran Islands. She joined the Gaelic League in London (January 1895) and served for a time as its London treasurer while living in Markham Square, Chelsea. At the first Oireachtas (1897) she won a prize for an essay entitled ‘Brí na teanga i gcúis na náisiúntachta’ (The significance of language to the nationalist cause), written under the pseudonym ‘Aodh Rua’ (Red Hugh), and won a prize for singing at the following year's Oireachtas. She served (May–December 1898) as secretary to the central council of the Gaelic League, and in 1899 she was a member of its executive council as well as secretary to that year's Oireachtas. In 1900 she served as chairman of a newly founded Gaelic League branch in Drumcondra, Dublin.
Having assisted Eoin MacNeill (qv) in publishing An Claidheamh Soluis, she wrote a series of articles in Irish for the magazine St Patrick's (1900–03) under the pseudonym ‘Fear na Móna’. She also wrote and illustrated Aigibitir na Gaeilge (1900) and followed this by writing the three-volume textbook Ceachta beaga Gaeilge (1902), illustrated by Jack B. Yeats (qv). Along with Mairéad Ní Raghallaigh she founded the Irish Book Company, based initially on O'Connell St., and then on Eccles St., Dublin. She published numerous books and pamphlets including seven booklets of songs under the Ceol Sidhe title. She had a big influence on the work of an tAthair Peadar Ó Laoghaire (qv), prepared a dictionary for his book Séadna, and was later named as one of his literary executors. She published Leourín na leanav(1913) in tandem with Osborn Bergin (qv).
Devoid of all affectation, she eschewed ostentatious dress and behaviour, but her intelligent, educated manner enabled her to move easily within the upper echelons of the language movement. She stayed at Coole where she taught Irish to Lady Gregory (qv) and to local people. While there, she joined with Douglas Hyde (qv) to stage a Punch and Judy show in Irish. She taught Irish in the Dominican Convent on Eccles St., Dublin, and served as a private tutor of Irish to a number of wealthy families. Having tutored Claude and Eva Cane in Celbridge, Co. Kildare, she found herself accused of forging a cheque worth £1 using Eva's name. In the ensuing court case in February 1901, her uncle Sir John MacDonald (1836–1919), Lord Kingsburgh, lord justice-clerk of Scotland (1888–1915), travelled from London to give testimony on her behalf, as did John Dillon (qv), MP, whose children she had tutored. She was acquitted after a case where it became evident that she enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle making her living from selling articles and illustrations to newspapers, while her tutoring of Irish was largely undertaken out of love for the language rather than financial gain.
She left Ireland without explanation in 1919 and gave no indication of her destination, provoking a series of rumours linking her disappearance to alleged criminal activity, possibly shoplifting. It was her declining health, however, that brought her to live with her sister, Grace Hay Borthwick, in Newcastle upon Tyne, before they moved to Scalfay on the Shetland Islands and then, in the late 1920s, to Kilbride, where they lived in Kilbride House. By then Norma was paralysed and speechless, having fallen victim to the widespread sleeping-sickness epidemic. She died 13 June 1934 at Kilbride, having suffered from encephalitis lethargica for sixteen years, Parkinsonism for six years, and bulbar paralysis for two years, and was buried on the island.