Brugha, Máire MacSwiney (1918–2012), teacher, author and charity worker, was born on 23 June 1918 in Cork to Terence MacSwiney (qv) and Muriel MacSwiney (qv) (née Murphy). From the outset Máire's life was shaped by her parents' republican politics: they were married while Terence was in prison in Frongoch, Wales, and she was born while he was being held in Crumlin Road Gaol, Belfast. In her autobiography, History's daughter: a memoir from the only child of Terence MacSwiney (2005), Máire noted that she had no recollection of her father: their first meeting was in the gaol in Belfast when she was three months of age, and he died on hunger strike when she was just two. Yet the impact that he had on her life was enormous. His first gift to her was a fáinne (a gold broach in the shape of a ring indicating that the wearer could speak Irish), signalling his desire that she be brought up fluent in Irish. He also wrote three poems for her, entitled 'Máire', 'Máire plays' and 'Athair's prayer', the last sombre and filled with foreboding for his wife and young child. Perhaps the greatest effect he had on her life, however, was his decision to involve his sister Mary MacSwiney (qv) in her life. Muriel was given to bouts of depression and, even before their child was born, would take to bed for days on end. MacSwiney, clearly concerned for his daughter's welfare in the event of his death, made a will in which he named Mary as co-guardian with her mother.
Terence MacSwiney died on 25 October 1920, after seventy-four days on hunger strike. His protest received attention worldwide and, seeking to capitalise on this, Éamon de Valera (qv) sent his grieving widow and sister on a speaking tour of America. This was the first in a long series of separations for the young Máire. In early 1921 Muriel returned from the States and mother and daughter lived together for a brief time, first in Cork and then in Dublin but, once again, politics took precedence over domestic life. Muriel joined the anti-treaty side in the civil war that broke out in June 1922: her opposition to the Anglo-Irish treaty was read out during the debates by Professor William Stockley (qv), and she served in the garrison at the Hammam Hotel with Cathal Brugha (qv) in July 1922. At de Valera's request, she departed once more for a lecture tour of America, leaving Máire for eighteen months in the care of Nancy O'Rahilly, widow of Michael ('The') O'Rahilly (qv), who had died in 1916.
Máire's formal education began in 1924 when her mother, by then an avowed communist and fiercely anti-catholic, moved her to Germany where she was undergoing treatment for depression. She attended the Odenwaldschule until 1928 – a liberal boarding school in Heppenheim, where she learned German and forgot both English and Irish – when her mother received word that her aunt Mary, who apparently had not been consulted about the move to Germany, had traced Máire to the school. She was removed immediately and sent to live with a friend of her mother's, Tilde Illig, in Heidelberg. In 1930 Máire was uprooted again when her mother became convinced she was being 'contaminated' by the catholic religion (MacSwiney Brugha, 53), and sent to Grainau in southern Bavaria, to the house of Dr Kaltenbach who boarded children sent to the Alps for health reasons. Throughout this period Muriel was undergoing treatment for depression and was periodically hospitalised. Mother and daughter had sporadic visits, but their meetings were usually in train stations, and only for hours at a time. At one such meeting in Garmisch in 1931, Muriel demanded that Máire come to Heidelberg to live with her and a friend. Tired of moving around, Máire refused, whereupon her mother stopped paying her boarding and school fees to force her to change her mind. Máire responded by contacting her aunt Mary and they escaped across the border into Austria, Máire hiding in the bottom of a cab under a rug.
Muriel charged Mary with kidnapping her only child and in 1933 the case, heard in camera at the request of de Valera, found in favour of Mary MacSwiney, with the proviso that the child was not to be involved in any way in republican activities. Máire later noted that she was 'eternally grateful' to the judge for this as, returning to Cork as the daughter of Terence MacSwiney, she believed she would have been expected to join Cumann na gCáilíní and other republican organisations to continue her father's work (MacSwiney Brugha, 76). Muriel made one final attempt to recover her daughter, sending a messenger to Dingle in 1934 while Máire and her aunts were on holiday, demanding that she accompany the messenger back to Switzerland or she would never see her mother again. Máire refused to leave and, good as her word, Muriel never met her again although she lived until 1982.
Thus far Máire's life had been very unorthodox – there had been little consistency or stability in her time away from Ireland. Once under the guardianship of her aunt Mary this changed – she was able to focus on her education and establish ties with both her father and mother's families. Despite so many years out of the Irish education system, Máire was a natural scholar: she attended her aunt's school in Cork, Scoil Íta, where she attained her matriculation exam in 1935, and then moved to St Louis Convent in Monaghan where she sat her leaving certificate in 1936 and was awarded a scholarship to study arts at UCC. She graduated with first class honours in 1939, and began teaching at Scoil Íta while studying for her higher diploma in education. In 1941 she was awarded the highest scholarly accolade in the country when she won one of only two all-Ireland studentships, and the following year received her master's degree and began studying for her Ph.D.
In 1945 she married the republican activist Ruairí Brugha (qv), son of Cathal Brugha. In an era when 'wives supported their husbands in their careers' (MacSwiney Brugha, 212), she never completed her Ph.D., nor sought a career in academia, but dedicated herself to raising their four children and supporting her husband in his business endeavours and political career with Clann na Poblachta and Fianna Fáil. As the children grew older she felt able to engage in more activities outside the domestic sphere. In 1965 she joined the committee of the newly-formed charity, Gorta: the Freedom from Hunger Council of Ireland, and was instrumental in setting up its first charity shop, initially in South Frederick Street and then in Merrion Row. She served as secretary of the council until her eyesight started failing in the 1990s, but continued serving in the shop until 2005. Engaging in politics herself, she was president of her Fianna Fáil cumann in south Dublin, and attended meetings of the Irish Association for Economic, Social and Cultural Relations, set up in 1935 to maintain links between north and south.
Máire MacSwiney Brugha died unexpectedly on 20 May 2012 at her home in Clonskeagh, Co. Dublin, and was buried in Glasnevin cemetery. The only child of one of Ireland's most famous nationalist martyrs, she attempted to forge a distinct identity and career of her own, one that incorporated Irish republican ideals but was tempered by her cosmopolitan early childhood experiences and European outlook. In the closing pages of her memoir, she noted that 'mine was a dual identity. I always felt partly German, yet wholly, deeply committed to Ireland' (MacSwiney Brugha, 239).