Holmes, Augusta Mary Anne (1847–1903), composer, was born 16 December 1847 in Paris of Irish parents, Captain Dalkieth Holmes, who had settled in Paris in 1820, and his wife, Augusta, née Shearer (d. 1857). Her mother published two pieces of prose: The law of Rouen, a dramatic tale in three acts and in verse (1837) and A ride on horseback to Florence (1842). She spent her early life in Versailles and at a young age displayed a talent for music, poetry and painting. Her godfather, Alfred de Vigny, a poet, was rumoured to be her natural father. It was also alleged that her mother disapproved of her interest in music and that in despair she attempted to take her own life. Following her mother's death in 1857, her father encouraged her musical interests.
Early teachers in Versailles included Henri Lambert, the organist of the cathedral, Mademoiselle Peyronnet, a local pianist, and Hyacinth Klosé, bandmaster of the Garde Impériale and professor of the clarinet at the Paris Conservatoire. Initially she published under the pseudonym Hermann Zenta. In the 1870s she composed three unpublished operas – ‘Astarté’, ‘Héro et Léandre’ and ‘Lancelot de Lone’. In Paris she became a student of the composer César Franck (1822–1890). His influence brought initial success with her dramatic symphonies ‘Orlando furioso’ (1877) and ‘Lutèce’ (1878), which was runner-up in a competition held by the city of Paris. Holmes's reputation as a composer was confirmed in March 1882 with her symphonic poem ‘Irlande’, which concluded with the triumphal march ‘Let Erin remember the days of old’; this was followed by a second symphonic poem, ‘Pologne’, performed at the Concerts Populaires on 9 December 1883. The central theme of both works was the transition in Ireland and Poland from a state of national grief to national triumph, and they identified her as a champion of nationalist causes. Critics regarded her musical language as ‘masculine’ and ‘virile’. Her libretto ‘Norah Greena’ focused again on the Irish struggle for independence in the eighteenth century and French intervention on Ireland's behalf. It was perhaps because of her nationalist reputation that she was commissioned by the Exposition Universelle to compose music for the French celebrations of the centenary of 1789. Her ‘Ode triomphale en l'honneur du centenaire de 1789’, performed by an orchestra and a large chorus at great expense, premiered on 11 September 1889 at the Palais d'Industries; it was an immense success. ‘La montagne noire’ (1895) was her only opera to be performed publicly, but it was a failure and was withdrawn after only thirteen performances. Her oeuvre included four operas, twelve symphonic poems, and over one hundred songs.
Holmes was adept at mythologising her own life and career. Throughout her life she liked to emphasise her Irish roots and her French ‘heart’. In 1869 she met Catulle Mendès (1842–1909), poet, critic, and co-editor of La République des Lettres, with whom she lived and had three children. She became a French citizen in 1879 and adopted the accent in her name. By 1885 she had separated from Mendès and left their children in his care. Her beauty, wit, and vivacity dominated the Parisian salons. With Mendès, she had been a familiar figure at Stéphane Mallarmé's ‘at homes’, held on Tuesday evenings, which were at the centre of bohemian Paris. It was at one of these that she first met George Moore (qv); Moore became a visitor to the apartment she had shared with Mendès. Maud Gonne (qv) became a close friend and through her Holmes met leading figures of Irish nationalism and literature when they visited Paris, including John O'Leary (qv), W. B. Yeats (qv) and Arthur Griffith (qv). She was a regular visitor to Gonne's apartment where she played rousing Irish tunes on the piano, much to the annoyance of Gonne's English neighbours, who retaliated with renditions of ‘God save the queen’. Yeats became involved in the intrigue that surrounded her life when he attempted to refute allegations that she was a British spy. As her interest in Ireland grew, she revised ‘Irlande’ and, with the help of Gonne, it was performed at the first Feis Ceoil on 19 May 1897 in Dublin, and won a prize. During the Boer war she was a guest at a banquet organised by Gonne in honour of a delegation from the Dublin Transvaal committee to Paris in July 1900. In 1902 Moore approached her to compose music for Yeats's play ‘Diarmuid and Grania’ but she was too busy; Moore was later criticised for failing to find an Irish composer for the play.
In 1902 she converted to catholicism and was baptised in the Dominican friary church in the Faubourg St Honoré. She died 28 January 1903 in Paris and was buried first in the St Louis cemetery in the city. Her body was then removed to the family burial plot in Versailles, where Maud Gonne unveiled a monument to her memory on 18 July 1904. She bequeathed a large collection of musical manuscripts to the Paris Conservatoire, and her daughter donated her personal papers to the Bibliothèque Nationale.