Nic Niocaill, Eibhlín (1884–1909), Gaelic League activist, was born 22 October 1884 in Dublin as Eveleen Constance Nicholls , only daughter and second among four children of Archibald J. Nicholls (1845–1924), barrister and secretary of the Loan Fund Board of Ireland, and his wife, Mary (1853–1938), a native of Limerick. Although her father held a government posting – his offices were in Dublin castle – the family had nationalist sympathies and were Irish-speakers; one brother, George (see below), later joined Sinn Féin. From the time of the 1901 census, if not earlier, she chose the Irish spelling of her name, while George became Seoirse. At school in Loreto Convent, Rathmines, and later at Loreto Convent, St Stephen's Green, Eibhlín excelled and was particularly talented at languages. She took first prizes in Irish, French, and German at her senior examination and went on to take RUI courses at Loreto College. Her college career was exceptional: she was constantly top of her class and won a number of exhibitions. For her BA (1906) she came first in Ireland and won the prestigious Steward scholarship. Awarded a £300 travelling scholarship to complete her MA, she spent time in Germany and Paris, where she studied Old Irish under the Celtic scholar Henri d'Arbois de Jubainville (qv), lectured at the University of Paris, and reorganised a moribund Parisian branch of the Gaelic League. Back in Ireland she was a prominent Gaelic League activist, joining the Five Provinces branch, lecturing, organising the 1909 Feis, and contributing to the League paper, An Claidheamh Soluis. Her articles linked the language revival to the independence movement, and tied in the rights of women. A strong feminist, she also wrote for the magazine Bean na hÉireann. Her circle in Dublin was dynamic, and friends included Patrick Pearse (qv) and the writer Mary Butler (qv).
In summer 1909 she set out with de Buitléir for a tour of the Gaeltacht of south Kerry. Previous summers had been spent on the Aran Islands; she had a close familiarity with the Gaelic vernacular. After a week in Dingle, de Buitléir went home, and Eibhlín went on to Ventry, staying in the house of Thady Kevane, where J. M. Synge (qv) had stayed a number of years earlier. There she befriended the writer James Cousins (qv), who described her as ‘tall, stately: an embodiment of sweetness and gentleness, sweetness that has no mawkishness in it, and a gentleness resting on fixity and fearlessness’ (Cousins, 147). This, like other descriptions of Eibhlín, may be idealised, but all who met her referred to her good looks, calmness, and modesty; one of the Blasket Islanders said that she ‘was not in any way standoffish or ostentatious but a gentle girl’ (Ó Dubhshláine, 70). She arrived on the Great Blasket (then housing 150 people) on 13 July and again followed in Synge's steps, staying in the house of Pádraig Ó Catháin, known as ‘the King’. The island enchanted her and she resolved on a long stay. One of her self-appointed tasks was teaching the island girls to swim, and on Friday 13 August she gave a lesson to Cáit, daughter of Tomás Ó Criomhthain (qv), later a celebrated writer. Though only a few feet from the shore, the girls ran into trouble; Cáit's brother, Donal, went to rescue them but he and Eibhlín were drowned. Cáit survived.
The deaths caused outpourings of grief, both locally and nationally. Eibhlín had just been elected to the executive committee of the Gaelic League and was the youngest person ever to receive this honour. After a funeral service in Dunquin, her body was conveyed from Dingle on the train to Dublin, where it was met by thousands and accompanied for burial to Glasnevin cemetary. The diarist Joseph Holloway (qv) wrote that he was never at a more solemn funeral. In an article in the Freeman's Journal that day (16 August), Pearse called Eibhlín the ‘most nobly planned’ of all the women he had known; later biographers tried to prove a romance between them but there were no contemporary suggestions of this.
The Gaelic League lost no time in recruiting her to the ranks of Irish saints and martyrs. Her heroism at saving Cáit from drowning was constantly evoked, and at a meeting a few weeks after her death it was decided to keep alive her image by selling copies of her portrait, with proceeds to go to the Ó Criomhthain family. By July 1910, 300 pictures had been sold and over £21 raised. At another meeting (9 September 1909), chaired by the lord mayor, £49 was raised towards a commemorative scholarship to send a girl to the Gaeltacht and for a plaque or statue in Eibhlín's memory. Six months later the sum had risen to £100, but nothing was ever done with this money. James Cousins, Kathleen Tynan (qv), and Padraic Colum (qv) all wrote eulogies of her.
Her younger brother, George (Seoirse) Nicholls, became involved with Sinn Féin in 1907 and was arrested in Galway just before the Easter rising. He spent from 1916 to 1921 in jail in England (with a brief respite after the Christmas amnesty of 1919). While still in jail, he was returned as Sinn Féin TD for Galway (1921–7). He was pro-treaty and was assistant minister for home affairs in 1922; and parliamentary secretary to the minister for defence (1925–7). Refusing to stand for reelection in 1927, he became county register (1928–41). He died in 1942.