THE ROYAL IRISH ACADEMY IS IRELAND'S LEADING BODY OF EXPERTS IN THE SCIENCES AND HUMANITIES

The Royal Irish Academy/Acadamh Ríoga na hÉireann champions research. We identify and recognise Ireland’s world class researchers. We support scholarship and promote awareness of how science and the humanities enrich our lives and benefit society. We believe that good research needs to be promoted, sustained and communicated. The Academy is run by a Council of its members. Membership is by election and considered the highest Academic honour in Ireland.

Read more about the RIA

DIB entry of the day: Mary Ann Hutton

28 May 2019

Today we present the biography of the remarkable Irish-language scholar and writer Mary Ann Hutton (1862–1953): the first woman to be proposed for, and refused, membership of the Royal Irish Academy.

By Linde Lunney

Mary Ann Hutton (1862–1953), Irish-language scholar and writer, was born in Manchester, England, the eldest child of James Drummond and his wife Frances (née Classon), who later had two sons and five more daughters. Secondary sources often call her Margaret, but in official records she appears as Mary Ann. At the time of her birth, her father was a minister in the unitarian congregation of Cross Street chapel, but he moved in 1869 to a teaching position in Manchester New College, London, the unitarian training college, and was principal (1885–1906). He was thus very prominent in his denomination and, like his wife, well connected among Irish dissenters. James Drummond's relatives included his father William Hamilton Drummond and brother James Lawson Drummond. Frances Drummond's father John Classon (d. 1860), was a wealthy foundry-owner, with other business interests, whose philanthropy and varied roles in public life made him a well-known figure in Dublin; another of his daughters was married to William Porter, attorney general of the Cape Colony.

Like many liberal presbyterians and unitarians, James Drummond supported Gladstone's home rule plans and also female suffrage. Mary Ann received a good education and was one of the first women to study in the University of London, where in 1882 she was awarded the Hermann silver medal in German and also a Fielden scholarship, worth £25. On 27 March 1890 in Hampstead, London, she married Arthur Hutton (d. 1908), a member of a prominent unitarian family of coach-builders from Dublin. His grandfather was Thomas Hutton, his aunt Annie Hutton (1825–53) was the fiancée of Thomas Davis, and his sister was married to Robert Francis Scharff. Arthur Hutton had in 1886 established a branch of the family business in Chichester Street, Belfast, and the couple and their one daughter lived in Deramore Park off the Malone Road.

It was there that Patrick Pearse stayed with them when he visited Belfast in December 1904. Hutton had met Pearse years before, through their involvement in the Gaelic League, and later she stayed in his cottage in Rosmuc, Co. Galway, to improve her fluency in the Irish language. It is not clear how or when Mary Anne Hutton became interested in Irish, but she was certainly in correspondence about Old Irish with the Celticist Kuno Meyer in 1901, and she is noted as an Irish speaker in the 1901 census. Hutton visited the Irish-speaking Glens of Antrim with her friend Rose Young and other protestant women who were involved with the Gaelic revival and with the establishment of the Feis na nGleann in 1904. Pearse asked her to write for the Conradh na Gaeilge newspaper An Claidheamh Soluis, and she is said to have lectured in the Belfast Irish College, Coláiste Naomh Comhghaill, on Middle Irish, and also in Ard Sgoil Uladh, which promoted Ulster Irish. In 1908 Hutton gave the Margaret Stokes Memorial Lectures in Alexandra College, Dublin, on visions of other worlds in early Irish literature.

Hutton's involvement with another notable Dublin school dated from the same period; she gave £50 to help with the establishment of Pearse's St Enda's school, and in 1911 Pearse asked her for a loan of £100 when the school experienced a financial crisis. By that date, Hutton's husband had died, she had decided to become a Roman catholic and had moved to Dublin. She lived the rest of her long life there, participating in cultural activities in the city and generously supporting Conradh na Gaeilge; she also corresponded with leading figures involved in the study of the Irish language. She represented the Royal Dublin Society at the Celtic Congress in Edinburgh in 1937. Her main contribution to Irish scholarship wasThe Táin: an Irish epic told in English verse(1907), an edition of the Táin Bó Cuailnge legend with scholarly appendices of lexical terms and names. It was not a literal translation but rather a re-working in blank verse of material from various sources, and took ten years' work. Well received, it was re-published in 1924 with illustrations in Celtic revival style by Seaghan Mac Cathmhaoil (John Patrick Campbell (1883–1962)), which added greatly to its appeal. Although Hutton's published output was slight, she was a central figure in the Gaelic revival and corresponded with several other women writers, including Alice Stopford Green, Lady Gregory, Lady Rosa Gilbert, Alice Milligan and Sinéad de Valera.

In 1910, Douglas Hyde, Louis Purser and Eoin MacNeill supported a proposal that Mary Hutton be elected to membership of the Royal Irish Academy, but the application was unsuccessful. (This was the first occasion on which a female candidate was nominated.) Hutton was appointed to the senate of QUB in 1914, and awarded the honorary degree of D.Litt. by the NUI in 1933. She died 29 August 1953 in Dublin, having outlived most of her generation, and was buried in Dean's Grange cemetery. Some of her correspondence in held in the NLI.

'News from Ireland', The Tablet, 4 Apr. 1908; NAI: Census of Ireland, 1911, www.census.nationalarchives.ie; Ir. Times, 16 Dec. 1914; Ir. Press, 25 June, 1937; Séamas Ó Buachalla (ed.), The letters of P. H. Pearse (1980), espec. 440; Jim Cooke, Ireland's premier coachbuilder (1994?); Roger Blaney, 'The Irish language in Ulster from the 1890s to the present day' in Eamon Phoenix (ed.), A century of northern life (1995), 171–81; Paul Larmour, 'John Campbell 1883–1962: an artist of the Irish revival', Irish Arts Review, xiv (1998), 62–73; Diarmaid Ó Doibhlín, 'Womenfolk of the Glens of Antrim and the Irish language' in Eamon Phoenix et al. (ed.), Feis na nGleann: a century of Gaelic culture in the Antrim Glens (2005), espec. 21; NLI sources, sources.nli.ie; Beathaisnéisí Gaeilge, www.ainm.ie

© 2019 Cambridge University Press and Royal Irish Academy. All rights reserved. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution. Learn more about DIB copyright and permissions.

Stay up to date with the Royal Irish Academy newsletter

Sign up now