The scrapping of the historic barrel rang out across Merrion Square yesterday with an unveiling of a plaque to Violet Gibson, an oddball Anglo-Irish schizophrenic who failed to assassinate Benito Mussolini in 1926.
Born to the well heeled Baron of Ashbourne, Gibson lived a rather fractured life in and out of psychiatric care attempting suicide on multiple occasions. Dabbling in a variety of religious fads (theosophy, Christian Science), she eventually settled on converting to a mystical brand of Catholicism, moving to Rome in 1924 after a 2 year stint in a mental asylum.
It was in Rome Violet wrote herself into the history books when under direct inspiration from schizophrenic voices in her head, angels in her words, she grazed Mussolini’s nose as the Italian dictator arrived at a function at the Capitoline Hill. Prior to this she had shot herself in the breast in honour of murdered socialist MP Giacomo Matteotti.
Only managing to graze Il Duce’s nose, after a near lynching Gibson ended up acquitted on grounds of insanity. Mussolini was conscious of not wanting to antagonise British opinion and Gibson was bundled off to spend the remainder of her life at an insane asylum in Northampton.
Not even becoming an antifascist cause célèbre in her own time, nevertheless Gibson has emerged of late as something of a girlboss icon for leftists too cynical or lethargic to examine her actual history and motivations for the attempted assasination.
Honoured in a much publicised ceremony Thursday, what progressive retellings forget to mention about Gibson is her clear apolitical homicidal tendencies even going so far as to almost ritually sacrifice a young girl in 1924 following a dabbling in dark religious mysticism.
Hoping to recreate the sacrifice of Abraham by assaulting the girl, Gibson was found subsequently to be reading the Bible frantically after assaulting the girl.
The incident is recorded in a psychiatric report conducted in the aftermath of the attack on Mussolini.
“Facts concerning Violet Gibson’s former life were soon made known, such as her internment on former occasions in asylums ‘in England, where she was found to be subjected to “homicidal ideas and to attacks of acute violent mania”; and her suicide, so
stubbornly attempted in a convalescent home in Rome; and a preceding attempt at homicide, when she Used a knife (an unusual weapon for criminal women) to try to kill a young girl. Her idea on this last occasion was that of repeating the sacrifice of Abraham which was sufficient to convince anyone that they had to deal with an abnormal, unbalanced, and an infirm mind”
A more vivid account is given in a 2010 biography on Gibson.
‘The girl’s hands and face were cut….On this occasion Miss Gibson was certified insane and taken to the Mental Home at Virginia Water. I saw her there soon after and she had told me she had been under the impression that she was doing something great ‘for God and his Church’
While it is alleged by some that Gibson dialled up her insanity to avoid the scaffold at her trial this runs contrary to the medical rulings of doctors both in Italy and the UK confirming her frail mental state.
Imbued with an intense martyrdom complex Gibson stated her wish to murder the Italian dictaor was to glorify God with the maverick Anglo-Irish aristrocrat keenly inspiried by the Jesuit scholar John O’Fallon Pope and his studies on mortification.
Despite a vague embrace of Christian socialism it is clear by any telling Gibson was driven by her mania and acute religious sentiment rather than anything firmly ideological. In short, Gibson falls short of what her advocates proclaim her as being.
Regardless, this hasn’t stopped her being reinvented as a plucky antifascist Joan of Arc instead of the mentally ill woman and genuinely homicidal woman she actually was.
One of the famous ‘forgotten women’ of Irish history, Gibson has since managed to have a book, TV and radio documentaries and even songs made in her honour; it was hard to avoid coverage of yesterday’s unveiling with generous features on both RTE and Virgin Media news despite the turbulent times we live in. It would appear that a century after her death attempts are being made to make Violet Gibson a household name devoid of context.
Denoted merely as ‘antifascist’ on the plaque, naturally enough even Gibson’s Catholicism plays second fiddle to the juxtaposed ideological function certain figures want her to play in historic memory.
With an overemphasis on the International Brigades almost to a point of parody there has always been a conscious effort to bloat Ireland’s historic contributions to leftist struggles. More generally whether it be the ahistorical ‘debunking’ of the Cromwellian slave trade or attempts to manipulate republican figures around Easter Week as inherenly liberal/left wing, history is up for grabs when it comes to fashioning progressive agendas.
Dublin is normally rather cagey about honouring the contributions of men or women of violence. Ask yourself the last time you saw a memorial to the Invincibles or the Cairo Gang. Sinn Féin councillors to their credit have been fighting tooth and nail to mark the city’s republican history against revisionist currents.
Why is it that Gibson not only skips the cue but receives laudations well and truly beyond her historical importance?
For Mussolini’s part despite his revolutionary nihilism in his career he did nothing to offend the Emerald Isle. Deeply anti-Catholic in so far as they had an opinion Italian fascists of the time were in favour of the Irish struggle.
If anything Gibson’s life was a sad example of the failings of early 20th century mental health systems as well as the religious mania certain segments of WASP elites globally were being driven to amid the decline of upper class Anglicanism. Yeats, Gonne and Markievicz were all part of the same generation of Anglo-Irish eccentrics stumbling in between religiosity and ideology as the groundswell of their familial religion began to wane.
The Fair City honours Mussolini’s would-be assassin but only as a projection of the contemporary agendas. The reasoning behind that plaque strays far beyond the actions of one crazed schizophrenia a century ago.