Georgina Manning : the woman who threw paint over John Redmond
There was nothing remarkable about the 84th annual Royal Hibernian Academy Exhibition which opened on the 3rd of March, 1913, at 34 Lower Abbey Street. The only note of controversy came from the critics who declared the selection of paintings to be uninspiring, reminding them of the Oscar Wilde remark: “There are moments when art attains almost to the dignity of manual labour” .
This all changed a few days later when a woman wearing large blue glasses and a thick black veil swept through the exhibition’s sculpture room in an agitated state and hurried out the door. Before long an attendant noticed that a plaster bust of Ireland’s most powerful politician, John Redmond MP, by popular sculptor, Michael Lawlor, had been vandalised. Vivid green paint was smeared over Redmond’s face while green arrows had been painted on his chest. A note was left by the bust which read: “why did you not get us Votes for Women Mr Redmond? A traitor’s face is no ornament to our picture-gallery”.
Minutes later the suspect was detained by a policeman at nearby Marlborough Street . The newspapers had her name the next day : Geraldine Manning, aged 40. One published her address: 2, Winton Road,Ranelagh. This gave away her real identity. Geraldine Manning was in fact Georgina Eleanor Manning, a 51 year-old music teacher who lived with her three sisters at the leafy Ranelagh address.
Georgina Manning was the youngest daughter of Susan Gibson and Robert Manning, chief engineer to the Board of Works. The Mannings, a prosperous Church of Ireland family, had strong links to Rathdrum, Co. Wicklow and to Waterford City. Robert had been born in Normandy in 1816 where his father, William, had been an adjutant at the Battle of Waterloo.
Susan Gibson was the daughter of George and Elizabeth Gibson, of Lower Pembroke Street, Dublin, and was a second cousin of Robert Manning, whom she married in 1848.The Mannings moved around a great deal because of Robert’s job, and Georgina was born in Hillsborough , Co. Down, in 1862. Later the family settled at 4, Ely Place,Dublin. After the death of their father in 1897, Georgina and her three sisters moved to No. 2 Winton Road, Ranelagh. (Now part of the grounds of the Fitzwilliam Lawn Tennis Club. )
A graduate of the Royal Irish Academy of Music, Georgina Manning taught piano and harmony for many years at the Rathmines Ladies’ Collegiate Boarding and Day School in Leinster Square. In 1907 she took up a job as professor of music at Pleasant’s School for Protestant Orphan Females in Camden Street. She taught from 3- 6pm every Monday and Thursday, preparing many of her pupils for entrance exams to the Trinity College of Music, London, for which she was paid a salary of £20 per annum. Manning was also familiar in artistic circles. Her sister, Mary Ruth Manning ( 1853-1930), a Paris-trained painter, ran an influential art school from their Ranelagh home, where she taught both Mary Swanzy and Mainie Jellett. Georgina was the only member of her family to become involved with the Irish Women's Franchise League after its foundation in 1908.
On the 8th of March 1913, the day after the attack on John Redmond’s statue, Georgina Manning was brought before Magistrate MacInerney at the Police Courts. A frequent nemesis for the Suffragists, MacInerney had sat through a busy few weeks. Manning’s was only one of several militant acts undertaken that month which included the breaking of glass at the United Irish League and at the home of Redmond’s deputy, John Dillon MP, the daubing of Votes for Women slogans on a post box at Northumberland Road and on the hall doors of two other MPs ( Haviland Burke and Swifte MacNeill.)
Manning was fined 20 shillings plus 5 shillings for the repair of the bust. A furious Michael Lawlor, the sculptor, failed to appreciate the gesture of protest in spite of his impeccable Fenian connections (which he enjoyed boasting of). He made it known that he intended seeking compensation of 50 guineas. If John Redmond held any opinion on the controversy it was never recorded.
Manning was given a week to pay or face a prison sentence. The papers stated that she would not pay and so prison was looming. What might have happened to her life had she crossed this rubicon is open to speculation. But circumstances intervened when Manning’s older sister, Elizabeth, died at their home a few days later. (Georgina was witness to her death.) The loss of her sister seemed to shake her resolve and instead she reluctantly paid the fine and the case was dropped.
It’s impossible to know how many people in Ranelagh crossed the street when they saw Georgina Manning coming or how many social invitations were withdrawn in the wake of her symbolic attack on a much-revered nationalist hero, who was a whisker away from delivering Home Rule for his country.
The Irish suffrage movement regarded him in a different light. “More papal than the Pope and not to be trusted” according to the Irish Citizen. The June 21st edition of the paper in 1913 informed its readers that Manning had been fired from her job at Pleasant’s School, ”lest the innocent minds of her pupils should be contaminated by contact with a law-breaker”, as the school’s board put it.
The Citizen’s editor, Hannah Sheehy Skeffington, suggested the launch of a petition to have her reinstated but Manning declined the offer as she thought the school had always been nice to her up until this, and she had resigned very willingly when asked. It also emerged that the school had offered to let her stay if she refrained from all future militant activity. This she refused to do. In her letters to Sheehy Skeffington, Manning indicated that she knew this would happen.“When I made up my mind to do the bit of militancy I was quite prepared to accept the consequences which might follow.” she wrote.
In fact the attack on John Redmond’s statue turned out to be Manning’s only act of militancy. She seems to have been a reluctant soldier, perhaps lacking the necessary steel “to accept the consequences that might follow” after all. Manning continued to live at 2 Winton Road until the 1930s. Having outlived all her sisters by over twenty years, she died at nearby No. 42 Dartmouth Square, in 1956, aged 93.
Michael Lawlor’s bust of John Redmond came up for auction in Dublin as recently as 2006 and was valued at £2,000. There was no mention made of its colourful past.
The page below charts the ancestry of Georgina Manning.