The Forgotten Mrs Victor Rickard

How could it happen that an Irish writer who wrote 40 novels between 1912-1948 does not appear in our Dictionary of National Biography? (This is a rhetorical question….)

Mrs Victor Rickard, formerly Jessica Louisa Moore, was the author of over forty popular novels and other non- fiction works. One of her books, The Story of the Munsters is a tribute to the soldiers of the Royal Munster Fusiliers who took part in the Great War. UCD Special Collections holds a copy of this book which describes various engagements of the regiment and the heroism of the soldiers.

'The Story of the Munsters'

Title page of ‘The Story of the Munsters’ by Mrs Victor Rickard, 1918

The writer’s husband, Victor Rickard was an officer in the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Munster Fusiliers. He died at the battle of Aubers Ridge in May 1915. The book is dedicated to him. Some of the chapters had been published in the magazines New Ireland and The Sphere. The book contains wonderful illustrations which depict the harsh reality of war.

One of these images is that by the artist Matania which shows Fr. Francis Gleeson giving general absolution to the 2nd battalion of the Munster Fusiliers at Rue Du Bois on 8th May 1915. Colonel Victor Rickard, the writer’s husband, features in this painting. He was killed the following day.

Fr Gleeson giving absolution to the Munsters Fusiliers

Fr Gleeson giving absolution to the Munsters Fusiliers at Rue De Bois, 8 May 1915

“Father Gleeson mounted, Colonel Rickard and Captain Filgate were in the centre and in that wonderful twilight Father Gleeson gave a General Absolution. There are many journeys and many stopping place in the strange pilgrimage we call life, but there is no other such journey in the world as the journey up a road on the eve of battle and no stopping place more holy than a way side shrine. The men who prayed there were, very few of them, the men of the original Battalion. Gaps had been filled again and again, and most of the Munsters who fought the next day were newly come from Ireland and new to that life. Lads from Kerry and Cork, who, a year before had never dreamed of marching in the ranks of the British Army.”

Coincidentally the diaries of Fr. Gleeson are held by the Dublin Diocesan archive (and have been digitised by the UCD Digital Library) . In the diary he gives an account of the general absolution.

‘I rode on my horse. Gave Absolution to Batt. during rest on road opposite La Couten Church between shrines of “N.D. de la Bonne Mort” & another shrine we have another rest. The men will sing Hymns esp. “Hail Glorious St. Patrick”. I go further up – near the trenches & bid goodbye to all. So sad!!’

This copy has a pasted in dedication to and photograph of Patrick Donaghy who was a member of the Royal Munster Fusiliers who died on 7th March 1919 – presumably from injuries sustained during the war.

Dedication to Patrick Donaghy

Dedication pasted into the UCD Special Collections copy of ‘The Story of the Munsters’

In the preface to the book, Mrs Victor Rickard thanks Clement Shorter, the editor of The Sphere in which she had published some extracts from the book. The library of the same Clement Shorter was given to UCD Special Collections in memory of his first wife Dora Sigerson. It is possible that this book came from this Sigerson-Shorter collection. Dora Sigerson was also a poet and writer, who thankfully has made it into the Dictionary of Irish Biography.

Mrs Victor Rickard is not completely forgotten. She is featured on Wikipedia and on a blog about crime fiction. Her patriotism is mentioned in a 2015 book entitled Irish literature and the First World War: culture, identity and memory by Terry Philips. When she died in 1963 the London Times described her as ‘a women of swift and incisive wit’. However, given the volume of her work over such a long period of time, it remains a mystery as to why she is not more renowned today.

Jessie Louisa Rickard (1876-1963)

Jessie Louisa Rickard also known as Mrs Victor Rickard (1876-1963). Courtesy of the Passing Tramp blog.

  • This post was researched and written by Evelyn Flanagan, Head of Special Collections, UCD Special Collections.

14 thoughts on “The Forgotten Mrs Victor Rickard

  1. Shane Mawe says:

    Great article thanks and congrats on the recent blog award.
    .Along with Irish author Freeman Wills Crofts, Mrs Rickard was a member of the famous Detection Club (along with crime fiction authors Dorothy L Sayers, Agatha Christie etc.)

  2. Frank Bouchier-Hayes says:

    Delighted to see this blog post. Several years ago I did some research on New Ireland where I came across details of the early publication history of what ultimately became the book which may be of interest. June 26th 1915 sees the first of three articles on the Munster Fusiliers in New Ireland by Mrs Victor Rickard. Preceding the publication of the last article on July 10th 1915, the editor notes that the paper intends to republish them “as a pamphlet to be sold for twopence a copy, and orders can now be booked in advance”. In the following issue, we are told that the publication will be “on more elaborate lines than we had anticipated with photographs, and the arms and colours of the Regiment on the cover, for the price of threepence a copy”. August 7th 1915 sees a half page ad announcing the imminent publication of The Story of The 2nd Munsters at Etreux – Festubert – Rue du Bois. We are told that letters, documents added to the appendices “amount to more than double the length of Mrs Rickard’s narrative” and that “it is now quite impossible to produce the pamphlet at the price which we previously announced”. The new price of sixpence “will barely cover the cost of production”. By Nov 6th we learn that the first edition is sold out and that the second edition has gone on sale. The Dec 4th issue reveals that the second edition is almost sold out and that a third and enlarged edition “containing a complete set of photographs of all officers of the 2nd Munsters killed since the beginning of the War, and also a Complete Roll of Honour of the Regiment, is in rapid preparation. Among other additional matter dealing with the more recent engagements, the Third Edition, which will be more than double the size of the First Edition, will contain a specially-written Introduction, giving the History of the Regiment, by Lord Dunraven who is an Honorary Colonel of the 2nd Munsters.” The price on this occasion will be one shilling. References are subsequently made to the imminent appearance of this volume but it doesn’t finally appear until 1918. Perhaps this was due initially to the departure as editor of the journal of Denis Gwynn who left to join the Munster Fusiliers to fight in the war. Gwynn was also a graduate of UCD and, according to a wikipedia entry, his wife was a close friend of Mrs Rickard. Indeed Mrs Rickard apparently spent her final years at his house in Cork. The other possible reason for the delayed publication was the changed political climate following the Easter Rising. Interestingly the year that the publication finally appeared was also the same year that Lord Dunraven’s name was removed from the list of freemen of Limerick due to his support for conscription. It would be interesting to know whether he was stripped of this honour before or after the publication of the book. Happily though, the honour that was removed in May 1918 was restored by Limerick city council in July 2007. A fascinating PhD on the life of Lord Dunraven was completed at UL in 2003 and can be read online. A digital version of the book which is the subject of this most welcome blog post can be found here:

  3. stauntonm says:

    Private Patrick Donaghy was an original member of the 8th Munsters, a unit of wartime volunteers which crossed over to France on 17th December 1915. In addition to receiving the 1914/15 Star, Donaghy also received the British War and Allied Victory Medals for which records indicate that he served with the 1st Munsters following their absorption of the 8th battalion in November 1916.

    His regimental number 4289 indicates that he was originally part of the group of Derry Nationalists who enlisted into the 6th Royal Irish Regiment in which they formed an entire company. As this battalion was overstrength, some of their personnel were transferred to other battalions in the 16th (Irish) Division during training in Ireland 1915.

    Donaghy died shortly after the war of disease on 7th March 1919 aged 22, the son of Owen and Mary Donaghy, of Lettermuck, Ballyarton, Cumber-Claudy, Co. Derry and is buried in the South-East part of Claudy RC Churchyard. The 1901 Census confirms he was the 2nd oldest of 5 children with father’s occupation as a General Labourer (no data was obtained for the 1911 Census). The book was given to the Irish Archive for the World Wars in the mid 1980s from where it was donated to UCD. Although Donaghy had no connection with the regular 2nd battalion, his family may have obtained it upon publication.

    • ucdculturalheritagecollections says:

      Thanks so much for that information on Patrick Donaghy stauntonm. I always feel sad when you just have a person’s name but no background to who they were, where they came from and what happened to them. I will pass that information on to my colleagues in UCD Special Collections as I know they will be delighted to get it. M

      • Kevin MacDermot says:

        UCD, I wonder if you could forward on a query from me to ‘stauntonm’ who provided the information on Patrick Donaghy. Patrick’s grave lies next to my own grandfather’s,  who also fought in WW1 and hailed from the same townland. They were contemporaries and the families would almost certainly have know each other. I’ve been researching Patrick’s history and was intrigued to come across the dedication to him in the book in your archives. While I knew most of the factual information that stauntonm refers to above, I was impressed that stauntonm knew the partial origin of the book (i.e. its donation by The Irish Archive for the World Wars’). I’m not sure if they’ve ticked the notification button below, so I’m wondering if you could forward my mail on to them – even after two years – with a general request for any more information they might have.
        With thanks – KMacD

  4. Deirdre Ní Chuanacháin says:

    Thank you for this post and for the comments. I have found it all very helpful and fascinating. CoincidentIy, I am in the early stages of research on Jessie Rickard and the portrait has prompted a question which I though best to ask. Do you know anything of the context or location of the portrait?. I have seen it referenced online as located in ‘Dublin Art Gallery’ but as far as I know, that is not the case. With Best Wishes, Deirdre.

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