EARLY YEARS KATE EVELYN NASON
DUN LAOGHAIRE, LANCASHIRE, DUBLIN 1875 - 1899
Kate’s life began as it was destined to go on really - an absolute contrast between privilege and disaster. Maybe without the disasters she would not have been as strong a person as she so obviously was.
She was born on July 8th, 1875 in Dun Laoghaire (Kingstown), a privileged seaside/harbour suburb of Dublin. Her father was a young doctor, heir to considerable lands in County Cork and her mother a spirited and, by all accounts, beautiful, young woman, daughter of a ‘gentleman’. There was already one daughter, Edith, although another child had died in infancy, but no doubt the little family looked forward to many happy years of prosperous expanding family life. But six months after Kate’s birth her father died of meningitis. Shortly afterwards her beloved mother remarried - a clergyman cousin from Lancashire, Edwin Sandys Jackson. The little family moved there, but again tragedy struck. Her mother died in 1885. Kate was only 7 years old.
Kate and her sister returned to Ireland to live with her grandmother (I do not know which one) and two great aunts in a very grand house - now the five star Radisson Hotel (picture at bottom above) - mixing it with the local aristocracy. “Here everything was of a bygone age. There were three servants who had been in the family for more than half a century; the gardener was eighty-four, the coachman only a year or two his junior. The governesses set to educate my sister and myself were also of an age to harmonise with the surroundings.”
By her own account she was a bit of a handful, not surprising really considering her life so far. “A thoroughly wayward child, I must ever be up and doing something. I felt shut up within spiritual walls as well as material ones. Life was pressing down on like a suffocating blanket. I hated my lessons and would have none of them. I climbed trees and tried to climb the walls. Hands dirtied and frocks in tatters, I was in perpetual disgrace.” But then suddenly, or so it seems in her retelling, she is overcome with an overpowering need to study,with the ultimate aim of becoming a doctor. “This was the time when the movement towards the so-called emancipation of women was making its first stirrings felt, and I heard my elders talk a good deal about the new possibilities that were opening up. I was seized with a burning ambition to become a doctor, and to that end I spent all my energies.” So eventually she goes away to school - to Alexandra College in nearby Dublin - a school with a head dedicated to achieving parity for women as far as access to university education is concerned. And she threw herself into it with enthusiasm, sport, study - everything. I don’t know if her claim is correct, but at this time she says she was the very first woman in Ireland to ride a bicycle, and drove in the very first car on Irish roads. Hmm, maybe. But is that her on the right with a horde of young men in tow?
But it seems to have lasted only two years. “the sight of my sister eternally going to dances, parties and picnics became too much for my studious plans. I dropped them as suddenly as I had acquired them, plunging instead into a round of gaieties.” Her portrait shown above, was painted at this time - note the tiny waist, the slightly unkempt hair, the elaborate and expensive looking dress. She flirts, becomes engaged a couple of times, generally enjoys herself, confessing that she was more interested in the “swagger and the gossip” than in the people she mixed with themselves. And yet it was all curiously innocent - a world away from today - “I was a dark little thing with red cheeks and big brown eyes, dressed in queer, ill-chosen clothes, brimming over with high spirits and as innocent of the meaning of life as a newly born infant. Those, however, were the days of the chaperone, and, despite my innocence, I soon began to be spoken of as ‘fast’. Just how fast I was in reality may be guessed from the fact that once, after some man had kissed me at a dance, I asked my sister whether she thought there was any danger of my having a baby! ‘I don’t know,’ was her reply, ‘do be careful!’”
Her sister married, to Cecil Orpin, who was a doctor from a very respectable family. At the Trinity College Races, Kate meets a young medical student to whom she is immediately attracted, and although he was liked by her family he was not approved of, being a mere student at the time. So he disappeared from the scene and, under family pressure, she became engaged, to ‘a very rich man’. In a typically vague manner Kate tells how unhappy she was throughout the engagement, and how, when her medical student returned to Ireland - now a qualified doctor - so surely some years later, he proposed and she accepted. “Amid universal protests I broke off my engagement, and in six weeks I was married and on my way to England with my husband.” She seems to compress the years as she actually did not marry until 1899 when she was twenty four years old.
I guess what all of this shows is that she was eternally impulsive and a lover of fun and excitement. This is not someone who would be happy with a quiet, ordinary, life.