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Writer, Medium, Suffragette, Spy? The Unseen Adventures of Geraldine Cummins by Wendy E. Cousins

Geraldine Dorothy Cummins was born on 24 January, 1890, at 17 St Patrick’s Place, Cork City, Ireland. She was the fifth of the eleven children of Dr Ashley Cummins, an eminent physician, appointed Professor of Medicine at University College Cork at the early age of 40, and his obviously equally busy wife, Jane Constable. The Cummins family was Anglo-Irish Protestant with strong medical and military connections, bright blue eyes and an “insatiable curiosity” for the unknown (Cummins, 1951, p. 12). In her youth Geraldine was active in the campaign for votes for women and made a number of public speeches in favour of the suffragette cause; although, atone point this resulted in her being stoned through the streets of Cork by an unsisterly mob of female factory workers (ibid , p.18).

Along with her activities in support of women’s suffrage, she pursued a literary career even though her own estimation of her literary talents was low, and she went so far as to describe herself as ‘slow of speech’, and as a’ dull uninformed conversationalist’. Yet, despite these self-confessed shortcomings, she managed to co-write two plays for the famous Abbey Theatre in Dublin and went on to publish two novels, The Land they Loved (1919) and Fires of Beltane (1936), both of which displayed her continuing concern with feminist issues. In 1952 she published the first biography of her friend and fellow-writer Edith Somerville (co-author of The Irish R. M. books, which were successfully dramatised by UK television in the1980s).

Geraldine Cummins’s principal interest, however, was in psychic phenomena. In June1914 she visited Paris where she met the Irish medium Hester Dowden and joined in a fascinating Ouija board session which appeared to predict the outbreak of the First World War. Mrs Dowden, the daughter of a famous Shakespearean Scholar, was a favourite in Irish literary circles, a charismatic hostess and a friend of luminaries such as Bram Stoker, George William Russell, Ellen Terry and William Butler Yeats. In fact, it is believed that she served as the inspiration for the psychic in Yeats’s spiritualism play Words on a Windowpane. Much impressed with her well-connected acquaintance, Geraldine left her hometown of Cork for the City of Dublin, where she took a job at the National Library of Ireland and became a paying guest in Mrs Dowden’s house. It was there that she began her training in mediumship and as a result became less active in the cause of women’s suffrage. In her autobiography (1951) she wrote that she “abandoned the idea of becoming a politician, it has not seemed to my mind at anytime since, as humanly constructive an occupation as that of medium” (p. 18). Considering the restless and violent political climate in Ireland at the time, this was quite possibly a more hard-headed decision than might at first be supposed. Her mediumistic career progressed rapidly, and as fate would have it, the poet W. B. Yeats, was to be the participant in one of her first professional sittings at Hester Dowden’s house.

Some years later, in 1923, Geraldine met the psychic investigator Edith Beatrice Gibbes, who became her patron, and soon went to live with her in Chelsea. She still returned to Cork each summer to visit her mother and call on her friend and fellow writer Edith Somerville, who also maintained a keen interest in all matters spiritualistic. After her arrival in London she began to produce a series of scripts through automatic writing, which were later published. One series, apparently from the time of Jesus, was dictated by an early Christian called Cleophas. In another set of writings she was the channel for probably the most famous ‘other-side’ communication in history, in which F. W. H. Myers apparently laid out ‘the progression of the human spirit through eternity’, stage by stage.

The years when Geraldine and Miss Gibbes collaborated gave rise to an enormous volume of material, but there were also periods in which not much was written. Unfortunately, at the end of 1931 Geraldine became extremely ill with cancer and recovered with difficulty, yet despite this, in the early summer of 1939 she had a sitting with former Chief Secretary of Ireland (and SPR President) Gerald Balfour. By her own account this was highly successful and appears to be a significant moment in her Geraldine Cummins notes that an unfortunate misprint in publicity material for one speaking engagement in Brighton led to a particularly packed audience expecting to hear a rather more salaciously titled talk on “The Road to Immorality; with fifteen years experience” eventful life. Ten days later she returned home to Ireland, noting in her autobiography that this was due to “the outbreak of war in September ruthlessly driving all our minds and energies in a different direction” (p. 84).

Interestingly, Geraldine’s biographer, Charles Fryer, records that between 1940 and1944 she was “doing some work of an investigative nature, which involved her in a certain amount of danger and was undertaken from patriotic motives” (Fryer, 1990: p22). Apparently, although further details were among the papers Geraldine left when she died, they were (at least in 1990) in the hands of a government department and for reasons of security could not be released. However, never a man for vagaries, another former SPR President, the Northern Irish classical scholar, E. R. Dodds (nicknamed the Universal Question Mark) was more forthright in his assessment:

The last time I saw her, shortly before her death, she confided to me that in the war period she had from a sense of duty undertaken the dangerous work of a British agent in Ireland, exploiting her ‘innocent’ status as a ‘non-political’ medium to worm out the intentions of a pro-German I.R.A. (Irish Republican Army) faction. I believed her: the courage, the deviousness, and the necessary skill in’ fishing’ were all of them in character. (Dodds, 1977, p. 108).

The wider historical background is of relevance at this point. The newly independent Southern Irish state was officially neutral during World War II, although the actual extent of that neutrality in practice was a subject of bitter dispute. The Irish leader, Eamon Devalera signed a book of condolences on the death of Hitler, yet many thousands of Irish people fought with Allied forces. This topic still remains divisive and emotive. However, to view the situation in strictly military terms, a key point is that by remaining neutral during World War II, Ireland ensured that Britain did not have naval access to the Irish deep-water ports that would have provided exceptional control of the North Atlantic and a distinct strategic advantage. The United States was also somewhat ambivalent to the idea of joining the war, but the American envoy to Ireland, David Gray, was outspoken in his condemnation of the Axis forces and was publicly sympathetic to the idea of British naval access to the disputed Ports. David Gray was married to the aunt of Eleanor Roosevelt and his relationship with President Franklin D. Roosevelt was more than usually close, but his relations with Devalera were extremely strained, to the extent that the Irish leader reported that he would have had Gray declared persona non grata, if it were not for his family connection to the President (Dwyer, 1988).

Geraldine Cummins had first met David Gray in County Cork as fellow guests of Edith Somerville, Gray having spent some years living in Ireland back in the 1930s. Their next meeting was to occur in less convivial social circumstances.

On 7th November, 1941, at the American Legation in Phoenix Park, Dublin, a most unusual reunion took place. Only Cummins and Gray were present and at that meeting, via automatic writing, Geraldine transmitted messages purporting to come from President Roosevelt’s late mother, who had died a few months earlier, from former President Theodore Roosevelt and also from Arthur Balfour, former British Prime Minister and yet another SPR past President. The Balfour message wrote of I.R.A. activity and named several Irish political leaders as potential quislings for Hitler, adding the caveat “I am no prophet, I can merely see into the minds of certain leaders”. Ominously, the message introduced by the name of the President’s deceased mother sent a warning, “My boy will have to make an important decision in the next few months, I want him to throw down the gauntlet”. This was a little over a month before the U.S.A. entered the war following the attack on Pearl Harbour. Further meetings were to follow. The messages thus transcribed were not always accurate, but they do make sensational reading (Dwyer, 1988).

This is an extraordinary situation and one that is either passed over by historians or noted with some embarrassment. The whole affair may be dismissed as merely a peculiarity of an impressionable American official with an interest in spiritualism (Dwyer, 1988), but nevertheless, the messages were duly passed onto a wartime President and it should be noted that, as befits his diplomatic position, David Gray was a man usually guarded in his communications. The facts of this case may well bear further examination, however, it should be noted that Gray was aware of the connection and appears to have prior acquaintance with the Balfours.

Full article: Source: The Unseen Adventures of Geraldine Cummins

The Road to Immortality by Geraldine Cummins is Published by White Crow Books.




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