TG4's excellent documentary on the Irish woman who shot Mussolini airs this weke

By Paul Moore

TG4's continued commitment to telling entertaining, innovative and unique Irish stories continues tonight with a documentary about one of the most interesting women in recent Irish history that very few people know about.

In 1926, Violet Gibson pushed her way through a fascist mob and shot Italian dictator Benito Mussolini at point-blank range.

Mussolini injury was to his nose and his ego, but Violet, the woman who shot Mussolini, was about to be written out of history and buried alive.

Of the four assassination attempts that were made on Mussolini during his life, she was the closest to killing the Fascist leader.

(Hulton Archive)

Following 18 months of imprisonment and interrogation in Italy - along with investigations into an international conspiracy - a deal was brokered by Mussolini and the British Foreign Office to have her declared insane and locked up in a British lunatic asylum for the rest of her life.

For 30 years, Violet battled for her release, writing letters to the authorities, politicians, friends and even to Winston Churchill after Italy declared war on Britain.

She even contacted Princess Elizabeth in her search for clemency. However, her letters were never posted and in 1956, she died alone in the asylum.

No friends or family attended her funeral.

Passed off as a “mad Irishwoman”, a “demented spinster”, a “crazy Irish mystic” the documentary brings the fascinating story to light, of the bold, free-thinking daughter of the Lord Chancellor of Ireland, who rejected the trappings of her Anglo-Irish upbringing and committed herself to social justice, anti-war activism, and opposition to fascism.

Aside from telling the fascinating story of Violet's life and her attempt to kill Mussolini, the documentary is also a fascinating insight into the religious and political schisms that existed in Ireland at the time.

In capturing the growing sense of nationalism that was engulfing Ireland, the documentarians also disclose fascinating details about how the Gibson family were torn apart by their conflicting ideologies.

Elsewhere, the documentary also provides a fascinating insight into the rise of fascism in Italy and how Mussolini's rhetoric helped fill the void in the country during the post-WW1 era.

As for Violet Gibson's legacy, 95 years after the assassination attempt, Dublin City Council’s erected a commemorative plaque honouring her life and in doing so, it sparked worldwide interest in her captivating story.

Speaking about the documentary, the film's producer Barrie Dowdall has said "After the Radio documentary The Irish Woman Who Shot Mussolini - produced by my wife Siobhán Lynam - won a Gold Award at the New York Festivals World’s Best Radio Programmes, I decided to adapt the story as a Documentary Feature Film for theatrical release and the arduous treatment writing and pitching process began in earnest.

"We eventually secured finance from TG4, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, the Irish Government Section 481 Film Relief Fund and investment from our own Production Company Ned Kelly Pictures.

"As a director and storyteller, I’m always been interested in exploring lesser-known characters. I was fascinated with Violet’s story from the very beginning. I wondered how might this distinguished woman have altered the course of world history if her pistol hadn’t jammed. I thought if she was a man she would be celebrated as a heroic visionary with a statue erected in her honour."

Violet Gibson - An tÉireannach Mná a Lámhach Mussolini (The Irish Woman who Shot Mussolini) airs on Wednesday, 22 September at 9:30pm on TG4.

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