Dictionary of Irish Latin American Biography

Cecilia McPartland, mother of Cuban Independence hero, Julio Antonio Mella, was born on 26 July 1882 and registered in October 13 of the same year. Cecilia McPartland was one of ten children born to farmer Thomas McPartland and Rose Reilly in Lisnadaragh in the counties of Cavan and Westmeath.

Cecilia, together with most members of her family, went to New York at the end of the nineteenth century with her two sisters Rose and Maria because she could not see any future for herself in Ireland at the time. It appears there were also economic problems in the home due to her fatherís drinking and gambling.

The sisters departed from the railway station at Ballywillan not far from her home in the district of Finea. Cecilia is listed as a passenger on the Cunard Line SS Campania sailing from Queenstown (Cobh), Cork on 2 October 1898. She arrived at Ellis Island on 8 October 1898 at seventeen years of age. At some stage not long after that Cecilia left New York and went to New Orleans for unknown reasons. The other two sisters returned home to Ireland with no news of Cecilia. They did not know where she was. This broke her motherís heart and she asked for Cecilia on her deathbed.

While in New Orleans, Cecilia met a Dominican, Nicanor Mella, a married man much older than herself. He was a high society tailor with a shop on Obispo Street, one of the main fashion areas of Old Havana at the time. Nicanorís tailorís shop specialised in French style menís clothes, which was very ŗ la mode at the time in Havana. He regularly traveled to New Orleans from Cuba to buy accessories and fabrics for his business and also to stock up on French magazines for his customersí reference. After one of his trips he brought Cecilia back to Havana with him.

He set her up in a house near his shop. They had two sons together, Nicanor, born on 25 March 1903, and Cecilio, born in 1906. Nicanor Mella employed a young maid, Longina OíFarrill, to help Cecilia with the two young children.

The humid Cuban weather did not agree with Cecilia and she suffered from respiratory problems. She travelled to New Orleans with the two boys and Longina to recuperate. In order to travel she had to register the births of her sons which she did in Havana on 2 May 1910 some years after they were born.

When she returned to Havana, her relationship with Nicanor Mella began to wane. Soon after that she went back to New Orleans, but the children stayed in Havana. Their father moved them in with his wife, Mercedes, who looked after them but changed their names. Young Nicanor McPartland was renamed Julio Antonio Mella and Cecilio was called Nicasio. They stayed with the family until Mercedes died on 26 October 1915. Nicanorís daughter Josefina persuaded her father to get the two boys out of the house, so when the family moved to 105 Obispo Street, their father employed Longina again to look after them. Nicanor jr. was aged twelve and Cecilio nine.

When the boysí step-mother died they went to New Orleans to stay with their mother, Cecilia, and matriculated from a private Protestant college there. The First World War had broken out in 1914 and the US joined in 1917. The fourteen-year-old Nicanor had been successful in enlisting in the US army as he was quite tall and mature for his age. His mother found out and told his father to go to the US Consulate in Havana with his birth certificate to show that he was too young. Soon after that the two boys returned to Havana, where they attended the Newton Academy in central Havana.

Julio Antonio Mella grew up to be a remarkable young man. As a student at the University of Havana, he was imprisoned on a false charge of causing a public danger and went on hunger strike to protest his innocence. He gained notoriety because of his constant rebellious actions and words against the Machado government at the time in Cuba. He was also a founder member of the Cuban Communist Party. At the young age of 26, on 10 January 1929, Julio Antonio Mella was gunned down on the streets of Mexico City where he had gone into exile to gain support for the independence of Cuba. Although there is some disagreement about who ordered his assassination, it is generally thought to have been carried out on behalf of the Machado government in Cuba. Today Julio Antonio Mella is treated as one of Cubaís independence heroes.

His mother, Cecilia McPartland, was in the United States at the time of his death. She had married John Vance and lived in New Jersey with her husband with whom she had three more sons. There is a long silence about Ceciliaís life after the assassination of her eldest son. However, she kept in constant contact with her grand-daughter Natasha, who lives in Miami. Her family in Ireland says that she died in her fifties in the United States.

Whereas there is plenty of information about the paternal family of Julio Antonio Mella, there is a dearth of research on his mother, Cecilia McPartland. Cecilia remained informed about Cubaís political situation and was articulate in her support for her sonís cause - the final independence of Cuba from Spain and the United States.

Bernie Dwyer

Copyright © Society for Irish Latin American Studies

Online published: 1 June 2004
Edited: 02 November 2009

Dwyer, Bernie, 'McPartland, Cecilia
(b.1882)' in "Irish Migration Studies in Latin America" November-December 2009 (


The Society for Irish Latin American Studies, 2005

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