Blessed Margaret Ball

Blessed Margaret Ball

Margaret Ball, born about 1515, was the daughter of Nicholas Bermingham of Corballis, Skryne. At the age of sixteen Margaret married Bartholomew Ball, a wealthy Dublin merchant and alderman. About the same time the Protestant Reformation was introduced to Ireland. Henry VIII was declared head of the church in Ireland and under his daughter, Elizabeth the Protestant religion was promoted. Religious persecution of Catholic began. Bartholomew had a house at Ballygall, Balrothery and at Merchants, Quay, Dublin. The couple had twenty children, although only five survived to adulthood. Bartholomew served as Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1553-4. Her husband died about 1568 and Margaret continued to actively support the Catholic Church.

Margaret was the mother of Walter (or Nicholas)  Ball, Alderman of Dublin. Walter took the oath of supremacy and became a supporter of the Protestant cause. Walter was appointed Commissioner for Ecclesiastical Causes in 1577.

Bishops, priests and other learned men were invited to dine at her home with her son in the hopes that their arguments would sway him back to the Catholic faith. Margaret maintained a chaplain in her house and provided education in the Catholic religion to children. Her position protected her to some extent. She was arrested a number of times and imprisoned, losing chalices and vestments.

As Mayor of Dublin he was embarrassed by her loyalty to the Catholic faith. Following the rebellion led by Viscount Baltinglass and Baron Nugent in 1580 government officials were uneasy about Catholic sympathisers.  In a show of loyalty to the government Walter had his mother arrested, drawn through the streets of Dublin on a hurdle, and thrown into the prison at Dublin castle. Prison conditions were such that they amounted to a slow death. If she took the oath of supremacy she would have been released. Her second son, Nicholas, became Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1582 and while he tried to make his mother more comfortable with food and furnishings he was unable to secure her release. An elderly woman and suffering from arthritis, Margaret survived for three years before dying of sickness and hardship about 1584. She was interred in St. Audeon’s church. Her life and story was recorded at the time by the Jesuit, John Howlin. 

Her grand-daughter Jenett, married Francis Taylor of Swords. He became Lord Mayor of Dublin but was also martyred for his catholic faith.

It is thought that Walter also betrayed Archbishop Dermot O’Hurley at Drogheda. Walter remained a Protestant and was one of the promoters of the establishment of Trinity College. Nicholas was MP for Dublin in 1585 and remained a Roman Catholic.

In February 1915 Margaret Ball’s cause for beatification was accepted along with another 275 martyrs. Her case was brought forward in 1988 and in September 1992 she was beatified along with sixteen other Irish martyrs. Pope John Paul described Margaret Ball as a lady who had together with the main trials she had to endure, also underwent the agony of being betrayed by the complicity of her own son. A direct descendant of Margaret Ball, Ray Ball, carried a page from the Book of Kells at the Offertory procession.

The Blessed Margaret Chapel of Ease at Santry in Larkhill parish is dedicated to her.