Petronilla of Meath
In 1324 Dame Alice Kytler was tried for witchcraft in Kilkenny. Alice Kytler was born into a rich merchant family in Kilkenny. She married William Outlaw, a rich banker and brother to the chancellor of Ireland. William was twenty years older than Alice and their son was also named William. Alice’s husband died under mysterious circumstance leaving all his wealth to Alice. Alice married another banker, Adam le Blont. He died after a drinking spree and left all his riches to Alice. Alice was fast becoming the richest and most powerful woman in Kilkenny. In 1311 Alice married a rich landowner from Clonmel named Richard de Valle. When he died suddenly Alice came to inherit all his property.
Rumours circulated that Alice was in league with the devil and had taken a demon, named Robin, as a lover. The young girls who served Alice was also supposed to have taken part in demonic rites. One of those girls was named Petronilla of Meath.
In 1320 Dame Alice married her fourth husband, John le Poer, who three years later began to suffer from unknown illnesses. His hair fell out in patches and what remained turned silvery grey and his finger nails fell out. He fled the house and went to the local monastery but it was too late, he died shortly afterwards.
The most learned men in Europe had concurred that Christendom was under siege by an international organization of witches. Witches were to blame for all the ills of the world.
The Bishop of Kilkenny (Ossory), Richard Ledrede, freshly arrived from the continent where witchcraft was greatly feared said that Alice was a witch and Petronella part of her coven. A charge of witchcraft was a pretty excellent way to get rid of someone you did not like or who was too powerful. Ledrede was having difficulties with relatives of Dame Alice. Alice was tried with seven other women and four men accomplices for devil worship and sorcery.
Dame Alice and her witches cast curses and love spells on their neighbours by boiling up a true “witches’ brew” composed of chicken guts, worms, corpse fingernails, babies’ brains and some herbs for seasoning, heated in a skull over an oak fire. Alice was tried and sent to prison. However she had become so rich and powerful that it was the Bishop who ended up in gaol. The Loord Chief Justice managed to release Bishop Ledrede after seventeen days and sought to imprison Dame Alice. Dame Alice and her disciples were condemned to be whipped through the streets, tied at the back of a horse and cart after which Alice, as chief priestess and instigator would be burned to the stake. Alice managed to make an escape and is said to have disappeared off to England, never to be heard of again.
Alice’s handmaid, Petronella of Meath, was whipped and confessed to everything her torturers wanted. She said she had denied Christ and summoned up demons. Petronilla claimed to have been present when Lady Alice met with the demon Robin.
A huge bonfire was erected outside the Market house in Kilkenny and poor Petronella was burned alive while the chanting mob looked on. Burning at the stake ensured that the condemned had no body to take into the next life and the fire cleansed the soul. There were three different types of burning at the stake. The first was to build a heap of firewood and then attached the prisoner to a wooden stake. This ensured that everyone had a good view of the witch. The next was to tie the prisoner to the stake and build firewood all around them and the witch died behind a wall of fire. Not so good for onlookers. And the third type was to half strangle the witch with a rope so that she was unconscious and probably died of smoke inhalation. Again less fun than watching a woman being burned alive and screaming in her suffering. A body could be reduced to ashes in an hour in one of these bonfires.
On November 3, 1324, Petronilla was burned alive, the first accused witch to die in Ireland, one of the first in Europe. She was only twelve years of age. It is claimed that some two hundred thousand people were burned for witchcraft in Europe in sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Only four recorded witches were executed in Ireland
William Outlaw, Dame Alice’s son from her first marriage, was also charged with being in league with the devil. William was ordered to hear three masses a day for a year and paid for a new lead roof on the cathedral in Kilkenny. Money talked even then. The Bishop continued to have disputes with the local landowners and officials and is said to have died when the new lead roof of the cathedral fell on him.
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.
Lady Eleanor Davies
Lady Eleanor Davies was born in 1590. She was the daughter of George Touchet, eleventh Baron Audley. George served as governor of Utrecht in the Netherlands. He held the office of Governor of Kells, County Meath in 1599. Audley had two hundred horsemen under his command at Kells. He was commander of the eight companies against the Irish rebels in 1599. He fought in the Battle of Kinsale on 24 December 1601, where he was wounded. He was created 1st Baron Audley of Orier, co. Armagh and 1st Earl of Castlehaven, co. Cork in 1616. Audley became the biggest English undertaker in the plantation of Tyrone. Eleanor Touchet probably spent much of her early childhood at the family home in Dorset before moving to Ulster with her family.
In 1609 Eleanor married Sir John Davies, Attorney General for Ireland. Ten years later Eleanor, Sir John and their family moved to London. In 1625 Eleanor took a thirteen year old Scottish deaf and dumb boy into her protection. He fascinated London society with his fortune-telling abilities. When his talents failed he ran away to sea. Eleanor woke one night and swore she heard a voice saying that it was nineteen and a half years to the day of judgement. She believed that the prophet Daniel spoke to her. She published her first pamphlet entitled ‘A Warning to the Dragon and All his Angels.’ Lady Eleanor interpreted the contemporary history of Britain in the light of biblical prophecy and her expectation of the Second Coming. She accurately predicting the death of hated favourite Buckingham.
Her husband burned her prophecies. Eleanor responded by saying that Sir John would die within three years. About a year later she began to weep at the dinner table and Sir John asked her what made her weep, and she replied, “These are your funeral tears.” Sir John dismissed the prediction. Within a few days he suffered a stroke and died.
Eleanor re-married. Her prophecies became renowned and she was even consulted on the possibility of the queen’s pregnancy. Her new husband, Sir Archibald Douglas, destroyed her papers and his wife said he would be judged by God. Sir Archibald went mad. Eleanor defended her brother who was charged with certain crimes and was executed. She published some prophecies which attacked the king and Archbishop Laud and as a result was imprisoned for a year.
She created disturbances in Lichfield Cathedral and as a result was sent to Bethlem Hospital (Bedlam). She was then moved to the Tower. Imprisoned for debt Eleanor continued to publish prophecies. Some of her writings dwelled on the importance of the Virgin Mary but most are very difficult to read. She opposed Charles I and supported Oliver Cromwell. She died in 1652.
Henrietta was born about 1751, the daughter of John Fleming of Staholmock. By the age of eleven she was writing poetry. When she was seventeen she married a Dublin Huguenot named Battier. She visited London in 1783-4 where she met Dr. Johnson. She had prepared a manuscript of her poems and Johnson agreed to head the list of subscribers. He reportedly said to her, “Don’t be disheartened my Child, I have been often glad of a Subscription myself.” Publication was delayed until 1791. While in London Henrietta appeared on the stage of the Drury Lane theatre. In Ireland her works satirised Dean Kirwan, who had converted from Catholicism to the Church of Ireland and Lord Fitzgibbon. Henrietta was commissioned to write a poem in honour of freemasonry in 1791, and she took the opportunity to poke a bit of fun at the masons Henrietta was a friend of Thomas Moore. As “Patt. Pindar,” she published a series of pointed political lampoons. A supporter of the United Irishmen and the Defenders Henrietta lampooned the Prince of Wales and the Act of Union. She was a supporter of Irish liberty and religious toleration. Battier has been described as the best writer of satire in Ireland in the late eighteenth century. She wrote a poem entitled ‘The Lemon’ in answer to a poem entitled ‘The Orange’. After her husband died in 1794 she was left in a poor financial state. Henrietta died about 1813 in Sandymount, Dublin.
Esther Johnson, (Stella) (1681–1728), friend of Jonathan Swift, was born on 13 March 1681 and baptized as Hester on 20 March in the parish church of Richmond, Surrey. Stella first encountered Jonathan swift in her eighth year, at Temple’s houses at Sheen and Moor Park, where Swift was her tutor (it was he who gave her the name Stella). Their relationship was lifelong and largely hidden from the public gaze. Swift’s memorial ‘On the Death of Mrs. Johnson’ was begun on the evening of her death and depicts an idealized woman without sexual status, an intellectual and companionable partner. Stella remained at Moor Park or Farnham for about two years after Temple’s death on 27 January 1699. He bequeathed her a lease on lands in Morristown, Co. Wicklow, worth about £1000. Swift described her as ‘one of the most beautiful, graceful, and agreeable young women in London, only a little too fat’.
Her companion Rebecca Dingley was daughter of the second son of Sir John Dingley of the Isle of Wight. In summer or autumn 1701 the two women moved to Dublin at Swift’s urging. Apart from one extended visit to England, she spent her life in Dublin, mostly in lodgings at Mary Street, close to the Liffey. Swift and Stella were hardly ever alone in each other’s presence, yet close friends expected a marriage. She shared his friends. In 1703 the thirty-five-year-old Revd William Tisdall, fellow of Trinity College, Dublin, unsuccessfully proposed marriage to Stella.
Sixty-five extant letters were written by Swift between 1710 and 1713, collectively one side of a ‘conversation’ between him and Stella and Dingley about his political and social career in Queen Anne’s London.
Mrs Whiteway, Swift’s cousin and close friend, asserted that there had been a secret marriage between Stella and Swift ‘two or three years after he was Dean’, that is, between 30 July and 4 October 1716, performed by Bishop St George Ashe in the bishop’s garden at Clogher. Biographers who knew Swift accepted the marriage as a fact—Dr Evans (bishop of Meath) and others.
The sobriquet Stella first appears in ‘On Stella’s Birth-Day’ (1719) and thereafter until 1727 in annual birthday verses. Stella copied out Swift’s poems and some of Gulliver’s Travels at Sheridan’s Quilca in autumn 1725.
Halfway between Trim and Laracor Stella’s cottage stood at a bend on the side of the road until the road was straightened in the early 21st century. Nearby Laracor was the parish where Jonathan Swift, author of “Gulliver’s Travels,” was rector from 1700 until 1745. For forty years Esther Johnson, Stella, was “the bright particular star” of Jonathan’s Swift’s life. Stella and her companion, Mrs. Dingley, certainly lived in St. Mary’s Abbey in Trim and her name is associated with this cottage for more than two hundred years. It is possible that the cottage was the gate lodge for Knightsbrook House.
Stella spent her last eighteen months at Arbourhill, on the site of the barracks, Phoenix Park, home of the widowed Lady Clotilda Eustace, whose daughter married Thomas Tickell in 1726. Signing her will ‘Esther Johnson: Spinster’ on 30 December 1727, she endowed a chaplaincy in Dr Steevens’ Hospital, Dublin.
Lola Montez, dancer, mistress to a king and adventuress, married Thomas James at Rathbeggan, Dunshaughlin in 1837. Lola was born Eliza Rosana Gilbert in Sligo in 1821. Her father was an ensign in the 25th foot regiment. The family went to India with the 44th foot regiment and Eliza’s father died shortly after arrival. Her mother re-married and Eliza was despatched to her step-father’s relatives in Scotland. A wild and stubborn child Eliza grew up to be a beautiful girl and was sent to school in Bath. Her mother returned from India and made plans for Eliza’s marriage to a suitable older partner. Eliza did not agree and eloped to Ireland with Lieutenant Thomas James of the 21st Regiment of the Honourable East India Company Service, whom she married at Rathregan on 23 July 1837. James was the brother of John James, the vicar of Rathbeggan. John James was from Ballycrystal, Co. Wexford and served as vicar of Rathbeggan from 1832 to 1862.
Eliza later commented ‘Run away marriages, like runaway horse, are almost always sure to end in a smash up.’ Her advice to any girl contemplating such a move was ‘they had better hang or drown themselves one hour before they start.’ James and his new wife returned to India but the marriage failed and Mrs James returned to England. On the journey she is said to have had an affair with Lieutenant George Lennox. Lieutenant James sued for a divorce which was granted with one of the conditions that neither party re-marry during the lifetime of the other.
Eliza now publically branded an adultress took to the stage. She travelled to Cadiz, Spain to learn Spanish dancing and brought her act to the London stage with her new name Lola Montez. Because of her past she was forced to travel to German where she performed in Dresden and Berlin. Lola was invited to perform before Friedrcih Wilhelm IV and his guest Tsar Nicholas I at Potsdam. She made a scene in Berlin and lashed out at a mounted policeman with her whip. She made another scene at a performance in Warsaw and this contributed to her public profile. Lola then attempted to attach herself to the composer, Franz Liszt. Her performances were not well received in Paris where she became the mistress of a wealthy newspaper owner.
In 1846 Lola performed at the Royal Theatre in Munich. The king, Ludwig I of Bavaria, was immediately taken by her and set her up as his mistress in a small villa. The sixty year old king promised to make Lola a countess and granted her Bavarian citizenship. As a result his cabinet resigned and Lola was created Countess of Landsfeld. Lola managed to frustrate the king’s approaches without giving any concessions. It is said that she virtually ruled Bavaria and afterwards liked to portray that she was a liberalising influence on the country. She was resented by Bavarian society. As countess she created a corps of bodyguards drawn from the university students. In March 1848 an enraged mob attacked her villa and she fled to Switzerland. King Ludwig abdicated the same month.
Lola returned to London where she married coronet George Heald, eight years younger than her. As this broke her divorce agreement Heald’s relatives had her prosecuted for bigamy. The couple fled Britain and travelled on the continent until Heald left Lola in Paris in 1850. The thirty year old Lola travelled to America where she appeared on the stage in New York and San Francisco. In California Lola married a newspaper editor but left him after a few weeks. She stayed in California for two years before going to Australia where she performed in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide. Lola horsewhipped the editor of a local newspaper and the wife of her manager and this added to her reputation.
Lola returned to America and took up the lecture circuit talking about her life and her secrets for beauty. In 1858 she began her lecture tour of Ireland and Britain. Lola spoke in Limerick, Cork and Dublin. Lola briefly settled in London before going to New York. Lola suffered a stroke in 1860 and died a year later in New York. It is aid that her relationship with Ludwig inspired the song ‘Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets.’
Sarah Florry, (1744–1832), businesswoman, was born in co. Meath, Ireland, the only surviving child of four children of John Florry. She was taken to Birmingham as a child and lived in the town for the rest of her life. It is not known how or where she acquired training in running a business. Literate, articulate, and energetic, Sarah Florry applied herself assiduously to building up her enterprise as well as to helping her father in his business on an occasional basis. She set up on her own, at premises at 25 Moor Street, Birmingham, when she was twenty-five years old; this initiative apparently coincided with her parents’ move to Shropshire.
Like many eighteenth-century businesspeople Sarah Florry had multiple interests. In the early years she took boarders as well as selling wine. She was principally a metal factor, taking on boys as apprentices and employing men as travellers. One of her travellers, William Walker, became her business partner from about 1784 and thereafter they traded as Florry and Walker. They moved their premises to 6 Easy Row in 1785 and to Congreve Street in 1790. The production and distribution of metalwares in the town was controlled increasingly by intermediaries, such as factors, who grew rich in the process. Operating in this way Florry’s partnership with Walker prospered and they apparently used the proceeds of this venture to build up further commercial interests. They were among a group of men and women who, in June 1789, formed a partnership to manufacture brass at a foundry in Smethwick, near Birmingham. Their shareholdings guaranteed them a supply of the metal at a fixed price when the demand for it was growing rapidly in the town, and undoubtedly contributed to their financial success. Sarah Florry retired from business on 31 December 1798, when she and Walker dissolved their partnership.
Sarah Florry had amassed a sufficient fortune during the thirty years of her working life to provide for the remaining and longest part of her life, the time she spent in retirement. She had hoped to settle in Bristol with her mother at the home of her friend Lady Holte, the widow of Sir Charles Holte, MP for Birmingham, but she had to abandon this plan when both women died in 1799. She remained in Birmingham and, in common with other members of the town’s wealthy and retired middle classes, she moved to Edgbaston, a cleaner and less crowded suburb on the outskirts of the town. During her retirement she occupied herself in genteel sociability, making calls, drinking tea, dining with friends, and visiting the theatre. She travelled widely for pleasure, and visited many of the favourite tourist destinations in England of the affluent and leisured: London, spas such as Bath and Cheltenham, and country houses of the aristocracy to which respectable sightseers were admitted. She was a regular attender at Anglican churches in Birmingham and on her travels.
Sarah Florry, who never married, died on 15 April 1832, probably aged eighty-eight, at her home at Five Ways, Edgbaston, and was buried on 23 April 1832, in the same vault as her father and mother, at St Philip’s Cathedral, Birmingham. Her estate, valued at £4000 for legacy duty purposes, was divided among her female friends and included small bequests to her servants and a distant male relative in Ireland.
(This section written by Christine Wiskin)
Born in London Elizabeth Denison married Henry, Viscount Conyngham in 1794. A noted beauty, she was considered vulgar by some elements of society. She attracted the attention of royalty. Tsarevitch Nicholas of Russia was one of her admirers. Elizabeth became the mistress of the Prince of Wales, who became George IV in 1820. In late 1821 King George came to visit his subjects in Ireland although it was rumoured that he had come to Ireland to visit his mistress at Slane. The King stayed in Slane Castle in 1821 and a local story states that the reason the road from Dublin to Slane is one of the straightest roads in Ireland is because it was so designed to get him there quickly. He dined in the spectacular Gothic Revival Ballroom and the bedroom he slept in is known as the King’s Room to this day
Elizabeth’s relationship benefited the Conyngham family with her husband being raised to the title of Marquess and being awarded a number of royal offices. Lady Conyngham was an influence on George IV as she was against the death penalty and supported Catholic emancipation. The entire family lived with the king and at his expense. The relationship ended on the death of the king in 1830 and Lady Conyngham lived on until 1861. She lived a full and long life, dying aged ninety-two. In her later years she walked to church every Sunday supported by George IV’s cane. Her son was the first person to address Queen Victoria as “Your Majesty.”
J. S. Anna Liddiard, (c.1780–p.1819?), poet, was born in Co. Meath, daughter of Sir Henry Wilkinson. She dedicated her Poems (Dublin, 1810) to her husband, the Rev. William Liddiard (1773–1841), an anglican clergyman of Wiltshire, who was also a poet, artist, and former army officer. He was vicar of Culmullen, Co. Meath (1807–10); that parish was then united to Knockmark, where he was vicar 1810–31. In 1811 the couple moved to Bath, where they spent two years and Anna published The sgelaighe; or, A tale of old (1811), apparently taken from an old Irish manuscript. Kenilworth and Farley Castle (1813) describes her return from Bath to Ireland, presumably to Knockmark. Her tale in verse, Theodore and Laura, subtitled ‘Evening after the battle’ (1816), appeared together with her husband’s Mont St Jean; both describe the battle of Waterloo. Her section shows a wife seeking her husband among the corpses and exhorts readers to grieve not for the dead but for the bereaved. Her death date is not recorded, but it was evidently some time before her husband, who died in 1841 after taking a second wife in 1822, with whom he had a daughter. With Anna Liddiard, he had a son, Henry Liddiard (b. 1800) who inherited the rectory of Knockmark (1831–53).
Liddiard’s verse is romantic and patriotic. Her poem ‘Addressed to Albion’ blames the ‘queen of wealth and fame’ for insult to her sister-kingdom, and ‘Conrade’, addressed to the fictitious brother of the abbot of east Meath whose abbey was ransacked by Cromwell, is full of righteous indignation at English atrocities. She and her husband preached religious tolerance; Mount Leinster blames the 1798 insurrection on the penal laws. She was sensitive to criticism and castigated reviewers in her preface to Kenilworth. When the Monthly Review called her too fond of personification, she diagnosed anti-Irish prejudice, though her bad reviews can more simply be blamed on her indifferent and derivative verse than on her patriotism.
Cecilia Mary Cadell was a religious writer from Harbourstown, Balbriggan, Co. Meath. Born about 1814, Cecilia was the daughter of Ricard O’Feral Cadell. Although a lifelong invalid, Cadell wrote numerous hymns, religious and historical fiction with a strong Catholic point of view. Her most famous work was Blind Agnese, or Little Spouse of the Blessed Sacrament, which was published in 1856 and translated into a number of languages. Her work, Nellie Neterville, based in Cromwellian times, was also translated in to French and Italian. She wrote histories of the missions to Japan and Paraguay. She contributed to various Catholic magazines. Caddell adapted a verse from the New Testament as the basis for the hymn, Behold the Lilies of the Field. She died in Dublin in 1877 and is buried in the family vault at Stamullen.
Elizabeth Casey, born at Slane in 1845, was a novelist who wrote under the name ” E. Owens Blackburne.” She became blind at the age of eleven but her sight was restored by the surgeon, Sir William Wilde. She gained a gold medal from Trinity College and went to London in 1871. She published “lllustratcd Irishwomen” in 1877. A prolific writer she produced twenty novels, mainly of Irish interest and of high moral tone. She returned to Dublin where she was accidentally burnt to death in 1894.
Katherine Frances Purdon
Born in 1858 at Hotwell (‘Ardenoo’ of her fiction), Enfield, Co. Meath, daughter of a farmer. Educated England and Alexandra College, Dublin. She contributed to Irish and English periodicals, her first appearing in Irish Homestead; published The Folk of Furry Farm (1914), an affectionate account of local kindness and eccentricity displaying great love of animals; also a play, Crib and Candle (1914), produced at the Abbey in 1918. Her stories were illustrated by Jack B. Yeats. George Russell thought she wrote perfect English. Died 1918. She is buried Agher Churchyard.
For futher information : Griffin, B (2005) ‘A forgotten Meath author: Katherine Frances Purdon.’ Ríocht na Midhe, xvi. pp. 142-169.
Michael Saurin married Brigid Matthews. Two of their daughters became Carmelite nuns, a son, Matthew became a Jesuit priest and a son Patrick became a lawyer.
Their youngest child, Susan Saurin, was born at Garballagh House in 1829. She entered the Baggot Street Convent of Mercy in 1850 and was professed a nun in 1853 taking the name, Scholastica. She was sent to new convents at Clifford and Hull in England. Her superior was unhappy with her performance and Sr. Scholastica refused to reveal what she said to a priest in confession. Her superior tried to have her dispensed from her vows while the Saurin family wanted the local bishop to investigate the treatment of Sr. Scholastica. A commission of enquiry was appointed. Saurin was the only nun to be interviewed and cross-examined on twelve charges of faults against obedience, poverty, charity, and truth. Saurin was required to leave the convent. Her family was furious and vowed to seek justice in the courts. Saurin refused to leave the convent. The nuns confined her in a room in the attic and refused to provide adequate food. In May 1867 she left the convent quietly. A court case was taken and began in February 1869. The case lasted a record twenty-one days and became known as ‘The Great Convent Case’. Her superiors were found guilty of wrongfully and maliciously compelling Saurin to leave the convent and of subjecting her to various indignities, assaults, persecutions, and annoyances, including trying to libel her before the bishop. Five years after the case, Saurin entered the Visitation Convent in Bristol under the assumed name of Mary Brown. She remained there until her death in 1915 aged eighty five years. Maria G. McClelland has written an article on Saurin’s life.
Mary Ann Cosgrove – Mother Mary Patrick
A woman born in Summerhill went on to play a major role in the education field in southern Africa. Born Mary Ann Cosgrave she took the name Mary Patrick when she joined the Dominican nuns. Mary Ann Cosgrove was born in Summerhill in 1863, the daughter of a policeman. Her mother died when she was ten years old of tuberculosis and her father died shortly afterwards. Mary Anne and her sisters were despatched to her father’s cousin in Wexford and Mary Anne was educated at the Loreto convent in Enniscorthy. At the age 15 she began working in a drapery shop in Wexford. In 1880 when the Bishop of Grahamstown, South Africa, Very Rev. Dr. Richards, arrived in Wexford and made a call for priests and postulants. At the age of sixteen Mary Anne took the opportunity to join the Dominicans and soon afterwards sailed for Cape Town.
In 1881 she entered the Dominican Order, the Sisters’ mother house in King William’s Town; she had made her religious profession there in 1882. She taught at the convent school there and in East London and Potchefstroom.
Pope Leo XIII was anxious to start a mission in the African interior. In 1889 while at Potchefstroom Sister Patrick heard of the appeal for volunteer nurses to go north with the pioneers on their march. The Pioneer column was a force raised by Cecil Rhodes and his British South Africa company in an effort to annex the territory of Mashonland, before the Germans or Portuguese. Mashonland later became part of Southern Rhodesia and is now Zimbabwe.
At the age of twenty six Sister Patrick was selected as mother superior of a group of five nuns chosen to accompany the march. The commander of the column was Colonel Edward Pennefather, a native of Wexford. On their way north to Mashonaland they received in-service training from the doctors in charge of the particular camps.
After stopping at Macloutsie and Fort Tuli where they nursed the men stricken by dysentery and malaria the Sisters reached Fort Salisbury (Harare) on 27 July 1891, ten months after the arrival of the pioneer column which had gone ahead, having covered more than 1200 km since their departure from South Africa.
In Salisbury Sister Patrick set up the first hospital, located in a collection of grass huts and tents, until these were replaced by a permanent purpose-built building in 1895. In October 1892 she opened the Salisbury convent, the first school for Europeans. Mother Patrick founded the Dominican Convent High School in Harare in 1892. Doris Lessing, Nobel Prize winner in Literature in 2007 is a former pupil of the Dominican Convent school.
In 1894 she founded a hospital and convent school, St George’s College for Boys, in Bulawayo. By the end of 1897 the total number of nuns had risen to about thirty. Mother Patrick was elected prioress of the independent community in Rhodesia, despite initially opposing the creation of the new community. In 1898 Mother Patrick and another nun travelled to Dublin to complete a nursing qualification. Six new postulants accompanied Mother Patrick to Salisbury in November 1998.
Mother Patrick died of tuberculosis in July 1900 aged thirty seven. A seven foot high Celtic cross was erected over her grave and an annual pilgrimage took place to her grave on St. Patrick’s Day for many years. Mother Patrick is sometimes referred to as the “Mother of White Rhodesians.”
In 1970 the Rhodesian government issued a stamp to commemorate the Irish Dominican nursing sister Mother Mary Patrick Cosgrave.
Empress of Austria
Born on Christmas Eve 1837, Elizabeth, the daughter of the Duke of Bavaria, was known from an early age as ‘Sissi’. At the age of fifteen Elizabeth was introduced to the Austrian emperor, Franz Joseph, who immediately fell in love with her and married her a year later. Elizabeth was absolutely miserable at court, she felt like a circus freak with people looking at her. Eventually she had a mental breakdown. When she recovered Elizabeth became more assertive and followed her interests in hunting, horse and her beauty treatments. Empress Elizabeth took up the cause of the Hungarians in the empire and a compromise was agreed where Hungary gained limited self-rule but still under the control of the Emperor. This would later serve as model for the demands of Arthur Griffith and Sinn Féin. An ancestor of Princess Diana’s, Earl Spencer, had been impressed by the hunting in Ireland when he served as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and he encouraged the Empress to go to Ireland.
Hercules Edward ‘Paddy’ Langford, fourth Baron Langford, leased Summerhill House to the Empress of Austria as a hunting lodge in 1879 and 1880 and was her guest for these periods. It was not an official royal visit and there were no welcomes from the authorities. In fact the authorities resented the presence of the Empress. Elizabeth arrived by train to Ferranslough station. A room was converted as a private chapel, another as a gymnasium and a direct telegraph line installed to Europe. Her horses were not suitable for the Meath obstacles and she was given the loan a horse by Leonard Morragh, Master of the Hounds. The Ward Union Hunt met at Batterstown on 24th February 1879. At 1.00 am the hunt assembled at Batterstown Station to meet a special train from Dublin which carried forty members and guests and their horses. The Empress was driven to Parsontown Manor where she dressed for the hunt. Her dressing delayed the start of the hunt. Upwards of 150 followers of the chase awaited the word to go.
A stag was released and the hunt began. The stag raced southward through Moyglare and through a gap into the Maynooth Seminary with the hounds and the Empress in pursuit. The stag was captured and the President, Dr Walsh, came out to meet the group. The Empress of Austria complained of the cold and asked for a shawl. Dr. Walsh lent her his gown, invited them in for refreshment and she promised to return. The Empress managed to hunt nearly every day, hunting with the Ward, the Royal Meath Fox Hounds Club and the Kildare Fox Hunt. The many dangerous obstacles provided her with excellent challenges to her riding. The Empress presented a riding crop to the master of the Meath Hunt, Captain Robert Fowler of Rahinstown House. The riding crop which she presented to Fowler was sold at auction in 2010 for €28,000.
In the early spring of 1880 the Empress again visited Ireland, going straight to Summerhill. On the first Sunday she went to Mass at the seminary in Maynooth and presented a gift of a three foot high model of St George slaying the dragon. She was unaware that St George was the patron saint of England and when she was told of its significance she ordered a fresh present, shamrock covered vestments from Dublin. St. George is also the patron of horses and the hunt, so she may have had this in her mind when she commissioned the statue. The Empress left Ireland intending to return. However the unsettled political situation and the disapproval of Queen Victoria resulted in the Empress never returning to Ireland. The Empress was assassinated in 1897 by an anarchist in Geneva having dismissed her police guard.
There are many parallels between the Empress and Princess Diana including marriage at a young age, being known for their beauty, trapped in unhappy marriages and death as a result of dismissing their police protection.
Mary Spring Rice
Mary Spring Rice was one of the Irish Protestant nationalists that was involved in the importation of arms to Howth in 1914. Her mother, Elizabeth Butcher, the eldest daughter of Samuel Butcher, the Bishop of Meath, married Thomas Spring Rice, the second Baron Monteagle of Brandon at Ardbraccan in 1875. Butcher held the office of Bishop of Meath from 1866 until he took his own life in July 1876. Dr. Butcher took a fit of suicidal mania after an attack of pneumonia. Dr. Butcher managed to slit his throat with a razor just before his family burst into his bedroom. The Bishop urged them to pass him a pencil and paper upon which he wrote the word ‘Mad’ before dying. The group organising the importation of arms were faced with the problem of how to smuggle the arms passed the Royal Navy. Spring Rice came up with the suggestion of using private yachts. She raised £2,000 towards the purchase of 900 Mauser rifles from Germany and sailed on the Asgard to collect the guns and helped to unload them in Ireland.
Margaret Skinnider was born in Coatsbridge, Glasgow in 1893 to Irish parents. Her father was James Skinnider from Monaghan and her mother was Jane Dowd from Meath. While young Margaret visited her father’s home county. Trained as a Mathematics teacher Skinnider joined Cumann na mBan in Glasgow. She became familiar with weapons and joined a women’s rifle club where she became a first class shot. She transported explosives from Glasgow to Dublin under the instructions of Countess Markievicz. At the outbreak of the rising she became attached to an Irish Citizen Army group at St. Stephen’s Green and took up a position as a sniper on the roof of the College of Surgeons. She later recalled “More than once I saw the man I aimed at fall.” She was shot three times during an attempt to burn down houses in Harcourt Street and her companions brought her back to the College of Surgeons, where she lay until the surrender. Taken to St. Vincent’s Hospital she spent a number of weeks in hospital and then returned home to Glasgow. She came back to Dublin and later went to America where her memories of 1916 were published.
Skinnider was active during the War of Independence and was arrested and imprisoned.
In the Civil War she took the Anti-Treaty side. Skinnider resumed her teaching career and became deeply involved in the Irish National Teacher’s Organisation. President of the INTO in 1856 she also served on the executive council of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. Retiring in 1961 Skinnider died in 1971 and was buried in the Republican Plot in Glasnevin Cemetery.
When she applied for a military pension in 1925 she was turned down as the Pension Act was “applicable to soldiers as generally understood in the masculine sense”. Skinnider was granted a pension in 1938 under a different government.
Skinnider attended the unveiling of the plaque at Rossin Bridge to the memory of Philip Clarke in 1964.
The Adrien family lived on the borders of Meath and Dublin. William Edward M.D. of Oldtown, Dublin, married Mary Kelly in Curragha in 1836. Mary died in 1853, aged 37 years, and was buried in Crickstown graveyard. Their son, Edward, also a doctor and surgeon, married Mary Catherine McCullagh of D’Olier Street, Dublin, in 1870. Three of their children, William, Edward and Margaret died young and were buried in Clonalvey graveyard. Mary Adrien died in 1886 aged 35 years.
From at least 1911 Adrien lived at Oldtown, Co. Dublin. She joined Cumann na mBan in November 1915. She became director of the Lusk branch. Shortly before Easter 1916 she received a notice from the central branch of Cumann na mBan a notice with and added postscript which said “We are having a little party on Monday, and probably you will have a similar one.” Adrien was mobilised on Saturday but then the counter order came on Sunday and went home. On Easter Monday she heard from people returning from the races that the Volunteers had taken the Post Office. On Tuesday morning Adrien made her way to Swords where she made contact with an IRB centre.
Mary Ellen Adrien was born in September 1873, the daughter of Edward and Mary Adrien of Micknanstown House. Micknanstown is in County Meath but its postal address is Balbriggan, Co. Dublin. Her baptism appears in Ardcath parish registers in 1876 which is unusual as her birth was registered three years earlier. She became known as Molly. Adrien was educated at the Loreto Convent, Balbriggan and at Surbiton in England. She was engaged to Patrick Griffin of Oldtown but he decided to marry her sister and this resulted in a split in the family.
She then joined Thomas Ashe, Richard Hayes and the 5th Battalion at Finglas. Adrien was sent to the GPO where she met a number of Fingal Volunteers whom she knew. Later that day she was sent to make a scouting expedition along the coastline back to Oldtown. By 7.00 p.m. on Tuesday evening she had cycled back to Dr. Hayes’s house at Lusk where she reassured members of the Volunteer families that all was well. On Wednesday she took a message to Thomas Ashe and then returned to the GPO. A number of Volunteers gave her personal documents and monies for her to hide in her house at Oldtown. On Thursday Adrien was again in the GPO and witnessed James Connolly being brought in wounded. She rejoined Ashe and the 5th Battalion. Following the Battle of Ashbourne Adrien rendered first aid to the wounded from both sides. She was described as “a heroine ranking with the bravest.” On Saturday morning Adrien was given a dispatch by Thomas Ashe and she went into Finglas but discovered that there were three lorry loads of soldiers looking for the rebels from Ashbourne. After the surrender Adrien was not captured. She worked for the National Aid Collection and was part of the Anti-Conscription campaign. She was presented with a bicycle suitably inscribed in recognition of her work as a dispatch rider. In 1920 Adrien was elected to the Balrothery Board of Guardians as a Sinn Féin candidate. She found employment as a School Attendance Officer. During the War of Independence Adrien was a scout and dispatch rider. Adrien took the Anti-Treaty side in the Civil War.
In the 1920s she refused a pension as she had sufficient to live on and pensions were for “the boys who were disabled and the dependents of those who fell in the fight.” In the 1926 she lost her job and had only a very small income from the Balrothery Old Age Pension Committee of which she was Secretary. In the 1930s her circumstances were such that she applied for a pension. Mrs. Pearse, mother of Padraig, wrote in support of her claim for a pension describing her as “a most refined lady just eking out a bare existence and using every moment to work for the good of Co. Dublin. She certainly saw and did real military work.” A plaque at Oldtown reads “Mary Adrian and Comrades, Late Old IRA, Fingal brigade, 1916-1921.”
Adrien was secretary of the William Pearse Fianna Fail cumman at Oldtown and in 1930 she was the sole woman nominated as a candidate in the Dublin County Council elections. Adrien died in 1949 and was buried in Crickstown graveyard. Full military honours were rendered at her funeral.
Dr. Kathleen Lynn
St. Ultan’s Women’s Hospital for Infants was established by Dr. Kathleen Lynn and Miss ffrench-Mullen at Charlemont Street, Dublin in 1919. Saint Ultan was the first bishop of Ardbraccan and wrote a life of St. Patrick and two hymns to St. Brigid. Saint Ultan is the patron saint of paediatricians and babies as he established an orphanage at Ardbraccan where he fed, clothed and educated 500 children orphaned by a yellow plague which carried off their parents.
St. Ultan was the inspiration for St. Ultan’s Hospital for Infants in Dublin. Every year the hospital organised a pilgrimage-cum-picnic to St. Ultan’s Well, Ardbraccan. This was a multi-denominational event with the Rosary and Evensong in Irish. At the revival of the St Ultan’s Day pilgrimage in September 1920 three of Ireland’s most famous women, Countess Markievicz, Dr Kathleen Lynn and Margaret Pearse, mother of Padriag and Willie Pearse, were in attendance at the well, where the Rosary was said in Irish. Eamon de Valera was advertised as the guest for 1921 and it increased attendance fivefold. De Valera visited Ardbaccan and Navan on 5th September 1921. In the 1930s there was a pilgrimage to Saint Ultan’s Well every year on the first Sunday in September and the Rosary is recited in Irish at the well.
The daughter of the Church of Ireland rector of Killala, Mayo, Kathleen Lynn was born in 1874 and received her medical degree in 1899. She worked in Sir Patrick Dun’s Hospital and the Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital between 1902 and 1916 following which she devoted herself to St Ultan’s and her private practice in Rathmines. Lynn became an activist and joined groups advocating Irish women’s suffrage. At the time of the Lockout of 1913, Lynn became active in the relief efforts for workers and their families who had taken part in the strike.
She joined the Irish Citizen Army, providing lectures in first aid at Liberty Hall. In the 1916 Rising she was Chief Medical Officer in the City Hall garrison. When she told the arresting officer, she was a doctor, but also belonged to the Irish Citizen Army, it was a source of surprise to him. Lynn was first taken to Ship Street and then Richmond Barracks and Kilmainham Gaol. Lynn was deported to England but returned and went on the run for a period. She was arrested but released to treat the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918.
Kathleen Lynn was vice-president of Sinn Féin and elected as a Sinn Féin T.D. for Dublin County in 1923 but, opposing the Treaty of 1921, she did not take her seat. She lost her seat in 1927. Her friend, Madeleine Ffrench-Mullen, was born in Malta and came to Ireland about 1914. They met in 1914 at a Cumann na mBan meeting. Ffrench-Mullen acted as the administrator of St Ultan’s Hospital.
St. Ultan’s Hospital was founded in 1919 by Dr. Lynn and Madeleine ffrench Mullen. A decision was made to purchase 37 Charlemont Street, the site for the new hospital. The hospital’s concern for the health of mothers extended to running a holiday home for them in Baldoyle. At the outset only women staffed the hospital. By the late 1920s St Ultan’s had 35 cots, a matron, a sister, five staff nurses and six probationers.
The biggest killer of infants in St Ultan’s was gastro-enteritis, an infectious disease. Lynn promoted the work of Maria Montessori who visited St Ultan’s in 1934, and established a Montessori ward in the hospital. Lynn pioneered the use of the BCG vaccination over ten years before it was in general use in Ireland. The hospital allowed female doctors to make their mark in the medical world. In 1929, Kathleen and St. Ultan’s founded the world famous Irish Sweepstakes alongside three other voluntary hospitals.
In the 1950s the large children’s hospital in Crumlin was built with the blessing of Dr John Charles McQuaid. Kathleen Lynn died in 1955 and was buried in Deansgrange Cemetery with full military honours.
St. Ultan’s closed its doors for the last time in 1975, difficulties in getting funding made it impossible to continue. It is now a private clinic. Margaret Ó hÓgartaigh wrote an article on St. Ultan’s Hospital and its connections to Ardbraccan in the 2003 issue of Ríocht na Midhe.
Kathleen McKenna from Oldcastle was private secretary to Arthur Griffith during the Treaty negotiations of 1921. Previous to that she had worked in the Propaganda Department of Dáil Éireann. Kathleen was born in 1897, the daughter of William and Mary (nee Hanley) Kenna in Oldcastle. Her father was a draper in 1901 and had changed to a hardware merchant by 1911. On her summer holidays in Dublin in 1919 Kathleen called to the Sinn Féin headquarters at 6 Harcourt Street and presented a letter to Arthur Griffith from her father William Kenna, a personal friend of Griffith. An expert typist, Kathleen began working for the Propaganda Department of the recently formed Dáil in October 1919. She secured work on the production of the Irish Bulletin, the daily summary of information edited for the First Dáil by Frank Gallagher for distribution to journalists in Dublin and abroad during the Irish War of Independence.
The Irish Bulletin was an underground publicity organ envisaged by Arthur Griffith and the Ministry of Propaganda, then under the direction of Desmond FitzGerald. McKenna typed every edition of it, from its founding on 11 November 1919, until the Truce, 11 July 1921.
In 1921 McKenna accompanied Arthur Griffith to London as his private secretary during the Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiations. Kathleen had all the delegation sign a menu for a dinner on 10 November 1921.
McKenna was private secretary to various ministers of the Free State Government including Michael Collins, Desmond FitzGerald, Kevin O’Higgins and W.T. Cosgrave. In early 1922 she was sent to Paris for the Irish Race Congress. She was a private secretary at the Boundary Commission in 1924, and accompanied the Irish delegation at the Imperial Conference in 1926. McKenna resigned in 1931 to marry Capt Vittorio Napoli of the Italian Royal Grenadier Guards, moving to Libya and Albania before settling in Rome. She gave a talk on her revolutionary experiences on Radio Éireann in January 1952. Following her death at the age of 90 on 22 March 1988, she was buried in Rome with the Irish flag, as she had requested. She left a memoir of her days which was published in 2014 under the title “A Dáil Girl’s Revolutionary Recollections”
Mary Reilly, Máire Ní Raghallaigh
Mary Reilly, Máire Ní Raghallaigh, was born in 1867 in Drumconrath, the daughter of Patrick and Mary Reilly. Patrick Reilly was a local schoolteacher and wrote poetry. Known as the “Bard of Balnavoran” his life is described in a book by Larry Ward. The family moved to Enfield in 1868 and then to Barretstown, Co. Kildare in 1870. Ní Raghallaigh joined the Gaelic League in Naas in 1900 and was elected secretary of the branch in June of that year. In 1901 she was living at Abbey Street in Naas and gave her occupation as “phonographer and typist.” She worked at Brown McCann solicitors, Naas. In 1906 she moved to Dublin and worked with a Miss Ennis as typists. In 1916 Ní Raghallaigh opened an Irish bookstore in Dorset Street. Her friend, Josephine Geoghan, joined her in 1919. They published picture cards and photographs. An tAthair Peadar Ua Laoghaire wrote prayers for her cards of Irish saints. She published photographs of the First Dáil. In 1921 Ní Raghallaigh was elected on to the Business Committee of the Gaelic League.
She was a member of Cumann na mBan during the War of Independence. Ní Raghallaigh was an active member of the Ard Craobh of the Gaelic League and treasurer of the Gaelic Solidality of Our Lady, St. Francis Xavier’s Church, Upper Gardiner Street, Dublin. An Taoiseach Éamon de Valera and his wife were also members of the Ard Craobh. She was a close friend of Terence Mac Sweeney and Cathal Brugha. When the Irish Press began she took ads at her shop in Dorset Street. Ní Raghallaigh died in June 1941 and was buried in Barretstown, Co. Kildare. An Taoiseach Éamon de Valera and Tanaiste Sean T. O’Kelly were among the attendance at her funeral.
Dorothy Stopford was one of the doctors at St. Ultan’s and kept a diary during the 1916 Rising. Dorothy was grand-daughter of Archdeacon Stopford of Kells, great grand-daughter of Bishop Stopford of Meath and niece of Alice Stopford Green. Dorothy was raised in Dublin but the family moved to London after the death of her mother in 1902. Dorothy returned to Dublin in 1915 to study medicine at Trinity College. When the Rising broke out Dorothy was spending her Easter holidays at the Under-Secretary’s Lodge in the Phoenix Park, home of Sir Matthew Nathan. Her diary begins on Good Friday and documents the week in the Under Secretary’s Lodge. The sounds of the Rising were clearly heard and rumours circulated of what was happening. On Friday 28th Lady Conyngham and her mother arrived at the Lodge with news of trouble at Ashbourne. The full diary is available on line. The execution of the leaders and her aunt’s influence caused her to question her political allegiances and convert to the cause of Irish nationalism. After graduating as a doctor in 1921 Dorothy worked at the Kilbrittain dispensary in Cork where she became the medical officer to the local IRA company. In 1923 Dorothy went to work at St. Ultan’s Hospital with her college friend, Kathleen Lynn. She married Liam Price, a district justice and historian, in 1925. Dorothy began to import BCG vaccine to protect people against TB. St. Ultan’s pioneered the use of the BCG vaccination over ten years before it was in general use in Ireland. Noel Browne made her head of the national vaccination programme in 1949 but unfortunately she suffered a stroke a year later and died in 1954.
Christina Gogan, Sr Mary de Lourdes
Chrissie Gogan from Dunshaughlin, Co. Meath, came in contact with Medical Missionary of Mary, when Mother Mary’s car got a puncture driving through Dunshaughlin. While the wheel was being changed, the Gogan family kindly invited Mother into their home for a cup of tea. Christina Gogan, was born 21 December 1908, second among eight children of John Gogan, licensed vintner and general merchant, Dunshaughlin, Co. Meath, and Bridget Gogan (née Caul). Sr. M. de Lourdes entered MMM on February 11th 1940, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. Already a qualified general nurse, trained in the Mater Hospital, Dublin, she did her Midwifery training in Drogheda following First Profession.
In 1945, she was assigned to Nigeria where, apart from two separate two-year breaks in Ireland, she toiled unceasingly in leper settlements in Ogoja and Abakaliki and in the hospitals in Nkalagu, Ndubia and Afikpo. She kept everything spotless, as far as possible; one memory of her is of constantly hand-washing the hospital blankets in cold water, no easy task! She was also Regional Superior in Nigeria for many years. She had a retiring personality and Leadership was not a natural quality of hers, but she was known for her great kindness and understanding. During 1948 – 49, de Lourdes helped with the distribution in England of MMM’s first missionary film, “Visitation”. She is seen in the film dressing a leper’s foot. Following her final return to Ireland in 1969, she worked in the Nurses’ Hostel and the Central Sterilising Departments and was later assigned to Waterford as Superior for five years. Prior to becoming a member of the Áras Mhuire community, de Lourdes was on Convent duties in Beechgrove. Her special responsibility was hospitality and the care of the bedrooms. Her deafness increased during her later years, which made it a lonely time for her, but those coming to visit her were always greeted with her lovely smile. Sr. de Lourdes died in Áras Mhuire on 8th May 2000, and is buried in Drogheda.
Alice Stopford Green
Alice was born on 31 May 1874 in Archdeaconry House in Kells, the seventh of nine children of Archdeacon Edward Adderly Stopford and his wife Anne. Her paternal grandfather had been bishop of Meath. Archdeacon Stopford had an interest in ecclesiastical law and conferred with Prime Minister Gladstone on the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland in 1869 which he opposed. Alice’s mother was a fervid evangelical who led her children in family prayers every morning. Alice escaped as often as she could her mother’s evangelism. Alice and her sisters were educated at home by various governesses. Her studies were interrupted by eye trouble which led to near blindness at the age of sixteen. Forced to spend a year in a darkened room she underwent an operation which restored her sight. The family moved to Dublin while she was recuperating. She began attending physics lectures at the College of Science which was an unusual sight for the all male student body.
In 1875 her father died and she moved with her mother and sister to England. At the home of her cousin she met her future husband, Richard Green. Green had been a curate in the East End before concentrating on journalism and historical research. Alice married Green in 1877. Following her marriage she acted as his research assistant. Richard Green was often in poor health and passed away in 1883, leaving enough funds to allow his widow to live comfortably. Her first work of her own, Henry II, was published in 1888. This was followed by Town Life in the Fifteenth Century in 1894. In the 1890s she became interested in Irish history and the nationalist movement. She moved to Grosvenor Road, London, in 1903 and she began entertaining a diverse group of guests including Winston Churchill and Florence Nightingale.
Green became interested in colonial affairs, particularly Africa. She opposed the English policy in South Africa during the Boer War. In 1901 she co-founded the African Society and edited its journal. Her interest in the Congo brought her into contact with Roger Casement who had produced a damning report on the condition of natives in the Congo. Green gradually became more interested in Irish affairs. She supported the Irish language and culture revival. In 1908 she published The Making of Ireland and Its Undoing. The book’s nationalistic tone upset Unionists and the book was banned in the R.D.S. library. She supported the 1912 Home Rule Bill and became friendly with many in the nationalist cause.
She formed the London Committee to raise funds for the Irish Volunteers. The funds were used to buy German guns that were brought to Ireland on the Asgard, in the Howth gun running in August 1914. Supporting Redmond’s call for the Volunteers to go to France to fight, Green was shocked by the 1916 rising and disapproved of it. Green organised a defence fund when Casement was arrested and then campaigned for a reprieve when he was sentenced to death. Casement’s execution and the changing political circumstances caused her to move to Dublin at the age of seventy. She took up residence at 90 St. Stephen’s Green. Green remained non-violent in her approach and realising that Home Rule would no longer satisfy Ireland sought dominion status instead. The strongest obstacle to Irish self-rule was Ulster Unionism, she insisted and tried to persuade Unionists that Home Rule was an opportunity rather than a threat. Despite her non-violent attitude she harboured many Sinn Féin men on the run including Michael Collins, whose tall bike was frequently to be seen in her hall. Her home was raided on a number of occasions by Crown Forces.
Supporting the Treaty in 1921 Green was the first woman nominated to the first Irish Senate in 1922. Nominated as senator by W.T. Cosgrave, her home was given a military guard to protect against Anti-Treaty attacks. She helped to establish an Irish book shop to promoted Irish literature. In 1924 Green presented a silver and bronze casket to the Senate for its constitution. She was supportive of Yeats, in the Senate, in his attempt to retain the right to divorce. Her last major historical work was A History of the Irish state to 1014 published in 1925. Green survived a heart attack in 1925 but died in 1929.
Rev. Mother Columba
Mary Gibbons was born in Collinstown in 1873. Her father had been a member of the RIC. Mary became a monitoress at a local national school and then began formal training as a teacher at the Baggot Street Training College. While there she became friends with Sinéad Flanagan, who married Eamon de Valera in 1910. After teaching for six years Gibbons decided to become a nun. In 1903 Gibbons entered the Loreto Order in Navan and because of her teaching experience was madeprincipal of the primary school.
Taking the name Columba she was a supporter of the Irish language and actively associated with the local branch of the Gaelic League and Feis na Midhe.
Shortly after the Rising Sr. Columba wrote the ballad “Who fears to speak of Easter Week?” The ballad quickly became popular at feiseanna, political gatherings and amongst the Volunteers in jail. Sr. Columba was called in by Bishop Gaughran to explain her involvement in politics but was told she “had erred on the right side.”
Sr. Columba’s sister, Katherine, was married to Seamus O’Doherty who was a member of the IRB at the time of the Rising. When he arrived at the GPO on Easter Monday he was told by Tom Clarke to go away and carry on the work of the IRB. In 1917 O’Doherty was election agent for Sinn Féin’s first successful election of Count Plunkett, father of executed 1916 leader Joseph Mary Plunkett, as MP for North Roscommon. Katherine O’Doherty went with de Valera to America in 1919-20 seeking international recognition of the Irish Republic. Sr. Columba’s younger brother, Edward, became a priest in the Diocese of Meath. A friend of Willie Pearse he was a shareholder in Bulmer Hobson’s paper The Republic. Edward served as curate in Johnstown, Moynalty, Duleek and Mount Bolus parishes. Mother Columba’s sister, Margaret, was principal in Cannistown N.S.
Sr. Columba was a good friend of Dr. Kathleen Lynn, founder of St. Ultan’s Hospital for Infants, Dublin. Eamon de Valera was a personal friend of Mother Columba and on all his visits to Navan made a point of calling at St. Anne’s to see Mother Columba.
In January 1953 Mother Columba celebrated the golden jubilee of her reception into the Loreto Order. Also in that year one of Mother Columba’s long held ambitions reached its fruition when a new extension to the national school was opened next to the St. Mary’s Church on the Fair Green in October 1953. Taoiseach Eamon de Valera said he was particularly glad that the opening of the school should coincided with the golden jubilee of Rev. Mother Columba, who had done so much work for God and Ireland in the last fifty years.
Mother Columba died in January 1961 aged 86 years. President de Valera and Mrs de Valera attended the removal of the remains.
In April 1961 Sinéad De Valera wrote to the Loreto Community at Navan “At Easter time we were listening to a broadcast about the Rising. How proud I was when ‘Who fears to speak of Easter week?’ was sung. Mother did indeed give her talents to God and Ireland.”
A great grand nephew of Mother Columba’s and god child of Eamon de Valera, Bobby Mc Donagh, was ambassador to the Britain, 2009-2013, and welcomed Queen Elizabeth to Irish soil in May 2011 on her first visit to Ireland.
The Honourable Violet Albina Gibson (31 August 1876 – 2 May 1956) was an Irish woman, the daughter of Lord Ashbourne. Violet Albina Gibson shot Benito Mussolini in front of the Campidoglio in Rome in April 1926. Violet had strong and different religious views. She was particularly fascinated with the process Mussolini had put in place of assassination of his opponents. Mussolini was Prime Minister of Italy having seized power in 1922. Mussolini had just finished a speech on the wonders of modern medicine. A shot from her revolver only succeeded in grazing Il Duce’s nose before the gun jammed and Violet was quickly overcome. Just before the gun went off Mussolini leaned back to acknowledge the band playing the Fascist official tune. He was most surprised that a woman had tried to kill him. In order to avoid a diplomatic incident, her trial was quickly expedited, Violet was declared insane, and was sent back to a mental hospital in England.
For twenty-nine years she never left the grounds of the hospital in Northampton. Mussolini was captured when the Allies invaded Italy in 1945 and executed. Violet remained in the mental hospital and when she died in 1956 no one attended her funeral.
Mary McGrath from Meath acted as a companion/nurse for Violet in Rome. Violet dismissed her shortly before she shot Mussolini. McGrath returned to Meath with Violet’s presents of a Roman teapot and two teacups. During the investigation McGrath returned to Rome to give a statement about Violet and to visit her former mistress in prison.
For Violet’s full story read “The Woman Who Shot Mussolini” by Frances Stonor Saunders.
Marion King was a cartoonist, illustrator and painter on glass. She was born in Trim, Co Meath but spent much of her early life with her family in Leeds, England where she studied at Leeds College of Art. She returned to Ireland in 1922 and exhibited in several locations around Dublin during her lifetime (1934 Angus Gallery, St Stephen’s Green; 1937 Academy of Christian Art, 42 Upper Mount Street Dublin) but also lived for a time in Paris where in 1936 she exhibited at the Salon des Femmes Peintres and the Salon des Artistes Français. Marion King wrote and illustrated a number of children’s books with Irish texts.
Marion King had a programme on Radio Éireann – ‘Drawing and Painting with Marion King’ which began in 1943. Sean Bunny, her cartoon-and-story strip in the Irish Times began in 1953 and continued until her death in 1963. The family lived at Mill Street.
A previous winner in the art section had been the Irish artist, Jack Butler Yeats who took silver in 1924. A Meath theme, The Tailteann Games, secured a bronze in the same Games for Oliver St. John Gogarty.
Letitia Marion (‘May’) Hamilton was born in Dunboyne in 1878, second daughter and fourth child of Charles Robert and Louisa Hamilton of Hamwood House. Her great-grandmother, Caroline Hamilton, was a noted artist and she was a distant cousin of the watercolourist, Rose Barton. Letitia was one of a number of female artists of the early twentieth century who were well-educated, studied art and had a private income which allowed her to choose the subjects for her paintings. Letitia spent her childhood at Hamwood. Her first subject was the gardens of Hamwood and she exhibited her watercolours at the exhibition of the Watercolour Society of Ireland in 1902. She exhibited under the name ‘May’ as this is what the family called her. Letitia was educated at Alexandra College and may have received lessons from John Butler Yeats. Her father had said that he could not provide a dowry for all six of his daughters and while Letitia had a romance in her twenties nothing came of it. Letitia only began to study at the Metropolitan School of Art in 1907 at the age of twenty-nine. Her older sister, Eva, began her studies at the same time. Leititia won a number of prizes for her enamelwork. At the Metropolitan School Letitia she was greatly influenced by the artist and teacher, Sir William Orpen. She went to study in London and afterwards in Belgium where studied under Frank Branwyn. Together with her sister, Eva, Leititia travelled widely on the continent especially France, Italy, Spain and the Balkans and she painted scenes from these countries, particularly of Venice. She developed a very personal technique of using the palette knife. The subject of her paintings were mainly landscapes, markets and hunting scenes. Her sister Eva was also a talented artist and being particularly known for her portrait painting. Letitia first exhibited at the RHA in 1909 and exhibited more than 200 paintings at the Academy over the years. The first painting she exhibited at the academy was a view of the village of Dunboyne. In 1920 Letitia was a founder member of the Dublin Painters Group, together with Paul Henry, Grace Henry, Mary Swanzy, Jack Butler Yeats and others. In 1925 Letitia returned to Ireland. She would paint during the summers while visiting her friends in the south and west of Ireland. During the winter she would complete the works in her studio and then exhibit in the spring. In 1926 she held her first solo exhibition in London. In 1934 Letitia was awarded first prize by the Royal Horticultural Society for her painting of the garden at Fonthill. In 1939 Letitia’s work was chosen by the noted art dealer, Victor Waddington, to be included in his collection of Irish art which he was showing in America. In 1944 she was made a member of the Royal Hibernian Academy. Letitia exhibited widely in Ireland, Britain and France. She won a bronze medal in 1948 in the Olympic Games Sport Art Mixed Paintings section at the age of 69. The title of her work was ‘Meath Hunt, Point to Point Races’. In the late 1950s Letitia became President of the Dublin Painters Society. From 1946 she lived with her sisters at Lucan. Letitia never married, choosing to concentrate on her art. Despite failing sight she continued painting until a week before her death in 1964. She and her sister, Eva, are interred in Dunboyne churchyard. Letitia had a love of animals and nature, was charming and had a boundless enthusiasm for all her activities.
Eileen J. Garrett
Her grandmother, Ann Leach Brownell lived at Drogheda. As a child she visited nearby Newgrange and the Hill of Tara. She regularly visited Meath and visited her friend Lord Dunsany. Psychic experiences were a part of Eileen Garrett’s life from the moment she saw an infant for the first time. She sensed and saw around people, animals and, even plants, various forms of light and energy which she initially termed “surrounds”.
This unfortunate introduction to death had its impact upon young Eileen. Illness plagued Eileen Garrett’s younger years. Tuberculosis and other respiratory conditions flared up frequently, and, at age fifteen, she left Ireland for the milder climate of England. She stayed in England with relatives and, very soon thereafter, was courted by an older gentleman named Clive, whom she married within a few months. She gave birth to three sons, all of whom died at very early ages. The eldest and second-born sons both died of meningitis within weeks of each other. The third died a few hours after birth. Eventually, she gave birth to her daughter, Eileen. During World War I, she opened a hostel for convalescent soldiers. It was during this period that she met and married her second husband, a young officer who was immediately called to the front. She had a premonition that this marriage would be short-lived. In her memoirs she wrote: “I knew that my young husband was . . . suffering. In order to find release from the depression . . . I gathered several friends together and went out to dine. That evening . . . I had a vision of my husband, dying.” Two days later, he was listed as missing in action, and, shortly thereafter, he was stated as having been killed in Ypres.
Again she fell ill, and, while recuperating, she became friendly with a young man whom she eventually married, one month before Armistice. It was at about this time that Mrs. Garrett began investigating psychic matters. Mrs. Garrett’s mediumship had finally come to the surface, but fear, ill health, and the break-up of her marriage delayed its development. Marriage was once again in the offing, and, once again, after a premonition, it ended in tragedy. Both she and her fiancé became ill on the same day. He died of pneumonia, and she barely survived a mastoid operation. Confused about what to do, convinced that her mediumship resulted from nothing more than a split personality, and quite fed up with the message game, she decided to go to the United States and seek help from the scientific community.
In the United States, she was able to make some astounding connections with many noted scientists and parapsychologists. She subjected herself to intense physiological and psychological experimentation, hoping that such testing might shed some light upon the processes of mediumship and psychism. She travelled to and from the States, searching, studying, and experimenting. When the Second World War broke out in Europe, she was in France working with children and refugees. She remained there until the end of 1940, when in a “wholly spontaneous and of external origin” flash she knew she should leave and seek other work. Quite miraculously, she arrived at Lisbon and found passage on a refugee boat to New York.
Within a few months of her arrival in New York, she started Tomorrow, a monthly magazine of literary and public affairs. She also started the publishing firm, Creative Age Press. Eileen Garrett’s greatest achievement was the founding of the Parapsychology foundation in 1951. On September 15, 1970, Eileen J. Garrett passed away following a very painful struggle with bone cancer.
Monica Sheridan, (1912–93), cookery expert, broadcaster, and journalist, was born at Augher Castle, Co. Tyrone, daughter of Hugh Treanor.
Educated locally, Monica was influenced from an early age by the rural domesticity of her centenarian maternal great-grandmother, in whose thatched cottage kitchen she absorbed informal cookery skills and the south Ulster folk traditions which she later recalled in her writing. Although her more affluent grandmother abandoned much of the culinary tradition, Monica’s mother and aunts were all expert cooks who baked, preserved fruit, and lived a relatively idyllic lifestyle in the Clogher valley area. Monica and her sisters were convent-educated, but she admitted to being a poor scholar who went on to take an undistinguished BA in English and French at UCD. In May 1939 she married fellow graduate Niall Sheridan, eldest child of William Sheridan and his wife Josephine (née McSorley) of Co. Meath. Niall was international publicity officer with the Irish Tourist Board, as well as a published poet and a man of letters.
Niall and Monica Sheridan had one daughter, Catherine (b. 1940). They lived a happy home life. In 1962, however, when Telefís Éireann began broadcasting as Ireland’s national television service, Monica quickly became a household name by presenting her own live cookery series, ‘Monica’s kitchen’, its set designed by Canadian architect Bill McCrow. Although broadcasting was in black and white, her studio kitchen was decorated in fashionable pink and duck-egg blue. In its streamlined surroundings she demonstrated new kitchen products.
As Monica Sheridan presided over her state-of-the-art studio kitchen, she spoke unselfconsciously in a comfortable, familiar manner that engaged a regular national audience of men, women, and children. She was a natural screen performer with a subversive disregard both for the standard rules of cookery and for how ‘they’ in Telefís Éireann might respond to her unpredictable asides and irreverent sense of humour. A companionable but authoritative voice gave her departures from the received kitchen etiquette a daring seal of approval: by famously licking her fingers she horrified traditionalists and delighted younger audiences.
Known familiarly as ‘Monica’, she featured in other programmes, but audiences most appreciated the singular style of her presentation in ‘Monica’s kitchen’. Their first encounter with exotic foods such as pasta, pizza, and quiche helped to revolutionise Irish culinary expectations in the 1960s. Winning a Jacob’s television award in 1963 for ‘putting personality into cooking’, her career continued unabated until 1965, when she was dropped from ‘Home for tea’, a series that succeeded ‘Monica’s kitchen’. She wrote articles for various publications, including the Irish Times and Creation and Gourmet (New York), but her classic cookery books – Monica’s kitchen (1963), The art of Irish cooking (1964), and My Irish cookbook (1965) – were her most important written legacy.
Living with her husband in retirement until the mid 1970s at 7 de Vesci Terrace, Monkstown, Co. Dublin, and latterly at Park House, Ratoath, Co. Meath, Monica Sheridan died 22 April 1993 at Ashcroft nursing home, Navan, Co. Meath, after a long illness. She was buried at Glasnevin cemetery.
Mary Lavin, Mary (1912–96), short-story writer and novelist, was born 11 June 1912 at East Walpole, Massachusetts, USA, only child of Thomas Nora Lavin. Her father came from Frenchpark, Co. Roscommon, her mother from a large middle-class family in Athenry, Co. Galway. Mary went to school first to the Bird School in East Walpole. In 1921, when she and her mother returned to Ireland, they lived for eight months with the Mahon family in Athenry.
There Mary became sharply aware of the contrast between the puritan catholicism of her new surroundings and the more relaxed catholicism of East Walpole. She also noted the restrictive middle-class values of the Mahon household, which served as a model for her portrayals of middle-class life. Tom Lavin returned to Ireland in 1922; they lived at 48 Adelaide Rd in Dublin. Mary attended Loreto College on St Stephen’s Green from 1922 to 1930, when the family moved to Bective, Co. Meath. Tom Lavin became manager of Bective House, owned by the Charles Sumner Bird family for whom he had worked in East Walpole.
In 1930 Mary became a student at UCD. She taught French at Loreto College (1936–8). Her research on Virginia Woolf for a Ph.D. degree was permanently interrupted to write the story ‘Miss Holland’. She married William Walsh in 1942. In that year also her first collection, Tales from Bective Bridge, won the James Tait Black memorial prize. Her daughter Valentine (Valdi) was born in 1943, Elizabeth in 1945, Caroline in 1953. In 1946 Mary and William bought land adjacent to Bective House and built the Abbey Farm. William Walsh died in 1954. In 1958 Mary received a contract from the New Yorker and soon after bought The Mews at 11 Lad Lane in Dublin, dividing her time between Co. Meath and Dublin. On 18 March 1969 she married Michael MacDonald Scott, a former Australian Jesuit whom she had first met at UCD in 1930. Nora Lavin died the same year. In 1981 Mary gave up her American citizenship. She and Michael sold The Mews and moved to an apartment at 5 Guilford Place in Sandymount. In 1988 they sold the Abbey Farm. Michael died 29 December 1990.
She was essentially an autobiographical writer. Her stories explore and reflect the patterns of her days: the return of the little girl to the restrictive society of her mother’s people, the unhappy marriage of her parents, her colourful father, her demanding mother, the world of Bective, her house in the middle of the fields, the world of Dublin where she was a student. But her deeper theme is self-deception. Some people live lives not of quiet desperation but of evasion and wish-fulfillment. She translated her own complicated sensibility into portrayals of complex, shifting psychological and mental states, dramas of the mind, in which the narrative method, the syntax, the organisation register the intricacies of the human being. She called them the ‘vagaries and contrarieties’ of the human heart and spoke of the need for ‘careful watching’ and ‘absolute sincerity’ in the management of our lives. At the high point of her career, in The middle of the fields (1967), she wrote about widows who refuse to be diminished by death and loss, retain warm memories of love, and meet experience in an open and capable manner. In her final stories, A family likeness (1985), she wrote frankly about the experiences of older people, revealing the tensions and failings, the impulses towards love and understanding, the reactions that inhibit relationships.