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Archiver > IRELAND > 2001-01 > 0979319364

From: "Debbie Romilly" <>
Subject: [IRELAND] Women of 1798 Irish Rebellion
Date: Fri, 12 Jan 2001 11:09:24 -0600

For lots more info on the Irish Rebellion of 1798 please visit:


In considering the unsuccessful struggle in which my brother was engaged,
many are too apt to forget the evils of the time: the grinding oppression
under which the people laboured; the contempt in which public opinion was
held; the policy which prevented its expression and intimidated the press.
The only means then existing of stemming the torrent of corruption and
oppression was tried, and they failed, but the failure . . . was not without
its beneficial effects.
-- Mary Ann McCracken

The annals of '98 record nothing more terrible than the sufferings endured
by the women of Ireland. The pathway of the Yeomanry was often strewn with
dead women, above whom their surviving children were screeching and
bewailing them.
The names recalled in this article are not chosen as the greatest in the
history of the period, but because in the varied services they rendered,
they are representative of the magnificent contribution made by the women of
Ireland to the glorious struggle of 1798.

Countless numbers of women, the majority of whose names will forever remain
unknown, fought, worked and died with the insurgent forces; after making
victory possible and gave to defeat so magnificent a character that it has
remained an inspiration for all time.

It is not possible to surpass Mathilda Tone in her devotion to and support
for her husband during the difficult years leading up to the Rising of 1798.
Theobald Wolfe Tone in his diary wrote:

"My wife especially, whose courage and whose zeal for my honour and
interests were not in the least abated by all her past sufferings,
supplicated me to let no consideration of her or our children, stand for a
moment in the way of my engagement to our friends, and my duty to my
country, adding that she would answer for our family, during my absence, and
that the same Providence, which had so often as it were miraculously
preserved us, would, she was confident, not desert us now."

When Tone's son, William, had reached manhood, he wrote: "I was brought up
by my surviving parent, in all the principles, and in all the feelings of my
father." Mathilda Tone was faithful to the trust and, like so many other
wives, the unsung heroines of Irish history, she stood by her husband in
difficult times.

In one of his poems, the Young Ireland poet, John Keegan Casey, immortalised
the dedication bravery and heroism of the women of 1798:
"When the tyrant's hand was laid
Upon the true and brave,
In the tender pride of womenhood
They rose to help and save."

By 1798 the wearing of the colour green was forbidden by order of the
English government, but this order was defied by the women, especially in
Wexford. The women of Wexford had their petticoats, handkerchiefs, cap
ribbons and all parts of their dress that exhibited a shade of green, torn
off and were subjected to the most vile and indecent language by the Yeomen.
Any women who encountered the government troops ran a most terrible risk. In
a desperate encounter with a Hessian Captain, Anne Ford of Garrysackle,
County Wexford, slew him with a mallet.

Peg Kavanagh was one of many women who conveyed despatches and food to
Michael Dwyer and Joseph Hall in their hiding place in the Wicklow
Mountains. Susan O'Toole, the blacksmith's daughter of Annamore, carried
ammunition and provisions to the insurgent chiefs for many a long year. Hall
used to call Susan O'Toole his "moving magazine".

William Rooney has immortalised the memory of Mary Doyle a fearless Wexford

"But a figure rose before us,
Twas a girl's fragile frame
And among the fallen soldiers
There she walked with eyes aflame,
And her voice rang o'er the sea:
"Who so dares to die for Ireland
Let him come and follow me!"

Mary Doyle, the heroine of New Ross, County Wexford, so often shouldered her
musket and did sentry duty at the insurgent camp. The success of the Irish
forces at New Ross was to a large extent due to her, who in one of the turns
of the fight, when hesitation might have resulted in rout, leaped out in
front of the insurgents, brandishing a scythe, with which she cut the
cartouche (ammunition) belts of the fallen enemy, and threw their contents
among the Wexfordmen to replenish their stock, calling on them to be
resolute and follow.

Her magnificent courage undoubtedly won for them whatever success they
attained. The intrepid woman, Mary Doyle, seeing the insurgents about to
quit the scene of one of their conflicts and leave behind a gun they had
brought with them, seated herself upon it and refused to move unless the gun
was taken with them. The weary men were shamed into complying with her

It is said that she perished amid the flames, like so many other women, that
consumed so much of the town of New Ross.

Equally brave were the exploits of the beautiful young northern heroine,
Betsy Grey of Granshaw, County Down, who on June 13th followed her brother
George and lover, Willie Boal, to the fatal field of Ballinahinch, where she
fought bravely at their side during the entire conflict, and perished with
them in the fight that ensued.
>From the north also came the indomitable spirit of Mary Anne McCracken.

Much has been written of the heroic mothers and wives of our freedom
fighters and much more remains to be written. But little is heard of their
sisters, who like Mary Anne McCracken, sister of Henry Joy, stood by their
brothers in their darkest hours.

Mary grew to womanhood with a passionate love of liberty and followed with
enthusiastic interest the progress of the American War of Independence. She
joined the United Irishmen and was swept into activism in the Movement of
1798 against English control of Ireland.

After the Rising in Antrim, Henry Joy McCracken and his companions were
forced to withdraw to a hide-out in the hills. Mary insisted in finding him,
and at last traced him to Brownhill with Jemmy Hope and some other

After this their encounters grew more tragic. He was arrested in an escape
bid to America and flung into Carrickfergus Jail. His faithful sister
followed him and spoke words of comfort through the prison bars. When he was
later transferred to Belfast she followed him there too. She was present at
his trial, comforted him in his cell as he awaited execution and accompanied
him to the scaffold.

Forty years after the execution of her brother, Mary Anne McCracken
described her terrible ordeal on the afternoon of his execution:

"At 5pm he was ordered to the place of execution - the old market-house, the
ground of which had been given to the town by his great-great-grandfather. I
took his arm and we walked together to the place of execution (outside the
house in Rosemary Street, Belfast where he was born) where I was told it was
the generals orders I should leave him, which I peremptorily refused. Harry
begged I would go. Clasping my hands round him I said I could bear anything
but leaving him. Three times he kissed me and entreated I would go . . . I
suffered to be led away . . . I was told afterwards that poor Harry stood
where I left him at the place of execution and watched me until I was out of

Just as she had seen the brother whom she had loved make the supreme
sacrifice for liberty, so she had watched Thomas Russell, the man who she
had secretly loved for many years, drawn into the governments' net and pay
the same price at Downpatrick Jail. And when the gallows had done their work
it was she who committed his remains to the soil of Downpatrick to rest
forever under the simple stone inscribed "The Grave of Russell".

Upon the grave of Mary Anne McCracken, near to which is buried her brother,
Henry Joy, the stone describes her as "True till death".

Other heroines of '98 include: Teresa Malone of Carlow, May Loftus and her
daughter, Bridget, of Wicklow, Mrs Oliver Bond, Mrs Henry Sheares and Lady
Pamela Fitzgerald.

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