ANNE DEVLIN. Irish Heroine 1803
Dr. R. R. Madden, the chief historian of the United Irishmen, has introduced into his books, opinions and theories that many Irish separatists dispute, but he has left Ireland under a lasting debt to him for his great and meritorious work. For one deed alone we must be forever grateful to him. He rescued Anne Devlin from oblivion, even though too late to give her the comfort and freedom from care that were her due even in this life. For forty long years, the full story of which God alone knows, she who bad been reared in the midst of plenty, with sunshine and pure air and green fields for her delight, existed in tile direst poverty in Dublin’s poorest lanes and alleys, toiling unceasingly, very often sick and hungry, unheeded and unknown where, had Emmet succeeded, she would have received the highest honours a liberated people could give her. Dr. Madden was collecting materials for his memoir of Robert Emmet, and one day in 1842, he was directed to a poor old washerwoman, Mrs. Campbell, living in a miserable hovel in a stable-yard off John’s Lane beside Thomas Street in Dublin. He did not know her maiden name until some time he had been for some time asking her questions about 1803 and the men who were so long dead or in exile. At the mention of Robert Emmet her poor, old, careworn, hardship-lined face became aglow as if with the long-quenched light of youth and, little by little, the kind and patient historian drew from the recesses of her mind an invaluable store of information about the young leader she loved and those associated with him in the attempt that failed but that was so very near to being the greatest success of centuries. He brought her out to the house in Butterfield Lane taken by Emmet solely for the purpose of privacy in the enterprise ho had in hands, an ordinary house in a quiet locality where he and those nearest to him could live and where others could come unnoticed to confer with him. It was near the green acres held by Brian Devlin. a dairy fanner who had given loyal service to the Republic of Ireland in ‘98. That is how Anne Devlin came to he one of Emmet’s helpers, one of his most loyal comrades and most devoted friends and his confidential messenger to Sarah Curran. Anne and Rosie Hope, the brave and fearless wife of Jemmy Hope, the Ulster patriot, ran the house in Butterfield Lane, and when the poor old woman from a Dublin stableyard entered it again after forty years, it was as if young Annie Devlin had risen from the dead and revisited the scenes of her youth. The place was intended to be but a temporary residence during the months of preparations for the Rising, so only mattresses were provided for the sleeping rooms and as little furniture as possible. Writes Madden in his memoir, describing the visit he and Anne Devlin paid to Butterfield Lane in 1843:—” The lady of the house, in whom I discovered on acquaintance, left us in no doubt on the subject of the locality—we were in the house that had been tenanted by Robert Emmet. The scene that ensued is one more easily conceived than described. We were conducted over the house—my aged companion at first in silence, and then as if slowly awakening from a dream, rubbing her dim eyes, and here and there pausing for some moments when she came to some recognised spot. On the ground floor she pointed out a small room, on the left-hand of the entrance. ‘ That’s the room where Mr. Dowdall and Mr. Hamilton used to sleep.’ . . . ‘ This,’ she said, pointing again, ‘ was my room. I know it well. My mattress used to be in that corner.’ There was one place, every corner and cranny of which she seemed to have a Familiar acquaintance with, and that was the kitchen. On the upper floor, the principal bedroom at the present time attracted her particular attention. She stood for sonic time gazing into the room from the doorway. I asked her whose room it had been. It was a good while before I got an answer in words, but her trembling hands, and the few tears which came from a deep source, and spoke of sorrow of an old date, left no necessity to repeat that question. It was the room of Robert Emmet.” She spoke then of Thomas Russell and of the others who used to stay and come there, but always her thoughts and her words came back to him she venerated, and her voice trembled with ass overpowering emotion when she spoke of him. “ At the roar of the house, in the courtyard,” continues Madden, ‘ she pointed out the spot where she had undergone the punishment of half-hanging, and while she did so there was no appearance of emotions, such at least as one might expect recalled terror might produce, but there was very evident manifestations of another kind, of as lively a remembrance of the wrongs and outrages that had been inflicted on her, as if they had been endured bat the day before, and of as keen a sense of those indignities and cruelties, as if her cowardly assailants had been before her, and those withered hands of hors had power to grapple with them,”
“ I’LL TELL NOTH!NG!
NO wonder Anne Devlin had bitter as well as sad memories when she stood once more, after a lapse of forty years, in the spot where she had tasted the dregs of British humanity and chivalry. A few days after Emmet’s Rising had failed, a swarm of redcoats surrounded Butterfield House. They burst in the doors and tramped through the rooms. They wanted “Mr. Ellis “—the name under which Emmet had become a tenant of the place. They found only one calm, fearless, unarmed girl —Anne Devlin herself. They surrounded her and with ribald words and shouted imprecations and bullying threats demanded information as to his whereabouts. To all their questions she made but one reply: “ I have nothing to tell; I’ll tell nothing.” Some say the notorious Major “ Sirr was in charge of the uniformed ruffians; others merely stated that they were brought there by a magistrate. When threats and wheedling produced no result, the soldiers, if they can be given such a name, advanced their bayonets slowly until the points were at the brave girl’s neck sad shoulders and bosom. “ Where has he gone? “ asked the brute in command. “ I’ll tell nothing,” came the calm, courageous answer. He made a motion. The bayonets were further advanced. They entered the girl’s flesh. She was covered from head to foot with her own blood, but still she remained silent and apparently unconcerned, though her heart was bursting and her anguished, unspoken prayers sped to Heaven. “ If you do not tell us where he has gone we will hang you.” “ I have nothing to tell,” murmured poor Anne Devlin in her agony. “Tilt up that cart, men. We’ll soon show her what happens to those who shelter traitors.” They tilted back a common cart until the shafts were standing high in the air. Then they threw a rope across the chain or backhand that stretched from shaft to shaft. On one end of the rope they made a noose which they slipped over the girl’s head and tightened about her neck, while the blood from a dozen wounds still ran down her body. “ Once more we ask yon to tell us where the traitor is that we seek.”.“ I will tell nothing,” cried the choking Anne. “ Up with her then!” They pulled the rope which became taut about her neck.
“A Thiqhearna. iosa, dean trócaire orm! “ gasped Anne Devlin as she went unconquered to her death; and the next moment she lost consciousness as her body was lifted off the ground and swung between the shafts of her father’s cart. For a minute it swayed there, and then the ruffian in authority gave a sign and the rope was slackened. Her body fell to the ground and lay there as if dead. But Anne was still alive, and no word about Emmet had passed her lips. She was thrown across a horse’s back and brought into Dublin. When she recovered consciousness and was able to speak she was interrogated by Sirr and then by Trevor, the immoral, unprincipled scoundrel who, as doctor and inspector of prisons, ruled over Kilmainham Jail, with complete and absolute authority over every other official. Threats and torture having failed to extract even one word from the heroic girl, they tried another of their methods and judging her by themselves and their ilk, were almost sure it would be successful. They offered her £500 (a huge sum in those days) and a promise of absolute secrecy as to where they got the information, if she would only tell them what she knew about Emmet and where lie went when he left Butterfield House. It was only then they began to realise the strength and fidelity, the dignity and might of Irish womanhood. They who were the vilest and must venal of the venal and the vile, and who had been trafficking for years with the scum of Inhumanity, could not believe that one who seemed a poor, simple, untutored peasant girl, would scorn their sordid bribe as she had scorned the coward’s bayonet and the hangman’s rope. In words that poured from her indignant heart like molten fire she let them know what she thought of them and their gold. She had told them nothing, she would tell them nothing, she scorned and defied their cowardly brutality and their insulting suggestion that she should sell the honour of her people for money; and her words were so biting that the hardened scoundrels fled from them in confusion, utterly discomfited and defeated. They had met and been overthrown by the spirit of unconquered Ireland, housed in the heart and mind of an Irish girl. But they had other tortures in store for her.
A PAUPER’S GRAVE.
Her father and mother and all the members of her family, with the exception of one boy and one girl who happened to be staying with relatives, were arrested and flung into jail. Trevor of Kilmainham vented his spleen oft all of them and actually caused the death of the youngest child, a little boy who was tortured by him for the purpose of torturing Anne. The little lad was with his father in Kilmainham at a time when Anne was in the old Newgate Jail at Cornmarket. He contracted fever and while in the worst stage of it Trevor ordered him out of his father’s cell one night, on some pretext or other, and made him walk the whole mile in the cold and rain to the old prison. He died very soon after, and many of the prisoners accused Trevor of killing him. This “ sleek old ruffian,” as Anne Devlin called him, was able to produce affidavits and statements signed and sworn to by his creatures in both prisons to prove that he had done his best for the boy, and that it was the humane desire to have him near his sister that urged him to transfer the lad from one prison to the other. Anne had borne her own sufferings with calmness and fortitude, but this act of savage cruelty drove her almost insane, and she could not bear the sight of Trevor, whose slimy face provoked her to say things she would rather have left unsaid. Trevor pretended one day that he had begun to fear for her health and gave orders that she was to have exercise in the prison yard. When the door was opened, whom should she see walking rapidly up and down the yard but Robert Emmet himself! Her woman’s intuition told her in a flash that they were to be purposely brought face to face so that there would be mutual recognition, while Trevor and his turnkeys and touts watched from the windows overlooking the yard. Up and down, over and back they went for some time, until at last Anne saw that they were about to meet. At the right moment she flashed a warning look to hin, with a frown on her face and a finger on her lips. He took the hint and passed by as if they mere perfect strangers; hut she saw the flickering sunle that came across his face, and the light that gleamed for a moment in his worried eyes, and she was glad for his sake that Trevor’s plot had failed. She was at once ordered to her cell, and there n’a s no more exercise or fresh air for her for massy a long day.
It was not until Pitt died in 1806 and there was a change in the British Administration in Ireland that Anne Devlin and her people and the other prisoners were released from Kilmainham and Newgate. Brian Devlin’s business was missed and he and his family were thrown upon the world, with many a powerful hand raised against them, and those who would succour them if they could, as broken and impoverished as themselves. Never thinking for one moment that she was a heroine, the best and noblest in all the land, worthy of all consideration and all honour, Anne Devlin began her battle with hunger and want and poverty, which lasted for more than forty years. She was the same age as Emmet himself, so that when Dr. Madden discovered her and made known her story she must have been about sixty-six years of age, but made ten years older by hardship and hunger. Madden was a most kind and charitable man, and though lie does not say so, he must have helped her out of his own modest store. He made an appeal for her in the papers of the time, but it seems to have fallen on deaf cars. Madden himself, Edward Kennedy (Miles Byrne’s brother-in-law) and Father Meehan, the Young Ireland patriot and historian, appear to be the only ones who did anything for her at any time, and what they did was little, because she died in extreme poverty. Madden was away out of Ireland from time to time, and in September, 1851, on his return from the Continent, he went to see how Anne Devlin was faring, but could find no trace of her for a long time. He kept on searching, and the result of his efforts is described thus in a letter to the Nation newspaper of September 27, 1851
Four years ago an appeal was made in the Nation on behalf of Anne Devlin, which was in some small degree responded to—very, very inadequately, however. Afterwards we lost sight of her entirely. So, it seems, did others of her friends, until it was too late. But last week, a gentleman who always took the warmest interest in this noble creature, was informed that she was still living in a miserable garret at No. 2 Little Elbow Lane, a squalid alley running from the Coombe to Pimlico. On this day week be sought that wretched abode; but she had died two days previously, and had been buried in Glasnevin on the preceding day. A young woman, with an ill-fed infant in her arms, apparently steeped in poverty, but kindly and well-mannered, in whose room Anne Devlin had lodged, said :—‘ The poor creature, God rest her, it’s well for her - she’s dead. There was a coffin got from the Society for her, and she was buried yesterday.’ To the inquiry, what complaint she had died of, the answer was :—‘ She was old and weak, indeed, but she (tied mostly of went. She had a son, but he was not able to do much for her, except now and then to pay her lodging, which was five pence a week. He lived away from her, and so did her daughter, who was a poor widow, and was bard enough set to get a living herself, About ten or twelve days ago a gentleman (she believed of the name of Meehan) called there and gave the old woman something. Only for this she would not have lived as long as she did. She was very badly off, not only for food, but for bedclothes. Nearly all the rags she had to cover her went, at one time or another, to get a morsel of bread.’
Think of it! During the years before the Famine, while thousands of pounds were being squandered on Repeat banquets, while O’Connell was thundering forth his denunciation of Tone and Emmet and all who stood with them for Ireland’s call, while tens of thousands of pounds of Repeal Rent “ were being subscribed for the upkeep of the crowd by parasites who swarmed shout O’Connell by the faithful, too-confiding poor who would gladly have come to Anne Devlin’s aid had they been told her story, the noblest woman of our race was dying slowly of starvation in a Dublin slum! She was buried in the pauper part of Glasnevin Cemetery, but Dr. Madden had her remains rescued from that unmarked spot and placed in a grave a little way beyond where the Republican Plot now is, and had a monument erected above her dust, bearing this inscription
To THE MEMORY OF ANNE DEVLIN (CAMPBELL),
THE FAITHFUL SERVANT OF ROBERT EMMET ,
WHO POSSESED SOME RARE AND NOBLE QUALITIES:
WHO LIVED IN OBSCURITY AND POVERTY, AND SO DIED,
THE 18TH DAY OF SEPTEMBER, 1851,
AGED 70 YEARS.
The inscription erred on the side of modesty, hut we must be grateful to the kind-hearted man who caused it to be erected, and who rescued Anne Devlin’s name and deed from oblivion. But even he who saw and spoke to her and know all her story, did not realise how great she was. In the midst of his praise of her he refers to her as “ this poor creature of plebeian origin “ and “ this low-born woman “—she, the niece of Michael Dwyer with the blood of proud Wicklow chieftains in her veins! —and other writers have shown their ignorance as well as their snobbishness by writing of her in similar terms. A well-known Irish-American writer, Louise Imogen Guiney, author of many books, including one on Robert Emmet, speaks of the great Anne Devlin as a “peasant wench,” and some who have gone deeply into the history of the period and wasted a lot of ink on ill-bred English tools in high places, -hardly refer to her at all. Perhaps it is as well, for some of them could never understand the nobility of character and blood which preferred torture, imprisonment, life-long poverty and a pauper’s death to wealth and dishonour,
Mary Butters The Carnmoney Witch
“In Carrick town a wife did dwell
Who does pretend to conjure witches.
Auld Barbara Goats, or Lucky Bell,
Ye'U no lang to come through her clutches.
A waeful trick this wife did play
On simple Sawney, our poor tailor.
She’s mittimiss the other day
To lie in limbo with the jailor.
This simple Sawney had a cow,
Was aye as sleekit as an otter ;
It happened for a month or two
Aye when they churn 'd they got nae butter
Rowntree tied in the cow's tail,
And vervain glean *d about the ditches ;
These freets and charms did not prevail.
They could not banish the auld witches.
The neighbour wives a' gathered in
In number near about a dozen ;
Elspie Dough, and Mary Linn,
And Kate McCart, the tailor*s cousin.
Aye they churn and aye they swat,
Their aprons loos'd, and coost their mutches ;
But yet nae butter they could get,
They blessed the cow but curst the witches.
Had Sawney summoned all his wits
And sent awa for Huie Mertin,
He could have gall'd the witches' guts,
An' cur't the kye to Nannie Barton.^
But he may shew the farmer's wab,
An' lang wade through Carnmoney gutters ;
Alas ! it was a sore mis-jab
When he employ'd auld Mary Butters.
The sorcerest open'd the scene
With magic words of her invention,
To make the foolish people keen
Who did not know her base intention.
She drew a circle round the churn.
And washed the staff in south-run water,
And swore the witches she would burn.
But she would have the tailor's butter.
When sable Night her curtain spread
Then she got on a flaming fire ;
The tailor stood at the cow's head
With his turn'd waistcoat in the byre.”