Anne Devlin

Irish history is filled with the names of noble souls who fought and died to break her chains of bondage. Some who suffered and died for that cause are less known than others. They led no insurrection; they made no memorable speech from the dock; they held no position of power; but theirs was a martyr’s role nonetheless. They were the common Irish whose quiet sacrifice nurtured and preserved the dream of freedom. One such, was a simple house keeper, born in 1778, and whose name should be as well known as that of Emmet, Pearse, and Tone. Her name was Anne Devlin.

A cousin of two United Irish rebel leaders, Arthur Devlin and Michael Dwyer, she was the devoted Aide to the bold Robert Emmet, leader of the second rising of the United Irishmen. Posing as his housekeeper, she helped him plan the rising and carried correspondence between him and other leaders associated with the ill-fated rebellion of 1803. She was a proud and dedicated Irish woman and Ireland’s freedom was her only dream. When the rising was crushed, Emmet went on the run into the Wicklow Mountains, and Miss Devlin saw to his well-being as they awaited arrangements to smuggle him to France. The British knew that Anne was aware of the hiding places of Emmet and other leaders who had escaped. She was taken prisoner, stabbed and half-hanged to get her to reveal their whereabouts. When she refused, she was placed in solitary confinement in Kilmainham Jail.

For three years, Anne Devlin was subjected to torture and bribes. She suffered the brutal indecencies that only women prisoners can suffer at the hands of depraved jailers. Yet her determination was never broken. She remained loyal to the cause and betrayed not one of the men her jailers sought to capture. In their continuing efforts to make her talk, members of Anne’s family were also incarcerated including her 12-year-old brother who contracted prison fever and died in a Kilmainham cell near her own. Her body and her heart were broken, and still she did not betray Ireland’s heroes. When Prime Minister Pitt died in 1806, there was a change in the British Administration in Ireland and Anne Devlin and her family were finally released from Kilmainham.

When Anne was released, she appeared a broken old woman – at 28 years of age! She had contracted a debilitating case of Erysipelas, which left her limbs numb and feeble, and which plagued her for the remainder of her life. She disappeared into the slums of Dublin where she married a man named Campbell who died in 1845 and left her with a son and invalid daughter. She managed a meager existence taking in wash. In 1842, Dr. Richard Madden, who was researching the history of the United Irishmen and their times, was directed to a poor old washerwoman, Mrs. Campbell, living in a miserable hovel in a stable-yard in the Dublin Liberties. He learned of Anne’s sacrifice and became an ardent admirer, occasionally helping her with donations. Unfortunately Dr. Madden, who worked on government assignment, was transferred to Cuba, and spent many years away from Ireland. Upon his return, he went to the Liberties to seek her out and learned the sad story of her final days and her death two days earlier on the 18th of September, 1851.

He met a young woman, apparently steeped in poverty herself, in whose room Anne Devlin had lodged. He recorded that the woman told him, 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 his inquiry of what had she died from, the answer was, She was old and weak, indeed, but she died mostly of want. 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 hard enough set to get a living herself. About ten or twelve days ago a gentleman 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.

Dr. Madden was heartbroken at finding her grave in the pauper’s section of Glasnevin cemetery. It was an incredibly tragic end to a most noble lady. He had her remains re-buried in the patriot’s part of the cemetery known as the Circle, right near Daniel O’Connell, and erected a memorial over her. He left this account of her in volume III of his monumental history of the United Irishmen, The extraordinary sufferings endured, and the courage and fidelity displayed, by this young woman have few parallels. She was tortured, frightfully maltreated, her person goaded and pricked with bayonets, hung up by the neck, and was only spared to be exposed to temptations, to be subjected to new and worse horrors than any she had undergone, to suffer solitary confinement, to be daily tormented with threats of further privations, till her health broke down and her mind shattered, and after years of suffering in the same prison, when others of her family were confined without any communication with them, she was turned adrift on the world, without a house to return to, or friends or relations to succor or shelter her. The day will come when the name of Anne Devlin, the poor neglected creature who, when I knew her, was dragging out a miserable existence, struggling with infirmity and poverty, will be spoken of with feelings of kindness not unmixed with admiration

But the times are changing and in February, 2004, the South Dublin County Council proudly unveiled a statue of Anne in the village of Rathfarnam, just a few yards from the house in Butterfield lane where she served Robert Emmet and Ireland. Even then, the statue caused controversy since many historians preferred a statue of Emmet he had led the Rising. However, saner heads prevailed and this beautiful statue not only adds a bit of character to Rathfarnham village, it highlight the significance of it’s history. Irish-Canadian poet, Paul Potts, dedicated an entire chapter in his book of essays, Invitation to a Sacrament to all who helped Anne Devlin , and he wrote that, it is true that she was a servant girl; it is equally true that she was one of the glories of the world. Because of her a light shines out, from the slums around the Coombe and from the ploughs on a Wicklow hillside, to equal the brightness of any star. This Wicklow peasant working girl beat the British Empire. They had been beaten by the spirit of unconquered Ireland, housed in the heart and mind of a simple Irish girl. Anne Devlin is an inspiration to all who hold freedom dear.

Grace Evelyn Gifford

One of Ireland’s most tragic daughters, Grace Evelyn Gifford, was born on March 4, 1888, the second youngest of 12 children of a Catholic father and a Protestant mother in Rathmines, Dublin. As was then the practice, the boys were brought up Catholic and the girls as Protestants. Grace went to school in Dublin and at 16 went to the Metropolitan School of Art, where she studied under Irish artist William Orpen. Orpen regarded her as most gifted and in 1907 she attended a course in Fine Art at the Slade School of Art in London. She returned to Dublin in 1908 and tried to earn a living as a caricaturist, publishing her cartoons in The Shanachie, Irish Life, Meadowstreet and The Irish Review. She earned little money, but enjoyed a lively social life.

She met a London lady journalist, who brought her to the opening of the new bilingual St Enda’s School where she met Joseph Mary Plunkett for the first time. She also met the future leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising, including Tomás MacDonagh, whom she would introduce to her sister Muriel. They married in 1912 and Muriel became a Catholic. Grace’s interest in the Catholic religion also grew leading to a closer acquaintance with Joseph Plunkett as she began to question him about his faith. She could not have found a better teacher since St. Oliver Plunkett was a member of Joseph’s family. Joseph proposed to Grace in 1915 and she took lessons in the Catholic religion. She was formally received into the Catholic Church in April, 1916. Having no knowledge of the plans for the Easter Rising, she had planned to marry Joseph on Easter Sunday of that same year.

Joseph hadn’t told Grace of the impending insurrection which was scheduled for Easter Sunday, nor did he expect the chronic health problems he was experiencing – an advanced case of tuberculosis – to require emergency surgery the week before. As it turned out, the operation forced Joseph to postpone the wedding, just as other circumstances forced the postponement of the rising to Easter Monday. The first indication to Grace that something was going on came on the evening of Holy Saturday when Plunkett’s young aide, Michael Collins, dropped by to deliver her a sum of money and a small gun for her protection. Grace was horrified at the sight of the gun, but Collins left without offering a confused Grace Gifford any further explanation.

One can only imagine the confusion, anxiety, and distress experienced by Grace as the events of Easter week unfolded with her beloved in the center of the fighting. After the Rising failed, Joseph and the other leaders were taken to Kilmainham Jail, swiftly court martialed and sentenced to death by firing squad. When Grace learned that Joseph was due to be shot on May 4th; she hurriedly visited a Dublin jeweler and bought a wedding ring. On the night of May 3rd she was given permission to visit Joseph. Arrangements had been made for them to meet in the prison chapel where the prison chaplain married them with two prison guards as witnesses. Accompanied by fifteen soldiers they crammed into Joseph’s tiny cell, on the wall of which he had scratched his memorable poem I See His Blood Upon the Rose. After only a ten-minute visit, Grace was ushered out. A few short hours later, Joseph was murdered by a vengeful British military in the stone-breakers yard of Kilmainham Jail.

Grace never married again; she resumed her commercial art work to earn a living. She also decided to devote herself, through her art, to the promotion of the Sinn Féin policies Joseph had given his life for. Throughout her long widowhood she became a staunch Irish Republican and was even elected to the reorganized Sinn Fein executive in 1917 where she served alongside Kathleen Clarke and Constance Markievicz and opposed the treaty which led to the Irish Civil War. Throughout the Civil War, many republicans were arrested and incarcerated without trial or charge. Grace herself was one. Arrested in February 1923, as fate would have it, she was held in the same Kilmainham Jail where her Joseph had been executed. In what had to be an extremely emotional incarceration, she was moved to paint a beautiful picture on her cell wall of the Madonna and Child, perhaps in honor of Joseph’s middle name. It became an instant treasure to all who saw it and it became known as The Kilmainham Madonna. It remained on the wall when the women prisoners were transferred to the North Dublin Union and after Kilmainham was closed in 1924.

When the Civil War ended, Grace, who was no friend of the Irish Free State, had no home of her own and very little money. Official animosity toward those who had opposed the treaty remained strong and she received no help from the government. Her talent as an artist was her only asset; her cartoons were published in a few newspapers and magazines and she illustrated W. B. Yeats’ The Words upon the Window Pane in 1930. She moved from one rented flat to another and ate in inexpensive city-center restaurants. She had many admirers, but had no wish to remarry. Her circumstances improved in 1932 when she received a Civil List pension from de Valera’s Fianna Fáil government. From the 1940s onwards, her health declined and in 1950 she was taken to hospital and then a nursing home, which she didn’t like. She returned to her flat where she died suddenly, and alone, on 13 December, 1955. This tragic lady, whose life was altered by her love for an Irish patriot and his cause, was removed to St Kevin’s Church and she was buried in Glasnevin Cemetery with full military honors.

But what ever became of the Kilmainham Madonna? For the answer to that question, go to the National AOH website AOH.COM and check out the December history there.