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.

Building the Irish American Museum

In life it is said that the best ideas are the most obvious.  In the case of a small group of Irish Americans from Connecticut, their vision of building a national Irish American museum in our Nation’s Capital has been staring them in the face for years and now they are taking steps to make it a reality.  The Irish American Museum of Washington, DC will be a major cultural institution that will bring Irish-American history to life for visitors of all ages and for all American’s to see.       According to Carl Shanahan, a founding director of the Museum, The history of the United States is the history of Irish America and that history deserves its rightful place in our nation’s capital. He continued to explain that, The museum belongs in Washington to reflect the national character of our story; the Irish legacy is evident all across this country.

The museum will be one of ethnic identity and join the likes of similar museums in DC honoring African Americans, Native Americans, Jewish Americans and most recently German Americans.  The goal, according to Shanahan, is to explore the experience of the Irish people from immigrations through the evolution of their communities as well as to acknowledge their struggles and triumphs.  James Dougherty, another founding director, explained that The story of Irish America must be preserved and the story must be told. Every day a little bit of our history fades away. We must record and preserve that history before it is gone.

AOH National Historian Mike McCormack noted, How many times have we said I wish I could have been there to help during the Great Hunger, to fight with Pearse in the 1916 rising, to work with Michael Collins, or to lend a hand at any other crucial time in Irish history – but I was born too late.  Revise that thought!  We were born at just the right time to do all those things and more for to keep their memory alive for posterity is to aid them more than any aid they received in their lifetimes.  This museum is a critical effort and it’s what we are all about.  Now is our time to be a hero for Irish history.

Early plans for the museum include housing in temporary gallery space until a permanent building can be built; site locations for a prestigious permanent establishment are presently under investigation.  The museum will provide future generations of Irish-Americans with a proper sense of their history.  With very limited space for museums available on the national mall, the search will include property of historic significance in the early Irish history of Washington DC which also allows convenient access to visitors.

Education will be a key component of the museum to showcase 250 years of Irish-American history through innovative exhibitions, education and cultural programs.  This will be done in a state of the art facility designed to pay proper tribute to all those of Irish descent who played a role in the birth and development of the United States of America. The Museum will be a living and constantly developing entity. The core elements of the initial plan include exhibits of historical artifacts from the earliest Irish settlers up through the present.  Also included will be oral history projects recording the memories of individuals who contributed to the Irish American story; a library of donated and collected books, films, magazines, newspapers and recorded music; a historical research center; a genealogical research center; an auditorium for presenting plays and musical performances that tell the Irish American story and a gift shop where visitors can purchase books, films and other items of Irish American interest.  A cafeteria will serve quality food including dishes that would have been familiar to Irish immigrants.  A publishing department will also develop and publish books and films on the Irish American experience. Also planned is a state of the art cinema to present audio/visual material produced by the Museum and by outside sources on topics of Irish-American interest.

Raising money for such a facility and operation will take a significant amount of time and effort and it all began in 2007, when the Board of Directors of The Wild Geese, an Irish American cultural organization based in Fairfield County Connecticut, authorized its President and Vice-President to pursue the establishment of an Irish-American Museum as a standalone tax exempt organization.  They appropriated $30,000.00 as seed money to form the organization, and produce publicity material. The Wild Geese have subsequently granted an additional $5,000.00. The Museum has been incorporated and has been granted section 501(c)(3) tax exempt status by the Internal Revenue Service.  According to Patrick Flaherty a founding director of the Museum, the organization must raise $10 Million to build, maintain and endow the museum in perpetuity.  They are soliciting funds from numerous sources including corporate sponsors, foundations, governments and individuals.

More informational can be found at their website www.irishamericanmuseumdc.org which is also in the process of being expanded.

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