Freeman’s Journal 30th March, 1916 p.6
The Countess de Marcieviecz, whose house in Dublin was raided recently, a printing press found in it being confiscated, published a while back an interesting article on the women of Ninety-eight, which is of more than usual interest in these days when women again are manifesting high courage in the face of danger.
We hear of Henry Joy McCracken being helped more than once by brave women other than his sister, the authoress tells us. Early in ’98 one managed to warn him in time for him to escape from Belfast. Passing along the Hercules road he met James Hope, to whom we are indebted for the story of how he was attacked in Hercules street by some armed yeomen, and would have been killed had not a butcher’s wife, called Hammell, come to his assistance with a large knife. When the yeomen ran away, she led Henry Joy into her house and passed him out in safety by a back way.
Dr. Madden tells of another woman who helped the United Irishmen in the North. He describes her as “a sister to the Sinclairs, and a young woman of great personal attractions.” She constantly met General Lake and owing to his intense vanity and incapacity, was able to extract all the information and the orders given to him by the British Government.
Mary McCracken tells of Biddy Magee, a mere child of twelve years, and of a nervous timid temperament. One night she heard a regiment of soldiers passing by the door of the cottage where she lived and she know that they could only be going to pay a surprise visit to a house where some of the United men were hidden. She jumped out of bed, hastily throwing about her a few of her clothes, and rang by a lonely short cut through the fields to the cottage. Her courage was rewarded for she arrived in time to warn and save the rebels, and to slip home safely herself. This child was so nervous that she did not dare to fetch a bucket of water from the well alone in the dusk of the evening. Patriotism gave her courage.
MILES BYRNE’S BRAVE SISTER
Miles Byrne was blessed, like McCracken, with a sister of exceptional character. Though only 18 and of a gay, happy, light-hearted nature, she seems to have been absolutely dependable under the most terribly trying circumstances, and to have been of the greatest assistance to her brother and to many others in evading the English troops, and finally in escaping safely. Self-possession and good sense, courage and spirit were some of the qualities that he credits her with. She had one very narrow escape, which I will give in her brother’s own words;
“If I had not remarked a long scar on her neck, she would not have mentioned anything herself. A yeoman of the name of Wheatley, of the Gorey Corps, the day on which poor Hugh was arrested, threatened to cut her throat with his sabre if she did not tell instantly the place in which I was hiding. The cowardly villain, no doubt, would have put his threat in execution had not some of his comrades interfered to prevent him.”
There are frequent allusions to her all through the memoirs, which I have not space to retail. His step-sister, too, and various other women, are mentioned as helping in his escape; in fact, the whole tone of the book tends to show how, in Wexford, the men were accustomed to rely on the women to keep them posted with information, supply them with food, hide them, and help them escape.
At the end of the rebellion, his sister hid him in a cave, dug out by a neighbour, whom he calls Ned Cane, behind the fireplace on the ground floor. He remained there till she could arrange for his escape. She arranged with another woman, Mrs. Ricards, of Coolafaney, that this lady should drive to Dublin, on the pretence of taking her son to school, and that Miles Byrne should be the man who drove the car for them.
The chiefs of the United Irishmen seem all to have been most fortunate in the women whom they married. I have only met with one woman who was weak enough to implore her husband to save his own life, at the cost of his friends. The husband, Tom Armstrong, who was hung at Lisburn, answered her entreaties and tears by saying, “No, Mary, I will not save my life on such terms. Were I to do so, great numbers of wives would be left widows, and many children deprived of their chief protectors. I will only leave one widow and two children, and the God of the widow and the fatherless will take charge of them.:
Pamela was a devoted wife to Lord Edward Fitzgerald, though he says somewhere that he never discussed his plans with her, so anxious was he that she should not be put to any annoyance through having his dangerous secrets to keep.
James Hope’s wife was an exceptional woman. Many stories are told of her courage and cleverness. One anecdote is all that I have time for. I have taken it from Madden;
“She was sent to a house in the Liberty, where a quantity of ball cartridges had been lodged, to carry them away, to prevent ruin being brought on the house and its inhabitants. She went to the house, put them into a pillow-case, and emptied the contents into the canal, at that part of it which supplies the basin.”
Putnam McCabe’s wife went by the name of Mrs. Lee and also Mrs Maxwell in order to follow him from France to Ireland, to be near him, and to help him.
James Porter’s wife tried to get him reprieved by every means in her power, and we hear of her and a Miss Jackson accompanying him to the place of execution.
Mrs Neilson, Mrs O’Conner, Mrs Thomas Addis Emmet, and many other women followed the political prisoners to Fort George and remained to cheer and comfort them through their long, weary banishment.
One way in which the woman of ’98 were able to do good service to their country was by carrying, by word of mouth, messages too dangerous to be trusted to paper and ink. Miss Betty Palmer, a confidential agent of Emmet and Russell was the daughter of old John Palmer of Cutpurse Row. Dr. Madden calls her a sort of Irish Mme. Roland, and tells how, when it was dangerous to be seen in the streets, it was she who carried messages between Emmet, Long, Hevey, Fitzgerald and Russell. Margaret Spaight did the same for John Sheares.
The cleverness of Mrs Bond has often been admired. She obtained permission to send provisions to the prisoners, Russell and Neilson. Among the dainties provided by her was a delicious pie. When opened, it was found to contain letters to friends, writing material, newspapers, etc.
Poor Sarah Curran’s sad story hardly comes into the story of ’98 but we hear of Annie Devlin in connection with some of the heroes killed in the Wicklow Mountains. In the summer of ’99 Annie and Mary Dwyer, the wife of her uncle, Michael Dwyer, going with three other young women at midnight to dig up the bodies of Sam McAllister and Tom Costello, and bringing them to Kilranelagh for proper burial.