Turtle Bunbury

Writer and Historian

 
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DUBLIN WOMEN: SIX OF THE BEST

In August 2015, the Women’s Museum of Ireland (www.womensmuseumofireland.ie) sought suggestions for a new map to highlight sites around Dublin City connected to remarkable women from Irish history. Turtle Bunbury pitched six women to the Irish Daily Mail whom he thought should make the cut.

THE BLESSED MARGARET BALL (1515–1584)

2015 marks 500 years since the birth near Skryne, Co. Meath, of Margaret Bermingham. At the age of 16, the farmer’s daughter married an upcoming alderman called Bartholomew Ball, whose family operated a bridge over the River Dodder, hence giving rise to the name ‘Ballsbridge.’ The couple lived between Ballygall House near Finglas and a town house on Merchant's Quay where they raised five children to adulthood. Their home was a safe-house for senior Catholics during the persecutions that took place during Queen Elizabeth’s reign. However, when Margaret’s devoutly Protestant son Walter became Lord Mayor of Dublin, he hurled his widowed mother into the cold, wet dungeons of Dublin Castle where she died of arthritis three years later. Beatified in 1992, the Blessed Margaret Ball is recalled by statue of herself and her martyred grandson-in-law, the Blessed Francis Taylor, which stands in front of St. Mary's Pro-Cathedral, Dublin.

LADY JANE WILDE aka SPERANZA (1821-1896)

Oscar Wilde’s mother was one of the most extraordinary women of her generation. The daughter of a Wexford solicitor, she spent the 1840s writing essays and poems for The Nation, a weekly nationalist newspaper, under the pseudonym of Speranza. When she penned an article calling for an armed rebellion against the British, Dublin Castle closed the paper down. In 1851 she married the future Sir William Wilde, an eye and ear surgeon, with whom she lived at 1 Merrion Square (now the American College) and had two sons and a daughter. An early advocate of women's rights, she campaigned for better education for women and was among those who invited the suffragist Millicent Fawcett to speak on female liberty at Dublin’s Molesworth Hall. Her life concluded in relative poverty in 1896, by which time her daughter was dead, her eldest son an alcoholic and her youngest son, Oscar, a prisoner at Reading Gaol.

LADY MORGAN (c. 1781-1859)

The novelist, travel writer and musician Lady Morgan, aka Sydney Owenson, was the daughter of a Dublin born comedy actor and grew up in his family home at 60 Dame Street. Educated in Clontarf and on Earl Street, she began publishing poetry and novels in her early 20s but hit the big time with her 1806 novel, The Wild Irish Girl, which went through seven editions in less than two years. Following its success, the Duke and Duchess of Abercorn effectively insisted that Sydney become in-house entertainer at Baron’s Court, their Fermanagh home, where she met her husband Charles Morgan, the Abercorn’s live-in family physician. Living between Dublin and London, the Morgans dedicated their lives to promoting the cause of Catholic Emancipation, as well as civil and religious liberty. A famous society hostess, she ensured her home was "always open to sufferers in that cause from whatever land they came."

EVA O’FLAHERTY (1874-1963)

Born into a prominent Catholic landed gentry family from Co. Galway, Eva O'Flaherty was a celebrated beauty, intellect and nationalist. Her father defended the Young Ireland radical John Mitchel in 1848 while her grandfather was one of Daniel O’Connell’s closest friends. Educated at both Mount Anville and Alexandra Colleges in Dublin, Eva went on to study millinery in Paris before opening a millinery shop on Sloane Street, London, in 1913. At this time she became connected to the Irish Republican Brotherhood, corresponding with notable Republican women such as Dr Kathleen Lynn and Kathleen Clarke, the wife of the 1916 leader Tom Clarke. In 1910 she moved to Achill Island, Co. Mayo, and opened St Colman’s Knitting Industries in Dooagh, which produced chic twinsets for Brown Thomas, Arnotts and Switzers, as well as providing vital employment for Achill’s women for almost fifty years. She also co-founded the Scoil Acla summer school. During the Easter Rising, she is believed to have been one of sixteen couriers known as the ‘basket-women’ who carried messages to the leadership in their bicycle baskets. She lived out her latter years on Achill, where she hosted friends such as artist Paul Henry and writer Graham Green.

ROSIE HACKETT (1892-1976)

Perhaps the most remarkable women to serve in the Royal College of Surgeons during the Easter Rising was Rosie Hackett, a woman of such unbending resolve that Dublin City Council chose to name a new city bridge in her honour in 2013. Born in 1893, Rosie grew up in the tenements around Eden Quay where she initially worked as a packer in a paper store. She was among the women who went on strike at the Jacob’s biscuit factory in 1911 and she was in the crowd baton-charged by the Dublin Metropolitan Police on ‘Bloody Sunday’ 1913. During the Lockout, she was one of the stalwarts of the Liberty Hall soup kitchens and became a close confidante of James Connolly. When the strike finished, she helped run the co-op shop at Liberty Hall. She was on first-name terms with those who planned the Rising and studied first aid with Dr Kathleen Lynn for six months before it. On the night of Easter Sunday 1916 she was flat out ‘going back and forth with messages’. Rosie was subsequently arrested and imprisoned in Kilmainham Gaol for ten days. After her release, she teamed up with the Irish suffragettes Louie Bennett and Helen Chenevix to reorganise the Irish Women Workers Union, in which she remained active for the rest of her life. When she died in 1976 aged 84, she was buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, with full military honours.

PATRICIA HORNE

Patricia Horne was born into a medical family with strong ties to Holles Street maternity hospital. Her grandfather was its founder and first joint master, her father Andrew was assistant master and her mother Delia Moclair was its first assistant female master. Her father is also believed to have been the last officer of the Royal Army Medical Corp to leave Gallipoli 100 years ago. As Patricia’s biographer Dr. Ida Milne put it in an interview for the Royal Irish Academy of Medicine’s Living Medical History Project, her story "breathes life into the purpose of those mission collection boxes”. In 1957, prompted by a childhood dream about medical missionaries in Nigeria, the 28-year-old Dubliner made her way to Nsukka in south-east Nigeria where she spent two years working seven days a week as the solitary doctor at a mission hospital run by the Holy Rosary Sisters. As well as obstetrics, her main challenges were combating tuberculosis and yaws, a hideous tropical infection of the skin, bone and cartilage. After her move back to Ireland, a back injury obliged her to give up surgery. She initially turned to psychiatry, working at St Davnet’s in Monaghan, but returned to Zambia for six years in her late 60s to help in the war on AIDS. Now retired, Patricia Horne lives in Dublin. Her twin sister Margaret Horne is a celebrated pioneer of hospital almoning.

With thanks to Dr. Ida Milne, Linda Maher and Kate Cunningham, Co-director, Women's Museum of Ireland.


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