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16 July 1998 Edition

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Remembering the Past: The women of 98 Part 2

Molly Weston

On 26 May Molly and her brother of Worganstown, County Meath, having recruited and organised the United Irishmen in the Fingal area, rode on horseback into Tara, County Meath. She was described as ``handsome and vivacious, quick in mind, active in body...a daring and accomplished horse-woman''.

``Arrayed in green... mounted on a white horse, [she] rode hither and thither upon the field with drawn sword in hand, rallying the pikemen and leading them in successive charges with the utmost fearlessness'' (Patrick Archer, ``Fingal in 1798'').

``She wore a green riding costume, with gold braid in the manner of a uniform and a green cocked hat with a white plume. She was armed with sword and pistols and was accompanied by her four brothers when she rode into battle. Weston rallied and regrouped the stricken pikemen; she placed herself at their head and led repeated charges against the Reagh Fencibles.''

She fired a big gun captured from the Fencibles during the course of the battle, killing eleven of their number. Molly died along with her four brothers at the Battle of Tara. Her side-saddle was recovered from the battlefield


Mary Doyle

Mary Doyle of the Battle of New Ross fame came from Castleboro and lived ``a charmed life, moving from point to point where the fighting was heaviest''. A single woman of 30 years who was engaged to the famous Kelly of Killanne (hanged in Wexford), ``she bore herself as gallantly as the most courageous man...[and] made herself useful by cutting with a bill-hook the cross belts of the fallen dragoons, and handing them, together with the cartouche boxes, to her comrades''.

When the United Irish army were leaving the field of battle despondent at not having captured the town she sat on a cannon, refusing to move unless they took it with them. Thus she embarrassed them into taking with them the last of the six pieces of artillery they had captured.

Another Mary Doyle was the County Wicklow woman who eloped with the rebel leader Michael O'Dwyer during that turbulent year. She operated against the crown forces with Michael and the remnants of the United Irish army in their stronghold of County Wicklow for five years following the collapse of the 1798 rising. Despite being captured and being wooed by a loyalist, Lord Huntley, she refused to reveal Michael's whereabouts and managed to trick Huntley into meeting her by a stream at night. Michael turned up disguised as his wife and Lord Huntley was found dead shortly afterwards.

Mary followed her partner to Australia after his transportation there in 1803 after five years on the run. They had seven children before Michael died in 1825. Mary survived him by 35 years, dying in 1861.


Bridget `Croppy Biddy' Dolan

An active participant in the rebellion in South Wicklow, Bridget `Croppy Biddy' Dolan turned and her evidence convicted many of her former comrades in arms. She was an ideal witness as she knew many of the personalities in South Wicklow. She had attended many of the outdoor meetings held by them prior to the Rising, by which time the United Irish in the area, Shillelagh, boasted 1,080 members.

Born in the County Wicklow village of Carnew in 1777, she came from a poor family and was illiterate. She was a useful horse rider and learnt the skill of shodding them. Those skills made her a valuable asset for the United Irish army. She was, though, according to Luke Cullen, at the age of 13 ``an avowed and proclaimed harlot, steeped in every crime that her age would admit of; and her precocity to vice was singular''.

In January 1798 she lost her position in the household of Captain Thomas Swan of the Carnew Yeomanry. It could have been at this stage that Croppy Biddy became a sworn member of the United Irishmen.

When the Rising began she said she joined the army at Tubberneering on 4 June and remained in the field with the Wicklow rebels until August, having travelled as far as Meath, but she is thought to have spent much of her time in the mountain base camps of the Wicklow United Irishmen under General Holt. It was stated afterwards that she had an affair with Holt before his wife Hester Long joined them.

Biddy left the United Irish camp in August, when she could see that they no longer had a chance of victory, and returned to Carnew. She was not immediately suspected of United Irish activities, but on 16 September she was arrested by Captain William Wainright of the Shillelagh Yeomanry in Coolkenna. She immediately agreed to turn state's evidence and to direct the crown forces to the haunts of the United Irish fugitives. She was also willing to swear anything ``that she thought would please the Orange party, who supplied her with money and whiskey''. Much of her evidence to the Rathdrum court cases against United Irish suspects was fabricated.

She was paid for her services until 1803 at least. She continued to live in Carnew until her death in 1827 at the age of 50. She was regularly stoned and abuse was showered on her by local nationalist youths for her treachery.


Matilda Tone

Martha `Matilda' Witherington was 29 when her husband died in mysterious circumstances after his trial in the Provost Jail in Dublin on 19 November 1798. Similar to many of the leaders' partners she endured much hardship, worry and disruption in her life with her husband's constant travel for the United Irish cause. When she was ``not 16 years of age'', she eloped with Theobald Wolfe Tone, then 21, and stayed in Maynooth till her parents' anger abated. She remained estranged from her family and came to regard the Tones as her family.

Of her three children only William lived beyond his teens. He joined Napoleon's army and later accompanied Matilda to the United States after she married Thomas Wilson in Paris in 1816. Along with William she ensured that her husband's memory and ideals lived on in the biography they published in 1826. Matilda died in 1849, aged 80 having survived all three of her children


Anne Flood

Anne Flood had a farmhouse at Garrystackle, not many miles from the hill of Bree in County Wexford. Her family's sympathies lay with the United Irishmen, but they were not directly involved in the fighting. When an abusive Hessian captain invaded her home a few days after the United Irish defeat at New Ross she took the opportunity presented. When he bent over to relight his pipe she struck him a mortal blow with a lump of timber and concealed the body in a shallow grave with the help of a maid who returned that evening.


Susan O'Toole

Hester Long (Holt's wife) and the wounded Ann Byrne (shot in a crown forces raid on the camp) were among the ``several women in the camp'' which General Joseph Holt of the people's army in County Wicklow referred to. Another was Susan O'Toole who would visit them regularly. Holt referred to her in his memoirs as `The Moving Magazine' as she would move weaponry and ammunition around the county for the rebels under her skirt.

She was a daughter of the blacksmith, Phelim O'Toole from Annamoe. An only child she was equal to all the tasks in the forge. At the age of 30 she was around five foot eight and went about the county and amongst the English and loyalist troops selling delicacies as a cover for her clandestine activities. She would bribe them for weapons, which she would then bring to the camp.

``She had an extraordinary ability to change her whole appearance. With her dirty pepper and salt coloured frieze cloak, her stoop and drooped jaw, she could appear a decrepit miserable baccagh (cripple) scarcely able to crawl, but when it was necessary to act with vigour, her powerful muscles and brawny limbs made her more than a match for any man. A blow from her clenched fist was like the kick of a horse,'' Holt said of her:

``A spy on the movements of the army, and a most useful ally I found her. The slightest motion was instantly communicated by her means to my outposts, and they speedily conveyed the intelligence into headquarters; so we were tolerably safe against surprise. I consider her my chiefest treasure and ordered her to be supplied with the best my camp could afford.''

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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