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Q: Women involved in Irish Uprising of 1798 ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   1 Comment )
Subject: Women involved in Irish Uprising of 1798
Category: Reference, Education and News > General Reference
Asked by: dmr7391-ga
List Price: $20.00
Posted: 05 Nov 2003 10:24 PST
Expires: 05 Dec 2003 10:24 PST
Question ID: 272895
I am looking for brief biographies of women involved in the 1798
uprising on all sides of the conflict (Irish Catholic, Irish
Protestant and British).  Specifically, Mary Ann McCracken, whose
brother Hugh was hanged as a result of his involvement in the
uprising.  She wrote letters to her brother and lover at that time. 
I'd love to read those letters!  But lacking in that - any information
on any of the wome involved would be great.
Subject: Re: Women involved in Irish Uprising of 1798
Answered By: leli-ga on 05 Nov 2003 15:03 PST
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hello dmr

Thank-you for a fascinating question. I hadn't realised how many of
the women involved in the 1798 uprising are still remembered by name,
as well as the many more anonymous women who actively helped the
United Irishmen by:

"cutting the crossbelts from the bodies of fallen dragoons was 'a
common task for camp followers, many of them apparently women'. Women
also appear to have made gun-powder in the camps.
Such activities as acquiring and supplying combatants with food, arms
and other supplies, carrying messages and gathering information, the
provision of hiding places and safe houses, the dangerous harbouring
and hiding of rebels on the run, the collection and burial of dead
bodies from the field of battle are all seen as part of soldiers? work
when done by men in all-male armies. Many cases of all these
activities being carried out by women are remembered in various parts
of the country."

It's harder to find information about women on the loyalist side. I
could not discover any evidence of them playing a part in squashing
the uprising, where the government/loyalist/British side was largely
fighting with professional troops against the "amateur" rebels.

I hope the following excerpts will be of interest. You will, of
course, find much more information by following the links to the
relevant websites.

Mary Ann McCracken

A few extracts from her letters are included in this article
describing her family, friends, cultural activities, business and
interest in social reform:

It doesn't mention that she was from a Presbyterian family. Perhaps
because of the current situation in Ireland, especially Northern
Ireland, some websites don't discuss the religious affiliation of
members of the United Irish Movement.

"Mary Ann McCracken - known as Mary within the family - was born on 8
July 1770. A formidable woman, she shared her brother's radical
politics, was an admirer of Mary Wollstonecroft's Vindication of the
Rights of Women and would appear to have been more than a little in
love with Thomas Russell, who was hanged for his part in Emme's
Rebellion on 21 October 1803.  She was also a successful businesswoman
(in the muslin trade) and a great philanthropist. In later life she
became the jealous guardian of her brother's reputation. Her final
years were spent in the home of Maria, Henry Joy McCracken's
illegitimate daughter, whom Mary Ann had raised after her brother's
death. Unlike her brother, she enjoyed a long life and died, aged 96,
on 26 July 1866, well into the Victorian era."

More on Mary Ann McCracken (scroll down a little)

"Mary Ann McCracken, a United Irishwoman, was an admirer of Mary
Wollstonecraft. Before joining the society of United Irishwomen, she
wrote to an imprisoned friend that she wished 'to know if they have
any rational ideas of liberty and equality for themselves or whether
they are content with their present abject and dependent situation,
degraded by custom and education beneath the rank in society in which
they were originally placed.' "

Pictures of Mary Ann McCracken

A book based on letters and writings by McCracken is:
The Life and Times of Mary Ann McCracken by Mary O'Neill
 published by Blackstaff Press (1960 and 1997). 
ISBN 0-85640-603-1

There's an extract from the book at:

Some of her letters are included in this book:

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Betsy Gray

Betsy (also Betsey) Gray is remembered as a heroine of the United
Irish side, but strict historical accuracy is hard to come by, because
of a book brought out in 1896 which combined fact and fiction.

"Fact and fiction are intertwined in Betsy Gray. Did Betsy really live
at the Six Road Ends, or did Lyttle simply alter the story of a
Dromara girl who was murdered after the Battle of Ballynahinch to
provide a convenient peg for his fictionalized history? The fact that
such a controversy exists is proof that Betsy is firmly enshrined in
local folklore.
Lyttle was writing for the children and grandchildren of former rebels
- readers who, although loyal to the Crown, admired the struggle of
their relatives against wrongs that were subsequently righted. This
fact unconsciously coloured his writing "

You can read the entire book here by clicking the links to each chapter:

"Reputedly born in Gransha, north County Down, it has been
traditionally believed that her father Hans Gray was a prosperous
Presbyterian farmer and a member of the United Irishmen. Isabel -
`Betsy' - at the time of the rising was engaged to another local
farmer and United Irishman Willie Boal. Her brother, George, and
fiancé were involved in the rescue of Colonel Bryson from Newtownards
Jail before joining the main insurgent forces at Ballynahinch. Betsy
joined them on 13 June.
She played a prominent role in the attack against the English General
George Nugent and his soldiers, riding astride a white mount carrying
a United Irish standard, a green flag, at the front of the massed

Betsey Gray - where was she born?

Picture of Gray and information on her death

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Pamela Sims, later Lady Fitzgerald


Lady Lucy Fitzgerald, her sister-in-law

These two women were from the social class more associated with the
loyalist side. Pamela Sims married Edward Fitzgerald, Lady Lucy's

"In Paris in December 1792, [Pamela] married Lord Edward Fitzgerald
who was to become the United Irish Army's Commander-in-Chief before
the Rising. She shared her husband's radical views and took an active
part in the revolutionary work of the United Irish Movement.
Lady Lucy, Lord Edward's younger sister, was 25 when she joined Edward
and Pamela at their small house in Kildare town which was to become a
focus for much United Irish activity."

"In December 1792, [Edward Fitzgerald] married Pamela Sims who shared
her husband's radical views and took an active part in revolutionary

A portrait of Pamela Sims

"Lady Fitzgerald never visited [her husband while he was in hiding],
as it was supposed every move of hers was closely watched"

Foley married, in July 1802, Lady Lucy Fitzgerald,[...] During his
married life he had lived for the most part at Abermarlais, an estate
in Carmarthenshire, which he purchased about 1795,[...] He left no
issue, and after his death Lady Lucy resided principally at Arundel
till 1841, when she moved to the south of France,where, in the
neighbourhood of Marseilles, she died in her eightieth year in 1851.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

More women from the United Irish side

Mary Doyle, Molly Weston, Biddy Dolan et al

Molly Weston "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."

"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''."

"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.
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."

Matilda Tone, Peg Kavanagh, Susan O'Toole

"It is not possible to surpass Mathilda Tone in her devotion to and
support for her husband during the difficult years leading up to the
Rising of 1798. Theobald Wolfe Tone in his diary wrote:
'My wife especially, whose courage and whose zeal for my honour and
interests were not in the least abated by all her past sufferings,
supplicated me to let no consideration of her or our children, stand
for a moment in the way of my engagement to our friends, and my duty
to my country' "

"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."

"As far as women who supported a cause, let us look no further than
our own heroine, Teresa Malone, the heroine of Kilcumney and there
were others like her. Who was the woman that opened the gates and let
a number of rebels through on the day of the battle of Carlow?"

Martha McTier, sister of William Drennan
"The Drennan-McTier Letters are in the custody of the Public Record
Office of Northern Ireland. They consist of over 1,400 letters, mainly
between Martha McTier and her brother, William Drennan. The first
volume was published on 1 December 1998.  Volumes 2 and 3 will be
published in September 1999."

"When Tone was in Belfast for the formation of the United Irishmen in
October 1791, he had dinner at the home of Samuel and Martha McTier"

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Women on the loyalist side

I could discover nothing about women on the "other" side apart from
the unappealing "Lady Betty", murderess turned executioner, whose
brief biography you probably noticed on the earlier page:

Of course, Biddy Dolan changed sides once or twice!

It seems that the women from loyalist families in Ireland had no role
in the 1798 troubles. I wondered about Maria Edgeworth, who had strong
views on landowners' responsibilities towards their tenants, but
apparently she did not support the rebels.

Maria Edgeworth

"The cry "Ireland a Nation" never appealed to her, nor does the
struggle of the native Irish against the English garrison, nor the
doings of the men of '98, nor the feelings of the natives against the

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

General Information on Women in 1798

"Of particular note is the way the women of 1798 have either been
written out of history all together or exist only as the faithful
wives of the nationalist histories and the blood crazed witches of the
loyalist accounts. Like other republicans of that period the United
Irishmen for the most part did not see a role for women although "one
proposal was made that women should have the vote as well".
Nevertheless a number of women including Mary Ann McCracken played an
important role from an early period in promoting the organisation and
a Society of United Irishwomen was established 1796. In the run up to
the rebellion women were particularly active in subverting the
Militia. They would swear in soldiers and also spread rumours that the
troops were going to be sent abroad. Women were active in the
rebellion, not just in 'traditional roles' of medical aid etc but also
in quite a number of cases as combatants. However almost all of these
roles seem to be ones that individual women demanded and fought for,
there is little evidence of any serious effort on the part of the
United Irishmen to mobilise women."

"The women who fought physically in 1798 were, with some exceptions
low on the social scale "

"It appears that women were more actively involved in this political
debate than has usually been recognised. Other participants included
Martha McTier, sister of William Drennan, Mary Ann McCracken, sister
of Henry Joy, and Margaret Bond, wife of Oliver Bond, also famed for
smuggling documents into Kilmainham gaol in freshly baked pies.
Molly Weston who fought and died at the battle of Tara is also
remembered as a leader, rallying the pikemen and leading repeated
charges. Her four brothers were reported killed but Molly Weston was
never seen again. At the battle of New Ross in County Wexford, when
the rebel army was reduced to a tattered remnant the only piece of
rebel artillery to survive did so through the efforts of Mary Doyle.
Ruth Hackett was killed at the battle of Prosperous in County Kildare.
Many other women whose names are lost also fought and died. At Vinegar
Hill, for example, many women fought with the men, and a number were
found dead among the fallen.
Women took part in the actual organisation of the United Irish
movement as members of Societies of United Irishwomen, auxiliary
groups who organised aid for imprisoned United men and their families,
as couriers and intelligence carriers and as recruiters."

"It appears that republican women performed duties similar to those
carried out by Cumann na mBan more than a hundred years later: they
carried despatches and communications, transported weapons and
ammunition, collected intelligence and in a number of cases fought
alongside the men. It appears that whether or not they belonged to the
United Irishwomen (whose activities and role remain shadowy) many
women were actually sworn into the United Irish societies." 

"The Women of 1798 (Four Courts Press, £9.95) has its gaps - there is
no biography of Betsy Gray or of Lady Pamela FitzGerald - but that is
a small quibble given how women have been neglected by most historians
of the Rising and, as Anna Kinsella points out, by the ballad writers,
too. Robert Dwyer Joyce's The Boys of Wexford opens in praise of "the
captain's daughter" but she remains unnamed - it was a double
indemnity to be both a Protestant and a woman when tales of the Rising
were being rewritten for the 1898 commemorations.
 In his essay, John Beatty examines seven contrasting accounts of the
Rising by Protestant women in Co Wexford, and points out that it is
difficult to classify loyalist women of the day in neat liberal or
conservative categories. Nancy Curtin provides a much-needed study of
Matilda Wolfe Tone, and Anna Kinsella tells the contrasting tales of
Mad Madge Dickson of Castlebridge and Mary Doyle, the oft-neglected
heroine of New Ross. " 

"By 1798 the wearing of the colour green was forbidden by order of the
English government, but this order was defied by the women, especially
in Wexford. The women of Wexford had their petticoats, handkerchiefs,
cap ribbons and all parts of their dress that exhibited a shade of
green, torn off and were subjected to the most vile and indecent
language by the Yeomen. Any women who encountered the government
troops ran a most terrible risk. In a desperate encounter with a
Hessian Captain, Anne Ford of Garrysackle, County Wexford, slew him
with a mallet."

Please do ask if you would like me to clarify anything and I'll be
happy to do my best to help. I wish I could have found Mary Ann
McCracken's letters online; I want to read them myself now!

I hope this is useful to you - good luck with your researches.

Best Wishes - Leli

Search strategy:
1798 women ireland OR "united irish"
1798 uprising women ireland OR irish
"Mary Ann McCracken" letters
1798 ireland OR irish loyalist OR loyalists women OR woman OR lady OR wife
1798 ireland OR irish landlords OR landowners women OR woman OR lady OR wife
1798 ireland uprising OR "united irish" british OR english
In addition, I followed up with searches on all the individual names I came across.

Clarification of Answer by leli-ga on 05 Nov 2003 16:04 PST
You might also like to see these extracts from the diary of girl from
a non-rebel  family:

Clarification of Answer by leli-ga on 06 Nov 2003 01:10 PST
Hello again!

Yesterday when I was preparing your answer I couldn't make the website
for the National Archives of Ireland work, but this morning I have
used their Women's History Index to find out the location of some of
Mary Ann McCracken's letters.'s+history

There are some in Trinity College Dublin and some in the Northern
Ireland Public Records Office, but I couldn't see any way you could
read the letters, not even photocopies, without visiting in person.

As for your other question, I'm not optimistic about finding any
newspaper coverage online, but there are some interesting facsimile
documents from 1798 here:

Hope the novel's going well - Leli
dmr7391-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars
Thank you so much for your thoughtful response to my question.  It has
taken me some time to wade through all the excellent information you
forwarded.  In fact, I'm still working through it, but I wanted to
finally take the time to thank you for your really fantastic
assistance. ~DMR

Subject: Re: Women involved in Irish Uprising of 1798
From: leli-ga on 09 Dec 2003 01:20 PST
Thank-you very much, DMR!

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