Monday, April 18, 2011

Matrilineal Monday: Medical woman, 1798 activist: Mary O'Brien O'Kavanaugh

In 2009 in St. Colmcille's Churchyard, Swords, just outside of Dublin City, I discovered the grave of my maternal great-great-great grandparents, Thomas Kettle and Alice O'Kavanaugh Kettle and their daughter, my maternal great-great grandmother Mary Kettle Fitzpatrick. This discovery led me to uncover the memoirs of Andrew J. Kettle, brother of Mary Kettle Fitzpatrick. In turn, the memoirs revealed to me the name of my great-great-great-great grandmother, Mary O'Brien O'Kavanaugh, mother of Alice O'Kavanaugh Kettle.

The history which Andrew J. Kettle presents of his grandmother Mary O'Brien O'Kavanaugh may very well tend toward romantic notions, since memoirs are by nature anecdotal; however, while accounting for such notions it is still possible to find in Andrew's memoirs some interesting details of the life led by Mary O'Brien O'Kavanaugh. As with all things when we conduct research, what I have found here led me in other directions toward documents of a more substantive nature, some of which support Andrew J. Kettle's accounting.

Of his grandmother Mary O'Brien O'Kavanaugh he writes:

...Mary O'Brien was a very remarkable woman in her time. Her medical skill was so much availed of that her large business premises at Turvey was largely used as a kind of private hospital. She was well known to the Dublin surgeons and many cases pronounced incurable came right under her ministration. She lived at a time when whiskey, not porter, was the beverage of the people, and she made a private request when dying, that her funeral was to take place a day before the usual time to prevent trouble at the great concourse of people that was likely to assemble round her graveside.

As an Irishwoman she held the right faith and played a brave part in 1798. Her family kept an extensive carman-stage at Turvey, and she was the messenger and buyer for the establishment. In this way she armed the men of North Dublin with guns and pikes. Her procedure was on her weekly visit to Dublin to secure an escort for her mission. She was very good-looking and she put her comether on the Barony constable, a handsome active fellow named Leggett, whose headquarters were in Swords. This young Government man met her at Santry on her weekly journey from Dublin, and unconsciously sat on the pikes and guns until he saw her and her driver safely past Lissen Hall, through all the turnpike gates and other obstructions....Mary O'Brien had a little more to do before she settled down to work for humanity. When the Rising was crushed in Wexford a good many of the scattered remnants of the patriot army found their way to North Dublin. There were a few harboured by the small farmers about Killeek and other places, but the majority found refuge and succour round Turvey Hill. There seemed to be less suspicion of strangers knocking about a carman-stage and large farming establishment where there was a business bustle going on. The chief hiding place of the rebels when the Yeos would be scouring the country, was about the estuary at Rogerstown, where horsemen could not follow them. There Mary O'Brien managed to support them until many of them escaped from Ireland.

©Copyright J. Geraghty-Gorman 2011. All Rights Reserved.
Thank you to The Graphics Fairy for the lovely graphic.

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