|The only image I have of Alice, from her In Memoriam Card.|
Under Alice's rule, life in the Ball household was well-ordered and regimented. Each child had his or her assigned daily chores. Every night at seven o'clock, all activity in the house would halt in favour of recitation of the rosary. Whether aged two or twenty-two, these children's lives were regulated as Alice saw fit. To falter from Alice's plan was to face her wrath, wrath which manifested in a beating with the slender oak cane that stood always at the ready, in the corner by the fireplace in her room.
When I was a child it was difficult for me to conceive of a life lived in this manner, and so I wondered...
Aside from societal conventions prescribing the behaviour of women in the time period in which Alice grew into adulthood, what made Alice the kind of woman she was? How did her life experiences shape the woman she became as an adult? Who was this little woman who ruled with an iron fist?
There is a kind of mythology which has grown up around Alice, stories which have been told since her death, a full sixty years ago. All of the stories are based on first hand accounts; however, some seem to run counter to the austere way in which she lived.
Alice came from the Kettle/Fitzpatrick line of the family, and allegedly had significant personal wealth, but what was the source of this wealth? Alice was in receipt of a significant pension. Each week my mother would be sent to a bank at the city centre, to sign for and pick up a sizeable cheque for Alice, but who knows the source of this money? Also, at least two of the Ball children witnessed Alice giving a large gold and jewel encrusted crucifix to an American man by the name of Harry Sutton. The crucifix was to have been sold, and the money put toward the building of a church in the United States. Further, it is said Alice wore a whale bone corset that had special compartments in-between the bones in which she secreted away money, allegedly hundreds if not thousands of Irish punt notes. Upon her death at Roebuck Castle, this corset vanished from her personal effects. All of this piques the interest of my researcher’s mind, and each is the subject of my continuing investigation, but what does the historical record tell us of Alice?
According to the register of the Roman Catholic Chapel of Donabate, County Dublin, Ireland, Alicia ‘Alice’ Fitzpatrick was born 23 April, and christened 26 April, 1861. Alice is the third child, and second daughter, of eight children born to Joseph Fitzpatrick and Mary Kettle.
|Grave of Alice's mother Mary Kettle Fitzpatrick |
and her grandparents, Thomas Kettle and Alice O'Kavanagh Kettle.
Perhaps more than anyone else, because of this loss, Alice would have had the capacity to understand what the Ball children felt over the loss of their mother. Also, Alice would understand what it would take to keep a family together, and ensure the children were raised properly.
With the death of their mother in 1871, ten year old Alice would have become responsible for her younger siblings, including her sister Teresa, who was only ten months old when their mother died. At the time of their mother’s death, the eldest child in the family was their brother John, who was only 13 years of age.
Alice’s life was marked by several significant losses. According to civil registration records, on one terrible day, 5 December 1864, when Alice was only three years old, her elder sister Mary, aged five, and Alice’s younger brother Nicholas, aged twenty-one months, both died of Cynanche Trachealis, what we now know as the croup.
In 1876, only five years after their mother's death, Alice and her siblings suffered yet another profound and horrifying loss. On the night of 22 December, just three days before Christmas, their father Joseph Fitzpatrick froze to death on the fields of their family farm. He was only 47 years old. There was a coroner’s inquest because of the manner of his death, an inquest which offered the following conclusion,
“Certified cause of death: Exposure to cold whilst under the influence of liquor some hours.”
|Advertisement which appeared in|
The Freeman's Journal,
announcing the auction of the
Fitzpatrick property and effects.
So, by the time she was 15 years old, Alice had lost both her mother and her father, as well as two of her siblings, and the only home she had ever known. Although I do not know how they managed to do it, Alice and her five siblings continued to live together after the death of their father. At the time of their father's death, her eldest brother John was 18, a rather young, but no doubt steadfast, patriarch.
I believe it is possible that their extended family, most particularly the Kettle branch of the family, aided the children so they could stay together. In Andrew J. Kettle’s memoir Material for Victory, mention is made of his close relationship with his sister Mary, and the importance of helping family members, although Andrew J. Kettle does not specifically mention his sister’s children. Given a close relationship with his sister, it is reasonable to assume he might take an interest in her children after Mary died, especially once they were orphaned after the death of their father. Also, Alice's uncle Patrick Kettle, Mary's brother, handled the disposal of Joseph Fitzpatrick's assets.
For the whole of her life, Alice maintained a very close relationship with her cousin Laurence Kettle, Andrew J. Kettle’s son. The Ball children recall ‘Uncle’ Larry Kettle’s regular visits with Alice in the house on Gordon Street. They remember him as a very important man — he was chief electrical engineer for the city of Dublin — who would arrive at the house in a chauffeur driven car. Occasionally, one of the children would be kept home from school in order to welcome him into their home, and prepare a special afternoon tea which would be enjoyed by only Alice and Laurence. Especially recollected by the children was Larry Kettle’s generous nature toward Alice and them, with gifts of rosary beads, blessed by the Pope and brought from Rome, handkerchiefs trimmed in expensive lace, large boxes of Belgium chocolate, and marzipan from France. He seemed always at the ready to come to Alice's aid anytime she needed him.
Although Alice’s early life had been marked by profound loss, her adult life began on a positive note with the celebration of her marriage to James Joseph Ward. Both the parish register and civil registration record tell us this took place on 14 August 1886 in the Roman Catholic Chapel of Rolestown, County Dublin. Alice’s eldest brother John and her sister Catherine stood as witnesses to the marriage. James was from a long line of ‘Mariners’. He was already a First Mate when they married, and would eventually become Captain James Joseph Ward.
Unfortunately the marriage produced no children. This may have been a consequence of long periods of separation, since James worked on coastal trading ships stationed in places such as Devonshire, England, the Isle of Wight, and Pembrokeshire, Wales. Alice remained in Ireland, living with members of her extended family.
The couple were married for twenty-eight years when tragedy once again marked Alice’s life. Her sea captain husband James died as the result of a freak accident. During a rough passage from Liverpool to Exeter on 15 January 1914, the main boom of his ship broke, hurling James into the skylight of his quarters. His ribs were broken and penetrated his lungs. Ten days later, James died in Pembrokeshire, Wales, away from Alice, and in a nursing home at Pembroke Dock. At the time of her husband’s death Alice was living in Dublin, with her brother Thomas and his family, including her niece Mary Angela.
Twenty-three years later, a few months after the death of Mary Angela in December of 1936, 75 year old Alice moved into the Ball family home on Gordon Street. Her presence ensured the family would not be broken up, and the young children of her deceased niece would be properly raised.
By the time she left the house on Gordon Street, Alice was crippled with arthritis. Having been bed-ridden for months, she had to be carried from the house. The youngest Ball child was now 17, the eldest, a man of 31 years; all stood in respect as she was brought down from her room. For the youngest daughter, Alice had been the only mother she ever knew, and even the older children had in many respects come to know ‘Aunt Alice’ in that way. All of the children felt a great deal of love for Alice, their grand-aunt who had come to them in the sunset of her life, and kept their family together.
My mother clearly remembered the scene. As she was being carried down the stairs, Alice scanned the room around her and began to cry over what she observed. The house was in perfect order, clean and well kept. For the first time ever, Alice told the children how very proud she was of each one of them.
After leaving Gordon Street, Alice was taken to live at the home of the Barnwell family on Ringsend Road. My mother was sent there as well, to live with Alice and take care of her. As her health declined, Alice paid to be taken into the care of the Sisters of Mercy at the Holy Family Home, Roebuck Castle. Toward the end of her life Alice was suffering from dementia, and was very quiet and childlike. My mother would go to visit Alice several times each week, to ensure the nuns were taking good care of her grand-aunt. Mom would read to Alice, sometimes bathe her and wash her hair, and just talk to Alice and tell her stories. The generations shifted, my mom became like a mother to Alice, and remained as such until her death.
On the day Alice died, Mom had not intended to visit her, but had a strange intuition that she should go. She called her Aunt May Barnwell and said, 'we must go to Alice'. Aunt May discouraged her, but my mother would not be stopped. She went to Roebuck Castle only to discover Alice was dying. Mom knelt by her bedside and whispered prayers into Alice's ear, thanking her for taking care of the Ball children, and wishing her a speedy ascent into Heaven.
|The civil registration of the death of Alice Fitzpatrick Ward.|
Alicia ‘Alice’ Fitzpatrick Ward faced true hardship in her life, and must have had incredible strength and bearing. Like many women of her generation, Alice did not have the leisure to mourn loss. She simply got on with the business of living and caring for others. Although there is no historical record to testify to it, surely Alice played an integral role in preserving the lives of her siblings, as well as those of the children of her niece, my grandmother, Mary Angela Fitzpatrick Ball. If not for the little woman who ruled with an iron fist, my own mother may not have lived the life she did, and for that I am truly grateful.
|The grave of Alice Fitzpatrick Ward (1952) and her sister Teresa Fitzpatrick (1929).|
Kettle, Laurence J., editor. The Material for Victory, Being the Memoirs of Andrew J. Kettle, C.J. Fallon Ltd., Dublin, 1958.
Civil Registration Records:
Fitzpatrick, Mary: death, 5 December 1864, index: volume 17, page 285, GRO, Irish Life Centre, Dublin, Ireland.
Fitzpatrick, Nicholas: death, 5 December 1864, index: volume 17, page 285, GRO, Irish Life Centre, Dublin, Ireland
Fitzpatrick, Joseph: death, 22 December 1876, index: volume 17, page 278, GRO, Irish Life Centre, Dublin, Ireland
Fitzpatrick, Alice: marriage, 14 August 1886, index: volume 2, page 321, GRO, Irish Life Centre, Dublin, Ireland
Death certificate: James Joseph Ward, issued by GRO UK, 25 January 1914; held privately.
The Freeman's Journal Newspaper, Dublin, 22 November 1877, page 5.
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