With potential names for the new bridge across the River Liffey at Marlborough Street whittled from seventeen candidates down to ten recently, only two women’s names remain in the running- Rosie Hackett and Kay Mills.
Now it’s not as if Dublin is awash with bridges or in fact any landmarks named after women of historical importance. When you look at our abundance of waterways; the Liffey, the Grand Canal, the Royal Canal, the Dodder, the Tolka and the Camac, (and they’re only the ones that haven’t been forced underground,) you’d expect more than one name to pop up. I’m not going to include Victoria Bridge or the Anna Livia Bridge for obvious reasons, and Sally’s Bridge (an alternative name for Parnell Bridge) doesn’t exactly count either. So even at an approximate guess of the fifty or so bridges in Dublin City named after historical figures, and I’m open to correction, there is currently only one named after a woman, and that’s not even a decade old. The Anne Devlin Bridge was opened in 2004 to facilitate the crossing of the canal by the LUAS at it’s Suir Road stop. And even at that, they spelled her name wrong on the plaque.
Anne Devlin was born into a family of nationalist stock near Rathdrum, Co. Wicklow in 1780; amongst others, she was cousin to famed Irish rebels Michael Dwyer and Hugh Byrne on her mother’s side. At the age of 17, and just a year before the rising of 1798, Anne moved to Inchicore where she became a servant of the Hempenstall family. Brought back to her homestead by her father in early ’98 she, along with the rest of the Devlin’s and Dwyer’s suffered at the hands of the British authories and watched as her father Bryan was thrown into jail without being charged of a crime where he was to stay for two years before a suprising aqcuittal on retrial. Two uncles and two cousins of Anne suffered the same fate and Hugh Byrne was executed having escaped and consequently recaptured.
Persecution drove the family to move to Rathfarnham, where they became neighbours of “Mr. Ellis,” an assumed name of none other than Robert Emmet, who had taken residence there with the intention of preparing for his rising of 1803. Anne, along with Rosie Hope (wife of Jemmy Hope) took on the roles of housekeeper’s at Emmet’s house at Butterfield Lane, although in reality, they were much more than that. Anne was to become an advisor, messenger and confidante between Emmet and his partner, Sarah Curran. The failure of the rising, where numbers failed to materialise, and having lost control of his men in the Thomas Street area, who having spotted the Chief Justice, Lord Kilwarden in his carriage, pulled him from it and stabbed him to death with their pikes, caused Emmet to go into hiding.
The house at Butterfield Lane was searched, and finding Anne there, soldiers submitted her to questioning. Her repeated replies of “I have nothing to tell; I’ll tell nothing,” led to Anne being surrounded and advanced upon with fixed bayonnets. The piercing of her skin head to toe still didn’t break her, and she was taken outside where they half- hanged her from a tilted cart. She still would not speak and was later arrested and taken to Kilmainham Jail where she was again questioned by Henry Charles Sirr. Sirr offered her £500 for the where-abouts of Emmet’s hiding places and co-conspirators to no avail and she was thrown in jail. Her entire family was imprisoned in an effort to wear her down, leading to the death of her 8 year old brother, and Emmet himself before his execution begged her to speak, knowing himself to be a dead man either way. She refused, saying she did not want to go down in history as an informer. She was eventually released in 1806 under an amnesty upon the change of British administration in Ireland.
After her release, Anne found employment under Elizabeth Hammond at 84 Sir John Rogersons Quay, where she spent four years. She married a man named Campbell and had two children, a boy and a girl and made a living washing and cleaning. Campbell died in 1845 and Anne, whose children lived away from her, was left alone in a squalid residence at 2 Little Elbow Lane in Dublin’s Liberties. An appeal was made for assistance for Anne in the Liberty Newspaper in 1947, and while there was some response, it was far from adequate. She died in obsecurity on September 16 1851 and was buried in a paupers plot in Glasnevin before her body was exhumed by Dr. R. R. Madden, the chief historian of the United Irishmen, and re-buried in the plot she lies in today.
One from fifty is not enough. Sign the petition to have the new Liffey bridge named in honour of Rosie Hackett here: