Sarah Curran


Life
?1780-1808; dg. of John Philpot Curran [q.v.], fiancée [var. sweetheart] of Robert Emmet [q.v.], subject of Thomas Moore’s lyric, ‘She is Far From the Land’; introduced to Emmet by her br. Richard Curran, while TCD students together; commenced a romance with Emmet in autumn 1802, on Emmet’s return from the continent; also knew Thomas Moore, who tutored her as singer, pianist and harpist; embroidered an elaborate map of Ireland in 1802;
after the 1803 Rising she exchanged letters with Emmet in hiding through Anne Devlin - letters which he was carrying at the time of his arrest (though unsigned); the Curran residence was searched when his letter to her was discovered by his gaolers; suffered nervous collapse when Major Sirr invaded her bedroom, and where her sister Amelia burnt most of the correspondence - the rest being treated as coded treason, and even exhibited to George III (who found them ‘certainly curious’);
she protected by Emmet during his cross-examination but described by him as the ‘idol I adored in my heart, the object of my affections’ in his last latter to Richard Curran; alienated from her father, she moved in to say with the Penrose family in Woodhill, Cork, and formed a close friendship with Anne Penrose (dg. of Cooper Penrose); met Cpt. Robert Henry Sturgeon (d.1813) in 1805 - a nephew of Marquis of Rockingham; m. Sturgeon 24 Nov. 1805, at Glanmire, Co. Cork;
briefly stayed in England and proceeded to his station in Sicily; with Sturgeon when he was posted there, 1805-08; enjoyed a happy marriage; learned Italian; associated with Katherine Wilmot [q.v.]; Sturgeon recalled to England; a son, John, b. at sea, 26 Dec. 1808; John d. Jan. 1808; d. Kent, 5 May [var 5], at Hythe, of TB, after a period of illness following that difficult birth and spells of psychological distress; bur. Newmarket, Co. Cork, contrary to her wishes to share a grave with her sister Gertrude at the Priory. DIB DIH OCIL RIA

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Criticism
Biographical studies incl. Marian Broderick, Wild Irish Women: Extraordinary Lives in Irish History (Dublin: O’Brien Press 2001).

See also H. T. Macmullen, The Voice of Sarah Curran (1955); Leslie Hale, John Philpot Curran (1958); Michael Barry, The Romance of Sarah Curran (1985), Marianne Elliott, Robert Emmet: The Making of a Legend (2003); Patrick Geoghegan, Robert Emmet: A Life (2002) [the authoritative biography]; Ruan O'Donnell, Remembering Emmet (2003). [All cited, inter al., in Frances Clarke & Sylvie Kleinman, ‘Sarah Curran’, in Dictionary of Irish Biography (RIA 2004).]

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Commentary
Thomas Moore
: ‘She is far from the land where her young hero sleeps, / And lovers around her are sighing, / But coldly she turns from their gaze, and weeps, / For her heart in his grave is lying. // She sings the wild songs of her dear native plains, / Every note which he loved awaking: / Ah! little they think who delight in her strains, / Howe the heart of the minstrel is breaking! // He had lived for his love, for his country he died, / They were all that to life had entwined him; / Nor soon shall the tears of his country be dried, / Nor long will his love stay behind him. // O, make her a grave where the sunbeams rests / When they promise a glorious morrow; / They’ll shine o’er her sleep, like a smile from the west, / Form her own loved island of sorrow!’

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Notes
Birth-date (under Life, supra) is based on the assumption that she was 17-18 at the time of the Rising. Check, Leon O’Brion, The Unfortunate Mr. Emmet. See also Irish Book Lover, 2, 7.

Portrait of Sarah Curran, by Edward Corballis, courtesy of John Butler, Dublin, printed in Helen Landreth, The Pursuit of Robert Emmet (Browne & Nolan, 1949), facing p.160.

A. P. Graves tells how George Petrie, as a boy, witnessed Sarah Curran, veiled, weeping bitterly as she received in his father, James Petrie’s studio a portrait she had commissioned of Emmet, from memory. See Irish Lit. & Mus. Studies (1913), p. 201.

James Joyce: In Ulysses, Joyce cites Sara [sic] Curran in the “Cyclops” episode of the novel: ‘the Tommy Moore touch about Sara Curran and she’s far from the land.’ (U12.500.)

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Lallah Rookh, Thomas Moore’s poem, is based on Sarah Curran. See Terence de Vere White, Tom Moore, p.123 (quoted in Robert Welch, Irish Poetry, 1980, p.41). Also, Washington Irving’s The Broken Heart concerns her life.

Fair, sweet girl: John Campion, “Emmet’s Death”: ‘He dies today, thought the fair, sweet girl-/She lacked the life to speak,/For sorrow had almost frozen her head,/And white were her lip and cheek-/Despair had drank up her last wild tear,/And her brow was damp and chill,/And they often felt at her heart with fear/For its ebb was all but still.’

Map of Ireland: The embroidered map of Ireland that Sarah Curran made in 1802 is extant and held in the National Library of Ireland as NLI Acc 5076.

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Richard Curran: Sarah’s older brother, Richard Creagh Curran (1776-1847) was born in Newmarket, Co. Cork, the place of orgin of his parents, and moved with the family to Rathfarnham in 1790; when his father divorced his mother he was forced to give evidence, 1795; as sometime secretary to Valentine Lawless [Lord Cloncurry] he was arrested and releases in 1799; introduced Sarah to Robert Emmet but only learnt of their romance after the Rising of 1803; his services were secured by the Government to identify Emmet’s handwriting at his trial, but not required; received from Emmet a last letter expressing thanks for “generous expressions of affection and forgiveness” suffered a nervous breakdown after the execution; fled from Ireland after a relationship with the actress Mrs Henry Johnson, whose husband threatened legal action; acted as his father’s deputy when the latter was Master of the Rolls; settled in London in 1801; married a wealthy widow called Whysell, and afterwards suffered nervous disorders and was committed to an asylum; thereafter his history is unknown; d. Dec. 1847. (See Dictionary of Irish Biography, RIA 2004.)

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