Anne Devlin

LifeWorksCriticismCommentaryQuotationsReferencesNotes

Life
1753 [err. ?1780-1851; var. 1778]; dg. of Winnie and Bryan [var. Brian] Devlin, farmer and builder with a lease at Cronebeg, nr. Aughrim, Co. Wicklow; niece of Michael Dwyer; schooled in English and arithmatic, and rode horses; her father was imprisoned for two years in Wicklow Goal before trial; afterwards set up as diary farmer in Rathfarnham; Anne was employed in the Heppenstall household at Inchicore (close kin of “Hanging Hempenstall”, the walking gibbet of 1798); acted in the role of ‘housekeeper’ to Robert Emmet at Butterfield, and styled his devoted servant; shared his plans and carried messages for him after the abortive Rising in 1803 prior to his arrest; threatened with summary hanging by arresting yeomen after abortive rising;
 
imprisoned and tortured in Kilmainham and Dublin Castle, her family being held also; put together with Emmet by Major Sirr and advised by Emmet to reveal information injurious to him; offered substantial bribe but still refused to divulge details of the conspiracy; refused R. B. Sheridan’s invitation to supply her story of a play as ‘too recent and too galling’; released after the other United Irishmen; settled in John's Lane, nr. Oliver Bond St.; married William Campbell, a drayman, with whom children, and widowed in 1845; lived in great poverty in the Liberties and discovered there by Br. Luke Cullen, who transcribed her story in old age (though without recording the names of her husband or her children); object of collection of 5 raised by The Nation, and doled out in half-crowns; d. 18 Sept., purportedly of starvation;
 
also befriended by Dr. Robert R. Madden, who was absent from Ireland at the time of her death but arranged for her exhumation from a pauper’s grave, and organised her reinterral with a monument in Glasnevin; there is an anon. portrait of Devlin by the National Library of Ireland; a film, Anne Devlin (1984), was made Pat Murphy using the Antigone myth to tell her story. DIB OCIL

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Criticism
  • Robin McKown, The Ordeal of Anne Devlin (NY: J. Messner [1963]; London: Macmillan 1964), 191pp. [for children];
  • John Finegan, ed., The Anne Devlin Jail Journal: Faithfully Written Down by Luke Cullen (Cork: Mercier Press 1968), 128pp., and Do., rep. as Anne Devlin: Patriot and Heroine (Elo Publ. 1992), 148pp.;
  • Luke Gibbons, ‘The Politics of Silence: Anne Devlin, Women and Irish Cinema’, in Transformations in Irish Culture (Field Day/Cork UP 1996), pp.107-116 [infra];
  • Mícheál Ó Doibhilín, Anne Devlin: the Woman Behind the Myth (11 West Crescent, Lucan: the author 2009), 28pp. [orig. Kilmainham lect.]
 

See also Fidelma Farley, Anne Devlin [Cinetek Ser.] (Trowbridge: Flik Books 2000), q.pp. [on Pat Murphy’s film].

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Commentary
Fraser Drew, ‘Ghosts of Kilmainham’, in Éire-Ireland, 4, 3 (Fall 1969), writes of a visit to Anne Devlin’s Yard in Kilmainham Jail, noting that it may have been the site of ‘her famous meeting with Robert Emmet, staged by the British in the hope of startling the two into a betrayal of their collaboration.’ (pp.110-13; p.112.)

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Books Ireland (March 1993) review of John Finegan, Anne Devlin: Patriot and Heroine [1968] (1992), notes that the work is substantially her own account as taken down by Brother Luke Cullen whose text is in the National Library; gives birth details affirmatively as Rathdrum, 1780; related to Michael Dwyer and Hugh O’Byrne; her father Brian jailed for two and a half years on suspicion in Wicklow town; later set up as a dairy farmer in Rathfarnham; provided cover for Emmet by acting as his housekeeper while her father put stock on the land of the house he occupied; Emmet, Thomas Russell, and W. H. Hamilton lived at the house on Butterfield Lane; Michael Dwyer visited; accidental explosion pushed forward date of rising; yeomenry arrived at Butterfield and threatened to hang her from the cart; arrested with brother Arthur and her father; met Emmet in Kilmainham, who advised her to talk; her family imprisoned for three years till released by new government, which afterwards released her too; R. B. Sheridan interested in using her story but she refused saying that ‘my sufferings were too recent and too galling’; married and lived frugally till 1845 when her husband died; The Nation raised a subscription of 5, doled out in half-crowns; d. 18 Sept 1851, buried in pauper’s grave, and later reinterred near O’Connell Monument.

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Luke Gibbons, ‘The Politics of Silence: Anne Devlin, Women and Irish Cinema’, in Transformations in Irish Culture (Field Day/Cork UP 1996), pp.107-16, is a detailed discussion of ‘Pat Murphy’s film, Anne Devlin (1984)’ [sic], dealing with the manner in which her body is made the site of oppression and resistance, and the silence of the female body as an answer to the male dominance of the symbolic media of rhetoric, uniforms, Etc.; emphasises the traditional Irish interpretation of women’s role as suffering and silence, identified by Marina Warner in a paper on the apparition of the Blessed Virgin at Knock (1857; cf. Warner, ‘What the Virgin of Knock Means to Women’, in Magill, Sept. 1979, p.39; also Alone of All her Sex; the Myth and Cult of the Virgin Mary, London: Quartet 1978, pp.190-91.) Gibbons quotes Patrick Pearse: ‘Wherever Emmet is commemorated let Anne Devlin not be forgotten ... You know how she kept vigil there [in Emmet’s house] on the night of the Rising. When all was lost and Emmet came out in his hurried retreat through Rathfarnham ... she would have tended him like a mother could he have tarried there, but his path lay to Kilmashogue, and hers was to be a harder duty ...’ (Pearse, ‘Robert Emmet and the Ireland of To-Day’, in Coll. Works: Pol. Writings and Speeches, Dublin: Phoenix 1924, pp.83-84; Gibbons, p. 108.)

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Luke Gibbons (‘The Politics of Silence: Anne Devlin, Women and Irish Cinema’, 1996) - cont.: ‘There is no need to rever to a feminine mystique of the body [...] to reaffirm the presence of women in a world dominated by men. Anne Devlin is not a feminist inversion of the psychotic IRA leader played by James Cagney in Shake Hands with the Devil (1959) who appears to be at war with England, but is really at war with women.’ (p.113.) ‘[Anne's silence is] a mode of resistance, an act of intransigence which places a formidable barrier in the path of those who seek to exploit and dominate others.’ (p.116; Bibl. incls. Eamonn MacThomais, The Lady at the Gate (Dublin, Joseph Clarke 1971); Hester Piatt, Anne Devlin: An Outline of Her Story [reiss. pamph.; n.d.]; Maureen S. G. Hawkings, ‘The Dramatic Treatment of Robert Emmet and Sarah Curran’, in S. F. Gallagher, ed., Women in Irish Legend, Life and Literature (Gerards Cross: Colin Smythe 1983); also Kevin Barry, ‘Cinema and Feminism: The Case of Anne Devlin’, in The Furrow, 36, 4 (April 1985). (Both of the foregoing quoted in Loredana Salis, ‘“So Greek with Consequence”: Classical Tragedy in Contemporary Irish Drama’, PhD Diss., UUC, 2005.)

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Lucille Redmond, review of Mícheál Ó Doibhilín, Anne Devlin: the Woman Behind the Myth, in Books Ireland (Feb. 2009), p.19: ‘[...] This excellent pamphlet, based on a lecture by one of those guides who so enchant visitors with their knowledgable and vivid tours of Kilmainham Gaol, is the tragic story of Robert Emmet's loyal housekeeper. In his introduction, Ó Doibhilin takes us on a rapid tour of what's known about Anne Devlin and where it comes from. Her first biographers, Luke Cullen and R. R. Madden, he says, didn't even record her husband and children's Christian names, though they must have known them. / Ó Doibhilín, who plans a longer book, went back to the original sources on Devlin. She was born in 1753 to Winnie and Bryan Devlin, fairly prosperous farmers who leased a farm in Cronebeg, near Aughrim in Wicklow. Her father and his brothers were also builders, who built many houses in the area. The second of the family's seven children, she was educated in English and arithmetic, and became an excellent horsewoman [...]. Model tenants as they were, Anne was hired at sixteen as a housemaid in the Inchicore home of Jack Heppenstall, brother of the “Walking Gallows”. / But the Devlins were known to be a rebel family, and their landlady made a deal with Anne's mother to swap protection from the Yeomen on the one side, and the United men on the other. Ó Doibhilín follows the story through Bryan Devlin's two-and-a-half-year imprisonment while awaiting trial for his rebel connections (he was acquitted), the family's move to Rathfarnham, and Anne's hiring as a supposed housekeeper in Robert Emmet's house, cover for her real position as a co-conspirator in the plans for Emmet's rising. He describes her incarceration in the sewers of Kilmainham Gaol, where medical inspector Edward Trevor and Town-Major Sirr used psychological torture and the offer of a massive £500 bribe to try to turn her, without success. / Her only non-prisoner friend was Mrs Dunn, wife of the head gaoler, who brought her out of the sewers to her own apartments, and warmed and fed her. By 1806 she was free, living in John's Lane, behind Mullinahack (around Oliver Bond Street), and getting some treatment for the erysipelas she'd contracted in jail. She'd married William Campbell, and they were doing well, with her working as a laundress in St Patrick's and her husband as a drayman. / She descended gradually into more and more terrible poverty on the death of her husband, and died of starvation at 71 in 1851.’

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References
Kevin Rockett, et al., eds, Cinema & Ireland (1988), lists Anne Devlin, dir. Pat Murphy (1984), photography by Thaddeus O’Sullivan, a non-commercial film-project; Rockett remarks on the reinstatement of nature ... as a space outside language, a source of authenticity and integrity beyond the facade of social and symbolic practices; further, Anne Devlin (Brid Brennan) the faithful servant ... retreat[s] into silence, the denial of language, in order to withstand &c. Robert Emmet played by Bosco Hogan. [q.p.].

Programme of Walter Reade Theatre (1994) cites Anne Devlin (1984), 124 mins., a film dir. by Pat Murphy, photography Thaddeus O’Sullivan; described as epic deconstruction of one of Ireland’s most romanticised historical events; Anne Devlin (Brid Brennan) is alone in her refusal to play Judas despite near hanging; a sort of stone in the way of conventional heroics; her English captor and Emmet too far gone in mythic martyrdom to want or value this strange woman’s peculiar honour; mesmerising dramatisation of the power of passivity and seductiveness of historical image-making.

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Notes
Martyrology: Patrick Pearse gave an account of the torture of Anne Devlin by soldiers who ‘pricked her breast with bayonets until the blood spurted out in their faces’ (in his lecture on Robert Emmet in New York, 2 & 9 March, 1914; cited in Jeanne A. Flood, ‘Joyce, Pearse and the Theme of Execution, in Drury, ed., Irish Studies, I, 1980, p.111.)

Portrait: There is a portrait of Anne Develin [sic] in Helen Landreth, The Pursuit of Robert Emmet (Dublin: Browne & Nolan 1949), p.160 [facing]; original in NLI. NOTE that Moya Cannon has written a seven-poem series for her (see Oar, Salmon Press 1991).

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