Ellen [Mary Patrick] Downing (1818-69)


Life
[‘Mary” of the Nation; also EMPD, and “Kate”]; b. 19 March 1818, Cork; dg. resident med. officer Cork Fever Hospital; added Patrick to her name at First Holy Communion 1839, St Patrick’s Church. Cork; contrib. to The Nation to 1847, appearing after in Mitchel’s United Irishman, where her writings are more militant; suffered ill-health as result of disappointment in love for Joseph Brenan [q.v.]; entered North Presentation Convent, 14 Oct. 1849;
 
took vows as Sister Mary Alphonsus, 1850, but quit the convent in 1851; suffering occasional bouts of paralysis; later joined Third Order of St Dominic, though residing in her own house; works incl. Voices of the Heart, ed. Most Rev. J. P. Leahy, Bishop of Dromore, Dublin 1868; enlarged ed., 1880; Novenas and Meditations, Leahy ed., Dublin 1879; issued Poems for Children (Dublin 1881); d. Mercy Hospital, Cork, 27 Jan., after a full year in a ward. CAB DBIV MKA RAF JMC

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Criticism
Brigitte Anton, ‘Women of The Nation’, in History Ireland, 1, 3 (Autumn 1993), gives accounts of Ellen Mary Downing (Mary), with Mary Kelly (‘Eva’), Anna Francesca Elgee (‘Speranza’), Margaret Callan, née Hughes, and Jenny Mitchel, née Verner.

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See also Richard D’Alton Williams’s “To Mary” - a poems warning against ‘martial verse’, of which he himself wrote so much himself - in Poems (1894), p.236ff. - with an introductory note by the editor, P. A. Sillard: ‘The Nation introduced this fine poem with the following: “Shamrock” has addressed “Mary” in a voice of such tender warning against martial verse, as makes us fear a Telemachus masquerading as a Mentor. He describes himself as commissioned “by Brida, the Irish Goddess of Poetry,” to utter this admonition. The Goddess descends to him in a vision, describes “Mary” as her chosen oracle, on whom she had conferred the divine gift of poeay,and proceeds to say:

“Since that hour the girl no longer played with childhood’s simple toys,
But each day, with impulse stronger, sought for high and holy joys;
But thou knowest the woe that slumbers music's shining waves beneath,
And how oft the poet's numbers from a bleeding bosom breathe.
[...”; &c.]

Richard D’Alton Williams, Poems (1894), p.236ff; available at Internet Archive - online.)

Note: “Mary” is one of those addressed in “Valentine to Poetesses of the Nation” (ibid., p.174ff.; see note under Williams, infra.

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References
Brian McKenna, Irish Literature, 1800-1875: A Guide to Information Sources (Detroit: Gale Research Co. 1978) lists Poems for Children (1881); Voices of the Heart, Sacred Poems (1881); and Meditations and Prayers, prose (1879); and Comm., Matthew Russell, ‘Ellen Downing, Mary of the Nation,’ Irish Monthly 6 (1878); ‘Unpublished Relics ..’, Irish Monthly, 12 (1884); also an essay by Sean Ghall [pseud.] in United Irishman (15 March 1902).

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Anthologies, Dublin Book of Irish Verse (1910) selects ‘My Owen’. Justin McCarthy, gen. ed., Irish Literature (Washington: University of America 1904); gives ‘My Owen,’ and ‘Talk by the Blackwater’.

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Notes
George Russell: Russell called her a saint and noted that she was much in demand as a religious teacher. Further: ‘she told her sister that to hear of the violent pain of any one almost always caused her to feel a precisely similar pain’. (q. source [p.461].)

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