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Anne Devlin

Anne Devlin is often mistakenly described as 'the faithful servant of Robert Emmet'. She was much more than that. She was born in county Wicklow as a successful tenant farmer's daughter, but as the Devlins were relations of the Dwyers they were thrown into jail during the Rising of 1798 and had to leave Wicklow. In the aftermath of 1798, the Orange mob rampaged through Wicklow, murdering suspects. Even Col. John Edwards, a magistrate and Protestant, and the LaTouche family of LaTouche's bank, were unable to stop outrages in their localities and ordinary people went in fear of their lives. The bodies of dead rebels lay about, often in a dishonoured state and relatives were too afraid of reprisals to bury them. Tradition has it that Anne Devlin with other relations and women went out by night to collect the bodies and give them Christian burial. Her actions were very brave at the time and her intention to honour the patriot dead is identical with that of the National Graves Association, she is therefore a sort of patron of our association.

To summarise her later career: when Emmet tried to revive the 1798 insurrection in 1803, he needed an assistant. Anne volunteered for this task and to explain her presence in Emmet's house and to give his occupation an air of normality, she posed as his housekeeper. In reality she acted as his adviser, messenger and agent. After their arrests, all the power of Dublin Castle was brought to bear on Anne Devlin. Many men were to buckle under this in Irish history, but although her health was ruined, her little brother died in Kilmainham and her relations left for Australia without her, she never turned. When finally released, connections of the Emmet family assisted her, she married and had two children, but eventually was found by Dr. Madden, when a poor widow. He helped her, but was absent from Dublin when she died. Nevertheless, he had her reburied in a better grave in Glasnevin, which is attended to this day by the NGA.

Anne kept house for Robert (known as Mr. Ellis) in the house in Butterfield Lane, Rathfarnham, which was used as a meeting place for Emmet's men. After the failure of Emmet's plans, the house was raided by Major Sirr's orders, and Anne Devlin subjected to the most brutal torture to extract information from her, but she endured the frightful ordeal and remained silent. She was then thrown into solitary confinement in Kilmainham Jail. After Emmet's execution Anne was brought to Dublin Castle for further interrogation. The brutal jailers drove her through Thomas Street, past the site of the execution, and forced her to look on the bloodstained block and the blood of Robert Emmet flowing in the channel, where dogs licked it. After years in Kilmainham she was at length released.


For forty years she worked as a washerwoman, a life of drudgery and poverty. Dr. Madden found her in abject want and helped to alleviate her sorrows. Unfortunately, while he was in America, she became very ill and died, we may say, of hunger. She was buried in a pauper's grave in Glasnevin. On his return Dr. Madden had the remains removed to their present resting place, and allocated a sum of money to have the grave perpetually cared for, and erected the original headstone at his own expense.