"As we celebrate this decade of centenaries, it is easy to forget those who went before, and without whom many of these events would not have happened.
One such person was Anne Devlin, in whose memory today’s mass is being offered.
Anne married William Campbell in this church in 1811, and so began her life in the Liberties of Dublin. Originally from Rathdrum in Co. Wicklow, she was to live in the Liberties for 40 years, most of her time in John’s Lane, just behind the church at the end of this road. For the last few months of her life she lived in Little Elbow Lane just up the road from us. At that time – 1851 – this was probably the worst slum in Dublin, but has long since vanished, to be replaced by Reginald Street today.
Anne’s children were baptised in this church too, and her eldest daughter got married in another nearby church – St. Nicholas of Myra.
Anne’s husband died in 1846 – in the middle of the great Famine – and Ann suffered much as a result. Hardly able to continue working taking in laundry, so ill that she was often blind and had to be helped across the road, she gradually lost all she possessed – even her home – and had to move to a miserable garret in Little Elbow Lane, where she died, mainly of starvation, at the age of 71.
A simple and not untypical life for the times – but we remember Anne for much more than this. She could have been wealthy, very wealthy, but chose a life that eventually killed her rather than become an informer.
For Anne had worked with Robert Emmet on his ill-fated rebellion of 1803, which took place mostly in Thomas Street near us, in front of the other St. Catherine’s Church there. When that rebellion failed, and Robert was in jail, Anne and her family were arrested. For 2½ years Anne was to suffer horribly at the hands of Dr. Edward Trevor, medical inspector of Kilmainham Gaol …. and paid British spy. Sensory deprivation, total darkness, solitary confinement, starvation – everything Dr. Trevor could do to try to break her, to find out the names of those who had helped Emmet fund and organise his rebellion.
But she would not tell – no matter what the cost. Her family lost everything, her youngest brother Jimmy died in prison, only nine years old … yet she stood firm and refused to become a hated informer. Even huge bribes - £500 - more money than she could ever earn, did not turn her head.
Even when eventually released from prison Anne was not free for the police followed her every where, every day, noting who she spoke to, who she knew, making her virtually unemployable, right to the day of her death.
Yet she stood true to Emmet and his supporters. She kept those supporters alive to pass on their ideas, their hopes that Ireland would one day be free, and their children could pass these ideas on too, until we eventually began the Easter Rising of 1916 and the War of Independence that followed, which led to the freedoms we have today.
Without Anne, those supporters would have been lost. Without them, we would have lost the spinal chord of our republicanism and all we have today would not exist.
And it is for that that we remember Anne today, who gave up everything so that we, eventually, would be free to celebrate this Decade of Centenaries.
Ar dheis Dé go mairí sí i gcónaí."
This was the ninth year we remembered Anne in this way. The church is midway between her two homes and near the church of St. Nicholas of Myra where her eldest daughter got married. all of Anne's children were baptised in St. Catherine's Church.
I began these commemorations in 2005, and this was (to the best of my knowledge) the first time since 1951 that she had been remembered. Even in 2003, when we celebrated the bi-centenary of Robert Emmet's rebellion, Anne barely got a look in other than as his "valued servant", a term that would have had her turning in her grave.
In 1951 Mrs. Sean T. O'Kelly unveiled a memorial to Anne on the bridge at Aughrim, Co. Wicklow (see above)
In 2004 I was involved with the Committee that commissioned the statue of Anne that now stands in Rathfarnham, Co. Dublin, near where Robert Emmet had his headquarters as he planned the rebellion. it's a lovely statue, but not many see it in this village. I am agitating to have something similar erected in the heart of the Liberties where she spent most of her life, and to have plaques erected at the significant locations there.