Remembering Catherine Meagher

I was so looking forward to an event scheduled to happen in Faithlegg graveyard this morning. However, like so many other plans across the nation it has fallen victim to the weather. The weather I’m referring to, for anyone living abroad, is a snowstorm which struck on Tuesday and has persisted all week. The event was the blessing of the bonnets at the Meagher family tomb.
The bonnets project is the brainchild of Dr. Christina Henri an Australian artist who has worked to raise awareness about the 25,000+ women who were transported to Australia, sometimes for offences as minor as stealing bread to feed their children. I blogged about her project last year, to help promote the exhibition created by local crafts women as part of International Women’s Day and hosted by the Waterford Women’s Centre. Its happening again this year in Central Library, Waterford.
Accessed from’bennie’_bennett.htm
I was excited at the prospect of this mornings event of course because it would have brought more national and international attention the tomb of the Thomas Francis Meagher family here in Faithlegg and provide a higher profile for his first wife, Catherine.
Catherine Meagher was the daughter of an Irish free settler to Tasmania, Australia named Bennett. She was only 19 when she met and fell in love with the Irish freedom fighter.#  Thomas was originally sentenced to death following the failed Young Irelander rebellion of 1848, but his sentence was reduced to transportation to Australia by Queen Victoria. 
Catherine was a governess when they met and Meagher later wrote that her influence was his salvation. They married on February 22nd 1851 and a year later her first son was born, Henry Emmett Fitzgerald Meagher.## However by this stage her husband had staged a dramatic escape from his sentence, firstly with the help of local fishermen to the island of Waterhouse Island, where ten days later he was picked up by the ship Elizabeth Thompson which dropped him to Pernambuco and eventually via the American brig Acorn to New York arriving Nay 26th 1852*. The plan was that his wife and new child would join him there, but their son died and following his funeral and a period of mourning she commenced the journey alone.
Catherines last resting place at Faithlegg
Catherine arrived in Ireland in early 1853 where she was astonished by the greeting she received in Waterford. Thousands turned out to welcome her and she was feted wherever she went. Before she continued on to America, a special meeting of the city fathers took place at City Hall including businessmen, dignitaries and invited guests.  Speaker after speaker bested themselves in praise of the lady and her husband and this was followed by a delegation walking down the Mall to present a scroll and gifts as a prelude to her journey to meet her husband.(1) 
She journeyed to America with her father in law, but the reunion with her husband was an unhappy one. He was seen as a hero in America and his energy and time was devoted to his adopted homeland and he was constantly in demand. When Meagher decided to journey to the west coast, Catherine, who was pregnant at the time opted to return to Waterford but following the birth of another son, she fell ill. She died in the Meagher home at midnight on Monday 9th May 1854 aged 22. She had been sick for a fortnight with Typhus.  Her hope was that she would return to America to be with her husband. However she was buried in the family tomb at Faithlegg. I have written before how that was a right denied her husband.
The Meagher statue on Waterford’s Mall
So unfortunately today instead of a blessing and some welcome attention on this forgotten lady, we are ensconced in our homes awaiting a thaw.  The events of this years 1848 committee are in tatters despite all the committees hard work.  As a member of many groups I realise that perhaps 90% of the work was already done. So as disappointed as I feel over the loss of this event they must feel so much more frustrated.  But there is always next year for the committee, and don’t forget the bonnets and the other events coming up soon for the local International women’s day.  
Some details on Catherine accessed from
(1)Waterford News 8th July 1935 p2.  The gifts (which were described as “having the advantage of being useful as well as beautiful”) were of silver and gold and included a brooch, a bracelet and a card case.  The presentation was made in the drawing room of Meaghers home on the Mall and was made by the Mayor, Thomas Fitzgerald Strange.

# Forney. G. Thomas Francis Meagher. 2003. Xlibris corporation

*Cavanagh. M. Memories of General Thomas Francis Meagher. 1892. The Messenger Press. Worcester. Mass.

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Roses from the Heart

I could heartily recommend to anyone in Waterford city in the next two weeks, to call to Central Library in Lady Lane and take a few minutes to view an art project, from which I take this blog title. The Roses from the Heart project is a means of highlighting the plight of thousands of women who were transported to Australia for the most basic crimes.  300 of these women were from Waterford.
Regular readers will know that I recently published a blog on Waterford people who suffered the penalty of Transportation. The blog dealt in general with the practice, and the specifics of a true Waterford hero Thomas Francis Meagher. But the reason I picked the topic of transportation was because of the Roses from the Heart. A project that seeks to remember another kind of hero, or rather heroines.

My wife Deena had brought the story home last week following her attendance at the local knitting and crochet group.  A member, Alice O’Shea had explained about the project, and how she along with others had taken on the task of decorating a ready made bonnet in memory of the Waterford women that had been sent away.  I believe the lady who coordinated in Waterford was Ruth Murray of Heart Creations

The project is the brainchild of a Tasmanian artist named Christina Henri. Christina chose the concept of a cloth bonnet, which was a typical garment worn by the women. Through it she hoped to raise an awareness of, and a memorial to, the 25,566 women who were transported.  

Alice had made her bonnet to the memory of a 46 year old Waterford woman, Alice Power.  Alice was 46 years old, a wife and a mother of 5 children.  Her trial was heard in Waterford in 1830 and she was sentenced to transportation for 7 years. Her crime was of receiving a stolen handkerchief.  She like the others would have been taken to await a ship at Grangegorman in Dublin, and hence to Dun Laoighre, for the horrific sea journey to the southern colony.  She departed on the Hooghly on the 24th June 1831 arriving in New South Wales on the 27th September.  According to the record she had at least one other Waterford woman as a companion, Ann Searson. Her crime; vagrancy! Once there she like the others would have been forced to work, and were at the mercy of their employers. When the sentence ended they were free to stay on the Australian continent or leave if they had the means. It would surely be impossible to countenance what Alice or her family experienced from this remove.

Christina’s current project is called “Bringing the Roses home to Ireland” and there are currently 60 bonnets on display in Central Library.  There is also a list of all those from Waterford who were sent away.  So if you have an interest in history or fascinating art installations, consider making it along to the library in the next few weeks.  I believe Christina will be talking at the Granville Hotel about the project on Thursday March 14th.  Also on show is a fascinating exhibition curated by Ann Fitzgerald of the Waterford Women’s Centre and Andy Kelly on famous Waterford Women.  This is to celebrate International Women’s Day.

All told both displays represent a celebration of many incredible women, some famous, some less so, but all deserving to be acknowledged and remembered. 

Update: Dr Christina Henri from the Cascades Female Factory Historic Site in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia tells their story Wednesday 15th March 2017 at the Town Hall Theatre, Dungarvan. 8pm. Admission: €5

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