Anne Devlin was born in Cronebeg between Rathdrum and Aughrim in the Wicklow hills in 1780. Her father, Brian Devlin, was imprisoned in Wicklow jail following the 1798 Rebellion and her cousins Michael Dwyer and Hugh O’Byrne were the leaders of the Wicklow Rebels and so we see that Nationalism and insurrection had always been part of her life.
When her father was released from prison, the family moved to a dairy farm in Rathfarnham in Dublin around 1800. In 1803, while planning his rising, Robert Emmet rented the nearby Butterfield House under the assumed name of Mr. Ellis and he lived there with Thomas Russell and William Dowdall.
As well as being his housekeeper, Anne Devlin became his faithful accomplice in the preparations for the ill-fated 1803 rebellion. Some of the meetings arranged here were attended by Michael Dwyer and some of his men from the Glen of Imaal.
On the night of the 23rd of July, after the rising had been abandoned, Emmet and his party returned to Butterfield lane, now Butterfield Avenue, but later in the night moved into Brian Devlin’s farm where they remained for a few days.
The eventually went on the run in the Dublin Mountains, and Anne carried messages between Emmet and his friends in Dublin. A few days later, Butterfield House was raided. Anne was questioned about her master, Mr. Ellis, who was of course, Robert Emmet. She had destroyed any evidence of the rebellion in the preceding days and refused to give the authorities any information, even though, in her own words, the Yeomen “began afresh to goad me with their bayonets. The blood was streaming down my sides and arms”.
Anne was then taken outside and half hanged to death, yet still she refused to tell them anything. They also tortured her young sister who was staying with her at the time. Anne was finally arrested, along with other members of her family, and questioned at Dublin Castle.
Despite further torture, she refused to give any information remaining tight lipped even after Emmet’s execution outside St. Catherine’s Church on Thomas Street on the 20th of September 1803.
Anne was imprisoned in Kilmainham Gaol for high treason where she was subjected to constant torture and inhumane treatment. She was not released until 1806.
Following her release from prison, Anne became a servant to a Mrs Elizabeth Hammond who lived at number 84 Rogerson’s Quay.
Anne Devlin died on the 1st of September 1851 and although she ended her life in poverty and obscurity, the fearlessness with which she faithfully served Robert Emmet and the cause of Irish Nationalism has finally gained her a place in Irish history. Anne Devlin is commemorated with a statue in Rathfarnham village where her name graces many streets. In 2012 the artist Maser painted a large colourful portrait of Devlin on the corner of Meath Street and Carman’s Hall, a mere stone’s through from the site of Robert Emmet’s execution.
She is also remembered by the Emmet and Devlin Society on the 20th of September each year.
This piece was inspired by an article in The Echo on Thursday the 30th of August 2012.