Royal Irish Academy

A Revolution in Profiles - Co. Offaly

In association with The Royal Irish Academy

Emily Weddall/Burke 1867-1952

Emily Burke was born at Windsor Terrace, Edenderry in 1867 to William John Burke and his wife Emily.

William was Church of Ireland rector to nearby Castlejordan and was sometimes known as “Jumper” Burke. In 19th century Ireland “Jumper” was a pejorative term for those who had converted to Protestantism. Originally a catholic priest, William’s conversion had occurred after he married Catherine Kennedy on the altar of his church at Kinvara in 1843.

After his conversion William was associated with the evangelical Priest Protection Society. An Irish speaker, he spent time proselytising in along the west coast and stationed for a period at the controversial Achill Island Mission. Evangelic preaching and the accusations of ‘Souperism’ which often followed in its wake were contentious issues, often violently so and William was often in the news for his activities.

After the death of his first wife, he married Emily MacArthur the daughter of a well- known Dublin printing family and the couple moved to Edenderry on his appointment at Castlejordan. William was not universally popular in Edenderry and a year after Emily’s birth it was reported…

‘a party of ruffians came rushing down the hill towards Windsor Place, where the Rev. gentleman resides, and flung a volley of stones at his drawing room window, breaking several panes of glass, and damaging the woodwork. The cowards fled immediately.’ (1)

But he continued to preach, traveling to Britain to give lectures on …

‘The Disloyal Teaching and Practices of Maynooth, and the Confessional.” and “How Romish Priests and Bishops, if so minded, could as easily put down Fenianism as they created it.’(2)

In 1872 the Burkes moved to Ballinasloe and lived there until William’s death in 1883.

In 1889 Emily’s stepbrother Dr William Henry Burke died in Pankhurst prison where he was imprisoned for the murder of his nine-year-old daughter the previous year at Monk Bretton.

Trained as a nurse, Emily Burke travelled extensively. The sight of prisoners being dispatched to a Siberian labour camp is reported to have affected her greatly and piqued her interest in politics. Her investments in Russian industry provided a private income which allowed her to focus on other pursuits for several years. In 1905 she married an English sea captain Edward Weddall and a year later, the couple moved into Rockford House a former school on the Achill mission.

After Edward’s death in 1908, Emily fought a long and ultimately successful battle with the parish vestry committee to allow a Willie Pearse designed Celtic Cross on his grave.

Weddall and her home became the focal points of an informal artistic community that included Paul Henry, Darrell Figgis, An Paorach and Claude Chavasse. The president of the local Gaelic League branch she erected a sign outside Rockfield declaring ‘Failte roimh gach gael’-‘all gaels welcome’. In 1910 she helped to fund and build Dooagh Hall, which from 1912 hosted Scoil Acla, a summer school focused on the Irish language and culture.

From 1912, Weddall supported tenants on the island during a period of contentious land agitation. In 1913 she was reported to be nursing fever victims in Connemara following an outbreak of typhus.

A member of the Cumann na mBan, she travelled to the funeral of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa and laid a wreath of Achill heather on the Fenian’s grave. Arrested while travelling to Dublin during the Easter Rising, she was lodged in Tullamore jail under the provisions of the Defence of the Realm Act.

She remained active throughout the War of Independence and Civil War providing food and shelter to republican activists.

When her stock portfolio diminished in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, she earned a living as a nurse in Dublin, but returned to Achill on her retirement.

Emily Weddall died at St Mary’s nursing home Ballsbridge in November 1952. She was buried beside the republican plot in Glasnevin and an oration was provided by Peader O’Flaherty.

Scoil Acla was revived in 1985 and the summer school’s committee erected a headstone at Wendall’s grave in 2012 with the epitaph ….

Failte roimh gach Gael

The author wishes to acknowledge the substantial work carried out on Emily Weddall’s life carried out by Patricia Byrne, Maria Gillen and Ciaran Reilly.


Sources:

 

1911 Census. Search online at http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/search/

National Museum: Our Heritage online at https://www.ouririshheritage.org/content/archive/people/101_mayo_people/military-revolutionary-activists/emily-weddall

Patricia Byrne. ‘Achill Island 1912. A microcosm of swilling political movements. Online at www.theirishstory.com

Maria Gillen ‘The life and times of Emily M Weddall’ online at http://emilymweddall.com/

Ciaran Reilly. Edenderry 1916 and the revolutionary era. (Edenderry) 2016.

Connaught Telegraph. 24 April 1913.

Dewsbury Reporter. 7 December 1889.

Irish Independent. 28 November 1952.

Irish Press. 27 November 1952.

Mayo News. 4 May 2021.

Western People. 22 July 1992.

(1) Dublin Evening Mail. October 18, 1868.

(2) Leicester Journal. 20 March 1868.

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