Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Martha Cross in Ireland

Martha was the daughter of George and Elizabeth Cross of Rathconnell, a townland around Athy. Nothing is known about them but they were Protestants so likely landowners and Martha had a reasonably comfortable and privileged upbringing with the expectation that she would marry into one of the many other Protestant families in the district.

I have great admiration for Martha. The division between Protestant and Catholic at that time was not only one of religious allegiance: it represented opposing political cultures and conflicting views of the history of Ireland. It must have taken enormous courage to marry Anthony for it wasn't only her family she'd be estranged from but the whole of the society she'd been raised in. Mixed marriages were not only unacceptable but also illegal for in 1746 the Irish Parliament banned marriages between Protestants and Catholics. Which does raise the question of who married them and where??

So the offer of the position in India must have seemed a godsend to the young couple: an opportunity to get away from Ireland and build a future together elsewhere even if it meant a separation for a while. It is hard to believe that any family could be so cruel and so devious that they could concoct such a complex plot and carry it through so heartlessly but it certainly appears someone did!

In her early twenties and with a tiny baby Martha finds herself a widow. Again it's not easy to understand how her family , knowing her circumstances, didn't gather her back into the fold or maybe they tried and she told them to get lost. You have to love her spirit - she stays right there in her hometown and ' took the position of Housekeeper' to Mr Purcell. I found several links mentioning Purcells Mail Coaches , a very successful business which made this Mr Purcell very wealthy.

Mr Purcell liked to entertain the military ............from early on in it's history Athy was garrison town with strong loyalties to the Crown.

I don't like to think of the heartache Martha must have suffered when for the second time in her life she received news of her husbands death and I doubt the few personal effects or even the money were much consolation for her loss.

I hope Martha lived the rest of her life with her son and his family at Eagle Hill (the property he bought) and I hope she found some joy with them and her grandchildren.
Martha Toomey died on the 22nd November, 1824 at the age of 78 and is buried at Fontstown.


Postscript: I was googling at the weekend hoping to find some info on the Cross family (no luck) but I did find this - from the Fontstown Parish......  

" This stone was laid here by Martha Toomey of Eagle Hill, July 7th 1808 in memory of her father George Cross who died 11 April 1788 aged 96."

A mystery! Perhaps Martha was making her peace with the past.

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