An important feature of Irish Life were Nuns - education,charity & hospitals.

They were in the Crimea battling with Florence Nightengale -who stole their ideas. (Miz Nightengale was capable of original ideas and was a wiz at statistics & invented pictograms).

Why did the Mercy nuns volunteer to nurse in the Crimean War? Primarily, according to surviving diaries, it was carried out as part of their mission to aid the less fortunate of society – especially given the high number of Irish soldiers in the British Army during the 19th century. The Mercy sisters had had experience of home nursing in the houses of the poor since the first European cholera epidemic in 1832.
Gradually this work expanded and, by the outbreak of the Crimean War in 1854, the sisters had gained much valuable domiciliary nursing expertise and had laid plans to open hospitals in Dublin and Cork. The Crimean War allowed these women to apply the nursing skills they had acquired and to gain public recognition for their nursing care. Although much of the work was necessarily surgical, nevertheless there was a very high incidence of infectious disease, such as cholera and typhus, with which the nuns were already very familiar. A second consideration was political – to showcase the benefits of Catholicism. Despite the removal of the last vestiges of the Penal Laws with Catholic Emancipation, nevertheless a suspicion remained in the establishment mind about the motives of the Catholic hierarchy. The Catholic Bishop of Southwark, London urged the Mercy sisters in Bermondsey to volunteer and also contacted the Irish hierarchy, who in turn encouraged Irish convents of Mercy to participate in the endeavour. One dissenting voice was that of the Bishop of Galway who refused permission to travel for four nuns who had volunteered from the convents at Galway and Westport and they were forced to remain in Ireland
The first contingent of volunteers was made up of Nightingale herself, some paid nurses, some Anglican sisters and two groups of Catholic nuns – one group from the Convent of Mercy at Bermondsey. Meanwhile, the second contingent had departed from London, including Mother Bridgeman’s group which comprised eleven nuns from Irish Convents, 3 from Liverpool and 1 from Chelsea. (See list above). The Irish nuns met up at St Catherine’s where there was a delay of 3 weeks while various administrative problems were sorted out. They then travelled together to London and were joined by the sisters from Liverpool and Chelsea.
All the nuns kept a diary of their time away but only three survive – those written by Mother M. Francis Bridgeman of Kinsale, Sister M. Aloysius Doyle of Carlow and Sister M. Joseph Croke of Charleville. Mother Bridgeman’s party of 15 sisters left London on 2nd December 1854 with 9 ‘ladies’ and 23 paid nurses under the superintendence of Mary Stanley. They travelled via Paris and Marseilles, where they boarded a ship bound for Turkey. When they arrived at Constantinople a message was sent to Scutari but Nightingale replied that the War Office had made a mistake and she had neither work nor accommodation for more nurses and nuns. Something of a stand-off ensued, with the ladies and nurses staying in accommodation belonging to the British Ambassador and the nuns staying with French Sisters of Charity, in their convent nearby. Eventually Moore negotiated a compromise between Nightingale and Bridgeman where Nightingale agreed to accept five nuns to work at the Barrack Hospital, Scutari, on the understanding that Bridgeman was free to withdraw them at any time


These guys were sucessful and acquired power and influence unrivalled by the Knights Templar.

So how come we know so little about them ?

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Now a few hundred years earlier being a nun was quite fashionable for an
educated lady.

When Henry disolved the Monasteries the convents went to. The Edict ordered nuns to quit the kingdom or marry .

Nice one Henry !!!!

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Now ,it seemed that unlike monasteries convents managed to survive -well at least this bunch

The Sisters of St. Clare trace their history from the present day back to the earliest days of St. Clare in Assisi. We do not know when they first came to Ireland but The Four Masters record the death of Finola, daughter of Felim O' Connor, Abbess of Kilcreevanty near Tuam, about the year 1301. They also record the death of Finola, daughter of Conor na Srona O' Brian, widow of Aodh Roe O' Donnell, who “had been twenty two years in the habit of St. Francis” when she was buried in the Franciscan Monastery in Donegal founded by her husband in 1474. Other records in the Bodleian Library in Oxford dating from 1385 indicate that there were three monasteries of St. Clare in Ireland. A map from 1650 provides some evidence of a foundation in Galway in the early 1600's. It is believed that these nuns were dispersed and banished when Cromwell’s forces captured Galway.
The links from the present convents of the Sisters of St. Clare in Ireland back to Assisi are:-

St. Clare's Convent, Newry was founded in 1830 by sisters from Harold's Cross, Glasthule, (Dunlaoire) and North William Street.
Harold's Cross was founded in 1804 from Dorset Street.
Dorset Street was founded in 1750 from North King Street.
North King Street was founded in 1715 from Channel Row, Dublin.
Channel Row was founded in 1712 from Galway
Galway was established in 1642 from Bethlehem (Athlone).
Bethlehem (Athlone) was founded in 1631 from Merchants Quay/Cooke St. Dublin
Cooke Street Dublin was founded from Nieuport in 1629
Nieuport was founded from Dunkirk in 1627
Dunkirk was founded in 1625 from Gravelines
Gravelines was founded in 1609 from St. Omer
St. Omer was founded in 1581 from Veere
Veere was founded from Antwerp in 1455
Antwerp was founded from Trier in 1453
Trier was founded from Gnadental in 1289
Gnadental was founded from Alsback in 1289
Alsback was founded from Kienshein in 1283
Kienshein was founded from Assisi in 1271

On Christmas Day 1620 a young Wexford girl Sr. Martha Marianna Cheevers made her profession in Gravelines in the Low Countries. She was the first Irish girl to be professed in the Order of St. Clare since the Reformation. Others followed her and in 1625 five nuns left to open a convent in Dunkirk. All were young, the Abbess - Sr. Eleanor Dillon was only 24, the youngest Sr. Mary Peter Dowdall from Dublin was only 19. With their limited funds they found it hard to live in Dunkirk and within two years had moved to Nieuport where costs were lower. They were joined by two more Irish girls who were to be known in religion as Sr. Mary Power and Sr. Brigid Anthony Eustace. At this time the Irish Franciscan fathers suggested that, as there was a lull in the persecutions in Ireland the sisters should return and open a convent. It was a huge challenge as no convent had been allowed to exist in Ireland for almost 100 years but they decided to return in 1629 and established their first convent in Cooke Street behind Merchants Quay.
They were not long in Dublin when twelve postulants sought admission. Two years after their arrival the authorities became aware of the existence of the sisters and they were given one month to leave the city. They refused to go back to Nieuport or to their homes. Instead they travelled to Athlone where the Abbess’s brother Sir Luke Dillon gave them lodging. Within a year they were settled in a “poor house built for their habitation in a solitary neck of land without any inhabitants, near a great lake called Lough Ree… not daring any more to set themselves in any great town, city or popular place and founded there a convent called Bethlehem”. As it was situated five miles from Athlone it was off the beaten track and the sisters were left in peace for some time to follow their Rule.
The community increased in number and it was decided to open a convent in Drogheda. However when war broke out the sisters were forced to flee to Waterford but had to leave there too. There is no accurate record of what happened to these sisters. The Bethlehem convent was also destroyed in the war but a few sisters managed to escape and found a convent in Galway in 1642. However, when Cromwell's troops attacked the Monasteries some of the community fled to the continent while some remained with their families. Their convent in Galway passed into the possession of a planter named James Morgan. When Cromwell died in 1658 and was succeeded by Charles 11 in 1660, Catholics gradually returned to the city. Two sisters rented their convent back, gathered together the scattered nuns and resumed their life of prayer. Their first novice was Sr. Margaret Clare Kirwan who was received in 1672 and forty years later she led the return of the sisters to Dublin. Before that however there was another dispersal following the Williamite rebellion in 1688. Once again the sisters were forced to flee and live with relatives and friends. When the Treaty of Limerick was signed in 1690 the sisters again returned to Galway renting a large house in Market Street where they kept boarders to conceal their identity. It remained a convent until 1825 although the community had to flee on four more occasions – 1n 1689, 1712, 1717, and again in 1731. In less than a century the Order was suppressed six times and the sisters driven from their convents. Yet in 1698 four novices were professed and at the suppression of 1712 there were fifty nuns in the Galway community.
While undergoing persecution in Galway the sisters accepted an invitation from Dr. Nary, Parish Priest of St. Michans in Dublin to make a foundation in his parish. Six sisters, including Sr. Margaret Clare Kirwan, arrived in Dublin on 7th June 1712. At first the sisters lived in a house in Beresford Street. Then they moved to a convent in Channel Row now North Brunswick Street. The Irish Street Name Plate Raedh na Canalac is still to be seen on the corner of North Brunswick Street today. This convent had been built by the Irish Benedictines in 1685 but they too had been driven out. It now became the home of the Poor Sisters of St. Clare. Within three months of their arrival the convent was raided by the authorities and some sisters arrested but when the situation eased they again returned to the convent and four novices were professed during this time.
Believing that they would be safer if they moved to a new location the sisters left Channel Row to go a short distance to North King Street. They took girls as boarders in an effort to avoid detection. Once again in 1718 the house was raided and the sisters arrested. However, as the judge decided they were not living in a convent but running a lodging house, they were released. In order to remain together as a community, they laid aside their habit and dressed in secular clothes. They were known as “Mrs” not “Sister”. They gave up choir ceremonies and anything which might reveal to the authorities that they were nuns. Eventually the penal laws were relaxed a little and the sisters established a very successful school in North King Street. They founded several other communities but with one exception, Dorset Street these did not survive.
In 1750 some of the sisters moved from North King Street as they were unhappy with aspects of their convent life. They petitioned the Pope and were given permission to establish a new convent in Dorset Street Dublin under the direct authority of the Archbishop of Dublin. (Before this they had been under the authority of the Franciscan Provincial.) In Dorset Street the sisters continued to run a boarding school for girls but were still not permitted to wear a religious habit. “We wore a black stuff gown with long sleeves, a cloak, apron, and outside handkerchief of the same material, a mop cap completed the dress”
By the year 1803 the poverty which had caused the closure of the other convents founded from North King Street now threatened the sisters in Dorset Street.
Almost the whole of Europe was now involved in war so prices went up, the value of securities fell and the sisters realised that soon they would not be able to pay the rent on their convent home. It appeared that all they could do was disband and share the common fund so that each could have a modest dowry to enable her to join another religious order.
However in 1803, Dr. Troy the Archbishop of Dublin called to the convent with a suggestion that the sisters take over an orphanage for girls which was then located in Hendrick Street, (near Queen Street, Dublin.) The daughter of one of their benefactors, Miss Maria O' Brien, was responsible for this orphanage but was anxious to hand it over to nuns. The sisters saw this as an answer to their prayers. The girls were in need of a home and the Archbishop petitioned Rome to modify those aspects of the Rule which would be incompatible with the care of orphan girls. This permission was granted in May 1804 by Pope Pius VII. To the three vows of Poverty, Chastity, Obedience, the sisters then added a fourth vow the care of female orphans and children. With the help of friends, premises were found at what were then numbers 19 and 20 Harold’s Cross Road. On 8th October 1804 three sisters moved there followed on 19th October by the Abbess and eleven sisters.

Harold's Cross Convent, Dublin

On 2nd July 1806 the newly built orphanage was occupied by the first group of children. Later a convent and chapel were built and in 1817 the sisters resumed wearing a religious habit which they had been forced to lay aside almost one hundred years before.

Harold's Cross Garden, Dublin

The move to Harold’s Cross represented a significant change for the Sisters of St. Clare. Since their arrival in 1629 they had followed the purely contemplative Rule of St. Clare. However at times they could not observe enclosure or have a grill so instead they ran schools and cared for young girls. These changes were understood to be temporary and as persecutions lessened they were free to return to the totally enclosed lifestyle. The changes resulting from the move to Harold's Cross led to some permanent alterations in the Rule of Enclosure which evolved further following Vatican II.

St. Clare's Convent, Newry Click here to see video of Newry

In 1829, at the time when Catholic Emancipation became a reality in Ireland, the sisters were invited to open a convent in Newry, Northern Ireland. This was the first convent in that part of Ireland since the Reformation. Unlike Harold's Cross this foundation did not require the sisters to care for orphans but at the request of the Bishop of Dromore they established schools first in Newry and later in different parts of Ireland,
Cavan and Kenmare in 1861, Ballyjamesduff and Keady in 1872.

In 1882 sisters from the convents in Keady and Newry volunteered for a mission in Australia. These were all autonomous Monasteries but in 1944, under the leadership of the Abbess of Newry, Mother Agnes O' Brien the convents in Keady, Cavan, Ballyjamesduff and Newry amalgamated while still remaining within the Second Order. Later the convents in Kenmare and Harold's Cross also amalgamated with the earlier group.



Lots of Irish clergy went to Nantes in France and here is an article describing events with Irish nuns in the decade 1650 to 1659.


This was Cromwells time .

So it does seem that the nuns were able to keep their organisations in place.


The now infamous Nano Nagle set up the Presantation Nuns pre 1800 in the middle of the Penal Laws

The backdrop to the life and work of Nano Nagle was Ireland in the Penal times of the 18th century. Profitable lands were ruthlessly confiscated. Nano`s family was one of the few Catholic families who managed to escape confiscation of their lands. Nano was sent to be educated in France due to the substantial wealth of the Nagles. Having finished her education Nano returned to Ireland. Now living in Dublin with her sister and widowed mother she witnessed the serious disorders born of the penal regime. Nano and her sister Ann did what they could for the poor but after returning to Cork she became increasingly aware of the enormity of the problem of Ireland`s destitute population. At this stage she decided to enter the religious life in France.

Nano`s time in France was short as she was tormented by the memories of the poor people of Ireland so Nano returned home to Cork where she rented a little mud cabin in Cove Lane, Cork City. It had two earthen-floored rooms, a garret and thatched roof. Here she began her first school with thirty girls whom her maid gathered from the streets and lanes in the vicinity. Nine months later two hundred children were packed into two or more cabin school. By 1769 there was seven school, five for girls,two for boys. By 1776 Nano realised the need for more organised control and staffing of her schools. She needed to ensure continuity.

Nano decided to invite religious in France to come to Ireland. After much trouble she secured a promise from the Ursulines in Paris that they would train girls whom Nano would send them for the new foundation. In 1771 four Irish novices took possession of the convent built for them by Nano. Things did not turn out as Nano had expected. The Ursulines were bound by the rule of enclosure which meant that they could not travel to schools outside their enclosure. In the end Nano decided to establish her own Sisterhood. On Christmas Eve, 1775 Nano and Three companions began their religious life under the title of the " Sisters of the Charitable Instruction of the Sacred Heart of Jesus". On the 24th June 1776, all four received the religious habit. All this her health was a grave concern to everyone. On April 21st 1784 she was seized with a severe hemorrhage and died on April 26th.

In 1791 the Sisters were given, at their own request, a new title, "Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary".


What interests me though is their expansion and how big they got in the Nun business.

The sisters of the Presentation went on to found many convents in Ireland. In 1883 a group of sisters left their convent in Galway to make the first foundation in the New World at St. John`s, Newfoundland. The first foundation in the United States was made at San Francisco in 1854. Now there is a widespread distribution of Presentation Convents, not only in Ireland and the U.S.A. but throughout the world.

joolsveer Registered User

CDfm said:
The now infamous Nano Nagle set up the Presantation Nuns pre 1800 in the middle of the Penal Laws

Why do you say infamous?

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joolsveer said:
Why do you say infamous?

I am trying to build up some excitement

"The Presentation nuns are mostly thought of as a teaching order. But in 1784, Nagle wrote that one of the order's missions was to take care of the prostitutes in her city of Cork, Ireland


premierlass Registered User

CDfm said:
"The Presentation nuns are mostly thought of as a teaching order. But in 1784, Nagle wrote that one of the order's missions was to take care of the prostitutes in her city of Cork, Ireland


That's a part of the story I never heard in school (and we heard it a lot being taught by Presentation nuns).

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Yup - there is lots we do not know about nuns and their origans and how they were very important to the catholics churches survival in Ireland .

The 19th Century saw them tackle lots of areas in Ireland, childcare ,education, health care and prisons etc.

Along with the good they did -there also is some bad.

A lot of the 18th Century work involved prostitution which was a huge issue as the country was garrisonned.

It gets huge coverage elsewhere.


07 Mar 2011

A&S Home » American Studies » News Irish Catholic Nuns and the Origins of the Welfare System, 1830-1920

by American Studies Department | December 7, 2006
Maureen Fitzgerald has had published her study of the Irish Catholic Sisters and their contributions to charitable care in New York City.
The Sisters' work was tremendously successful in founding charitable organizations in New York City from the famine through the early 20th century. Fitzgerald, Associate Professor in American Studies, argues that it was these nuns' championing of the rights of the poor--especially poor women--that resulted in an explosion of state-supported services and programs.
Unlike Protestant reformers who argued that aid should be meager and provisional (based on means-testing) to avert widespread dependence, Irish-Catholic nuns argued instead that the poor should be aided as an act of compassion. Positioning the nuns' activism as resistance to the cultural hegemony of Protestantism, Fitzgerald contends that Catholic nuns offered strong and unequivocal moral leadership in condemning those who punished the poor for their poverty and unmarried women for sexual transgression. She discusses the communities of women to which the nuns belonged, the class-based hierarchies within the convents, the political power wielded by these female leaders in the city at large, and how, in conjunction with an Irish-Catholic political machine, they expanded public charities in the city on an unprecedented scale.
The volume is part of the series "Women in American History," edited by Anne Firor Scott, Susan Armitage, Susan K. Cahn, and Deborah Gray White.


Mary Peckham Magray argues that the Irish Catholic cultural revolution in the nineteenth century was effected not only by male elites, as previous scholarship has claimed, but also by the most overlooked and underestimated women in Ireland: the nuns. Once thought to be merely passive servants of the male clerical hierarchy, women's religious orders were in fact at the very center of the creation of a devout Catholic culture in Ireland. Often well-educated, articulate, and evangelical, nuns were much more social and ambitious than traditional stereotypical views have held. They used their wealth and their authority to effect changes in both the religious practices and daily activity of the larger Irish Catholic population, and by doing so, Magray argues, deserve a far larger place in the Irish historical record than they have previously been accorded.

Magray's innovative work challenges some of the most widely held assumptions of social history in nineteenth-century Ireland. It will be of interest to scholars and students of Irish history, religious history, women's studies, and sociology. Reviews

"In this gem of a book, Mary Peckham Magray presents an impassioned, well-argued case for the role of Catholic women's orders in the Irish devotional revolution of the 19th century....Magray's book will appeal to students of Irish Catholicism, women's religious orders, and missionary movements in relation to colonialism."--Journal of Ritual Studies
"This book constitutes an outstanding intervention in the history of both Irish Catholicism and Irish women."--Kevin Whelan, Notre Dame University, Dublin Center
"A tour de force of social and cultural history. Mary Peckham Magray's The Transforming Power of the Nuns offers exciting new evidence for what scholars of Catholic women religious have come to realize--that nuns played a pivotal role in the devotional and educational revolutions of nineteenth-century Ireland. The reverberations of their impressive achievement were also felt wherever Irish people migrated after the Great Famine. Historians of women and religion in Ireland and the United States, as well as in England , Canada, and Australia, will now want to examine even further the lives and work of these influential Catholic women."--Suellen Hoy, University of Notre Dame.
"Mary Peckham Magray challenges much of the conventional wisdom about Irish female religious in the nineteenth century....This study contends that the cultural revolution in Catholic Ireland was spearheaded by the work of women religious who had been steadily ingratiating themselves into the everyday lives of the Catholic masses in Ireland in the late 18th century through their social welfare, health care, and educational activities. This study demonstrates that these women were social activists who vociferously and successfully resisted the efforts of the male hierarchy to take their independence from them."--Janet Nolan, Loyola University, Chicago


Ireland's Magdalen Laundries and the Nation's Architecture of Containment

Smith's introduction sets the stage for his story with an analysis of the 1931 Carrigan Report, which established "an official state attitude toward 'sexual immorality' and the subsequent legislation in authorizing the nation's containment culture" (2). He objectively explores the close relationship between the Catholic Church and the new Irish state in creating a moral climate that punished women for sexual transgressions. The men involved in an illicit tryst or a rape, however, did not suffer the same indignations as the female victims. The author is critical of the Report and the role of the church and state in fostering a culture in which the Magdalen laundries could exist. The next section of the book, "The Magdalen Asylum and History: Mining the Archive," looks at development of the laundries in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In post-famine Ireland, the laundries served as a vehicle to rehabilitate "fallen women" and to ease their way back into society, but in the twentieth century, these asylums became "more punitive in nature and certainly more secretive" (42) and departed from their original purpose. They now provided the state with an apparatus to deal with problem women and children, which the author calls "the nation's architecture of containment." Both church and state were responsible for this shift in the mission of the Magdalen laundries.


P. Breathnach Registered User

This bit is particularly interesting:

In post-famine Ireland, the laundries served as a vehicle to rehabilitate "fallen women" and to ease their way back into society, but in the twentieth century, these asylums became "more punitive in nature and certainly more secretive"

Can anybody explain what caused the change? Did it mirror general changes in social attitudes?


Militarism and poverty created it.

It grew during and after the famine.

Victorian England was about self improvement but really the causes seemed to be veneral disease at epic levels causing 30 to 40% of soldiers not being fit enough for battle.

Another factor was a shortage of girls who wanted to work as domestic servants .

So - it was affecting upper class comfort and the empire.
See also: Victorian morality and Women in the Victorian era
Beginning in the late 1840s, major news organizations, clergymen, and single women became increasingly concerned about prostitution, which came to be known as "The Great Social Evil". Although estimates of the number of prostitutes in London by the 1850s vary widely (in his landmark study, Prostitution, William Acton reported that the police estimated there were 8,600 in London alone in 1857), it is enough to say that the number of women working the streets became increasingly difficult to ignore. When the United Kingdom Census 1851 publicly revealed a 4% demographic imbalance in favour of women (i.e., 4% more women than men), the problem of prostitution began to shift from a moral/religious cause to a socio-economic one. The 1851 census showed that the population of Great Britain was roughly 18 million; this meant that roughly 750,000 women would remain unmarried simply because there were not enough men. These women came to be referred to as "superfluous women" or "redundant women", and many essays were published discussing what, precisely, ought to be done with them.
While the Magdalene Asylums had been "reforming" prostitutes since the mid-18th century, the years between 1848 and 1870 saw a veritable explosion in the number of institutions working to "reclaim" these "fallen women" from the streets and retrain them for entry into respectable society — usually for work as domestic servants. The theme of prostitution and the "fallen woman" (an umbrella term used to describe any women who had sexual intercourse out of wedlock) became a staple feature of mid-Victorian literature and politics. In the writings of Henry Mayhew, Charles Booth, and others, prostitution began to be seen as a social problem.
When Parliament passed the first of the Contagious Diseases Acts in 1864 (which allowed the local constabulary to force any woman suspected of venereal disease to submit to its inspection), Josephine Butler's crusade to repeal the CD Acts yoked the anti-prostitution cause with the emergent feminist movement. Butler attacked the long-established double standard of sexual morality.


Victorian England and Dublin were sophisticated with a great emphasis on improvement


I am trying to find figures for actual levels of prostitution.

Veneral disease such a syphilis which is now treatable was a real public health issue.

The gritty glamour and agony of Ireland's first Leeson Street lady

Sunday April 03 2005

IRELAND'S first brothel madam was a member of the aristocracy who was led into a life of prostitution after years of domestic abuse.The secret and often tragic life of 18th-Century prostitute Margaret Leeson - alias Pimping Peg - is unlocked in a radio series this week by history post-graduate student Lisa-Marie Griffith.
Ms Griffith explains how Margaret was the first woman to provide a house in Dublin where upper-class men could go and pay for sex.
She accommodated a mixture of characters throughout her career - from lawyers to bank governors, down to conmen and petty villains.
After 30 years in the business, she decided to reform and became penniless, ending up in prison, and she was forced to write her memoirs in a bid to raise some cash.
She died at the age of 70, predictably enough from venereal disease, broken and alone.
Margaret Leeson's life began in 1727, in Killough, Co Westmeath, the daughter of a wealthy Catholic landowner who was related to the Earl of Cavan.
But her idyllic rural childhood was shattered when her mother and eldest brother died and Margaret's father passed control of his estates to his cruel son Christopher.
Christopher took complete control of Margaret, frequently beating her to the point that she once attempted to elope to escape his violence.
On one occasion, he beat her so badly with a horsewhip that she vomited blood and was confined to bed for three months. Margaret eventually escaped to Dublin, where she met a man called Dardis who turned her on to a life of prostitution.
Dardis proposed to her, but they did not have the money to wed, so she let him sleep with her as often as he wished - and so Margaret was introduced to a succession of men who were willing to pay her for sex.
Enter two characters, only known as Mr Lawless and Mr Leeson, a wealthy English merchant from whom she took her assumed name.
Mr Leeson fell for Margaret's charms and put her up in a house in Ranelagh, Dublin; but while Leeson was away she would sneak in her other lover, Mr Lawless.
Leeson finally found out and, on discovering her infidelity, left her penniless.
Lawson went on to become her longest client and partner and they lived together for five years, having five children together.
But as ever, tragedy struck; their money eventually ran out, the children died oneby one and Lawless left for America, leaving Margaret heartbroken.
She returned to a life of prostitution and found that many wealthy men were willing to entertain her and pay her way.
She soon regained her position in high society and bought a house in Dublin's old Pitt Street, which became her most luxurious brothel, fitted out with every comfort and boasting prostitutes hand-picked by Margaret herself.
It became a well-known establishment amongst well-bred men and her clients included a lord lieutenant who insisted on sleeping only with Margaret, swearing he would pay his fortune if only his wife was as good in bed as she was.
But things were not so jolly for so long and Margaret fell into a depression and attempted suicide - an act that led her to give up the game completely.
She built a retirement home in Blackrock and hoped to retire on her IOUs, a plan that backfired when none of the owing clients paid up.
After being arrested by an ex-client for a debt of £15, she was thrown into jail, where she decided to write her memoirs to earn some much-needed money.
Three volumes of The Memoirs of Mrs Leeson, Madam, were published in 1794, and she vowed to name and shame all her clients in the fourth volume.
But before that time came, she was attacked and viciously gang-raped and contracted a venereal disease, which became advanced.
She died at the age of 70 and was buried in St James's churchyard.
Her story - Pimping Peg; Profit and Penance - will be told as part of Anna Livia's 'Delving Into Dublin's Past' series on Tuesday at 4pm.

Another was Darkey Kelly

Was Darkey Kelly Ireland's First Serial Killer?

For generations Darkey Kelly was knows in Dublin’s folk memory as the woman who was burned at the stake for witchcraft after she accused the Sheriff of Dublin, Luttrell, of fathering her baby. However, new research has revealed that she could have been Ireland’s first serial killer and the story of witchcraft is completely false.

Darkey Kelly was executed for the murder of at least five men. Their bodies were found in a brothel she owned in Dublin.
It had been thought that she was executed for witchcraft in 1746 but new research has shown that she was executed in public on January 7, 1761. This week marks the 250thh anniversary of her public burning at the stake. She was partially hanged and then publicly burnt alive on Baggot Street, in Dublin city center.

The producer of “No Smoke Without Hellfire” a community radio show on Dublin’s South 93.9 FM plans to tell the story on his show today. He told the Evening Herald newspaper that he and fellow research Phil O’Grady had made these new discoveries having read contemporary newspapers in the National Archives.
He said “This series debunks the tale, passed on down the centuries, that Simon Luttrell, known as Lord Carhampton, was the principle cause of her execution."

Location of Darkey's Execution
The old story goes that Darkey Kelly (whose name was Dorcas Kelly) ran the Maiden Tower brothel, in Copper Alley, off Fishamble Street. She became pregnant with the child of Dublin’s Sheriff Simon Luttrell, a member of the Hellfire Club. She demanded financial support from him.
Until now the story told was that he had responded by accusing her of witchcraft and killed her baby in a satanic ritual. The body was never found. Darkey was then burnt at the stake.

Contemporary newspapers revealed that Dorcas Kelly was accused of killing shoemaker John Dowling. Investigators then found the bodies of five men hidden in the vaults of her brothel. After her execution prostitutes rioted on Copper Alley.
McLoughlin said “Women in 18th-century Ireland were second class citizens and the execution of prisoners reflected that blatant sexism.
"Men found guilty of murder were just hanged, whereas women were throttled first, then burnt alive.


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Here is an excellent article by Maria Luddy on 19th Century Ireland.

Quakers & presbyterians also wanted reform.


jonniebgood1 Moderator

CDfm said:
While the Magdalene Asylums had been "reforming" prostitutes since the mid-18th century, the years between 1848 and 1870 saw a veritable explosion in the number of institutions working to "reclaim" these "fallen women" from the streets and retrain them for entry into respectable society

The early magdalene asylums allowed women to come and leave when they wished, sounds a bit like the rehab clinics of nowadays. I know its very much a live topic at the moment rather than history but the comments at the end of this article are very interesting http://www.historytimes.com/fresh-perspectives-in-history/british-and-irish-history/138-magdalene-laundries-still-no-justice-in-the-world

Rebecca Lea McCarthy has a book about the origins of the Magdalenes that traces the route back to poor laws and factory laws. She explains that the English Magdalenes encouraged the women to "realise her economic potential" while the Irish ones "felt it was impossible to allow such a woman back into society without the expectation that she would fail again".

P. Breathnach said:

Can anybody explain what caused the change? Did it mirror general changes in social attitudes?

Rebecca Lea McCarthy also has one possible suggestion as to why the Magdalenes in Ireland changed their attitudes to being more punitive in punishment. A statement from a mother superior of Donnybrook asylum says "the peaceful magdalene inmates were the ones who had been in the laundry for a very long time, suggesting that time, physical space and labour were the only saviours for these women". So perhaps the punitive ways developed from the nuns judgement of how the women reacted to them, the longer they kept them the more subdued they were.


Organisations get their own dynamics.

The founders will have believed that women who wanted to get out of the lifestyle and were volunteers were the ones to target.

I imagine they were replaced by "professional" nuns who grew the organisation like any business .

Nano Nagle was charismatic and got followers -her sucessors may have taken the view that press ganging the women in gave them better numbers.

They actually went global and were competitive- directly taking on and out manoevering Florence Nightengale.

Look at this.

Nightingale deliberately drove a wedge between the two sets of Mercy nuns. Bridgeman did not trust Nightingale and took care to ally herself with Inspector-General Sir John Hall, Principal Medical Officer of the Crimean Force, who also disliked Nightingale.
By October 1855 admissions at Koulali had dropped off, as new hospitals had been opened in the Crimea itself, and the hospital was about to be transferred to Sardinian control. Bridgeman used this opportunity to distance herself and her group both geographically and professionally from Nightingale. In a private arrangement with Sir John Hall, Bridgeman brought her entire group of 10 sisters and 2 lay sisters to Balaclava on 7th October 1855, to take over a hospital previously under Nightingale’s superintendence but which she had been manoeuvred into relinquishing earlier that month, after the ladies who had been in charge transferred [on their own initiative] to other hospitals.


This was 1855 and these ladies were achieving things.

They brought these skills and contacts and influence back to Ireland with them.


CDfm here are some stats for the number of prostitutes in England and Wales


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