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The Women of 1798
Mary Doyle of Castleboro, Suzy Toole, Madge Dixon, Jane Barber,
Elizabeth Richards
Information on the women of 1798 relies mainly on their own accounts and on
contemporary ballads. There is little mention of women in the written histories
of the country. They did not have a vote or could not hold property in their own
However, we know that many accounts of 1798 state that the
rebels were accompanied by large numbers of women and
children as they moved from place to place.
It is unthinkable to suggest that all these women were an idle
burden on the rebels.
At this time in history women were used to hard work.
They worked as hard as their male counterparts, in fields
ploughing, reaping and toiling, carding and spinning.
There is every indication that women were active in
intelligence gathering and fought with courage in the Rebellion
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Sir Jonah Barrington makes the observation that on Vinegar Hill "a great many
women mingled with their relatives and fought with fury"
Many heroines had no chronicler but Mary Doyle of Castleboro stands out for her
gallantry at the Battle of New Ross. She cut off the cross belts of the fallen
dragoons with a bill hook and handed them together with the cartouche boxes
[cases for holding gun cartridges], to her comrades.
She is referred to in P. F. Kavanagh’s 'A popular history of the Insurrection of 1798'
as "An amazon named Doyle, who marched with the insurgent army and bore
herself as gallantly as the most courageous man". There is no conclusive evidence
as to what happened to Mary Doyle after the Battle of Ross but it is thought that
she perished in the flames that consumed much of the town at that time.
Joseph Holt records in his Memoirs: "We had several women in the camp",
and he describes how the women were engaged in making gun powder.
Not only did the women make ammunition but in some instances they were used as "moving magazines".
Holt tells the story of Suzy Toole, daughter of Phelim Toole, a blacksmith near Annamoe in County Wicklow.
She was about thirty years of age in 1798 and was employed in the forge with her father. In her capacity as a
"moving magazine" she secured ball cartridge and ammunition from disaffected soldiers.
She hid the ammunition in her clothing and she brought intelligence on the movements of the King’s troops
along with securing provisions of food and fruit for the insurgents.

Holt describes Suzy Toole as being "5’8" tall when she stood upright … Her face when young was broad as a
full moon and her nose nearly flat to her face, having been broken by a stone in a faction fight…. Her eyes were
black and sparkling. What they would have been in a handsome face, with a decent nose between them, I will
not venture to say." Suzy Toole may not have been blessed with great beauty but she did manage to gain a
place in history. She is buried in Glendalough.

Madge Dixon, née Stafford of Screen, managed to gain her place in history, albeit as a notoriously cruel
woman. She was married to Thomas Dixon, son of a publican in Castlebridge near Wexford town.
Dixon, who was a sea captain was also a Captain in the United Irish Society.
He was accompanied at all times throughout the ’98 campaign by his wife. Musgrave in his Memoirs
described her as "remarkable for the ferocity of her disposition".
There exists the strange story of Madge Dixon, proceeding to the home of Colonel le Hunte at Artramont
about four miles from Wexford. On discovering orange coloured furniture in the house she declared she had
discovered where the Orangemen held their lodge.
Taking an orange fire-screen from the le Hunte home and bearing it aloft she entered Wexford town on
There she attempted to raise a body of people to take Colonel le Hunte and have his blood. However, he was
reprieved due to the intervention of Bagenal Harvey, Cornelius Grogan and Matthew Keogh.

The women who fought physically in 1798 were, with some exceptions low on the social scale and when
mentioned in the histories, the terms used to describe them show that they were not measuring up to what
was expected of women by nineteenth century standards.

A more passive form of patriotism was expected of women. Indeed it was the more acceptable form of feminine
heroism. The patriot woman was one who was prepared to sacrifice her sons, her husband and brothers in the
country’s cause while behaving in a manner which would ease the choice which men were called upon
to make between family and country.

Two Protestant women, Jane Barber and Elizabeth Richards, eyewitnesses to many of the events of 1798
recorded their experiences in their diaries.