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JENNY WYSE POWER - AN ARTICLE FROM THE JOURNAL OF THE WEST WICKLOW HISTORICAL SOCIETY

Romance blossomed between land war campaigners
by
LIAM KENNY
 
 
The occasional publication of magazines and journals by local history societies in various localities brings new and fresh material to the record as well as providing an entertaining read for anybody interested in the topic. A welcome return to the local publishing scene is the latest edition of the Journal of the West Wicklow Historical Society. The West Wicklow Historical society published three journals in the 1980s but then went through a quieter period. Now after a lapse of almost two decades Volume Four of the journal has emerged, edited by Chris Lawlor, well known Dunlavin historian, and Donal McDonnell, another stalwart of the history scene west of the Wicklow mountains. The magazine, as is the way with such publications, includes an eclectic range of articles, items and photographs. The end  section of the journal includes a valuable selection of photographs of monuments erected or restored to mark the bicentenary of the 1798 rising. Included in the photographs are pictures of the monuments related to the Dunlavin Green massacre; the escape at the Dwyer-McAllister cottage in the Glen of Imaal; the incident at Dwyer’s Brook where a rebel scout was beheaded but whose bravery saved 1000 men on Blackmore Hill; the monuments at Knocknadroose and Hollywood to the rebels Hoyle, Burke and Byrne; the modern granite sculpture in Tournant graveyard to the men killed at Dunlavin, and a fine statue of Michael Dwyer, musket in hand, in the Glen of Imaal.
 
Still on matters of a nationalist flavour and of particular interest to readers of the Leinster Leader is an article by Maire O’Neill on Jenny Wyse-Power, who was born Jenny O’Toole in Baltinglass in 1858 and whose life was devoted to activism in public life in a way that was rare for women in that era and indeed in subsequent generations – to quote the writer: ‘ She combined feminism with a strong nationalism and spoke out constantly on issues that affected women.’  Marie O’Neill traces the story of how Jenny O’Toole as a young woman in her early twenties became acquainted with Anna Parnell, sister of Charles Stewart Parnell, leader of Irish home rule opinion, and herself a leader of the Ladies Land League which had been founded to give support to the Land League led by Michael Davitt.  The role of the ladies’ land league was initially envisaged to be auxiliary to the men’s League and embraced such tasks as  bringing relief to the evicted tenants or collecting money for the men’s Land League. However capable and feisty women like Jenny Wyse Power were not going to be confined to such ancillary roles and soon she was sent down to a Land League battle ground in the Hacketstown area where as well as climbing ditches in the winter weather to reach the scattered homesteads of the evicted tenants she also presided over protest meetings and gatherings designed to stiffen resistance to the landlord-inspired attempts by the constabulary to suppress land league agitiation. Her land league activism brought her in contact with John Wyse Power, who although from a well-heeled farming background near Waterford had thrown himself into the campaigns of the Land League and the more militant Irish Republican Brotherhood. Sharing many interests, including an admiration for Parnell, romance blossomed and the couple married in July 1883 when John who had taken up journalism, was editor of the Leinster Leader which had been established just three years previously as an unashamedly campaigning newspaper for the interests of the Land League and Irish nationalism. John had another claim to fame during his Leader days as he was one of the now legendary group who attended the first meeting of the GAA in Hayes’ Hotel Thurles in 1884. It can be presumed that during this eventful time the young people lived in Naas for a brief period before they moved to Dublin 1885 where John was to become a journalist with the Freeman’s Journal paper.
 
Marie O’Neill follows Jenny’s (Wyse-Power) later life which was one of amazing energy and commitment both to family and to the causes she had adopted as a young woman. She was a joint founder in 1900 with Maud Gonne of the ‘Daughters of Erin’ revolutionary society which aimed for a resurgence in the Irish language, music, art and literature as a platform for full independence. She also was a founder member of Sinn Fein and an early member of its Executive. Again way ahead of her time as a woman she contested elected office and as elected to the Dublin Poor Law Guardians in 1902 becoming one of only a handful of women to have elected office in Ireland or Britain. Her home in Henry Street was to becoming a meeting point for Sinn Fein leaders and it was there that the proclamation of the 1916 rising was signed just before the rebellion was triggered from the GPO by Padraig Pearse and company. According to her biographer Marie O’Neill, Jenny Wyse Power never forgot her Baltinglass roots and visited her relations in west Wicklow until her death in 1941. Certainly the West Wicklow Journal is to be commended for reminding us of the life and times of this remarkable woman who like so many other figures of the era seems to have slipped through the cracks of the historical record.
 
The foregoing are just a few examples of the variety of material in this fine journal publication of the West Wicklow Historical Society which makes an absorbing read for anybody interested in the stories, personalities and lore of the area in bygone times.
 
Reference:   Journal of the West Wicklow Historical Society, Number Four – edited by Chris Lawlor and Donal McDonnell.
 
Series no. 54

In his regular Leinster Leader column, 'Nothing New Under the Sun,' Liam Kenny reviews Vol. IV of the Journal of the West Wicklow Historical Society with particular emphasis on the article by Marie O'Neill on Jenny Wyse Power


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