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Ballitore, 1829
As those periods in the history of nations are the happiest which furnish fewest materials to the writer of their annals, so those individuals have enjoyed most felicity on earth, whose lives are most barren of incident, and most uniform in their course. Thus it was with Mary Leadbeater, who died at Ballitore on the 27th of June, in the 68th year of her age. The history of her happy life is only that of her virtues – of her industry, not only in the various paths of literature, which she adorned with her simple and unaspiring productions, but in the less showy, and yet not less useful, nor less difficult duties of domestic and social life, the performance of which leaves behind a monument far more precious, and more lovely in the sight of God, than the more splendid but perishable records of empty fame.
Mary Leadbeater was the daughter of Richard Shackleton, better known to the public by her Memoirs of his Life than any eulogy of ours could make him. She was born at Ballitore in the year 1758, and in 1791 was united to William Leadbeater, with whom she spent thirty five years of happiness, uninterrupted, we believe, save by those casualties which are the lot of the most fortunate in this world, such as the loss of relatives and friends, by death or absence, and the calamities which at one time distracted her native country.
The high character which her father held in society, for his learning and worth, introduced her at a very early age to the notice of his numerous friends, some of whom ranked high in the literary and political world – she easily won their friendship, by her own talents, and the delightful sweetness and humility of her character; and those who at first loved her only for her father’s sake, soon became bound to her by the ties of affection and esteem, which death alone could break. She never lost a friend; and the same Edmund Burke, whose first letter to R. Shackleton was dated from his entrance at College, (and who afterwards kept up with his old school-fellow and friend a regular and most affectionate correspondence,) dictated his last farewell to the daughter, when he was sinking under bodily and mental afflictions, and could no longer guide the pen.
Her first appearance in the character of an Author was in 1808, when a selection from her Juvenile Poems was published by subscription. With the exception of Translation of Maffeus’s Continuation of the Æneid, those Poems were written on domestic occasions, and addressed to the members of her own family, or to some of her most intimate friends – and, although perhaps now forgotten by the public, they are still precious to those who knew the writer, and the circumstances that called into action the susceptible feelings of her heart. They all breathe an innocent enjoyment of the pleasures of domestic affection, and of a retired and rural life – they are the unpretending effusions of a heart alive to the beauties of nature, overflowing with love to those around her, with charity to all men, and with gratitude to the Giver of those simple joys, which have made the happiness of her life.
In 1811, she published the First, and in 1813, the Second Series of Cottage Dialogues, by which she is chiefly known. Their utility has been fully proved, by the warm approbation of all who were interested in the welfare of the Irish peasantry, and by their efforts to circulate them as widely as possible among the class for which they were intended. They were published in a larger form for the English public, enriched with Notes, illustrative of the character, manners, &c. of the Irish peasantry, by the late W.P. Lefanu, and by Maria Edgeworth, who interested herself warmly in the success of the work, and wrote to the Author several letters, expressive of her esteem, and her desire to do every thing in her power to promote her benevolent views.
Mary Leadbeater has written a Third Series of the Cottage Dialogues, but did not publish it, though many who had an opportunity of perusing the work, thought it superior in interest and simple pathos of description to the former, and equally valuable in point of instruction.
The publication of the Cottage Dialogues was shortly after followed by the Landlord’s Friend. Beside these, she wrote Anecdotes for Children, Cottage Biography, Biographical Notices of Irish Friends, Memoirs of her Father, the late Richard Shackleton, a second edition of which appeared lately; and a large collection of Poems, Essays, Characters, and Tales, some of which have found their way to various periodical publications, but the greater part of which will probably never appear before the public eye, but be preserved by her family, as valuable relics of the unceasing industry and the talents of their amiable author. The last work she lived to publish was The Pedlars, consisting of dialogues, written for the Kildare-street Education Society, descriptive of the natural and artificial curiosities of various parts of Ireland, and of what was always her favourite subject, the character of the Irish, their virtues, their failings, their sufferings, and the best mode of improving their condition.
All these works, different as they are in subject and style, bear the stamp of a mind ever disposed to look to the favourable side of things and characters – to receive the good thankfully, and bear the evil with cheerful resignation, and even from it to derive some source of enjoyment, In her writings for the poor and uneducated, she has, with a peculiar felicity of language, surpassed only by the great Irish Novelist, painted to the life the joys and sorrows, the impetuous feelings and prejudices, of that unfortunate, and, in spite of their frequent aberrations from common sense and sobriety, still amiable portion of our countrymen.
Though Mary Leadbeater’s literary labours were such as would absorb the whole time of a person of common industry, she was no less remarkable for her affectionate attentions to her own family, and to all around her –
                                    “In private life her virtues shone,
                                          Domestic pleasures round her met.”
She prized her influence with persons in the higher walks of life, because it enabled her to benefit the poor or afflicted, and especially to assist young persons of merit in their endeavours to obtain and honest independence.Exposed to continual interruptions from friends, who found her always ready to sympathize in their tastes and pursuits, be they ever so different from her own – from visitors, whom her celebrity often brought from a distance to enjoy her conversation – from the poor, who daily came to her for advice or help – she never seemed in a hurry, and with perfect regularity carried on her various occupations; among which, we must not forget a diary begun in her 11th year, and continued till within a week of her death – a journal of her own life, and a history of Ballitore, from the foundation of the school, in 1726, to the present day. These two last works are highly interesting, not only on account of the number and variety of characters, ludicrous or pathetic incidents, and anecdotes of celebrated individuals, whom she met with in her travels, or who visited Ballitore, but also of the faithful and lively picture which they present of her own home, and of the small but cultivated circle of which she was the idol and the ornament. In those volumes she lays open her whole heart, whose every thought seems to have been pure, and dictated by love, and upon whose warmth years seem to have had no other effect than that of adding to it wisdom and experience. She was to the last youthful in her affections – in her open and unsuspicious disposition, always ascribing to others the generous feelings which she herself possessed, and giving them credit for the virtues which they made profession of. She was always ready to hail with enthusiasm any improvement of later times (whether in science of education) in the character and comfort of the poor, to whom principally she devoted the talents with which heaven had gifted her.Mary Leadbeater was for many years instrumental to the enlightened views of a benevolent lady, in reclaiming a numerous body of her tenantry from misery and degradation to comfort and industry, and the inhabitants of the neat cottages of Ballybarney will long bless her name, and revere her memory. But it would far exceed my limits to detail all the good works of this philanthropist, and perhaps the reader may think I have too much indulged the fondness of regret, in expatiating upon the modest worth of one, whose name is not to be blazoned forth among the shining lights of our age. But I conceive it necessary to display to the world unostentatious virtues like her’s, because they are less common and less appreciated, than more conspicuous qualities and more aspiring talents. I conceive it necessary to impress upon the reader this truth, that humility is the foundation of most of our social virtues. But teaching us our continual dependence for daily strength upon the great source of all our gifts – it teaches us our true state among our fellow mortals – it disposes our hearts to do justice to their virtues, as emanating from the same heavenly source, and to sympathize with them for the failings and errors, which may obscure those divine gifts. It teaches us to bear with the evil we may receive from them, and to overcome it with good – to enjoy every blessing, even the least, with that gratitude which more than doubles its value – it enables us to enjoy with innocence even the praise of men, which is deemed corrupting, but which to a mind truly centered in God, only proves a fresh incentive to gratitude and self-abasement – and so it was in an eminent degree with our departed friend. It was delightful to praise her works, because she enjoyed with such child-like simplicity the thought of having done well. It was also delightful to find fault, because she received blame with perfect meekness, and without and effort yielded at once to the judgment of those often younger and less informed than herself. Let it not be inferred from this that she wanted discrimination. Her taste was pure and delicate – she was an excellent judge of the productions of others, but always diffident of her own powers. Her charity, directed and enlightened by her knowledge of the weakness of the human heart, disposed her to make the best of every appearance of good, and to make allowance for the evil – truly, as the bee can extract sweets from every flower, she could discover in every one qualities, which had been overlooked by others, and find for faults excuses, which no one thought of but herself.
Her humility rendered her averse to speaking of her religious experience, but the care which she took to impress the hearts of her children with a feeling of reverent dependence on their heavenly Father, and the many expressions of her own trust in divine aid which her diary contains, show that she was, from her early youth, favoured with a deep feeling of religious fear and love.
About a year ago she began to be afflicted with dropsical symptoms, which, in defiance of medical skill, and the tender cares of her anxious family, gradually increased, till she was confined to her chamber. Yet even there her mind seemed unchanged. She manifested the same anxiety for the welfare of all around her; and she was equally accessible to the many who came to consult her, or to enjoy her company for the last time. She continued her literary occupations to the very last week, preparing a volume of Essays, Tales, and Anecdotes, for the Education Society. Though the disease, towards the close of her life, made rapid progress, her friends flattered themselves, that her life might yet be prolonged for a while, and her sufferings alleviated: but the last week she became rapidly worse. Her sufferings were great, and she feared that her patience would not hold out to the end, and that she could not part with perfect resignation from those blessings, to which her heart clung with increased affection; but she was supported by divine help through the trying close, and her death was indeed that of the just. Her last words, and her last looks, when she could speak no more, were those of love – and the friends, by whom her death shall long be felt as a deep affliction, and an irreparable loss, feel unspeakable consolation in the assurance, that she now enjoys with her dear Redeemer, in whom alone she trusted, that perfection of heavenly love after which her soul had always panted, and with a foretaste of which we believe she was often favored, when in this state of existence.

 On behalf of Kildare Library and Arts Services, John McKenna will launch The Annals of Ballitore, by Mary Leadbeater  at the Athy Heritage Museum on Tueday March 31 at 8pm. In conjunction with this event, here is an extract from 'Recollections' written in 1829 by Theadore Eugene Suliot, a friend to Mary Leadbeater.

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