herald

Monday 24 November 2014

Soul Provider For The Damsels In Distress

Arabella denny, born Arabella Fitzmaurice, second daughter of Thomas, First Earl of Kerry, and Anne Petty in 1707, was the proprietor of the first Magdalen Asylum to be established in Ireland in 1765 at number 8, Lower Leeson Street. The asylum was established in order to provide a refuge for "unfortunate females abandoned by their seducers and rejected by their friends".

All of the inmates of this institution were Protestant women under the age of 20 and on entry to the asylum they were given numbers in place of their names and were thereafter referred to as 'Mrs One', 'Mrs Two', 'Mrs Three', etc.

Having been stripped of their identities, the unfortunate women were then subjected to a reading of the house rules by a member of staff: "This asylum is not designed for the vicious, but for those who have resolved to be virtuous... It is designed to comfort and relieve the distressed soul who has happily perceived the error of her ways and loathes her former vileness..."

The asylum was funded by collections taken at the weekly sermons in the chapel attached to the building. Because of its close proximity to the big houses on St Stephen's Green, the chapel attracted donations from the very wealthiest members of society.

Access to Sunday sermons was by ticket only and the charges were one shilling for the morning service and sixpence for the evening service. Tickets were hard to come by as the chapel attracted some of the best-known orators of the time to its services.

On occasions there were extraordinary scenes, with ticket holders storming the chapel doors and jumping over the pews in order to get the best vantage points.

The Magdalen Asylum and chapel were eventually taken over by the Irish Sugar Company and the award-winning eight-storey building now on the site was erected in 1964. Arabella Denny spent the latter part of her life at Peafield Cliff in Blackrock where she is said to have introduced the silkworm to Ireland and set up a silk-weaving business from her home-produced cocoons.

Because of these efforts, she was elected patron of the Royal Dublin Society's Silk Warehouse in 1765. The following year she was made an honorary member of the society, and she was one of the first women to receive this distinction. It was reported in The Freeman's Journal of July 20th, 1765, that Lady Denny had been honoured by the Dublin guild of merchants for her work with foundling children in the city workhouse and she was also awarded the freedom of the city by the corporation of Dublin.

Arabella Denny died at her home in Blackrock on March 18th, 1792, at the age of 85. She had a great fear of being buried alive and she left detailed instructions to prevent this occurring.

"With regard to my own person, my own desires are very moderate, that I may not be buried until I am certainly dead, I desire that I may be permitted to lie on my bed for at least 72 hours or longer."

After this period, and on confirmation from her doctors that she was definitely dead, Lady Denny's remains were encased in a lead coffin and then placed in an oak coffin and taken to her native Kerry for burial.

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