Monthly Archives: November 2015

Emily’s Father arrives on Achill

Emily’s father Rev. William John Burke, fled Galway city after a second upsurge of violence against him and his family. After leaving Galway court house a mob stoned him again following him to his lodgings in Eyre Square, and practically in the front door of the lodging house. One member of the mob told his landlady that if she were to keep him in her home it would be on her own head if any damage was done to the property. He took refuge in the Sheriff’s prison, again requiring the protection of the law. It was from the prison that he wrote of his ordeal to the Achill Missionary Herald, telling of the violence against him and his family. He was released without charge by the courts but was far from a free man.

As it was not safe to return to his native Galway so he and his family made their way to Achill to take refuge at the Church Mission in Dugort.

Achill Missionary Herald May 1845

Achill Missionary Herald May 1845

Achill Missionary Herald May 1845



Unmarked in 2010


Scoil Acla members at the unveiling of Emily’s headstone 24 November 2012. Photo by Carmel Feeney


Stained glass window, by Wilhelmina Geddes that Emily bequeathed to Our Lady of the Universe Church, Curran, Achill

On this day (November 24th) 1952 Emily died. Her funeral was attended by the Nationalists of the time, and her contemporaries that were still alive, at 85 she had outlived most of them. One, was her life long friend Dr. Kathleen Lynn. Apart from a niece and nephew in Australia she was the last of her bloodline too. She was laid to rest beside the Republican Plot in Glasnevin Cemetery.

Her grave lay unmarked for six decades. But it was not forgotten, by the people of Achill. The committee and members of the present Scoil Acla, the summer school that she co-founded in 1910 commissioned a gravestone. It was unveiled on 24th November 2012, on her 60th anniversary.

The Scoil Acla members and others  that had established a connection with her formed a small group at the gates of Glasnevin Cemetery, and followed a lone piper to her graveside where they laid items of significance to her life, a framed photo, a wreath (inscribed O Acla, identical to the one she and the Figgis’ laid on the grave of O’Donovan Rossa), and the book; Emily M. Weddall: bunaitheoir Scoil Acla by her friend and biographer Íosold Ní Dheirg. The ceremony that followed thanked  and praised her generosity and her legacy to the people of Achill.

The inscription on her gravestone;

Emily M Weddall

Bunaitheoir Scoil Acla

Member of Cumann na mBan

1867 – 1952

Failte Roimh Gach Gael

The occasion was recorded in poetry by Ciaran Parkes;

Poem For Emily

A holiday crowd
down from Achill
and other places,
people who knew her
when she was alive,
others, who came to know her
after she had died.

They follow the bright
Scoil Acla banner
past the famous
Glasnevin tombs
to where her new
gravestone is unveiled,
lonely no longer.

A lone piper plays,
people leave presents
around her grave,
flowers from Achill,
a copy of her biography,
tell the stories
to make her come alive again.

It’s like a party,
so many friends together
in the same small space
and her gravestone –
a stained glass panel
to let the light shine through,
bright and warm and multi-coloured.

I think of Emily
sitting on a hillside
somewhere in Achill
with two friends, her small dog,
in an old photograph,
pausing from her adventures,
smiling, looking down.

Ciarán Parkes

Loss of her Friends

By the end of 1925 both Darrell and Millie Figgis were gone. Their untimely deaths must have left a huge gap in Emily’s life, who was no stranger to loss.  Her relationship with the Figgis’ was long standing, over a decade if not longer and they shared many intense occasions, were allies and supported each other.

Emily was quick applaud the endeavors of her friends and frequently wrote to the papers singing their praises and telling of their bravery. In the Mayo News of 22nd November 1924, she wrote the following of her friend Millie;

…(Her large circle of friends in Mayo will read this announcement with heartfelt sorrow. It would be hared to find a more estimable lady. We have a very lively recollection of the heard work she did for over 2,000 prisoners in Stafford jail in 1916.

The English authorities sent may of these prisoners form Richmond Barracks, Dublin, creeping with vermin. Mrs. Figgis followed the prisoners to Stafford and taking up her residence in that tow she organised and did with her own hands, in part, the washing for those prisoners. Ih that and in a thousand other ways she earned the undying gratitude of us all. Her trial and hardships for Ireland were many, and it is sad that in the end sh lost that mind which thought for others so unselfishly. – E. M. W.

Emily could never imagined that one year later she would be reading Darrell Figgis’ obituary too. It is unlikely that she attended his funeral as fewer than dozen mourners attended.

DSCF0674 - Version 2

Mayo News November 22 1924. Page 3
31 October 1925 – Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer – Leeds, West Yorkshire

Too Soon; Darrell

After Millie’s death Darrell Figgis’ political career was revived and his writing was well received. It appeared that he was getting his life back on track after the tragic death of his wife Millie. He had new work published such as “The Paintings of William Blake”, which he dedicated to her. His relationship with Miss North, a young dance teacher which possibly began before Millie, continued.

It continued until October 1925, when the couple arrived in London. They did not stay together. Miss North booked into a boarding house and he took a room in Bloomsbury. Later on in the month she was taken to Hendon Cottage Hospital, where two days later she died from toxemia following peritonitis. According to the inquest into her death the cause of the peritonitis was unnatural. Miss North was pregnant and had an illegal abortion had caused later complications that led to her death.

Figgis was a broken man and a few days later took his own life by gassing himself to death.

Dance Teacher’s Death.
The Times (London, England), Friday, Nov 06, 1925; pg. 5;
Thanks to Edward King, Achill


Too soon: Millie

Darrell Figgis.078The End (1)

In June 1922 an incident took place that had a huge impact on the lives of Darrell and Millie Figgis. A knock came to the door of their flat on Kildare Street late one night. Millie answered it. Three men pushed past her and took hold of Darrell Figgis, telling him that they had instructions to mutilate him by cutting off his beard.

Darrell Figgis stood up to them, inquiring under whose orders they were acting. “one of the men who appeared to be the spokesman stated that they were acting under army orders, but refused to say from where they had been received.”  They did not want to carry out the orders and told Figgis they “did not like the job that had been committed to them.”

Figgis tried to fight back and Millie did her best to stop them too, but they were too strong a force and carried out their orders, leaving Figgis without his beard and Millie quite shaken.

When Darrell Figgis relayed the story to the press, he said that he had nothing  against the assailants, who had no choice but to carry out their orders or suffer the consequences if they did not.  He explicitly stated that

“The offense lay not with these boys, but with the men who had charged them, and finally with the leaders of those who opposed the Treaty unless they specifically repudiated this act and took measures to see that proper discipline was observed, and that other acts of a like sord did not occur in the future. Mrs Figgis is suffering severely from shock.”

The attack caused Millie much trauma and a contributing  that lead to her sad fate two years later. Darrell Figgis took up with another woman, Rita North. It is not clear whether it was before of after the night in November 1924 and put a gun to her head and ended her life. Ironically the gun was given to the Figgis’ by Michael Collins to protect themselves, sadly it was put the the opposite use.

Darrell Figgis was heartbroken. The out pour of sympathy helped rekindle his political career and his writing. His book ‘The Paintings of William Blake’, published 1925 was devoted to her memory and credited her for her contribution. It contained the following dedication in the form of a poem.

To Millie
With whom, twelve years ago,
It was planned
With whom, this year,
In constant fellowship
It has been completed,
This book of ours is offered
For her approval and her praise.

Death Of Darrell Figgis. The Times (London, England), Wednesday, Oct 28, 1925; pg. 16; Issue 44104
Publication:Irish Independent 1905-current*;Date:Jun 14, 1928
Thanks to Edward King, Achill