Staunch Lady Betty

From the Marian Broderick’s fabulous book Wild Irish Women:  

Betty was born in 1750 to a tenant farmer in County Kerry. Her husband Sugrue died. On her walk to Roscommon, looking for work, two of her children died of starvation and exposure. When her eldest son left for America, she took in lodgers to make ends meet. When the son returned as a traveller, he didn’t reveal his identity to her and she killed him in his sleep for his purse. She gave herself up and was sentenced to a murderer’s death by hanging, but the jail were filled with Robert Emmet’s United Irishmen and the executioner bolted. No one could hang her, so she offered to act as executioner and worked as one for so long at Roscommon Jail that she ultimately was exonerated.

She’s a survivor. She’s seen death. She’s a realist but she can’t block the sound her son made as he died out of her head. She’s poor and has become accustomed to the sting of hunger. Bread is more important to her than politics. Her brush with hanging has given her an appreciation of the simple joys of being alive and so she savors them. She’ll kill for food. She likes being outdoors.

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