The small book fits into the palm of my hand. It is a tiny volume, printed in Dublin in 1770 with the unwieldy title, ‘Logic made familiar and easy to young Gentlemen and Ladies.’ The front flyleaf shows the signature of a previous owner who was also possibly the book’s first owner. Mary Shackleton’s signature is neat and legible and was clearly written by the Ballitore author before she married William Leadbeater on 6th January 1791.
A relative on her father’s side of the family of the Polar explorer Ernest Shackleton, Mary had a wide circle of literary friends including Maria Edgeworth, Edmund Burke and George Crabbe and was also included in the circle of friends of the famous painter, Sir Joshua Reynolds. During her lifetime she wrote many books and booklets, but it is as a diarist she is remembered today. Her niece, Elizabeth Shackleton, collected and edited the diaries Mary had kept during the years 1766 to 1823. In recording the life of Ballitore village and the village folk Mary Leadbeater provided her niece with material which with adept editing gave an interesting social history of the South Kildare village.
The Leadbeater papers were published in 1862, long after Mary’s death and re-published some years ago by the Stephen Scroop Press and more recently by Athy Heritage Centre in conjunction with Kildare County Library. More commonly called ‘The Ballitore Papers’ two chapters in the first volume of the original two volume publication deal with Mary Leadbeaters description of events in Ballitore during the 1798 Rebellion. Hers is one of the few non military accounts of the United Irishmen’s Rising and for that reason is an important source reference for historians.
Writing of 1798 I recently expressed surprise to some Northern Ireland historians at finding a plaque on the Belfast Masonic Hall to Henry Joy McCracken, a radical free mason who was hanged outside the Market House at the corner of Cornmarket and High Street, Belfast on 17th July 1798. ‘Nothing unusual on the Masons commemorating a 1798 rebel’ I was told as it was the Presbyterian radicalism of men like McCracken, William Dreenan and William Orr which gave rise to the United Irishmen and to the rising in Antrim and Down. Unionists in those counties are apparently proud of their ancestors participation in the Rebellion of 1798, even if to Unionists elsewhere this is often incomprehensible.
As a leading member of the Society of Friends, and as a writer spanning the 18th and 19th centuries Mary Leadbeater has secured for herself a significant place in the literary history of this county. Her work has begun to attract the attentions of scholars and I’m reminded that another South Kildare writer, John MacKenna, based one of his plays, ‘The Woman at the Window’ on Mary Leadbeater.
The little book bearing her pre marriage signature, although only recently acquired, is a treasured item in my library. It joins another work which I was surprised to find also had a Quaker prominence.
It’s an 1807 edition of the works of Robert Burns which bears the signature of Elizabeth Leadbeater and the date 1st and 5th month 1809. Elizabeth was the daughter of Mary Leadbeater and lived in Ballitore. Mother and daughter obviously had different literary tastes as I could hardly visualise the Quaker author of the ‘Tales for Cottagers’ and ‘Cottage Biography’ reading the sometimes racy poetry of the Scottish bard, Robbie Burns.
A Rathangan I.C.A. member recently contacted me seeking information on Mirabelle Elizabeth Duncan who was at one time President of the Rathangan Guild. The one time resident of Rathangan moved to Athy where she died on 14th March, 1974. Her husband Captain John Duncan died on 29th December that same year. Mirabelle was 77 years old and her husband 83 years old. The County Kildare I.C.A. is, I believe, preparing a history of the various I.C.A. guilds throughout the county and information is sought on Mrs. Duncan. If any of my readers know anything of Mirabelle Duncan I would like to hear from you.
Happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year to the readers of Eye on the Past.