Extracts from "Annals of Ballitore" by Mary Leadbeater

From The Cabinet of Irish Literature, Volume 2, edited by Charles A. Read

The summer of 1775 was remarkably fine, and amidst the variety which marked it was the appearance of a Jew, the first of that nation who had ever entered our village. He called himself Emanuel Jacob, and carried about as a show, inclosed in a glass case, that plant of ancient memory, the mandrake. It appeared to combine the animal and vegetable in its formation, and this was really the case; for my father's housekeeper, when she had the showman safely occupied with his breakfast, impelled by curiosity, opened the case, and found the wondrous plant to be composed of the skeleton of a frog and fibres of the root of a plant. However, as it was not her wish to deprive the man of his livelihood, she carefully closed the case, and permitted Emanuel to proceed on his way.

Robert Baxter, from Monaghan, was a parlour-boarder at my father's at this time. He was but sixteen, yet he was six feet high, and lusty in proportion. His understanding seemed mature also; it was improved by classical learning, by refined society, and by the conversation of an excellent mother. . . .

He delighted in visiting my aunt Carleton, and they entertained one another with tales of former times, hers drawn from her own experience, his from tradition. One of his anecdotes was concerning the imprisonment of Lady Cathcart by her husband, afterwards wrought by the able pen of Maria Edgeworth into her tale of Castle Rackrent. He said that it was stipulated by that lady on her marriage, that she should never be required to leave England as a residence; but by pretending that he was only taking her out in a pleasure-boat for a trip, her husband conveyed her to Ireland, and confined her in his castle, where he seldom visited her except to force her property from her by cruel and unmanly treatment. She managed, however, to conceal jewels to the amount of several thousand pounds, which her brutal tyrant could not obtain. She intrusted this treasure to her attendant Kitty Armstrong to carry to a person of the name of Johnson.

The death of her husband at length emancipated her, after years of barbarous usage, during which she was almost starved, and clothed in filthy tattered rags. She rewarded her faithful friends by a gift to Johnson of £2000 and 500 guineas to her trusty Kitty, and left Ireland for ever. Poor Kitty, it would appear, was not so careful of her own property as that of her lady; for after Lady Cathcart's death she became a dependant in the house of Robert Baxter's father; and her character, dress, and deportment made a great impression on the little boy, especially as she used to chastise him freely. Kitty wore a scarlet riding-dress, a man's hat and wig, and had a cat which used to catch snipes for her.....

The oldest man at this time in our village was Finlay M'Clane, a native of the Highlands of Scotland, who, to those who understood his native Gaelic, could relate the account of many a battle in which he had been engaged, including disastrous Fontenoy. He told us, and we all believed he told the truth, that he was born in the year 1689. He was an outpensioner of the Royal Hospital. His wife Mary was a very industrious body. One dark evening their chimney was perceived to be on fire. The neighbours ran thither affrighted, and Hannah Haughton put the jar of gunpowder which she kept for sale out of the house. Mary M'Clane, a little blunt consequential woman, stood with her arms akimbo, and thus addressed the affrighted crowd: "Have you anything to do at home? If you have, I advise you to go home and do it; for if I had fifteen chimneys I would clean them in no other way." Fortunately the house was slated, so the danger was the less.

The old man at one time lay very ill, in consequence of a fall which injured his hip and occasioned incurable lameness. "There he lies," said his sympathizing helpmate, "and off that bed he will never rise." The poor man looked sorrowful at this denunciation, and turned his eyes wistfully in silence upon us; we blamed Mary for her apprehensions, at least for expressing them in this uncomfortable manner; and we encouraged Finlay, and soon had the pleasure of witnessing his recovery to health, though not to activity. He survived his matter-of-fact spouse, and his great age had not deprived him of sensibility, for he mourned her with many tears as he attended her to her last home. In his hundred-and-tenth year, 1798, the old Highlander once more heard the sound of war, and saw the weapon of destruction aimed at his breast by a soldier; another soldier arrested the stroke, telling his comrade that he would never serve the king as long as that old man had done.

See also:—

Mary Leadbeater (1758-1826)

Mary Leadbeater to Walter Scott