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Bad Bridget: Crime, Mayhem and the Lives of Irish Emigrant Women

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Coverage of the 1894 trial of serial killer Lizzie Halliday, for instance, was indeed sensational. The Antrim woman was described as “the wolf woman” with a singular desire for “satiating her lust for blood”. In other cases, newspapers assessed the guilt of women by their physical appearance, their behaviour in court, and how they reacted when, or if, they were sentenced. Behind that caricature, however, lies the unsettling truth that many Irish female emigrants drank because of separation, grief, and personal tragedy. He promised to collect her from America and guaranteed that ‘she will never visit that country again’. These were not criminal masterminds. They were often forced to do whatever they could to survive. In most of the case studies I found myself despairing at how easily these women fell into harm's way. The story of Rosie Quinn and her child in particular broke my heart. In addition to this collaboration, key elements of the exhibition were commissioned from women creative professionals, including artist Fiona McDonnell, author Jan Carson, and artist and food historian Tasha Marks.

The final episode features those few Irish women who were convicted of murder, one of whom, Lizzie Halliday from County Antrim, who was dubbed 'the worst woman on earth' for her crimes. Magistrate George Denison, however, did say in his recollections that the Irish “added very much to the humour of the proceedings in the Court”. The gallery stands in stark contrast to the more traditional permanent displays at the Ulster American Folk Park in Omagh, Northern Ireland. A new five-episode podcast series exploring the history and stories of criminal and deviant Irish women in North America from 1838 – 1918 has been launched by Queen's University Belfast and Ulster University. There was 20-year-old Kate Sullivan, charged with the murder of her infant twins, who told a New York courtroom she had been “duped by the son of a farmer for whom she worked in Ireland” who “shipped her over here, promising to follow on the next steamer” but did not.

Discussions and talks from the Free Thinking Festival 2019

Róisín Ingle is an Irish Times columnist, feature writer and co producer of the Irish Times Women's Podcast. It is a fascinating vignette showing how an Irish-born detective rumbled an Irish-born thief in a country thousands of miles from home. The historical record can be silent on these girls’ experiences. They might feature on passenger lists of those who crossed the Atlantic Ocean, in censuses, or in marriage records, if they married abroad. The untold stories of generations of Irish women who saw their American dream become a nightmare - and the trouble they got into as a result I think the senses can break down boundaries, making collections more accessible and enticing. Scent is closely linked to memory so it has the power to create a longer lasting impression that goes beyond the gallery walls.”

The historians have launched a five-part podcast series titled Bad Bridgets and are working on a book based on five years of research funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. The actor Siobhán McSweeney, who plays Sister Michael in Derry Girls, joined the podcast. This book contains some great analysis of the social and individual forces that sometimes motivated these crimes, from poverty and mistreatment to material gain and revenge. I took this as proof of the efficacy of the narrative reframing of the outlaw Bridget as a woman at the margins who is criminalised due to poverty and discrimination. As more museums make a point of telling women’s stories, it is important to recognise the wide variety of experiences of women of the past and the women who will visit the museum today.The series also includes lots of Bad Bridget stories along the way! The fascinating individual cases reveal the lived realities and experiences for Irish girls and women who left Ireland for the ‘new world’. A video interview between interpretation writer Carson and fellow author Kia Corthran adds a fascinating racial dimension to the immigrant story, but is not well integrated. She was also disproportionately likely to end up in prison. In Boston almost 40 per cent of women and girls admitted to its House of Correction between 1882 and 1905 were Irish even though the Irish only made up about 17 per cent of the city’s population. Did the Irish really drink much more than everyone else? Archbishop Lynch, the Catholic Archbishop of Toronto, considered that they were just unusually susceptible to the effects of alcohol. He noted in 1875: ‘the Irish people do not drink more than others; but their blood is so hot, and their nature so fervid and exuberant, that adding to it the fire of alcohol the Irishman becomes more unreasonable than men of other and more plodding temperaments’.9Irish drinking practices were also thought to contribute to their high arrest rate. A New York Times journalist considered that Irish men’s fondness for drinking in bars and saloons resulted in their drunkenness; German immigrants also consumed considerable amounts of alcohol, but typically drank in more family-friendly social settings with their wives and children. According to historian Kevin Kenny, Italian immigrants’ tendency to consume food alongside alcohol rendered them less susceptible to charges of drunkenness than Irish men drinking in bars and saloons. It's whether or not she drowns the baby or she leaves the baby and then it drowns but she ends up being arrested for murder. She tells these really sad stories really beautifully as well as the funny ones. Read More Related Articles

Thomas’s desperation is evident: he wrote on that occasion of his hope that the judge might release her ‘and thereby give peace to her disconsolate and broken-hearted parents.’ In his second letter a few weeks later, he pleaded with the New York State Governor to grant Marion’s freedom. A really interesting read! I had no idea that Irish women made up such a high proportion of New York, Boston and Toronto’s incarcerated populations in the 19th and early 20th centuries, not to mention the breadth of crimes of which they were convicted. Sin and whiskey were written in the faces of every one of them', a journalist wrote on observing a group of women in the Toronto police court in May 1865. A ‘harder, more uncivilized and depraved looking set of abandoned women never appeared before the Court’ than this group of eleven women who had been arrested on Garrison Common. Seven of the women were Irish and they were all arrested for being drunk. The women were described as ‘stargazers’, a term used for sex workers who worked outside. They had been drinking and probably soliciting for trade from the soldiers in Fort York beside the Common.A rich and complex alternative feminist history that allows us to consider women beyond their typically defined roles as mothers or martyrs.’ Business Post

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