Community historian, Brendan Matthews, with another fine piece that brings forth the colourful past that Drogheda was host to.
Over the decades and centuries the town of Drogheda has played host to many famous and infamous Female Street Characters and it is often possible to get a glimpse of these people from the pages of the local newspapers of yesteryear, particularly as many of the characters often ended up in the local Petty Session Courts, albeit on minor charges. The covering of such court cases by the local press is also very often the only record we may have today of these, `ghosts of the past`.
An example from the month of May in 1909 recalls a woman who was referred to as a `Street Tramp` and the heading in the pages of the Drogheda Independent read, The Taming of a Shrew:
Kate Thornton, a tramp has been sent to jail for a month for ill behaviour while she was in the Workhouse. Kate’s tongue wagged too freely and she backed up her eloquence by giving the Assistant Matron a stinging cuff around the ear.
One of the best known and apparently, best loved street characters of the later 19th century was of course Catherine McGrath, alias Kate The Navy. Her tale was that of a street hawker woman who sold bits and bobs, needles and thread, rosary beads, medals, etc, from a tray around her neck while she walked the streets and lanes of Drogheda. And although she lived in a wretched mud-cabin house at Chesters Lane, she was seldom off the streets, and any money she made she spent much of it on alcohol. As a result she was very often a frequent visitor to the local Petty Session Courts and a `guest of honour` at the local Scarlet St Jail.
Kate was sadly killed after being run over by a cart which broke away from a horse while carrying a load of stone down Georges St from the quarry of Kilineer in the summer of 1887. However, she will be forever remembered as she is the key figure in John Cassidy’s painting, titled A Street View of Drogheda which was crafted in 1881 and which now hangs in the Highlane Gallery.
One last female figure of note in the streets of Drogheda at the close of the 19th century may be gleamed from the following court case in August of 1895:
That familiar old figure, known as Biddy Dillon, came up before the magistrates to answer a charge of inebriety brought against her by one of the local police. Biddy admitted that there was some truth in the charge but she justified the offence by stating that she was often drunk saying her prayers. She then broke forth into the following extempore couplet: 'The green will flourish and the shamrock nourish, blood-in-nouns let us have a drink.'
The justice, Mr Beresford, then imposed a fine on Biddy of two shillings and seven pennies to which she replied, “How much”? The justice then repeated the sum and Biddy exclaimed: “God only knows that you open your mouth very big you know”, to which the public gallery in the courthouse erupted in laughter. She was then warned that the fine imposed had to be paid or she would be committed to the Scarlet St Jail.
Biddy Dillon then replied: 'Well that’s too bad. And before she was removed from the court, she again broke into the following which of course was directed at the justice:
Long may ye reign, the promised land to gain and long may ye prosper on the bench, may the powers O`glory, descend before ye and gut and gore ye, who fined this wench.