Mary Anne Holmes, Irish poet and writer, is born Mary Anne Emmet on October 10, 1773 in Dublin. She is connected by her brothers Thomas Addis and Robert Emmet, to the republican politics of the Society of United Irishmen.
Holmes is one of the four surviving children of Dr. Robert Emmet, state physician of Ireland, and Elizabeth Emmet (née Mason). As a young woman she is noted for her intelligence and is a classical scholar. Her father lauds her “good character” and is very hopeful she will make a good wife. Much like her brothers, Robert and Thomas Addis, who are both to join the Society of United Irishmen, she is interested in politics and is a member of liberal intellectual circles. She is a correspondent of Margaret King about their common passion for the writings of Mary Wollstonecraft.
In 1793, a family friend, William Drennan, describes her as genteel but distant. He predicts her match with the barrister Robert Holmes, who she secretly marries on September 21, 1799 in the Dublin Unitarian Church. The couple have at least four children, with Drennan attending all the births. One of their children is Elizabeth Emmet Lenox-Conyngham. Robert Holmes attends to the Emmet family legal affairs for a time, with the couple living with her parents at Casino, near Milltown, Dublin. Holmes helps to raise the children of her brother Thomas Addis, after he is sent to Fort George, Highland, Scotland for his involvement with the United Irishmen. During this time, their mother’s letters to Thomas Addis note Holmes’ devotion to her husband but also her delicate health and tendency towards low spirits. Holmes is the only surviving child of their 17 children who is still in Ireland and she is a comfort to her parents in their old age. Her father dies in 1802, and her mother almost dies in 1803 at the same time as the arrest and execution of her brother Robert. Some claim that Holmes attempted to recover her brother’s body but failed.
After the failed Irish rebellion of 1803, Holmes’s husband is arrested but she is allowed to spend approximately a week with him. It is long claimed that she collapses and dies on her doorstep following his release in February 1804. In truth, she gives birth to a son at home, following which her health worsens and her hearing also deteriorates. Her son, Hugh, also later dies. She is attended to by Drennan, who worries that she is succumbing to tuberculosis that December. She dies on March 10, 1805, and is buried with her parents in the graveyard of St. Peter’s Church, Aungier Street, Dublin. There is a legend that her brother Robert’s body is interred with her in secret, but this is unconfirmed. A portrait of Holmes by Thomas Hickey is held by Kilmainham Gaol.
Holmes writes prose and verse for The Press, a publication associated with the Society of United Irishmen. In 1799 she is active, along with members of her extended family, in the movement opposed to the legislative union of Ireland with the United Kingdom. The pamphlet An address to the people of Ireland is attributed to her, but is now thought to have been written by Roger O’Connor. Holmes’ poems are included in her daughter’s 1833 book of verse The dream and other poems.
(Pictured: Portrait of Mary Anne Holmes by Thomas Hickey, held in the collections of Kilmainham Gaol)