The Ballad of Mary Anne Cadden
You'll have heard about this woman - Nurse Cadden was her name –
Regarded as a killer, spoken of with shock and shame.
But the way she's been depicted deserves some scrutiny –
There were many facets to her, as you shall shortly see.
Entrepreneuse or criminal, feminist or quack?
You can draw your own conclusions, but consider first the facts.
She was born in Pennsylvania, in eighteen ninety-one,
Then returned to County Mayo, where her family owned a farm.
They settled in Doonbredia, under Nephin Mountain,
And opened up a grocer's shop where Mamie learned accounting.
She ran the shop near Lahardane till she was thirty four,
But country life was not for her, she clearly wanted more.
She qualified in Holles Street a midwife for to be –
She loved the buzz of city life, and lively company.
She opened up a nursing home, attracting many clients,
Then invested in a fine big house on the main street in Rathmines.
She called the house 'Maelruin' – they came from near and far,
And with the proceeds of the job she bought herself a car:
A red MG she brought from Wales and drove with some panache –
Letting it be known that she was raking in the cash.
One day the car was recognised way out in County Meath,
Near where a baby girl was found in the gateway to a field.
Charged with child abandonment, Mamie was sent to prison –
The guards went in to search her house and dug up the back garden.
Although they found a foetus there no charge was ever brought –
'Twas only for the living child she came before the court.
Forced to sell the nursing home to pay her legal fees,
It ended any chance she had of growing old with ease.
She was sentenced to hard labour for the year she spent inside,
Then the Central Board expelled her as a registered midwife.
Forbidden now to practise but still young and energetic,
She set herself up once again, but as a paramedic.
She treated dandruff, skin disease, VD and constipation,
And it was she you went to see to get a termination.
She worked out of a basement suite on Lower Pembroke Street,
Then placed ads in the Evening Mail, but kept them quite discreet.
And Dublin's finest medicos sent her their referrals –
She saw widows, married women, the well-off and working girls.
But a girl with an infection was admitted to the Coombe,
And told the guards what Cadden did in her consulting rooms.
This lead to Mamie's second trial in nineteen forty-five,
The sentence that was handed down was five more years inside.
Completely on her uppers by the time she was released,
She started working once again from a bedsit on Hume Street.
It was only one year later that Brigid Breslin died,
Her corpse was found on Hume Street, no-one was ever tried –
But suspicion rose that Mamie was still practising her trade
In her hovel of a bedsit and with someone else's aid.
For a certain man was questioned about the girl who died –
His address was in her handbag, his car was seen outside.
It was he who Mamie called on when she lost another woman –
He came early the next morning to help with the removal.
The deceased – Helen O'Reilly – a mother of six chislers –
Had sought out Mamie's service but an embolism killed her.
And so in May of fifty-six another charge was brought –
Of murder, against Cadden, and she came once more to court.
The mob was out to get her though the evidence was scrappy.
They demanded retribution – only hanging'd make them happy.
Nine days of evidence was heard, from the prosecution,
The jury found her guilty – the sentence: execution.
Her lawyers mounted an appeal against a death so brutal.
After protests to the President the sentence was commuted.
A life in prison lay in store but after just one year
They transferred her to the Mental, for reasons still unclear.
Compared to Mountjoy Prison the conditions there were fine,
And she died there one year later, in nineteen fifty-nine.
No doubt another took her place, demand was always there,
And the UK was an option, for those who had the fare.
But when you talk of women's rights, and argue to and fro,
Remember that death sentence, passed just sixty years ago.
Amanda Bell, 2016
The Village, October 2016
Rise and Repeal broadsheet, October 2017