A delegation from the Emerald Isle including the Irish ambassador has visited Ilfracombe to pay homage to a leading lady of Ireland’s history.
On Saturday there was a day of remembrance for Anna Parnell, starting with a commemoration beside her grave at Holy Trinity churchyard.
Anna drowned at Tunnels Beaches on September 20, 1911 – she had been living quietly in the town under the name of Cerise Palmer but locals were stunned to learn they had an Irish nationalist heroine in their midst when her real name was revealed at the inquest.
Leading the visit on Saturday 107 years after her death was the Irish ambassador to Britain, Adrian O’Neill, joined by dignitaries including chair of the National Women’s Council of Ireland, Ellen Dunlop O’Malley and Pauric Travers of the Parnell Society.
Anna was the sister of well-known nationalist leader and politician Charles Parnell, who agitated for land reform and home rule in the 1880s.
In some ways she became more effective than her more famous brother and was a major force in the Irish nationalist struggle in the 19th century and a staunch activist on behalf of the poor, setting up the Ladies Land League to help evicted families.
Her grave was all-but forgotten, but in 2013 Lucy and John Keaveney from Meeth in Ireland followed the trail of an old Ilfracombe Chronicle report about her death and found the grave overgrown and neglected.
They worked with the late Sue Garwood and Ilfracombe Museum to restore it and last year a refurbished headstone was provided by Fine Memorials in Barnstaple, paid for by Ireland’s Department of Culture and Heritage.
After the service on Saturday, the visitors made their way to Tunnels Beaches where flowers were scattered on the water in memory of Anna and Sue and Ilfracombe lifeboat paid tribute.
Speaking to the Gazette, Mr O’Neill said Anna had been a major figure in Irish history and a pioneer campaigning for land reform at a time of great poverty and injustice.
He said: “It’s wonderful to see here in Ilfracombe that she is still being remembered and honoured 107 years after her death it’s fantastic to see her grave kept so beautifully.
“I wish to thank those who have worked so hard to honour the memory of Anna, in particular the late Sue Garwood, Sara Hodson and of course Lucy Keaveney.”
Museum manager Sara Hodson added: “It was very touching that people came from all parts of the community in Ilfracombe and Ireland.
“It was quite fitting that Sue was remembered – she was the one that began organising this event and we were all thinking about her.”