Blessed Margaret Ball (1515 – 1584) was born Margaret Birmingham near Skryne in County Meath, and died of deprivation in the dungeons of Dublin Castle. She was Mayoress of Dublin in 1553. She was beatified in 1992.
Her father, Nicholas Birmingham, left England due to his opposition to the religious reforms of King Henry VIII. He purchased and farmed land in Corballis, County Meath. The family was politically active; her brother, William Birmingham, protested in London against Thomas Radclyffe, Earl of Sussex, when he imposed the Protestant Reformation on behalf of the boy-king Edward VI. When she was fifteen years old Margaret married Alderman Bartholomew Ball of Ballrothery. His wealthy family operated the bridge over the River Dodder, which is still known as Ballsbridge. Margaret and Bartholomew lived at Ballygall House in north county Dublin and had a town house on Merchant's Quay in the City of Dublin. They had ten children, though only five survived to adulthood. Her husband was elected Mayor of Dublin in 1553, making Margaret the Mayoress. She had a comfortable life with a large household and many servants, and she was recognised for organising classes for the children of local Irish families in her own home.
Arrest and death
Queen Elizabeth I reversed the policy of her sister Queen Mary Tudor and imposed her Religious Settlement. In 1570 the Papacy responded with the bull "Regnans in Excelsis" which declared Elizabeth to be an illegitimate usurper. Margaret's eldest son, Walter Ball, embraced the "new religion" and was appointed Commissioner for Ecclesiastical Causes in 1577. Margaret was disappointed with her son's change of faith and tried to change his mind. On one occasion, she told him that she had a "special friend" for him to meet. Walter arrived early with a company of soldiers, and found that the "special friend" was Dermot O'Hurley, Archbishop of Cashel. He was celebrating Mass with the family. Walter had his mother arrested and locked in the dungeons of Dublin Castle.
When the family protested, Walter declared that his mother should have been executed, but he had spared her. She would be allowed to go free if she "Took the Oath", which probably referred to the Oath of Supremacy. Her second son, Nicholas, who supported her, was elected Mayor of Dublin in 1582. However, Walter was still Commissioner for Ecclesiastical Causes, which was a crown appointment. He outranked Nicholas and kept him from securing the release of their mother. Nicholas visited her daily, bringing her food, clothing, and candles.
Margaret died in 1584 at the age of sixty-nine, which was an advanced age at the time. She was crippled with arthritis and had lived for three years in the cold, wet dungeon of Dublin Castle with no natural light. When she died she was buried in the cemetery at St. Audoen's Church in Dublin. Although she could have altered her will, she still bequeathed her property to Walter upon her death.
Martyrdom and beatification
Margaret had lived in the dungeon when she could have returned to a life of comfort at any time by simply "taking the oath." Two generations later this pattern was repeated by Francis Taylor, who was condemned to the dungeons after exposing fraud in the parliamentary elections to the Irish House of Commons. He refused to "take the oath" and died in Dublin Castle in 1621.
Margaret and Francis never knew each other, but they were beatified together, along with Dermot O'Hurley, on September 27, 1992.
December 2004 - Corish and Millett - "The Irish Martyrs" ISBN 1-85182-858-3