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Irish genealogist

The Widow Gamble

Did she exist and if so who was she ? 

Part 2

Hannah Gamble sold the Sign of the Ship to Londoner, Augustine Moore, in 1775. Moore took out ads to let people know that he was changing the tavern to reflect the so-called London Method.This meant there would be less emphasis on food and traditional entertainment and more on choice of wines and other alcohols available to customers. 

Records show that Hannah also sold a property at Black Rock which may have been connected to the tavern. It was described as being next to the now lost Price's Lane and bounded on the south by Mr Pim's garden wall and on the west by Anthony Grayson's holding. (6.)


That same year Hannah Gamble sold her inheritance in a farm called Longland on the Isle of Wight. (7.) The buyer was a Mathew Peters, likely to be either her own father or brother. Hannah's brother, Mathew William Peters (1742-1814), was probably the best known of the Peters family. He became an accomplished painter of landscapes and portraits, some of them considered to be rather racy. This proved to be an embarrassment to Peters when he went on to pursue a career in the church, which saw him become chaplain to George IV for a time.


It isn't certain what happened to Hannah Gamble after 1775. The sale of many of her assets that year would suggest that she may have had money troubles or that she was intending to embark on a new enterprise. Unfortunately her trail goes cold at this point and she disappears from primary records.


Is it believable that Hannah Gamble, née Peters, a hard-working and enterprising tavern keeper, inspired some of the Widow Gamble legends in Monkstown? She seems an unlikely source for these very dark tales.


Monkstown parish registers don't throw any light on her fate after 1775 because there is no record of her death there. No Gambles were recorded in the parish registers in subsequent decades and there is no indication that Thomas and Hannah had any children. The Peters family continued to be represented locally for a time by Hannah's sister, Margaret Peters, who perhaps came to live at the Black Rock because of her sister's activities there. She married Dublin paper stainer, Joseph Unthank, at Monkstown church in 1769. The baptisms and deaths of several of their children are recorded in the following decades and Margaret Peter's own likely death is also recorded in May 1788. 


By coincidence another individual named Gamble lived beside Carrickbrennan Graveyard in the 1770s, but he appeared to be unconnected to Thomas and Hannah of Sign of the Ship. In 1771 John Gamble from Enniscorthy transferred his interest in this house by the graveyard along with a detailed list of his possessions to his beloved companion, Anne Kirwan, with whom he had been cohabiting for many years. Among the household goods which Anne Kirwan acquired were Gamble's backgammon tables,his fishing rods,tea chest,ink stand and a little mare 'blind of an eye'. (8.) Perhaps the closeness of John Gamble's house to Carrickbrennan Graveyard reinforced the association of the "Gamble" name with the graveyard in the minds of the locals.


Property deeds relating to the Mounttown area from the mid 18th century describe a rural landscape devoid of its present-day demesne houses. Although Monkstown Castle was still habitable until the early 19th century, there were few other landmarks around apart from the churchyard, Corker's Farm, Windmill Farm and a peculiarly named house known to all in the neighbourhood as The Wandering Jew. (9.)


The 19th century Gamble Lodge stands on the north side of Upper Mounttown Road and is undoubtedly named in honour of the Widow Gamble. By a twist of fate, the same spot is associated with another widow with a peculiar reputation and with a similar sounding name, the Widow Gammon.


Roman Catholic parish records identify a couple called Tom and Eliza Gammon living in this area in the early 19th century. (10.) Mrs Gammon was a local woman - baptised Elizabeth Coonan in 1787 at Monkstown Church of Ireland parish, to Dunleary farmer John Coonan and his wife Margaret Wilson. (11.) She had two older sisters, Anne and Jane, and a younger brother, John. It isn't clear when or why Eliza Coonan changed her religion but she married Thomas Gammon at Kingstown's Roman Catholic church in approximately 1814. The couple are known to have had at least one child, Lawrence, born in 1815.


By the 1830s when trade directories began to describe the south Dublin suburbs, a T. Gammon was trading as a vintner at Monkstown Hill. By 1849, the year of Griffith's Valuation, Eliza or Betty Gammon as she was also known, was already a widow. She continued trading as a vintner on her own account at Mounttown Upper, in a way that was reminiscent of the career of Hannah Gamble. Unlike The Sign of a Ship, her establishment was a ramshackle shebeen near the crest of the hill, and perhaps the spirits she sold there had more than a little to do with the ghostly apparitions seen nearby. 


The Widow Gammon's immediate lessor at Upper Mounttown was local builder Christopher Mooney who had acquired the lease from the Semple family of nearby Fairyland House (now St Helen's on York Road). Eliza Gammon's holding had a rateable value of £12 and included a shop,house and yard. (12.) A John Coonan, most likely her brother, lived in the house next to her. 


Trade Directories record her presence there through the 1850s when she was often mistakenly called Eliza "Gannon". When the Valuation Office undertook their revisions in the late 1850s, neither Eliza Gammon nor John Coonan were officially listed. With the rapid gentrification of Monkstown from the 1840s, Widow Gammon's establishment would have been dramatically out of place. Her situation was made worse no doubt by the opening in 1860 of St. John's Church, a chapel of ease for Monkstown parish, almost opposite her shebeen.    

Christopher Mooney died in 1862 and his will directed that all his leases on Upper Mounttown should be sold. His executor, a local dairyman called John Redmond, drew up a deed two years later which explained a great deal. Widow Gammon had occupied parts of these properties for many years, it stated, and had paid no rent. The buildings had become such a notorious eyesore that the landlords were threatening to refuse a renewal of lease, putting the entire interest at risk. The deed describes how the Widow Gammon, then 75 years of age, was paid £100 plus costs by Redmond to vacate (13.) She apparently agreed to the settlement. John Redmond promptly sold the lease to neighbouring dairyman, Thomas Keegan.


It isn't known what Widow Gammon did with her £100 or where she went after this. It seems unlikely that she would have left the  neighbourhood where she had lived her entire life. But no trace of her death record could be found and it isn't known if she died a suspicious death. Like all good legends she disappears into the mists.


As early as 1887, the writer Louise Blennerhassett Poirez, neé Tinkler, (1850-1907), published Eight Tales of Fairy Land, in whch she refers to the hill at the top of Mounttown Upper as Widow Gammon’s Hill.Louise Poirez would have known. She was the daughter of Francis Greene Tinkler, the solicitor who represented Widow Gammon in the 1864 case and who lived for a time at nearby Air Hill. There is no evidence that bad luck befell John Redmond or Thomas Keegan following their transactions with the widow, although neither enjoyed a long life.


It seems likely therefore that the Widow Gamble legend was based on at least two women whose identities were conflated over time to become the sinister figure still acknowledged in the Monkstown neighbourhood.

Historyeye, Mount-Town Road Upper looking towards Gamble's Hill with Gamble Lodge on the left

Gamble's Hill Mounttown on a dark night

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