By Brian McCabe
Between the towns of Milltown and Rathangan in County Kildare is a hill known as the Hill of the Grange. This has always been a quiet rural area, but in the history and folklore of Kildare it has traditionally been known as the home of a famous (and feared) wise woman, or witch, called ‘Moll Anthony’.
Moll seems to have been a real person, who was originally born in the ‘Red Hills’ of Kildare, and was called after her father, a man called Anthony Dunne. Kildare people still point to a headstone in Milltown cemetery which, reputedly, marks her grave.
Great mystery surrounds the early life of Moll – or Mary Leeson, which was apparently her real name. The story goes that that two sons of a woman, known as the Widow Anthony, were on their way to tend sheep, when they met with four small men carrying a coffin, but with no funeral cortege, which they thought rather odd. As was the custom at the time, the boys turned and followed the coffin bearers.
When they were passing their little cottage, they went inside to tell their mother about the strange funeral but were surprised, when they came back out, to find the coffin simply lying there with no sign of the four men who had been carrying it.
Their mother noticed that the lid was not fully fastened on the coffin and, on opening it, found a beautiful young girl inside who looked as if she had just fallen asleep. As it was getting late, they decided to leave the coffin beside the fire overnight but were astonished, when they awoke in the morning, to find the young girl up and about and preparing breakfast for them. She did not seem to have any memory of where she came from, or even who she was, but was quite happy to stay with them.