By Sheelagh Mooney
If you take a stroll around the outside of St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, a stone’s throw away from O’Connell Street you’ll find two bronze sculptures standing side-by-side to the left of the main entrance to the cathedral.
The sculpture of the lady is one Margaret Ball nee Birmingham who was born in Corballis, Skryne, Co. Meath, in 1515. Her father, Nicholas, was a wealthy landowner who had moved there from England.
At the tender age of sixteen, Margaret married into an equally prosperous family of merchants, the Ball family, of Dublin. The Balls operated the bridge over the Dodder River, hence the name Ballsbridge. Margaret and her new husband, Bartholomew, settled into Ballygall House, in Fingall, where Margaret gave birth to ten children, five of whom survived to adulthood. Bartholomew became Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1553, making Margaret Lady Mayoress.
Margaret devoted her life to many and various charitable causes. She maintained a Catholic household at Ballygall House where she gave refuge to Catholic clergy, and provided education in her own home to the children of poor Catholic families, despite being prohibited to do so by Penal Laws.
However, she lived through troubled times for Catholics, as after the reformation came to Ireland in the 1530s all things Catholic were banned, including the celebration of mass. Margaret was an ardent and faithful Catholic at a time when it was unpopular if not downright dangerous to be so. It was a difficult time to be Catholic to say the least and a conversion to Protestantism was actively encouraged and rewarded. Margaret herself was steadfast in her beliefs and refusal to convert, and was prepared for whatever financial or social hardships were meted out as a result.
However, of all her sorrows, Margaret’s greatest was that her eldest son Walter Ball not only converted to Protestantism but became as committed to Protestantism as Margaret was to Catholicism.