Elizabeth Dunne Kilmartin


14 Jul. On a summer’s day, 31-year-old Catherine Martin Dunne gives birth to her sixth child and fourth daughter, Elizabeth, known as “Lizzie.” She is likely to be named after her paternal aunt Lizzie Dunne Hanley, who lives a few miles away in Ballygar, with her own growing family.


With her townland mate Brigid Mullin, 8-year-old Lizzie is enrolled in the Curraghmore National School, where her sisters Bridget and Mary are already students.


The census finds Lizzie and her three sisters at home. On this day, her sister Ellen is in St. Louis, her brother Mike is working in England, and her sibs John, Bridget, and Pat are residing in the family house at Cooloo.

Dunne family of Ballaghduff, 1911 census


Martin Kilmartin

28 Feb. At the age of 28, Lizzie marries Martin Kilmartin at the Catholic Church in Kilkerrin. Their union is officially witnessed by Martin Turnian (?) and Lizzie’s younger sister Margaret. Kilmartin is a 37-year-old bachlor from the nearby townland of Carrintubber. He is a stonemason, following in the footsteps of his father Patrick.

Marriage, Lizzie Dunne and Martin Kilmartin

They set up residence in Ballaghduff.


Lizzie and Martin waste no time in starting their family.

Jan [exact date needed]. Patrick “Paddy” is born. (Q1, according to the Civil Birth Registrations)

13 Sept. Catherine “Kitty” is born — Paddy’s Irish twin.

1930-31 (estimated)

(Date revised after speaking with Maureen C. This incident occurred between sister Katie’s return from the U.S. in Jun and her marriage to Peter Collins in November, 1931.)

Lizzie is pregnant with her third child. When the time comes, a problem arises that rules out a routine delivery. A c-section is needed but such procedures are banned by the Catholic Church in Ireland. The family springs into action. They call upon their cousin Father Tom Hanley to plead with the bishop to give Lizzie a dispensation. Her sister Katie, newly home from the U.S., hires a car and drives Lizzie to Dublin, no doubt hoping for a modern medical intervention.

I am speculating that the procedure Lizzie gets in Dublin is a symphysiotomy. The procedure widens the pelvic opening by slicing through ligaments and cartilege, or in some cases the pelvic bone itself. For poor Lizzie it results not only in the loss of her baby (because labor is still required) but also in her permanent disability.

Critics blame the continued use of the operation on a toxic mix of medical experimentation, Catholic aversion to caesarean sections and an institutional disregard for women’s autonomy. They claim it has left hundreds of surviving women with life-long pain, disability and emotional trauma. For some in Ireland, it is yet another scandal perpetrated against women and girls, joining revelations over the Magdalene laundries (where “wayward” women were abused), the deaths of children at mother-and-baby homes and sex abuse in the Catholic church.

See The Guardian reference below

Whatever has actually transpired medically for Lizzie, her world collapses. She is bedridden and will be until her death 18 years into the future.

Her dear husband Martin, described by all as a lovable man, falls apart. He can’t cope and leaves the community forever, to live out his days as a stonemason in Birmingham, England. According to his granddaughter Maura:

[Kitty and Paddy] had only good to say about their own Dad… he sent the money home now and again and I know the landlady where he stayed used to write to Grandma saying he was ok etc….

Facebook Messenger, 2019

Lizzie bravely makes the best of the situation. She runs the household from her bed, making Paddy and Kitty use mirrors to show her their chores were done. But of course, she is surrounded by her helpful family. Her brother Mike, a bachelor in his forties, himself with a permanent limp from a broken hip, takes charge. He commandeers his young teenage nieces Vera and Grett Stephens to move in with the Kilmartins to help out.

Lizzie’s granddaughter Maura reports:

I asked Mam [Kitty] once if nobody ever got her a wheelchair and it turns out they did but it totally overwhelmed her, they brought her outside and up the road straight away, whereas they should just have brought her to the kitchen for a short while and then back to bed. She wouldn’t go back in it again!!!

Facebook Messenger, 2019


5 Jun. At age 80, Lizzie’s father Michael dies unattended by MD, “probably senile decay.”


25 Nov. Lizzie’s mother Catherine dies unattended by MD, “probably senile decay.”


Sept. The family receives word that Lizzie’s husband Martin has died in Birmingham. We don’t know the cause.


12 Oct. At the age of 50, Lizzie dies. Her brother Michael is recorded as the one with her when she passes. Her death is unattended by a physician. On her death registration, the cause is recorded as “probably tubercular disease of spine,” but who knows.

Elizabeth Kilmartin Death Registration 12 Oct 1948


Description of the events in this story were provided in 2007 by Lizzie’s daughter Kitty, her granddaughter Maura, and her cousins Paddy C., Maureen C., and Carmel G.

PHOTO at top: Lizzie Dunne Kilmartin (on right) with Wm Naughton and his 2 sisters (Eliza and ?)

Catholic Church did urge doctors to use symphysiotomy operation,” The Irish Times, 19 Sept 2003.

Symphysiotomy – Ireland’s brutal alternative to caesareans,” The Guardian, 12 Dec 2014.

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