Downing, Mary McCarthy (c.1815–1881), poet and nationalist, was born in Kilfadimore, near Kenmare, Co. Kerry, eldest daughter of Daniel McCarthy , esq., also of Kerry. Throughout her life she had several pen names but is best remembered as ‘Christabel’, and under this name and as ‘Myrrha’ she wrote a large amount of verse for the Cork Southern Reporter and the Freeholder (1838–9). She also contributed several poems to the Dublin Citizen as ‘M.F.D.’ and as ‘C**l’, and her most famous work, Scraps from the mountains, and other poems, was published in Dublin in 1840 and London in 1841.
She eventually married Washington Downing (d. 1877) of Cork, and since he was the parliamentary reporter for the Daily Mail, they settled in London; however, because her father remained in Kerry and because Washington's brother was Timothy McCarthy Downing (qv), attorney and sometime MP for Cork, the couple maintained their Irish connections. Mary was a devout nationalist, and after the failed Young Ireland rebellion of July 1848 she helped several of its participants escape to France. In September 1848 her family home of Kilfadimore was used as a hideout for James Stephens (qv) and Michael Doheny (qv), and it was there that plans for their escape were hatched. Doheny was given cleric's clothing so that he could discreetly board a ship bound for Bristol. Mary had her young son with her, so it was suggested that Stephens pose as her maid; Doheny later recalled that his friend could have passed for a woman because he was ‘extremely young’ and had ‘very delicate features’ (Doheny, 252), but Stephens steadfastly refused. Instead, he boarded the Sabarina as Mary's servant boy, carrying her child with him. The Downings hid Stephens in their London home before he continued to France, and when he returned to the UK (1856) he again passed through their house.
While living in England, Mary had several London addresses including Cumming St., Pentonville; her last known address was Hilldrop Crescent, Camden Town (1871). She died in 1881, presumably in London. Her most famous poem, ‘The grave of McCaura’, was included in The ballad poetry of Ireland (1869), a collection of verse edited by Charles Gavan Duffy (qv).