LUCY, MARCHIONESS OF WHARTON / Society hostess and vicereine of Ireland

LUCY, MARCHIONESS OF WHARTON, MALMESBURY AND CATHERLOUGH

Society hostess and vicereine of Ireland

Rathfarnham/Dublin/Winchendon

c. 1670–1717

To some, Lucy Wharton was ‘the witty fair one’, irresistible to anyone who had ‘the honour of tasting her easy and agreeable conversation’. To Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, she was ‘a woman equally unfeeling and unprincipled: flattering, fawning, canting, affecting prudery and even sanctity, yet in reality as abandoned and unscrupulous as her husband’. The truth probably lay somewhere in between.

Born in around 1670, Lucy was the sole surviving child of Adam Loftus, 1st Viscount Lisburne and Lucy Bridges. Though not a great beauty, her looks were described as ‘so agreeable, that one cannot defend one’s heart against her’. Her father’s death in September 1691 also left her appealingly wealthy, with £5000 per year and lands including the Rathfarnham estate outside Dublin. Unsurprisingly, she had no trouble finding a husband. By January 1692, she was being referred to as the ‘new mistress’ of the widowed Whig politician, Thomas Wharton. By July, she was his wife.

The Whartons’ marriage would be unconventional even today. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries their behaviour was nothing short of scandalous. Thomas was notorious for his debauchery and Lucy too was known for what were politely called ‘her little excursions of love and gallantry’. Thomas did not react to her extra-marital liaisons as one might expect however, for far from being outraged at her affairs he instead encouraged them. His reasoning, according to Jonathan Swift, was that he felt himself ‘well recompensed by a return of children to support his family, without the fatigues of being a father’. Ultimately, Lucy bore three children; Philip in 1698, Jane in 1706 and Lucy in 1710. Whether they were Thomas’s remains to be seen.

Thomas (who was created Baron Wharton in 1696 and Earl of Wharton in 1706) was appointed Lord Lieutenant, or viceroy, of Ireland in 1708 and he and Lucy travelled to Dublin from their English seat, Winchendon, the following April. From their base at Dublin Castle they ran an establishment at which ‘dancing and dice’ were the order of the day and Lucy received their guests with what the eighteenth-century historian and distant relative, John Oldmixon, referred to as ‘that humanity and easiness, which adorn all the actions of her life’. Pregnancy prevented her from accompanying Thomas on his second and final trip in 1710, but from London she had petitions for friends fast-tracked by her husband’s secretary and took meetings with Irishmen visiting England who hoped she could secure them an Irish preferment from the Earl. Her tenure as vicereine may have been brief, but it demonstrated the social and political possibilities of the role and would be built upon by her successors.

Thomas died in 1715, soon after being raised to the rank of Marquess. Lucy followed just two years later and was buried with him at Winchendon. Her will is noticeably devoid of many of the religious sentiments common to the day, a final example of her lifelong disregard for the rules of polite society.

Thanks to Dr. Rachel Wilson (University of Leeds) for this week's herstory

RHODA COGHILL / Pianist, composer and poet

RHODA COGHILL

Pianist, composer, and poet

Dublin

1903 – 2000

From youthful beginnings as a piano prodigy to a career featuring a string of solo concerto appearances and a thirty-year residency as official Radio Éireann/RTÉ accompanist, Rhoda Coghill was one of the finest Irish musicians of the twentieth century. Not only an outstanding performer, she also demonstrated a precocious gift for composition. Nor were her talents confined to music either: in middle age, she surprised Dublin’s literary scene by revealing herself as a poet in the well-received collections The Bright Hillside (1948) and Time is a Squirrel (1956). Coghill managed to carve out an independent livelihood in the arts—never an easy task—during an era when Irish society was hostile towards professional women. The story of Coghill’s success lies in how she subtly made herself indispensable to the nation’s musical infrastructure in the post-Free State decades.

      The youngest of nine children, Coghill was born in 1903 to a middle-class family living at 100 Marlborough Road, Donnybrook, Dublin. Her Scottish father worked as a printer for Eason, while her Dublin mother gave Rhoda her first piano lessons. Subsequently enrolled in the Patricia Read Leinster School of Music, the ‘child pianist’ was billed as a star attraction at the capital’s Theatre Royal at the age of 15. By her early twenties she had a MusB degree from Trinity College Dublin (a rare feat for a woman in the 1920s), bagged every piano trophy in the annual Feis Ceoil competitions, and glimpsed international success with a London debut. Following a stint studying in Berlin, Coghill returned to Ireland for good.

      At home, she became a force in nation-building cultural initiatives. Returning to the Feis Ceoil, she worked, variously, as accompanist, adjudicator, and arranger. While Ireland lacked a professional orchestra Coghill was active in efforts to remedy this situation. With the formation of the Dublin Philharmonic Society Orchestra in 1927, she multitasked as piano soloist, occasional double-bass player, and behind the scenes on the managing committee.  Around the same time, she began broadcasting on 2RN, the state’s first radio station.

      Coghill was appointed Radio Éireann accompanist in 1939, remaining with RTÉ until retirement in 1968. Collaborating with visiting international artists and local musicians, she further used her connections to promote her compositional activities. As a student in 1923 Coghill had penned what is now regarded as one of the the most progressive Irish scores of its era (Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking, for orchestra, choir, and tenor soloist). In 1939 she exploited RÉ’s resources to organise Cradle’s first, reduced, performance and later enlisted RÉ/RTÉ singers in recitals of her vocal pieces.

      A devout Quaker and a modest, unassuming woman, Coghill lived until the age of 96, spending her last years in a retirement home. She never married, perhaps never intended to— but marriage would have forced her resignation from RÉ/RTÉ as per Civil Service rules, effectively curtailing her public career. Virtuoso performer, composer, and poet: Coghill’s portfolio of artistic achievement was remarkable. Equally impressive was her commitment to the collective project of promoting art music in this country. Her near century-long presence in Irish musical life is unique. In 1990 at the age of 87 she finally heard the full premiere of Cradle. This work is set for a revival in the National Concert Hall’s 2016 Composing the Island Festival.

Special thanks to Dr Laura Watson (Maynooth University) for this week's herstory

CELIA HARRISON / Painter, feminist, nationalist and social reformer

CELIA HARRISON

Painter, feminist, nationalist and social reformer.

1863 – 1941

Sarah Cecilia Harrison was born into a well-known and well-off nationalist family in Holywood, County Down in 1863. She moved in 1873 with her family to London and it was there that she began to paint and to study art seriously. She won several awards while she studied at the Slade School of Art, she exhibited her paintings and travelled on the continent to further her studies. In 1889 she moved to Dublin where she established a reputation as one of the country’s leading portrait painters. She began a longstanding and productive relationship with the Royal Hibernian Academy to which she submitted more than sixty works over her career. She also submitted many works to the Royal Academy in London and became a member of several societies including the Ulster Academy of Arts. She remained a highly accomplished and respected artist who was frequently asked to exhibit and to teach.

Known to her friends and family as ‘Celia’, Harrison was exceptionally well-known in feminist and social reform circles. She was an active member of the Irish Women’s Suffrage and Local Government Association, serving on its committee and attending ‘monster’ suffrage meetings in London as a representative of the organisation. Her portrait of Anna and Thomas Haslam, founders of the IWSLGA, is one of her best known works and is kept in the Hugh Lane Gallery. Harrison was a friend of Hanna Sheehy Skeffington and co-operated closely with her Irish Women’s Franchise League on a number of feminist campaigns. She objected publicly to the force-feeding of suffragettes, but she remained implacably opposed to suffrage militancy. In this she was at odds with Sheehy Skeffington and some of her circle, but feminists of all persuasions came together to support Harrison’s candidature for election to the Dublin Corporation. They lobbied, fund-raised and campaigned for Harrison who in 1912 became the first female councillor to be elected to the Corporation. She was an active member, championing the rights of the poor, of women and of the unemployed, and becoming a tireless critic of corruption with Irish local government. She described the local government register as ‘disgraceful’ as the number of bogus voters on it allowed unionists and nationalists ‘to get their opponents off and their friends on’. This would not have made her popular.

Harrison’s nationalist credentials were impeccable: her brother was the nationalist MP Henry Harrison, and her great uncle was the United Irishman, Henry Joy McCracken. Her implacable support for the Irish Party at a time when many Irish radicals were beginning to flirt with more radical alternatives brought her into conflict with some republicans and feminists, especially in 1912 when she refused to condemn the Irish Party for putting Home Rule before women’s suffrage. So sincere was her support that she campaigned for the Irish Party candidate who stood against Constance Markievicz in the 1918 general election. Yet, her relations with most feminists remained friendly, despite disagreements over nationalist tactics and loyalties. She worked with them on a number of campaigns including the promotion of free school dinners for poor children and maternal health care. In her work with Trade Boards, women’s trade unions and in her pioneering promotion of allotments, she also worked with many prominent trade unionists and socialists.

As an array of feminists, including republicans, unionists, socialists and militants, prepared to campaign for her re-election 1915, Hanna Sheehy Skeffington warned that ‘the women of Dublin will regard it is as an insult, and a fresh indication of the low status in which they are held by men in relation to public affairs, if Miss Harrison should be removed from the corporation in January’. But, she was not re-elected, partly because she had proved unpopular with some vested interest groups. Despite her unwavering loyalty to the Irish Party, Harrison was also a victim of its stubborn and ultimately ruinous refusal to take women politicians seriously. Never taken on as a formal local government candidate, she did not enjoy the protection and resources of the Party machine and she was never given the opportunity to strengthen the Party’s support among Irish women. Her short formal political career and her support for what turned out to be the ‘wrong side’ in early twentieth century Ireland, help to explain why so little is known about her energetic and pioneering political career.

It is unfortunate, though perhaps not surprising, that Harrison is best known for her complex relationship with Hugh Lane. The two were close friends and she was a strong supporter of his gallery. She did a good deal of voluntary labour for Lane and was devastated by his death in 1915. She eventually fell out with his family over her claim that the couple had planned to marry, and she disputed the validity of Lane’s will. She may have been unpopular with some of Lane’s supporters (some apparently called her ‘Saint Cecilia’ behind her back) but she remained central to continuing attempts to find a permanent resolution to dispute over the Hugh Lane bequest.

Harrison remained deeply interested and involved in various aspects of Irish political and cultural life into her old age. When she died in 1941 she was buried in Mount Jerome cemetery, under the modest inscription ‘Artist and Friend of the Poor’. This is an accurate tribute and would probably have met with her approval. But it belies her remarkable career as a politician and social reformer and as one of the most energetic of all that generation of Irish women whose tireless efforts led to granting of women’s suffrage in 1918.

Thanks to herstorian Professor Senia Paseta for this week’s herstory.

MADAME DRAGONFLY / Entomologist and explorer

CYNTHIA LONGFIELD

Entomologist and explorer

London / Cloyne, Co. Cork / South America

1896 – 1991

Cynthia Longfield, ‘Madam Dragonfly’, was born in London in 1896. Her home schooling there was interrupted by regular visits to her maternal grandparents’ farm in Cloyne, Co. Cork, where she enjoyed roaming the countryside. Her early love of science and nature grew into a lifelong passion, and she became a leading authority on dragonflies and damselflies.

Longfield’s interest in the sciences was fostered in childhood, with her mother’s encouragement. She was inspired at an early age by reading about Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and his Beagle voyage of 1831–6. She absorbed the importance of fieldwork and travel, which played an important role in her life and in her scientific work.

It was in 1921, during her first overseas tour – taking in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, the Panama Canal, Jamaica and Cuba – that her passion for entomology blossomed. In 1924, she participated in the St George Scientific Expedition, an 18-month-long re-enactment of Darwin’s Beagle voyage to the Galapogos Islands, where Longfield collected moths, beetles and butterflies for the Natural History Museum in London.

 Following this, she worked, unpaid, as a cataloguer at the museum, where she had responsibility for the dragonfly collection. Her personal circumstances freed her from the need for paid employment. She would remain in this post for thirty years, and continued to travel in search of specimens. In 1927, she participated in a six-month scientific expedition in the Mato Grosso, Brazil, where she collected 38 species of dragonfly, 3 of which were new species. She went on to make scientific expeditions to Southeast Asia in 1929, where she collected hundreds of moths and butterflies; to Kenya, Uganda, Rhodesia and South Africa in 1934, where she identified six new species of butterfly and dragonfly; and to Cape Town and Zimbabwe in 1937. She contracted malaria in 1937 and was forced to return to London, and was prevented from returning to Africa by the outbreak of the Second World War. During the war, she volunteered for the Auxiliary Fire Service – she had also joined the Royal Army Service Corps and worked in an aeroplane factory during the First World War.

Longfield did not limit herself to quietly cataloguing species in the museum. She regularly published her findings, sat on museum committees, and was a member of the Entomological Society, the Royal Geographical Society and the London Natural History Society. In 1937, she published the sell-out The Dragonflies of the British Isles, which became the standard handbook on the topic.

She retired from London’s Natural History Museum in 1957 and returned to Cloyne, Co. Cork, but never stopped travelling or studying entomology. Two dragonfly species were named in her honour: Corphaeschna longfieldae (Brazil) and Agrionopter insignis cynthiae (Tanimbar Islands). She donated her personal archive and library, some 500 volumes, to the Royal Irish Academy in 1979, and her Irish specimen collection to the Natural History Museum in Dublin.

Thanks to herstorian Dr. Angela Byrne for this week’s herstory.

SHEILA TINNEY / Mathematical physicist

SHEILA TINNEY

Mathematical physicist

Galway / Dublin

1918 – 2010

Sheila Tinney (née Power) is believed to have been the first Irish woman to receive a PhD in mathematics. She went on to become a respected lecturer and academic.

Tinney was the daughter of Michael Power, professor of mathematics at University College Galway. She was educated in Galway and later in Dublin, where in 1935 she was one of only eight girls in the state to sit the Leaving Certificate higher mathematics paper. She went on to achieve a first-class degree in mathematical science in 1938 and an MA in 1939, both from UCD. Assisted by a National University of Ireland Travelling Studentship, she proceeded to the University of Edinburgh to study crystals under the Nobel laureate Max Born.

1941 was a memorable year for Power. Aged just 23, she graduated from Edinburgh with a PhD, was made an assistant lecturer in UCD, and held a fellowship at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies. DIAS had been founded in the previous year and was headed by the renowned physicist, Edwin Schrödinger. He described Power as one of the ‘best equipped and most successful of the younger generation of theoretical physicists’ in Ireland.

By 1945 she had been promoted to lecturer at UCD and in 1948 – 1949 she held a fellowship at the world-leading Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, to study nuclear physics in the company of Albert Einstein. She published on a wide range of topics and her professional network, cultivated in Dublin and in Princeton, led her to co-author papers with Nobel laureates like Schrödinger and Hideki Yukawa.

In 1949, Power returned to Dublin from Princeton and was among the first four women to be elected as full members of the Royal Irish Academy. The Academy was founded in 1785, but until 1949, had elected women as honorary members only.

In summer 1953, Power married the engineer Sean Tinney and was thereafter known as Sheila Tinney. In 1966, she was appointed as associate professor in mathematical physics in UCD. It was only in that year that the ban was lifted on married women holding tenured positions at the university, following a hard struggle for parity of conditions. Tinney thereby joined the small number of women professors at Irish universities. Of the more than forty professors and associate professors appointed by the NUI and its constituent colleges in 1966, only two were women – Sheila Tinney and Lorna Reynolds, Professor of English at UCG.

The Dictionary of Irish Biography notes that Tinney taught large classes in both engineering and science at UCD, leaving her little time or energy for developing her research interests. She is remembered as well dressed and composed, and as a dedicated teacher. Among her students was the noted particle physicist Lochlainn Ó Raifeartaigh, and the mathematician and philosopher Philip McShane, who remembers Tinney in his biography as his ‘best graduate teacher’.

Thanks to herstorian Dr. Angela Byrne for this week’s herstory.

MARIA EDGEWORTH / Playwright & novelist

MARIA EDGEWORTH

Playwright, novelist and women’s advocate

1767 - 1849

Longford

Born on New Year’s day 1767 in Oxfordshire England, Maria Edgeworth moved to Ireland in 1782, and went on to be one of the greatest intellectuals in Ireland and beyond for more than half a century.

Maria’s childhood was spent in Edgeworthstown, County Longford where she worked alongside her father, Richard Lovell Edgeworth in the running of his large estate as his secretary and assistant. Her mother, Anna Maria Elers died when Maria was just six years old and Maria’s father remarried three times.

While working with her father, Maria acquired the knowledge and insight into the lives of Irish landlords and tenants, a knowledge which formed the background for her many Irish novels including Castlerackrent published in 1800. It was an immediate literary success and became the most famous of her Irish works.

Apart from her publications on Irish life, Maria was a committed advocate of reform of women’s education and in 1795, aged 28, she published ‘Letters for Literary Ladies,’ it was her first publication. She was consistent in her work and ‘focused her talent on the moral improvement of her contemporaries, young and old’.

Maria Edgeworth was a woman who influenced a host of young writers of her day including Jane Austen, William Makepeace Thackeray, and Turgenev. Walter Scott and Maria had a sincere friendship with both ‘united in their love of nature’ and Maria has been credited with influencing many of his novels. While she never married, Maria had many friendships including a lasting friendship with the chief justice of Ireland, Judge Lefroy whom - it was alleged - was the only lover of Jane Austen.   

Maria’s extensive and strenuous work as a public benefactor during the Irish famine when she was in her eighties, and shortly before her own death in 1849, is evident in her many letters which still survive. 

Remembered as a ‘moralist who has elevated the heart and understanding of countless readers’ Maria Edgeworth’s obituary elucidated the life of a woman who sadly today is too often forgotten. Her obituary noted that she was a ‘venerable lady who died peacefully in the calm of her domestic retirement’ in Edgeworthstown on 22 May 1849. She was remembered for encouraging younger people to embrace literature and as a respected author on the topics of gender, class, and identity. The closing lines of her obituary read ‘A storied urn, or animated bust would be inadequate to perpetuate her merits. Genius, true genius, requires no such memorial’. 

Maria Edgeworth is interred in her family vault at St. John's Church, Edgeworthstown, County Longford.

Thanks to herstorian Damien Duffy for this week’s Herstory.

KAY MILLS / Record-making Camogie Player

KAY MILLS

Camogie Player

1923 – 1996

Dublin

Kay Mills holds the record for winning an incredible 15 All Ireland Senior Medals - a feat that no other player in camogie, hurling or football has ever equaled.

Kay is a true camogie legend and merits a special place in the history of the game. Born in 1923 of a Dublin mother and a Cork father, she was a natural athlete. Tall, slight, and fair-haired, Kay possessed a devastating turn of speed that never seemed to diminish as years went by. She had a competitive spirit that was roused to its greatest when defeat threatened.

Raised in South Square, Inchicore, Kay was educated at Goldenbridge Convent. She played her club camogie with GSR (Great South Western – later renamed CIE). Her father was employed at the company’s Inchicore Works and, in his free time, helped out at the company’s sports club which was set up for the workers and their families. Kay made her debut for Dublin in 1941 and owned the left-wing midfield position until her retirement in 1961.

She had a particularly neat style of play. Frequently, she sprinted forward, rose and struck the ball in one movement sending it marginally under the opposing crossbar. A left-handed player, she scored more long-range goals than any other player in camogie.

Always pleasing to watch, Kay struck up a great partnership with her GSR and Dublin colleague, Kathleen Coady. Excellent at distributing the ball, Kay instructed Una O’ Connor, when she joined the Dublin team, to “sprint towards the goal when you see me getting the ball.” Invariably, the ball was waiting at Una’s feet as she arrived on the edge of the square.

Kay played in the golden era of Dublin camogie. She was surrounded by a galaxy of stars including Ide O’ Kiely, Peg Griffin, Doreen Rogers, Kathleen Cody, Sophie Brack, Eileen Duffy and Una O’ Connor. Moulded and guided by Nell McCarthy, the greatest coach in the history of the game, Dublin reigned supreme.

Kay was an automatic choice for Team of the Century and was inducted into the Cuchulainn Hall of Fame. On her retirement in 1961, she was presented with a replica of the O’ Duffy Cup by Dublin County Board. Kay married George Hill but, in camogie circles, was always known as Kay Mills and in all match reports she retains the title ‘Miss Mills’. Kay died in 1996. In 2014 she was short-listed to have Dublin’s newest bridge named in her honour but she lost out to Rosie Hackett by sixteen votes. Kay remains the most decorated player in the history of Gaelic Games and her memory lives on through the Kay Mills Cup, trophy of the All-Ireland Premier Junior Championship.

Thanks to Mary Moran, camogie herstorian and former President of the Camogie Association for this week’s Herstory. 

Dr. James Barry (Margaret Bulkley) / Pioneering surgeon

Dr. James Barry – Margaret Bulkley

 The female-born surgeon who lived life as a man.

Cork / England / South Africa / India / Corfu

1789 - 1865

It’s fair to say that in 2016 we have arrived at a time where the complex issues of “gender fluidity” and “transgender” have become both words and real situations we are now far more familiar with. Go back to 1789, and it’s possible that the person who began their life as Margaret Ann Bulkley was Ireland’s first-known example of someone born female, but who lived much of their life as a man. 

 James Miranda Stuart Barry was born Margaret Ann Bulkley in Cork in or around 1789. Although details about her early life are unclear, her father, Jeremiah, is known to have some kind of ship’s chandlery on Merchant’s Quay in Cork.

When Bulkley was 18 or 20, it appears some kind of audacious plan was made to enter her into medical school in Scotland. Women were not permitted to do study medicine, but it was not as a young woman that Bulkley arrived into Edinburgh University; it was under the disguise of a man, named James Barry. If you are not looking for something, you won’t necessarily see it, and it appears nobody realised Barry was actually a woman.

In an era when amputation was done with saws without anaesthetic, during which time patients had to be physically restrained, Barry successfully qualified as a doctor. Women, it was evident, could do those things as well as men, but alas, if this had been revealed at the time, Bulkley, now living as Barry, would not have been allowed to continue in the profession. After graduation, Barry then went to London and became a member of the Royal College of Surgeons.

Then followed a long and extraordinary career in the British Army as a military surgeon. Barry served in India and then South Africa, arriving in Cape Town around 1816. It was here that Barry performed one of the first-known successful Caesarean sections. He was apparently progressive in his lifestyle choices for the time, being vegetarian, emphasising the importance of fresh air, and physical exercise. He travelled with a goat, whose sole purpose was to provide the doctor with fresh milk. He was known for a temper than rarely needed much provoking.

 He campaigned against slavery, and ran a hospital for the wounded in Corfu during the Crimean War – a war which made the name of Florence Nightingale famous. By the end of his career, he had been appointed Inspector General in charge of British military hospitals.

In the summer of 1865, an epidemic of dysentery went through London. Barry caught it, and died. When a maid called Sophia Bishop, arrived to prepare the body for burial, she discovered that her surgeon employer had the body of a woman. It was the scandal and talk of the Empire for a long time. 

James Barry, gender-defying surgeon, is buried in Kensal Rise cemetery in London.

Thanks to Rosita Boland for this week’s herstory.

Kay McNulty / First female computer programmer

Kay McNulty

First female computer programmer

1921 – 2006

Donegal & Pennsylvania

We have Kathleen ‘Kay’ McNulty and six other people to thank for our modern day computers. Kay was one of the six original programmers of the ENIAC, the first general-purpose electronic digital computer. She was also employed as human ‘computer’ during World War II along with asmall team of other women.

Born on February 12th 1921 in County Donegal, Kay’s father, a former officer with the Irish Republican Army, moved with his family to the United States in 1924 and set up a masonry business in Pennsylvania.

Kay could only speak Irish at the time so had to quickly learn English. At school, Kay excelled in mathematics and she earned a degree in the subject from Chestnut Hill College for Women in 1942. Only three women in her class of 92 graduated in mathematics. In the same year she and 75 other women were employed by the University of Pennsylvania’s Moore School of Engineering as human ‘computers’ to help with the American war effort.

In their role as ‘computers’, Kay and the other women calculated tables of numbers and calculated trajectories for shells and bullets, crucial information for soldiers using artillery guns. McNulty was soon promoted to shift leader. At this time it was becoming apparent that the analogue machines in use could not improve much more and that an electronic calculating machine of sorts would be required.

J Presper Eckert, an engineer at the school and another engineer, John Mauchly, came up with the basic idea for the world’s first general purpose digital computer, called ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer). The enormous machine they created lacked any memory for instructions which meant it quickly forgot the steps required for various calculations. The goal of the ENIAC was to calculate trajectories so Mcnulty and five other ‘human computers’ were brought in to work on improving the new system.

The women programmed ENIAC to perform the required calculations and their work led ENIAC in eventually performing the required calculations in 15 seconds. McNulty worked on ENIAC for two more years before she married John Mauchly in 1948 and had five children with him. A few years after his death in 1980, she married photographer Severo Antonelli.

In 1986, the Letterkenny Institute of Technology, near where Kay was born, honoured her with the introduction of a medal in her name given to a computer science student each year. In 1997, she was inducted into the Women in Technology International Hall of Fame. She was interviewed in 1998, and is part of a documentary about the ENlAC programmers titled The Computers’. Kay died in Wyndmoor, Pennnsylvania, on 20 April 2006 at the age of 85.

 Thanks to Herstorian Dr. Anne Rosenbusch for this week’s herstory.

BEATRICE HILL-LOWE / IRELAND’S FIRST FEMALE OLYMPIAN

BEATRICE HILL-LOWE

IRELAND’S FIRST FEMALE OLYMPIAN

1908 – 1951

LOUTH

Beatrice Geraldine Hill-Lowe from Ardee, Co Louth, Ireland's first female Olympian, took a bronze medal for archery at the 1908 London Olympic. 

At the time, archery was the only sporting event open to women because women were only allowed to compete in a sport while fully clothed. Hill-Lowe finished third with 618 points, 70 points behind the gold medal winner, Queenie Newall, from Bolton in England and the great all-rounder Lottie Dod, who was second. All 25 competitors in the "Double National Round" - 48 arrows shot at 60 yards, followed by 24 arrows shot at 50 yards on each of the two days - were from Britain or Ireland.    

Lottie Dod took the lead on the first day (Friday 17 July 1908) with a score of 348 points and 66 hits, with Queenie Newall ten points behind on 338 despite hitting the same number of targets. Nobody else was close. The next day, Newall performed well, scoring 350 points, while Hill-Lowe had climbed into second place with 343 points. Dod's challenge for gold collapsed when she could only manage a score of294. Sybil Fenton "Queenie" Newall's victory makes her the oldest woman to win an Olympic medal - she was four months short of her 54th birthday during the competition. 

Beatrice Hill-Lowe (nee Ruxton), the middle child in a family of eight, was born in Ardee House on 1 January 1868.  Her father, named as a 'gentleman and justice of the peace' was involved in administration for the county of Cavan. "It is not clear how or why Beatrice Ruxton got involved in archery, but she was aged 40 and married when she won her bronze at the White City Stadium in 1908," says Sean Diffley.

"Her husband was the magnificently-named Commander Arthur Hill Ommanney Peter Hill-Lowe and served in the Royal Navy. He died in Shropshire just two years after Beatrice had competed in the Olympics." It had been a second marriage for Hill-Lowe, who died on 17 April 1910; the couple had married on 15 July 1891 when Beatrice was 23. "Some time later Beatrice got married again. Her new husband was named Thompson and they lived in Pembrokeshire, where our bronze medallist died in 1951 aged 83."

Thanks to Lindie Naughton for this week’s Herstory. 

LIZZIE LE BLOND / MOUNTAINEER & EXPLORER

Elizabeth (Lizzie) Le Blond

Mountaineer / Photographer / Author / WWI Volunteer

Wicklow / St Moritz

1860 – 1934

 A trailblazer in the very literal sense of the word, Lizzie Le Blond was one of the first generation of women to practise mountaineering, breaking societal rules to do so.  

Born Elizabeth Hawkins-Whitshed and the only child of Captain and Mrs Hawkins-Whitshed of Killincarrick House in Greystones, County Wicklow, Lizzie inherited the family estate at the age of 11 after her father’s death in 1871.

She married Colonel Frederick Burnaby, a soldier, adventurer and author, in 1879 and had a son the following year. The couple largely lived apart since Lizzie, reportedly suffering from a lung problem, travelled abroad in the search of a cure for her ill health.

This search brought her to Switzerland in 1881 and, shortly after, she began her mountaineering career with a climb two thirds up Mont Blanc. She would spend most of the following twenty years in Switzerland, making over 100 ascents.

At the time, mountaineering was not seen as an appropriate activity for women. The Alpine Club formed in 1857, for example, did not allow female members. To avoid causing offense, Lizzie initially climbed wearing a skirt and would only change when out of public sight.

Along with mountaineering, she also took up photography and was an early adopter of snow photography. Her photographs also served as illustrations in her many publications – her first book ‘The High Alps in Winter’ was published in 1883 and many more works on mountaineering, as well as travelogues, would follow.

After her husband Fred Burnaby was killed in the battle of Abu Klea in Sudan in 1885, Lizzie stayed in St Moritz, where she played an active role in the English community. In addition to climbing, she also took up other sports such as cycling and skating. She became the first woman to pass the men’s test for the St Moritz Skating Association.

To promote mountain climbing for women, the Ladies Alpine Club was founded in 1907 and Lizzie was appointed foundation president of the club. Lizzie’s fellow mountaineers knew her for her physical courage and sure judgement, which no doubt provided inspiration to future generations of female mountaineers and paved the way for women in a sport seen as unsuitable for them.

A second marriage to mathematician Dr John Frederic Main in 1886 was short-lived when Main died in 1892, leaving Lizzie a widow once again. Her third marriage to Frances Bernard Aubrey Le Blond in 1900, however, lasted until her death. Together the couple travelled the world extensively, visiting Egypt, Ceylon, China, Japan, Korea and Russia between 1912 and 1913.

During the First World War Lizzie worked as a volunteer in a French military hospital in Dieppe. She also managed the appeal department of the British Ambulance Committee. In her later life she published her memoirs Day in, day out (1928) and also made frequent visits to Canada and the US (where her son lived).

Thanks to herstorian Dr. Anne Rosenbusch for writing this week’s biography.

ELIZA LYNCH / QUEEN OF PARAGUAY

ELIZA LYNCH

Mistress of Francisco Solano Lopez, dictator of Paraguay

Charleville, Co. Cork / France / Paraguay

1833 – 1886

Eliza Lynch, ‘the Queen of Paraguay’, was born in Charleville, Co. Cork in 1833. Little is known of her early life. Following the breakup of her first marriage, made when she was just sixteen years of age, she went to live with her mother in Paris. The European capital of fashion and the meeting-place of Europe’s elites for centuries, was the backdrop against which Lynch and Francisco Solano Lopez became lovers in 1854, setting in train a story of love and tragedy, glamour and war.

In 1854, Lynch was a remarkably beautiful woman of twenty years; as the current dictator’s son, Lopez was leader of the first Paraguayan diplomatic mission to Europe. Their first months together were dazzling and exciting, as Lynch accompanied Lopez on his missions all over Europe.

In late 1854, Lynch and Lopez travelled separately to Buenos Aires. Lynch gave birth there to the couple’s first son, Francisco, joining Lopez in Asunción, Paraguay, in May 1855. They would go on to have five more children, all of which were “illegitimate” in the prevailing view of the time, but Lopez’s paternity was recorded in the catholic baptismal records.

 Lynch’s life in Asunción was materially comfortable. She had a fashionable city residence and a country estate. Her home became a social hub and she its glittering hostess, but she was not popular with everyone; one contemporary derisorily remarked that her mansion “stank of Paris.”

 When Lopez succeeded his father as dictator in 1862, suddenly Lynch could no longer be sneered at. She was the ‘queen of Paraguay’, able to indulge her love of the arts, bringing international theatre groups to Asunción and organising lavish public festivals.

But her happiness was not to last. Lopez’s wild ambition drove him to a devastating war with Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay in 1864 – 1870. The war literally decimated Paraguay’s male population, and halved its female population. In January 1870, Brazilian forces took Asunción and Lynch, Lopez and their children fled. After two months on the run, the family were captured. Lynch witnessed the executions of her lover and her eldest son, and was deported to Britain with her four surviving children.

Lynch’s troubles continued in London. Another of her children died within weeks of their arrival, she had few resources, and her extensive Paraguayan properties were confiscated. To defend her ruined reputation in South America, she wrote and published a short memoir, Exposición y protesta.

Lynch died in Paris in July 1886, and was buried in the famous Père Lachaise cemetery. But in death, as in life, she continued to polarise opinion. In 1961 the dictator General Stroessner declared her a Paraguayan national hero and her remains were exhumed and returned to Asunción. Her reputation, long maligned outside of Paraguay, has recently been rehabilitated by Anne Enright’s 2002 historical novel, The Pleasure of Eliza Lynch, and Michael Lillis and Ronan Fanning’s biography in 2009.

Thanks to herstorian Dr. Angela Byrne for this week’s herstory.

DAME NINETTE DE VALOIS / FOUNDER OF ROYAL BALLET

DAME NINETTE DE VALOIS

Royal Ballet founder/ Dancer / Teacher / Choreographe

1898 – 2001

Wicklow / London / Dublin

To this day, the Irish born dancer, Dame Ninette de Valois is still described as the doyenne of the dance, the grand dame of English ballet and the architect of Irish ballet. In a career as dancer, teacher and choreographer that spanned almost four decades Ninette was celebrated as a dominant figure in English and Irish ballet.

Born Edris Stannus in Blessington, County Wicklow in 1898, her family moved to Walmer, Kent when Edris was seven years old. Her interest in dance developed from an early age and she trained at the Lila Field Academy for Children with which she went on her first tour in 1913. By then Stannus had changed her name to Ninette de Valois, possibly with the hope to connect her with the longstanding tradition of French ballet.

Valois joined the famous Ballets Russes by Sergei Diaghilev in September 1923 and toured with the company for three years. During her time with the company, as her skills improved, she began to form her own ideas about establishing a British ballet company.

In 1926 she opened the Academy of Choreographic Art and later the same year she became the resident choreographer at the Festival Theatre in Cambridge where she met W.B. Yeats in 1927. On Yeats’ request Valois came to Dublin and established the Abbey Theatre School of Ballet. In addition to that, she collaborated with Yeats on the staging and choreography of four of his plays between 1929 and 1934.

In 1935 she married the London-based general practicioner, Dr Arthur Blackall Connell. Despite the constraints experienced during the Second World War, under Valois’ direction the Sadler’s Wells Ballet and its ballet school grew in reputation thanks to extensive touring. In 1946 the ballet became the resident company at the reopened Royal Opera House in Covent Garden.

In 1951 Valois was made a Dame and in 1956 her company and school received a royal charter from Queen Elizabeth II, becoming the Royal Ballet and the Royal Ballet School. After serving as director of the company and school for 32 years, Dame Ninette retired in 1963. She remained actively involved in the world of dance well into advanced age, regularly attending ballet performances. Despite having spent most of her life and professional career in England, she always insisted ‘I am of Ireland.’

Thanks to Dr. Anne Rosenbusch for this week’s herstory.

AGNES MARY CLERKE / ASTRONOMER

AGNES MARY CLERKE

Science writer and astronomer

Skibbereen / Italy / London / Cape of Good Hope

1842 – 1907

 Agnes Mary Clerke, science writer and astronomer, was awarded membership of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1903 and had a moon crater named in her honour by the International Astronomical Union in 1973. Without a formal education, her lifelong passion for astronomy and keen, enquiring mind, gave her a talent for writing on complex topics without compromising on detail. Her obituary in The Times asserted, ‘both from the literary and scientific standpoints she must be ranked as a great scientific writer.’

Born in Skibbereen, Co. Cork, Agnes and her sister Ellen were home-schooled by well-educated parents. Her father, John William Clerke, owned a telescope and taught her the basics of astronomy, while her university-educated brother, Aubrey, tutored her in mathematics. From an early age, both Agnes and Ellen demonstrated a keen interest in astronomy and in literature.

In 1867, the sisters moved to Italy, spending 10 years studying Renaissance history and Italian. But London offered clearer opportunities. From 1877, Agnes made a career there as a writer for the Edinburgh Review and as a contributor of scientific biographies for the Encyclopaedia Britannica and the Dictionary of National Biography. With the British Museum on her doorstep, Agnes began to study astrophysics, publishing A Popular History of Astronomy During the Nineteenth Century in 1885. The book became an instant classic and was arguably the most important of Agnes’s seven astronomy books. It was aimed at both specialists and a wider audience, written in clear language without oversimplification. In her words, it was:

an attempt to enable the ordinary reader to follow, with intelligent interest, the course of modern astronomical inquiries ...’

Clerke intended her work to reach as wide an audience as possible, declaring in The System of the Stars (1890),

‘Astronomy is essentially a popular science. The general public has an indefeasible right of access to its lofty halls, which it is all the more important to keep cleared of unnecessary technical impediments ...’

Her books contained striking photographs of nebulae, planets and comets, gleaned from Agnes’s international network of correspondents. She lauded the advances in astrophotography whereby a 40-minute exposure supplied the same information that formerly demanded four years of telescopic observations. Photographing celestial bodies demanded considerable skill, as the photographic lens, the telescope and the negative had to remain simultaneously trained on the object as it moved across the sky. The photographs made Clerke’s books scientifically up-to-date and visually exciting.

The detail and rigour of her work was internationally recognised. In 1888, Agnes spent two months at the Royal Observatory at the Cape of Good Hope, gaining practical experience and a view of the southern sky. The observations she made there were published, and she was offered (but declined) a job at Greenwich’s Royal Observatory. In 1903 she became the fifth woman member of the Royal Astronomical Society. She died suddenly in 1907, and is buried in London’s Brompton Cemetery.

Thanks to herstorian Dr. Angela Byrne for this week’s herstory.

JOSEPHINE HART / NOVELIST, POETRY EVANGELIST & THEATRE PRODUCER

JOSEPHINE HART

Novelist, poetry evangelist & theatre producer

1942 - 2011

Mullingar / London

“Poetry, this trinity of sound, sense and sensibility gives voice to experience in the way that no other form can.” Josephine Hart, born and raised in Mullingar, Ireland was an extraordinary and gifted woman; poetry aficionado, captivating wordsmith and artistic Director– and that’s just grazing the surface of her remarkable life.  

Born 1 March 1942, Josephine spent her early years attending a convent school at Carrickmacross, County Monagahan, where she was encouraged by the nuns to recite verse at Irish Festivals. It is here, that she admitted to discovering a great love of poetry: “I was a word child. Poets were not only my heroes, they were indeed the gods of language.” 

Josephine had a particularly tragic childhood that gave her an overt and unpleasant familiarity with death. At the age of 6, she lost her 18 month old brother, Charles. Then, when Hart was 17, her younger sister Sheila, who had been brain damaged as a result of meningitis and paralysed from the age of 2, passed away. Six months after Sheila’s death, her brother Owen was killed whilst experimenting with chemicals – leaving Josephine and her brother Diarmuid as the only remaining siblings of the Hart clan. Leading Josephine to remark, “It sounds a very strange thing to say, but when I was really young, when I was 17, I had to look at life really hard and say, ok, I will continue to live.” Josephine then stayed at the family home in Mullingar for four years, immersing herself in reading as a replacement for University, which was her original dream.

Josephine moved to London in 1964, working in telesales and studying drama at evening classes. Fantastically, much to Josephine’s delight, just like her favourite poet, T.S. Eliot, she worked in a bank for a short while. Josephine eventually moved to Haymarket Press and became the firm’s only woman director. She married her colleague Paul Buckley, and had a son, Adam. The marriage lasted 7 years, however when Maurice Saatchi came to work in the firm, he romanced Josephine. The pair had an affair and married in 1984. Maurice and Josephine had a son, Edward. 

Josephine, who became Baroness Saatchi when her husband’s Baron status was initiated in 1996, was madly in love with Maurice, and he, her. They had a private relationship that was a meeting of minds as well as passions. Ed Victor (Josephine’s literary agent and friend) commented on their relationship, “I have never seen a couple more intertwined than Maurice and Josephine.”

It was Maurice who encouraged Josephine’s creative career. Having listened to his wife complaining of the lack of poetry events in London, he suggested she started one herself – and thus, the Josephine Hart Poetry Hour was born! From 1987 onwards, Josephine organized incredible poetry readings at the British Library, occasionally visiting the National Theatre or the New York Public Library. Josephine would read about the life and work of the poet, with high-profile actors reading the verse. These actors provided their time for free, which they still do today. The Josephine Hart Poetry Hour library now celebrates 16 great poets, with actors ranging from Ralph Fiennes, to Charles Dance, to Bob Geldof to Juliet Stevenson – and beyond. Most recently, her Poetry Hour took to the Abbey Theatre in Ireland with Bob Geldof, Lisa Dwan, Sinead Cusack and Peter Campion reading W.B. Yeats to a standing ovation. All of the readings from the incredible Josephine Hart Poetry Hours can be found at thepoetryhour.com.

Josephine’s poetry collections, Catching Life By the Throat (2006) and Words That Burn (2009) were sent free of charge to all secondary schools in England. Her first two novels, Damage and Sin, were re-published as Virago Modern Classics in 2011, with Damage being adapted for film by Louis Malle, and Sin adapted by Theatre Blu.  Her other novels include, Oblivion, The Stillest Day and The Reconstructionist, which was later filmed by Roberto Ando. Her last publication was The Truth about Love, which was published in 2009. 

The award-winning The House of Bernarda Alba by Lorca saw Josephine’s West End theatre production debut. She also directed, Noel Coward’s The Vortex, Iris Murdoch’s The Black Prince and Let Us Go Then You and I at the Lyric Theatre. Josephine staged the first ever West End production of T.S. Eliot poetry. 

In 2011, Josephine was to put on a weeklong poetry event at the Donmar theatre. Without her friends having known her fight against illness, to everyone’s shock, she was absent at the opening night. She passed away on 2 June from primary peritoneal cancer, two days into the Donmar run. She died in her prime from a horrific and rare disease, all whilst remaining secretly strong – she was truly, truly remarkable and the Donmar performances will be remembered forever. Her death was a blow to literature, to her friends, but chiefly of course to her family. Her husband, Maurice Saatchi does not bother to hide or deny his grief. Five years on, he still sets a place at the table for Josephine every day ("Queen Victoria did it for Prince Albert for 42 years" he points out)

Her legacy lives through her husband’s devotion. The Josephine Hart Poetry Foundation is having great success amongst education and with their website, whilst Maurice’s Medical Innovation Bill has just been passed through government. Josephine will be remembered eternally, as will her passion, flare for life and gratification of verse. “Poetry, this trinity of sound, sense and sensibility, gives voice to experience in the way that no other art form can”.

A special thanks to Eleanor Carter, Director of the Josephine Hart Poetry Foundation, for this wonderful biography.

ADA REHAN / COMIC ACTRESS

ADA REHAN

Comic actress

Limerick / New York / Rest of the World

1860 – 1916

Ada Rehan was once one of Ireland’s most celebrated actresses, yet she is barely remembered by us today. Born Delia Crehan in Shannon Street, Limerick on April 1860 22nd (or possibly, 1857 according to varying sources), Rehan moved to Brooklyn with her family when she was still a child. A mistake made early in her career by the manager of Arch Street Theater, Philadelphia who billed her as Ada C. Rehan inspired her stage name. She adopted the new name and earned an international reputation as an excellent Shakespearean actress, lauded particularly for her roles in his comedies.

Statuesque, with striking grey-blue eyes and rich brown hair, Rehan’s appeal was much celebrated. According to theatre critic William Winter: “Her physical beauty was of the kind that appears in portraits of women by Romney and Gainsborough—ample, opulent, and bewitching—and it was enriched by the enchantment of superb animal spirits.”

Of course, there was far more to Ada than her looks. Oscar Wilde described her as “that brilliant and fascinating genius.” In 1879, Rehan joined impresario Augustin Daly’s New York based theatre company where she enjoyed leading lady status for twenty years, enjoying enormous success on the stages of America and Europe. For a time, she was considered a worthy rival to the great actress of the time, Sarah Bernhardt.

In 1891, when Wilde was assembling his cast for the first production of Lady Windermere’s Fan, he wrote to Daly requesting that he consider the part of Mrs. Erlynne for Ada, insisting that: “‘I would sooner see her play the part of Mrs. Erlynne than any English-speaking actress we have, or French actress for that matter.” Daly turned him down.

Years later, Wilde, recently released from prison, was negotiating with Daly to write a new play for Rehan. Sadly, Daly died unexpectedly during these negotiations. For Rehan this was as much a personal tragedy as a professional one and she was touched by Wilde’s kindness afterward.

Rehan took over negotiations and agreed to pay Wilde an advance of £100 with the promise of £200 on acceptance in return for ‘a new and original comedy, in three or four acts’. Once he realised that the deadline agreed was wildly optimistic, he offered to return the £100, which he had spent, but he was dead before raising the required sum.

Rehan retired from the stage in 1906, and lived in New York City until her death in 1916. Obituaries were published in the New York Times and the Limerick Chronicle, and she was commemorated two decades later when a US Navy cargo ship was named the USS Ada Rehan.

Thanks to Eleanor Fitzsimons, author of Wilde's Women, for this fabulous biography.

DORIS FLEESON / JOURNALIST

DORIS FLEESON

Journalist

United States

1901-1970

Known as "the tiger in white gloves," Doris Fleeson, whose father was from County Westmeath, was regarded by politicians and fellow journalists as one of the finest reporters of the age. For more than thirty years and through five presidencies she probed the workings of political power and shared her findings in clear, concise language with readers across the United States. She began her career with the New York Daily News in 1927, where, as she put it "I belonged to the "who the hell reads the second paragraph school of journalism". In 1930, Fleeson married New York Daily News colleague, John O'Donnell, with whom she had a daughter, Doris O'Donnell. In 1933, she moved to Washington to cover the presidency of Franklin D Roosevelt. She had a great rapport with the First Ladies and Eleanor Roosevelt deeply admired Doris. In 1936 Doris became the first woman journalist to cover a Presidential election campaign. In the hitherto all male world of political journalism, she experienced chauvanism and was often patronised but she would never let the system get her down.

In 1942, her marriage to John O’ Donnell ended in divorce when she disagreed with his conservative politics. During World War 2, she worked as a war correspondent in Italy and France. On her return to America, she began writing a political column for the New York Daily News, which was syndicated to 120 local papers across the U.S.A.

In 1958, Fleeson married Dan A. Kimball who was a US naval secretary from 1951 – 1953. He absolutely adored her and they enjoyed a very happy marriage together.

From Truman in 1945 to Johnston in 1967, Doris Fleeson" scolded presidents' and tried to hold the political elite to account. She won numerous Press awards and was seen by many as " incomparably the best political journalist of her time." Politicians respected her and feared being "fleesonised." A lifelong political liberal, Doris despised McCarthyism, describing it as "a flower of evil." She hated racism and sponsored the admission of a black reporter to the National Press Guild. A feminist, she supported young women journalists and set up the Womens' National Press Club.

Doris retired in 1967, having penned 5,500 columns for the Daily News. She died on August 1, 1970, aged 69, only 2 days after the death of her beloved husband.

Thanks to herstorian Ruth Illingworth for Doris’ biography. 

BIBLIOGRAPHY:
SAYLER CAROLYN; "DORIS FLEESON; INCOMPARABLY THE BEST POLITICAL JOURNALIST OF HER TIME."  2010 (University of Kansas Press)

LADY JANE WILDE / NATIONALIST, LINGUIST, POET & MOTHER OF OSCAR

LADY JANE WILDE

Nationalist, linguist, poet & mother of Oscar

Wexford / Dublin / London

1821 – 1896

Why oh why was Oscar Wilde so wonderful? Rumour has it his mother was quite the inspiration.

Under her pseudonym Speranza, Lady Jane penned poems for The Nation, expressing her pro-Irish independence and anti-British views. Charles Gavan Duffy was the editor when "Speranza" wrote a controversial piece calling for armed revolution in Ireland. The authorities at Dublin Castle shut down the paper and brought the editor to court. Duffy refused to name who had written the offending article but "Speranza" stood up in court and claimed responsibility for the article, becoming a national heroine overnight. 

In 1851 she married Sir William Wilde and they had three children: William, Oscar and Isola. Every week she held a salon for artists, scientists, and intellectuals at the family home in Merrion Square, gaining a reputation as the best hostess in the city. Jane could also speak six languages: English, German, French, Danish, Italian and Swedish. She was an early advocate of women's rights, and campaigned for better education for women. 

Her dying wish was to see her son Oscar who was in prison at the time. Her request was refused and as the story goes, her ‘fetch’ appeared in Oscar’s prison cell the moment she died.

DORA JORDAN / COMIC ACTRESS & ROYAL MISTRESS

DORA JORDAN

COMIC ACTRESS & ROYAL MISTRESS

Waterford / Dublin / London

1762 - 1816

Dorothea Jordan, born Dorothea Bland, was also known as Dora. She took the surname of Jordan for her stage name. Jordan was feted as one of the greatest comic actress of her day, a courtesan, and the long-term royal mistress of the future King William IV.

She was born in Waterford in 1761 to unmarried parents, and was one of six. When she was 13, her father, who was a stagehand, abandoned the family. Money soon became scarce. Jordan’s mother, who was an actress, realised that her daughter also had the makings of an actress, and put her on the stage to help support the family.

By the 1780s, she had appeared in theatres all over Ireland and Britain, with the Drury Lane theatre in London becoming her base. Her talent was for comedic roles, such as in Rosalind in Shakespeare’s As You Like It.

Jordan had a colourful personal life, and one which was extremely racy for the time. She had an affair with Richard Daly, the married manager of the Theatre Royal in Cork, and had her first child with him. She then had a proposal of marriage from army lieutenant, Charles Doyne, which she refused. When she went to work for Tate Wilkinson at his theatre company, she had an affair with him. When that romance ended, she fell in love with George Inchbald, the male lead actor at Wilkinson’s theatre company. He failed to propose, and Jordan eventually left him for Sir Richard Ford, a police magistrate, with whom she had three children. Sir Richard did not propose either, and so in time, Jordan left him too.

Her next relationship was her most famous: with his Royal Highness, the Duke of Clarence, the future King William IV, whom she openly lived with for 20 years and had ten children by. Jordan had 14 children in all, many of whom made aristocratic marriages. Some of their names were: Lady Lucy Hester Hawker, Lord Adolphus FitzClarence, Sophia Sidney, Baroness De L’Isle and Dudley, Amelia Cary, Vicountess Falkland, and Elizabeth Hay, Countess of Erroll. Among her descendants is one David Cameron, the former prime minister of Britain, who is descended from Jordan’s daughter Elizabeth, the Countess of Erroll.

After 20 years, the relationship faltered. The Duke of Clarence was a man who lived far beyond his means, and found himself in need of a wealthy heiress for a wife.

Jordan was given an annual settlement of £4,400 -  roughly €300,000 euro in today’s money - on condition she did not return to her acting career. However, she too had debts, and this sum was not enough. When she returned to the stage, her allowance was cut off. She had been away too long, and could not command the audiences and income she had previously done. She fled to France in 1815 to escape her creditors, and died near Paris the following year.

Dorothea Jordan was painted by John Hoppner, who depicted her in one of her stage roles, in a portrait called “Mrs Jordan in the character of Hippolyta”. It was first exhibited in 1791, and hung in the National Gallery in London, and later in the Tate. It is currently hanging in the National Portrait Gallery in London, where anyone can go in and see what Ireland’s once-famous actress and royal consort looked like.

Thanks to Rosita Boland for this week’s herstory.

 

PEG PLUNKETT / BROTHEL MADAM, ENTREPRENEUR, AUTHOR & SOCIALITE

Peg Plunkett

Brothel madam, entrepreneur, author and socialite

Westmeath / Dublin

1727 - 1797

Hailing from County Westmeath, Peg was the most famous brothel madam in Georgian Dublin. A powerful and highly influential, Madam Plunkett was witty, intelligent and beautiful: a dangerous combination that bewitched lords, lawyers and con-men. Moving to Dublin at sixteen, Peg was kept by several men, including a Mr Leeson, who surname she often used. She started her first brothel with a friend, Sally Hayes, in Drogheda Street. The premises moved to Pitt Street after an attack by a gang called the Pink Dindies (whose leader Peg successfully sued).

When a famous violinist came to Smock Alley theatre he banned people of her ilk but nothing deterred Peg Plunkett. When she was unceremoniously thrown out by the doormen on Carnavalli’s orders, she saw to it that he was locked up at Newgate prison along with the doormen.

She had a wicked sense of humour, so wicked that she once attended a masquerade ball dressed as Diana, the goddess of virginity.Ever brazen she even tried to set up a religion at one point, and offended the Prince Regent by refusing to get her horse out of the way of his carriage while on a trip to London.

Plunkett retired after thirty years to Blackrock, but had to write her memoirs in order to pay her debts, which put the fear of God into Dublin’s social circles. The first two volumes were bestsellers but Peg died in 1797 before the third volume was complete.