150-year-old Offaly paintings being used to rebuild castle gardens

Justin Kelly

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Justin Kelly

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news@offalyexpress.ie

150-year-old Offaly paintings being used to rebuild castle gardens

150-year-old Offaly paintings being used to rebuild castle gardens

The paintings of an Offaly artist, naturalist and author are being used to restore the sunken gardens of Castle Ward, Co. Down.

Mary Ward died in a car accident in August 1869, widely regarded as the first recorded road death in the world, but before that, she married Henry Ward of Castle Ward, Co Down.

Nine years prior to her death, she painted the watercolour in the picture at the top of this article, capturing the beauty of the castle's gardens at that time. A collection of Mary's paintings are, in fact, being used in 2019 as the National Trust of Castle Ward restores those gardens.

ABOVE: Caste Ward in Co Down

Mary Ward, a niece of the 2nd Earl of Rosse, synonymous with Birr Castle, spent much of her life in Offaly having been born in Ferbane in 1827.

Mary Ward did not attend a conventional school or college but instead was educated at home in Offaly.

She went on to become a well-known artist and naturalist, and in line with her relations in Birr, was a respected astronomer and microscopist. 

She wrote a book, Sketches with the Microscope, published in London, about the microscope under the name, The Hon. Mrs W, and went on to write three more books on scientific subjects. Her book on the microscope was republished at least eight times in the mid to late 1800s.

Mary Ward, although an exceptional woman in her own right, will have her name go down in history as the victim of the world's first recorded road fatality. 

ABOVE: Mary Ward

She was a passenger in a steam passenger built by her cousins, the sons of the 3rd Earl of Rosse, in Parsonstown (now Birr) when it jolted unexpectedly and overturned close to the church. Records show that Mary Ward was killed almost instantly. She was thrown from the carriage under its wheels and crushed. 

It is now widely regarded as the first recorded road death anywhere in the world. The jury at the inquest found that the deceased came to her death by an accidental fall from a steam engine. They did not attach blame to any particular person.

Her contribution still lives on, however, not least in the beautiful gardens of Castle Ward, Co Down.