Story of remarkable Offaly woman to feature on national radio today

Justin Kelly


Justin Kelly


Story of remarkable Offaly woman to feature on national radio today

Story of remarkable Offaly woman to feature on national radio today

It is a little known fact that on August 31, 1869, the world's first recorded road death occurred in Co Offaly as a woman from a very famous family was killed.

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.

Her remarkable story, charting her life in nature and science, and her untimely death, will feature in an interview on Newstalk's Moncrieff programme on Tuesday at 2.20pm. Sean Moncrieff will interview Offaly Heritage Officer Amanda Pedlow about the remarkable woman.

Mary Ward married a Down man, while her aunt, Mary Lloyd was married to the 2nd Earl of Rosse. Mary did not attend 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 and again this year to mark the 150th anniversary of her death.

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. 

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.

*The information in this article is supplied publicly online by Offaly History, and you can read the full story of Mary Ward and more at