Irish History: Volume XX
Amazing Women in Irish History, Part 3
Check out part 1 here and part 2 here.
We’re not done yet with our list of amazing women in Irish history! Despite the fact that this could easily be a thousand-part series, we’re here today with part 3 of 4 with yet more incredible Irish females who didn’t let gender stand in the way of their dreams. Ready to be inspired? Here we go…
Agnes Mary Clerke: Historian and Astronomer
“The science of the nature of the heavenly bodies... is full of the audacities, the inconsistencies, the imperfections, the possibilities of youth... It promises everything; it has already performed much; it will doubtless perform much more.”
Agnes Mary Clerke was a born astronomer—from her childhood in Skibbereen, Ireland where she spent hours with her father looking at the stars and planets through his small telescope. At a precocious 15-years-old she began to write her own history of astronomy, but unfortunately the time she lived in prevented her from attending college. However, her brother, a student at Dublin University, took it upon himself to become Clerke’s personal tutor and she became accomplished in many subjects. She then lived for 10 years in Italy, continuing her informal, but rigorous education in everything from languages and classics to math and, always, astronomy. Clerke spent her life writing numerous books and articles about astronomy (including adding to the 9th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica,) to the point where she’s often described as the first historian on the subject (not to mention her massive impact in the field of astrophysics.) The public loved her work for being both factually accurate and easy to read—so much so that she was the first member of the British Astronomical Association, an honorary member of the Royal Astronomical Society (as women couldn’t be full members at the time,) and even has a crater on the moon named after her!
Mary Harriet “Mainie” Jellett: Modernist Painter
“The art of a nation is one of the ultimate facts by which its spiritual health is judged and appraised by posterity."
A true pioneer of her time, Jellett is considered the woman who brought modern art to Ireland. Born in Dublin, Jellett began her instruction in art at the young age of 11. Her constant practice and considerable talent lead to her enrolling in the Metropolitan School of Art in Dublin, before spending two years at the Westminster Technical School in England where she studied under the impressionist Walter Sickert. After winning a number of student awards and scholarships, she moved to Paris to continue her artistic education and discovered cubism through working with André Lhote and abstract art through working with Albert Gleizes. In 1923, at only 26-years-old, Jellett returned to Ireland to shock the art scene by exhibiting the first abstract piece of art in Ireland at a Society of Dublin Painters show—which Irish critics unanimously panned. It only took 4 years for the tides to change and Jellett to become a lauded artist, proven by her inclusion in the Irish section of the art exhibition at the 1928 Olympic Games. In the war-torn climate of 1920s-40s Ireland, Jellett’s newly imagined religious subjects gave expression to the anguish and conflict her culture was entrapped in.
Katie Taylor: Boxer
“When you’re so consistent, people have to stand up and take notice. I don’t think people recognize or praise consistency enough.”
One of the youngest (but not quite—check back next week!) women on our list, Taylor has always been an athlete, competing in football and camogie throughout secondary school and university. Her love for boxing began at the age of 12, when she began training with her two brothers under their father’s coaching in Bray, leading to Taylor fighting in the first sanctioned female boxing match in Ireland in 2001. At only 15, this was the first in a long career of consistent wins. And the wins truly are numerous since she went professional in 2016--too many to list here—leading to her current status: #1 in Ireland, #1 the world, the undisputed lightweight champion. In 2019 she even became one of only 8 boxers in history (of any gender) to hold all 4 major world titles in boxing simultaneously (WCA, IBF, WBO, and WBC.) She still currently holds all of these titles. But Taylor isn’t so influential just because she’s a winner whose brought a long male-dominated sport into the limelight—she’s an advocate for hard work, giving back to your community, and breaking through any barrier that might stop women from achieving their goals. And at 36, she’s not done: she hopes to compete in the Olympics one day.
Lady Mary Heath: Athlete and Aviator
“Woman’s place is in the home, but failing that the airodrome.”
Born Sophie Catherine Theresa Mary Pierce-Evans in County Limerick, Lady Heath’s early life was struck by tragedy that led to her being brought up by two maiden aunts who discouraged her unladylike interest in academics and sport. Despite that, she went on to attend the Royal College of Science for Ireland before moving to Kenya with her first husband and publishing a book of poetry. After Kenya the pair moved to London, where she became a founding member of the Women’s Amateur Athletics Association, a javelin, high jump, and pentathlon champion, a delegate for the International Olympic Committee, and a judge in the 1928 Olympics—the first Olympic Games to include women. And this was all before she took the skies! Lady Heath was the first woman to hold a commercial flying license in Britain, the first woman to parachute from a plane, the first woman to gain a mechanic’s qualification in the U.S., as well as setting numerous flying-related altitude records (among other history-making records!) When her fame was at its height, she was one of the best-known women in the world, often called “Britain’s Lady Lindy” (after the famous aviator Charles Lindberg.) Unfortunately, her career ended in 1929 when she was in a terrible accident during the National Air Races in Ohio—she survived, but retired from public life.
And that’s not all—check back in nest week for 4 more amazing Irish women!
This post is part of a series. Read our last Irish history post, all about other amazing women in Irish history, here. Check out the blog every Monday and Thursday for more posts about Irish history, dance culture, community news, and spotlights on our dancers, staff, and families—among other fun projects! And don’t forget to dance along with us on both Facebook and Instagram.
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