Mary Ward

Mary Ward, scientist and author

In 2018 the National Trust is focusing on telling the stories of women whose roles in our places may have previously gone unnoticed, in a project called Women and Power.

At Castle Ward, we have a varied range of exceptional women to tell our visitors about, including Mary Ward. Born in 1827 in County Offaly and married in 1854 to Henry Ward who would become the 5th Viscount Bangor, she came into the Ward family as an already accomplished scientist, author and artist.

In an era when women were not expected to have any scientific ability and were rarely educated beyond the domestic sciences, she was a naturalist, astronomer and an early pioneer of the microscope. She was given a microscope as a gift by her parents as a child, and by 18 she had probably the finest example of a microscope in Ireland. She made her own slides from ivory, and regularly took specimens of insects from Temple Water for her collection. During Mary’s lifetime, Castle Ward was not her and Henry’s main residence but rather acted as a holiday home and they were frequent visitors to the estate.

Mary's microscope, illustrated in her microscopy book
Illustrated plates from Mary Ward's book on microscopy
Mary's microscope, illustrated in her microscopy book

Her published books on microscopy and astronomy did much to popularise the subjects in 19th century society. She was able to become an advanced astronomer by using the giant telescope built at Birr Castle by her cousin, Earl Rosse, referred to as ‘the leviathon’ and was the largest telescope in the world at the time of building. Mary was perfectly placed to be one of the first people to study the skies at such a level thanks to her similarly creative and curious family.

Hand drawn illustrations by Mary herself in her book on microscopy
Illustrations from Mary Ward's book on the Microscope
Hand drawn illustrations by Mary herself in her book on microscopy

Mary Ward was also a gifted artist, illustrating her own books and painting watercolours on many of her trips, with many scenes of Castle Ward among her collection.

Downpatrick Gate Lodge by Mary Ward
A watercolour painting of Downpatrick Gate Lodge by Mary Ward
Downpatrick Gate Lodge by Mary Ward

Tragically, Mary is the first recorded vehicle fatality in Ireland, after falling from an experimental steam powered carriage in 1869. After her death, Henry returned many of her treasured possessions to Castle Ward, including her scrapbooks, paintings and her famed microscope which we have on display throughout the year as part of our guided tour.

Tours of the house run daily from 12noon, with the last tour entering at 4pm. On Sunday, the house is accessed by free-flow from 1pm onwards.