Microscopy at Birr refers to the work done by Mary Ward, the cousin of the 3rd Earl. Mary Ward was born Mary King. Her mother was the sister of the 3rd Earl’s mother and both these sisters came from Gloster House near Birr. Mary’s mother married the Revd. Henry King of Ballylin House near Ferbane. She was a frequent visitor to Birr and great friend of Mary, Countess of Rosse, the 3rd Earls’ wife.
She loved nature and as a child and became interested in small insects and butterflies. In her teens she was given a microscope, which became her life’s interest and she used it to study plants and insects and much of nature.
As well as her interest and skill in microscopy, she was an excellent painter and draughtsman and her illustrations were used in scientific publications. She also wrote books for children, especially on the use of the microscope. She was interested in educating the younger generation and enjoyed teaching. Her educational books also included one on the telescope.
She married the Hon. Henry Ward from Castle Ward in the North of Ireland. He was the younger brother of Lord Bangor and they had eight children.
Sadly, Mary is often best remembered for her death in 1869. At the age of 42 she returned again to Birr for the memorial service of the 3rd Earl of Rosse who had recently died. Riding in a steam carriage built by her young cousin Charles Parsons she fell to her death from the front of the car. It is said to be Ireland’s first road accident.