Mary Ward was born Mary King on the 27th of April 1827 in Ballylin, Ferbane Co. Offaly. Her parents were members of the aristocracy, Harry and Henriette King and she was a first cousin to the Lord William Rosse, the owner of Birr Castle.
As a child, Mary was educated at home by a governess. From an early age she showed a keen interest in plants and insects. She also had some skill as an artist and would draw plants and animals held under a magnifying glass. She taught herself how to use a microscope and even fashioned her own microscope slides from extremely thin slices of ivory. Though her gender prevented her from attending University, Mary furthered her education by writing personally to prominent scientists of the day.
Mary's first book, Sketches with the Microscope, was self-published, as many publishing houses would not take on the work of a woman. The publication was later taken up by a London publishing house and reprinted as, The World of Wonders as Revealed by the Microscope. It proved to be a great success. In 1859, she published another volume, Telescope Teachings, which was an invaluable resources in the rebuilding of the famous telescope at Birr Castle. She had two publications on display at the 1862 Crystal Palace Exhibition. She was added to the mailing list for the English Royal Astronomical Society, an honour not often granted to women.
At the age of 27, Mary married Henry William Crosbie Ward and moved to Castle Ward, Co. Down. The couple had 8 children, 6 of whom survived.
Sadly, Mary's life and promising career were cut short when, at the age of 42, she was thrown from her cousin's invention, a steam-powered automobile. She was crushed beneath a wheel and instantly killed. This made Mary the first person to ever die in an automobile accident.
Mary Ward's remarkable life and tragic death are commemorated by a plaque on the wall of the local arts and heritage centre in her native Ferbane.