What have the Irish ever done for us? – Five inspiring Irish women

Eileen Gray

Eileen Gray – Modernism

One of the most influential figures in the Modern movement in design and architecture was an Irishwoman from County Wexford. Eileen Gray was little-known in her homeland during her long lifetime but in recent times she has been recognised as one of the most important and influential contributors to Modernism.

Margaret Haughery – The Angel of the Delta

Postcard of New Orlean’s Margaret Haughery monument with female orphan asylum in background. Circa 1908.

Margaret Haughery emigrated to the United States as child to escape the ravages of the famine in south Leitrim and once in America was orphaned when her parents were killed in a yellow fever outbreak. Her life was further blighted by tragedy when her own husband and only child also succumbed to disease. Despite her personal tragedies she successfully managed and opened many orphanages in New Orleans becoming known locally as “The Angel of the Delta”. When she died in 1882 her funeral was one of the largest the city has ever seen such was her standing in the community.

Mary Elmes – Righteous Among the Nations

Residents of the War Resisters’ International home in the French Pyrenees at Prats-de-Mollo, housing refugees from the Spanish Civil War, in the care of Professor José Brocca (pictured third from left), 1937-1939. Picture: Brocca family

Mary Elmes, a Cork woman became the only Irish citizen to be honoured as Righteous Among the Nations by the State of Israel. She joined the University of London Ambulance Unit in Spain to help the innocent victims of the vicious ongoing Spanish Civil War and later worked in refugee camps in southern France following the outbreak of World War Two. At great personal risk she saved the lived of hundreds of Jewish children by smuggling them to safety, often in the boot of her car.

Mary Harris – Mother Jones

Mary Harris AKA Mother Jones in 1915 at the New York City Hall. Picture: Library of Congress

Mary Harris, better known as “Mother Jones” rose from humble beginnings in Cork city to become one of the most effective labour activists in the United States. Once described as “the most dangerous woman in America” she was a tireless campaigner for the rights of the poor and the working class particularly women and children. She once led a march of women and children from Pennsylvania to the home of President Theodore Roosevelt on Long Island demanding an end to child labour.

Ninette de Valois – The Royal Ballet

Ninnete de Valois at the age of 16.

Dame Ninette de Valois was born as Edris Stannus in 1898 in Blessington, County Wicklow. When she turned 10-years-old she began attending ballet lessons and became a successful dancer in London with the Ballets Russes under the renowned impresario Sergei Diaghilev. She later founded her own ballet school, The Academy of Choreographic Art, in London in 1926 and established the Abbey Theatre School of Ballet in Dublin. In London she set about defining a new English ballet with its own independent style and approach founding the Sadler’s Wells Ballet School and the Vic-Wells Ballet company that would become the Royal Ballet. She lived most of her life in an unassuming house in Barnes, London with her husband, surgeon Arthur Connell. She passed away in 2001 at the age of 102.

For more stories of Irish success and ingenuity buy the book – What have the Irish ever done for us? available now from Amazon.

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