A series by Mary Angland

A servant laying out the body of well- known military surgeon, Dr. James Barry, after his death in London in July 1865, got the shock of her life when she discovered that the doctor was, in fact, female, and even had stretch marks to show that at some early stage in ‘his’ life, Dr. Barry had given birth to a child.

Margaret Ann Bulkley was born in Cork in the late 1780s. Her father had a government position in the city but lost it because of strong anti-Catholic feeling. He also foolishly spent a great deal of money on a wastrel son and eventually ended up in Dublin’s Marshalsea’s debtors’ prison.

In addition to the family’s financial misfortune, Margaret Ann had been raped at a young age and bore a child. It seems this child was passed off as her younger sister.

As a female, Margaret Ann had few choices of occupation open to her. After her father’s incarceration in Marshalsea, Margaret Ann and her mother Mary-Ann, who was sister of the famous painter James Barry, left Cork for London where Margaret Ann’s uncle was professor of painting at London’s Royal Academy.

Although James Barry died in poverty in 1806 soon after the Bulkleys arrived in England, he had influential and liberal friends and Margaret Ann got to know many of them. She became particularly close to Edward Fryer, a doctor, and General Francisco Miranda from Venezuela.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own