Tag Archives: Cork City

Coffee with Culture in Cork


imageI dropped into the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork this morning for coffee. This was my first visit to this really impressive space, housed in the former Custom House dating from 1724 with later additions.

There are permanent collections of art and sculpture from the 16th to the 21st century, including  works by well-known Irish artists such as Le Brocquy, Ireland’s well-known stained glass artist Harry Clarke as well as Cork’s own master sculptor Seamus Murphy. With a half hour to spare I took a whistle-stop tour of just a few of the rooms.

The staircase

The staircase

On the staircase too..


A contemporary stained glass window

From the Harry Clarke room

And Le Brocquey

Le Brocquey' s distinctive style

Le Brocquey’ s distinctive style – there are three of his works here

The highlight for me today was the Sculpture room, containing among others, Canova (1757 – 1822) casts from the Vatican –  beautiful works of human anatomy made under the supervision of one of Italy’s finest sculptors. These casts of classical sculptures in the Vatican had been made by order of Pope Pius VII, to be presented to the Prince Regent of England (later King George IV) in gratitude for his help in the return of treasures looted by Napoleon. The Prince Regent was apparently  underwhelmed by this gift, not least because of their size and number. They arrived at the London Custom House in the early 19th century and were then housed in a tent before eventually arriving in Cork, a move facilitated by Lord Listowel, then president of  Cork Society of Arts.

I was delighted to see in the midst of all this beautiful classical work, an exhibit from Cork’s own stonemason extraordinaire,Séamus Murphy.

Seamus Murphy

Seamus Murphy’s Virgin of the Twilight.

The Crawford Gallery owes much to its benefactor, who invested well around Cork


The Crawford Gallery is a place that invites visit after visit after visit, and  guarantees new delights at each return. Anyone for coffee?



Filed under Ireland, Irish Culture, Irish Heritage

Dr James Barry: ‘A perfect female’

Dr James Barry with servant and dog. Image wikimedia.commons

Since posting the story of  Margaret Ann Bulkley: The extraordinary Doctor James Barry, I have had many requests for further detail on the fascinating story of  the girl who masqueraded as a man for almost her entire life and rose to the highest medical rank in the British Army.

To recap: As Dr James Barry was being laid out for burial, the maid discovered that ‘he’ was ‘a perfect female’. This startling fact was not revealed until after the funeral. The body was not exhumed to confirm the allegation and the controversy has continued for almost 150 years. However, in recent years new research has helped to confirm the story that Dr James Barry, Inspector General in the British Army,  and Margaret Ann Bulkley are the same person.

Hercules Michael du Preez, himself  a doctor, was impressed by the work of  Dr. James Barry in his country, South Africa. Dr Barry’s reforms included better food and healthcare for lepers and prisoners and ordinary citizens as well as soldiers. Dr du Preez, determined to try to unravel the mystery of Dr. Barry, concentrated not only on military records, but on papers of the uncle, James Barry, RHA (1741-1806) who was a well-known figure and artist. This research into the early life of Margaret Ann Bulkley revealed a  great deal about her that has added interesting facts to the extraordinary story.

Among the private papers of James Barry, du Preez discovered that on 11 April 1804, Margaret  penned  a letter on behalf of her mother  to her Uncle James in which she wrote: ‘My mother is not able to write legible on account of a tremor in her hand, desired me to write for her‘.

So,who was Margaret Bulkley? Margaret’s mother Mary Ann Barry, married Jeremiah Bulkley in 1782. They lived on Merchant’s Quay in Cork City. Jeremiah held a government post in the Weigh House in  Cork, and he was also a grocer. They had three children, – a son John, daughter Margaret and another younger daughter, whose name we do not know. As a result of the recklessness of the elder child John, Jeremiah ended up in  the Debtor’s Prison  in Dublin. Margaret and her mother Mary Ann were left destitute, and their only hope lay with Margaret’s uncle, James Barry, her mother’s brother, who was a member of the Royal Academy and who lived in London. Hence the letter, an example of  Margaret’s handwriting from her early teens.

Du Preez discovered 26  letters in all sent by Margaret Bulkley and James Barry. Examples of the handwriting were examined by Alison Reboul, a professional handwriting analyst and document examiner. Her conclusion was that all the documents were almost definitely written by one person.

Of particular interest is a letter written to Daniel Reardon, the family legal adviser. Reardon was noted for keeping meticulous records and had a habit of recording the name of the sender and the date on the outside of all letters received by him.  On a letter  dated 14 December, postmarked December 18, 1809  and signed ‘James Barry’, Mr Reardon recorded: Miss Bulkley 14 December. Further evidence that Margaret Bulkley and James Barry were indeed one and the same person.

More fascinating details from the research undertaken by Dr du Preez , including extracts from and pictures of the letters, can be read here.


Dr James Barry: The early years revealed by Hercules Michael du Preez, MB ChB, FRCS published by the South African Medical Journal, January 2008,No.1

Dr James Barry: Military man – or woman? by  Kathleen M Smith published in

Canadian Medical Journal April 1982, Vol 126 

Cork Archives


Filed under Family History, Irish History