New docudrama Ladies of Science: The Extraordinary Story of Mary Rosse and Mary Ward will air tonight (November 14th) at 11:35pm on RTÉ ONE during RTÉ’s Science week.

Ladies of Science is a drama documentary, set in Ireland, which tells the true story of two remarkable women, Lady Mary Rosse and Mary Ward, who had a passion for science and technology, including photography, astronomy, microscopy, illustrations, architecture, all during a time (1850′s) when women were not admitted to universities.

This is the previously untold story of two pioneering women from the 19th Century. Mary Rosse was famed locally for her work as an architect, a blacksmith, and perhaps most notably, a pioneer photographer. She was also heavily involved in the construction of the ‘Monster Telescope’ in Birr Co. Offaly, otherwise known as the ‘Leviathan’; it was the largest telescope in the world for over seventy years.

Her friend, Mary Ward, became a highly regarded scientific expositor; microscopist; and astronomer. She often visited Birr Castle where she documented and studied the wildlife in the ground; as well as illustrating with minute detail, the night skies as seen by the Leviathan. In a tragic twist of fate, she ultimately became more famous for her death. She died on the 31st August 1869 when she fell from her seat on a steam carriage. Her death is known as the first road fatality in Ireland. It is perhaps ironic, Mary Ward’s death was linked to a feat of modern engineering, devised and created by her cousins at Birr Castle.

Ladies of Science celebrates these women and their achievements as pioneering women in the Victorian era.

The award winning documentary boasts an ensemble cast including Alex Cusack and Nelly Henrion who portray our favoured heroines: Mary Rosse, and the Honourable Mary Ward respectively. For the first time the life works and previously unknown accomplishments of both Mary Rosse and Mary Ward have been collated in a series of interviews; and elegantly retold through dramatisation.

Key contributors include:

  • Brendan Parsons Earl of Rosse, descendant of Mary Rosse
  • Alisson Countess of Rosse
  • Lalla Ward (voice narrator), BBC Actress and descendant of Mary Ward
  • Mary Mulvihill , RTE journalist and broadcaster
  • Luke Drury, 54th President of the Royal Irish Academy
  • David Davison, photographer and historian of Mary Rosse
  • Margaret Hogan, Birr’s historian
  • Brendan Ryan, local historian and writer on King’s family
  • Eadoin Agnew , writer of Women in Science in the 19th century
  • Bob Montgomery, Steam car expert, curator of the Royal Automobile
  • Patricia Morin, Lecturer on History of women at Limerick University

Director Alessandra Usai is an Italian film maker who discovered the story of Lady Mary Rosse and Mary Ward when she directed a short fiction based on their lives. She quickly fell in love with these fascinating women and could not understand how their story remained untold. In April 2013 she joined a small team of researchers: within months, Alessandra received the support of the present Lord and Lady Rosse who granted free access to their resources in Birr Castle, including artefacts, documents and locations. By November 2013, over 20 people were involved in the production; this number grew to 60 people by February 2014.

The Irish production was then shot on location in Dublin’s ‘Castle Hotel’ and Birr Castle, Co. Offaly between February and May 2014. The story is told through a series of interviews, narration and dramatization. The documentary is supported by original materials; including the original photographic equipment; the original copies of Mary Ward’s books; family portraits; project notes; and architectural designs drawn by Lady Rosse; as well as original photographs and sketches of the telescope. The narration is provided by Lalla Ward, the great-great granddaughter of Mary Ward. She is a noted actress and author, best known for her role as Romana in the original BBC series of Doctor Who.

The 56 min TV documentary made the leap to the international stage with an appearances at the Life Fest Film Festival in Hollywood where it won Best Short Documentary; and the St Tropez Film Festival, in France where it was nominated for awards including Best Director, Scientific and Educational Award, and Best Short Documentary. The documentary went on to win the coveted title of Best Editing Documentary.

 

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