The Cork woman, who famously disguised herself as a man, Dr James Barry, to embark on a life-long career as a surgeon, is the subject of a forthcoming movie starring Rachel Weisz.
The actress, who won an Oscar for The Constant Gardener and is married to James Bond star Daniel Craig, is also set to produce the film, with the working title, The Secret Life Of Dr James Miranda Barry.
And this legendary figure is the subject of the next episode of the factual series Herstory: Ireland’s Epic Women on RTÉ1 on Monday, February 17, at 8.30pm.
Contributors include Dr Rhona Mahony, Dr Mary McAuliffe, and Jeremy Dronfield, author of Dr James Barry: A Woman Ahead of Her Time.
Born around 1789, Margaret Bulkley’s father, Jeremiah, ran the weigh house in Merchant’s Quay, and her mother, Mary-Ann, was the sister of a celebrated Irish artist.
It is not certain how Margaret ended up arriving in Edinburgh in November, 1809, to began studies at a Medical School, posing as a boy, James Barry, but it was a decision that changed her life. She qualified as a Medicinae Doctor (MD) in 1812 and then studied at the United Hospitals of Guy’s and St Thomas’ in London, graduating in 1813.
Dr James Barry then joined the British Army as a military surgeon and served first in Cape Town, South Africa, and later in many parts of the British Empire.
Before retirement, Barry had risen to the rank of Inspector General in charge of military hospitals, the second highest medical office in the British Army.
She not only improved conditions for wounded soldiers, but also the conditions of the native inhabitants, and performed the first caesarean section in Africa by an Irish surgeon, in which both the mother and child survived the operation.
Barry, who was a vegetarian and teetotal, lived her entire adult life as a man, in both public and private.
Despite protesting the decision, Barry was forcefully retired by the army in 1859 due to ill health and old age.
After a quiet retirement in London, she died from dysentery in 1865.
It was only after her death that it emerged Dr James Barry was not only born a woman, but had stretch marks indicating she had given birth.
Some have speculated this was the result of a sexual assault when she was a teenager.