Friday, February 1, 2008

YouTube: Lady Icarus

Lady Heath - the "Indiana Jones" of her day.

See the blog of a woman who wrote a biography of her (2004) at

and here's another Pathe news release

Unfortunately, her story did not have a happy ending.

Below is the Wikipedia entry (public domain text)

Lady Mary Heath (1896 - 1939), the Irish aviator, began life as Sophie Catherine Theresa Mary Peirce-Evans in Knockaderry, County Limerick, in the town of Newcastlewest. She was one of the best known women in the world for a five year period from the mid-1920s.

Early life
When the young Sophie Peirce-Evans was one year old, her father John Peirce-Evans, bludgeoned her mother Kate Theresa Dowling to death with a heavy stick. He was found guilty of murder and declared insane. His daughter was taken to the home of her grandfather in Newcastle West where she was brought up by two maiden aunts, who discouraged her passion for sports. After schooldays in St Margaret's Hall on Mespil Road in Dublin, where she played hockey and tennis, Sophie enrolled in the Royal College of Science in Ireland (which later became subsumed into UCD and is currently home to the Taoiseach's office on Fitzwilliam Street). The college was designed to produce the educated farmers which the country then needed. Sophie, one of the few women in the college, duly took a top-class degree in science, specialising in agriculture. She also played with the college hockey team and contributed to a student magazine, copies of which are held in the National Library.

Before becoming a pilot Lady Mary had already made her mark. During the First World War, she spent two years as a dispatch rider, based in England and later France, where she had her portrait painted by Sir John Lavery. By then, she had married the first of her three husbands and as Sophie Mary Eliott-Lynn, was one of the founders of the Women's Amateur Athletic Association after her move from her native Ireland to London in 1922, following a brief sojourn in Aberdeen. She was Britain's first women's javelin champion and set a disputed world record for the high jump. She was also a delegate to the International Olympic Council in 1925, when she took her first flying lessons.

The following year, she became the first women to hold a commercial flying licence in Britain and along the way, set records for altitude in a small plane and later a Shorts seaplane, was the first woman to parachute from an aeroplane (landing in the middle of a football match). After her great flight from the Cape, she took a mechanic's qualification in the USA, the first woman to do so.

In an era when the world had gone aviation mad, due to the exploits of Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart, Mary was more than able to hold her own. "Britain's Lady Lindy," as she was known in the United States, made front page news as the first pilot, male or female, to fly a small open cockpit airplane from Cape Town to London. She had thought it would take her three weeks; as it turned out, it took her three months, from January to May 1928. She wrote about the experience later in a book Woman and Flying, that she co-wrote with Stella Wolfe Murray.[1]

Unfortunately, just when her fame was at its height, with her life a constant whirl of lectures, races and long distances flights, Lady Mary (she married Sir James Heath in 1928) was badly injured in a crash just before the National Air Races in Cleveland, Ohio in 1929.

She was never the same after, though she returned to Ireland with her third husband GAR Williams, a horseman and pilot of Caribbean origin, and became involved in private aviation, briefly running her own company at Kildonan, near Dublin in the mid-1930s, and helping produce the generation of pilots that would help establish the national airline Aer Lingus. She died destitute in 1939 after a fall from a tram car in London.

1 comment:

LindieNaughton said...

Thanks for the mention.