The Noble Englishwoman was born in 1833 in Boyland Hall in Morningthorpe, England as Adeline Paulina Irby. People from the region will be forever grateful to her because according to some data she saved lives of more than 40.000 people from the region, from Sarajevo, Dalmatia, Slavonia and other places.
Her father, Rear-Admiral Frederick Paul Irby, was the second son of the Lord Boston. Adeline lost her mother quite early. Her mother belonged to a family of the most prominent bankers of Nottingham.
In the spirit of the times, after graduating Miss Irby and her university friend Georgina Muir Mackenzie took off on a journey throughout Europe. On their first trip which they took in 1859, they traveled through Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary, publishing stories from this trip in the book “Through the Carpathians” in London in 1862.
In 1861, they took off for their second trip and found themselves in the Balkans. They wrote a book on that trip too, titled “Travels in the Slavonic Provinces of Turkey in Europe” and printed in London in 1866. The book was published in New York the same year, and translation to Serbia language was published two years later. The talented and veracious Englishwomen wrote down everything they saw and experienced during their tour of the Slavonic countries under the Turkish rule, and their work was a true success.
“When I came to Bosnia, I saw one good and big-hearted nation. The misfortune of that nation and suffering of its sons evoked in me the sense of mercy and I decided to dedicate my life to the efforts to alleviate their suffering and mitigate those misfortunes,” Miss Irby wrote down.
Miss Irby broke all prejudices of the readers on “wild Slavs” living in the Balkans about whom the majority of English people knew almost nothing. The truth about the nation whose once powerful empire was subjugated by the Turkish conquerors was presented to the English readers. Priceless cultural and artistic treasure of the one powerful empire has been wantonly looted, destroyed and demolished, and people were tortured, oppressed and humiliated.
One part of the book that largely helped Europe and England change their views on this part of the world resembles a guide with many priceless, clear and practical guidelines for future travelers, written down with a dose of humor. After meeting this nation that does not give up, after studying its folklore, traditional national songs, religious and family life, the two Englishwomen grew fond of it and found Bosnia, the country where they want to live.
At the time of the Herzegovina Uprising in 1874 and 1875 and during the Serb-Turkish Wars in 1876-1878, humanitarian role of Miss Irby was crucial in the care of refugees, displaced and impoverished persons, most of whom were children.
Some data say that from Sarajevo to Dalmatia and all the way up to Slavonia, Miss Irby saved lives of more than 40.000 people. She founded schools, built homes for children without parental care, constructed settlements for accommodation of homeless people and procured medicines for the ill and the wounded ones.
Thanks to her efforts, Serb population of the area gave her the name Noble Miss Irby and they never forgot her selfless assistance. All her assets and all her knowledge this woman dedicated to education and upbringing of girls across Bosnia and Herzegovina.
After the Austro-Hungarian occupation of BiH in 1879, Miss Irby dedicated herself to a new school for poor Serb girls in Sarajevo. She founded the first girl school in this part of the world and first educated teachers in BiH were protégés of Miss Irby.
In addition to organizing classes together with Miss Mackenzie, Miss Irby constructed the first building at her own cost. She acquired many sympathies in the local community and her school continued operating until her death. She was decorated with several decorations by Serb kings, and her death in 1911 left many people grieving. By her own accord, she was buried at the Koševo Cemetery in Sarajevo.
Ceremony on the occasion of 100th anniversary of the birth of Miss Irby in 1934 was reported about by many newspaper of the time, and the ceremony was attended by English, German, Italian, Belgian and Czech consuls, which is just another confirmation of how respected this English woman was.
Ivo Andrić, a Nobel Prize laureate born in BiH, wrote about Miss Irby: “Irby was the noblest and the most prominent Englishwoman”.