At the age of 20, Lady Mary Westenra married Abe Bailey, a South African tycoon more than twice her age. Cut off from her life in County Monaghan, Lady Bailey began taking flying lessons in secret. With astonishing rapidity, she became one of the world's most celebrated aviators, setting various records and achieving numerous "firsts", before setting out on the journey that would make her name - London to Cape Town. Flying in her de Havilland Moth, she was detained for several days in Cairo, where the authorities did not want to let her continue without a man in the plane. Eventually, she prevailed and flew down the eastern flank of the African continent, crossing the treacherous marshes of southern Sudan before crash-landing at Tabora, Tanganyika. In a new plane, she made it to Cape Town, and then turned back, en route for London up the western flank of the continent. Lady Bailey's journal of this return flight has survived and is reproduced in its entirety here. Lacking a radio, she often lands in unknown places to ask directions, and recounts in unruffled prose her accounts with friendly Africans and unhelpful French colonials.
Various near-death experiences are recounted in the same nonchalant style. The author paints a rich picture of Lady Bailey's life, establishing her sporting pedigree and detailing the still-feudal environment of 19th-century Monaghan in which Mary grew up. The life of the businessman-imperialist Abe Bailey, who bankrolled his wife's adventures and always supported her despite a lack of warmth in the marriage, is also recounted. Lady Bailey herself emerges from this biography as one of the most remarkable Irishwomen of the century.