The first time Boole met his future wife was in Cork in 1850, when Mary Everest came to visit her uncle, John Ryall, a friend of Boole’s and Vice-President and Professor of Greek at Queen’s College Cork. He was then living in the grounds of the university. She was only 18 at that time while Boole was 35. George and Mary corresponded for the next two years and their friendship grew. In 1852 Boole visited Mary’s family at Wickwar, a small village in south Gloucestershire where he gave Mary informal lessons in mathematics, a subject in which she shared a deep interest. For the next three years they rarely met, but continued to correspond about mathematical matters. In 1855 Mary’s father Thomas Everest suddenly died, leaving Mary destitute. But Boole then took responsibility for her and, despite differences of age and other obstacles, their relationship blossomed. On 11 September 1855 they were quietly married in the Church of England Parish Church of Wickwar. The couple honeymooned in the Wye Valley, near the Welsh border before sailing for Ireland. It was to be a very happy, if unfortunately short marriage.
Between 1855 and 1857 the Booles lived in a house called College View on Sunday’s Well Road, which was a beautiful part of city on the northern bank of the River Lee. It was ten minutes’ walk from the university. In 1857 they moved to a modest house on Castle Road, close to Blackrock, which was then a village. The house overlooked the sea and was some four miles from Queen’s College. From there Boole took the train to work. In 1863 the beautiful Lichfield Cottage became their third and final house.
Exactly nine months and one week after their marriage their first child, named Mary Ellen, was born on 19 June 1856 at Sunday’s Well, much to the delight of her father. Indeed Boole’s love of children is well documented. Their daughter was baptised at St Mary’s Church of Ireland, Shandon, on 3 July.
Mary Boole gave birth to the couple’s second daughter on 3 September 1858. Named Margaret, she was baptised on 15 September of that year at St Michael’s Church of Ireland, Blackrock. Boole’s dedication as a father was obvious in the following quote from a letter that he wrote about little Margaret to his friend William Brooke in Lincoln:
‘She is so quiet that we could not tell there was a baby in the house. It is idle perhaps to speculate on the future of a child, and yet I cannot help fancy that if she lives she will be a child of remarkable character.’
George and Mary Boole’s third daughter, Alicia (Alice), was born on 8 June 1860. She was the only one of the five Boole children who inherited her father’s mathematical talent.
A fourth daughter was added to the Boole family in 1862 following the birth of Lucy Everest on 5 August. Lucy’s birth was instrumental in George and Mary Boole’s decision to move into the more spacious Lichfield Cottage early in 1863.
Mary Boole gave birth to a fifth daughter on 11 May 1864 at Lichfield Cottage. This final family member was christened Ethel Lilian. In George Boole His Life and Work, Desmond MacHale amusingly comments that there was
‘no indication that Boole longed for a son to bear his name, but he must have seen the irony of a man with an interest in probability fathering five daughters in a row!’