Adeline was born on December 19, 1831 in Boyland Hall (Norfolk) in Great Britain. She belonged to a family of respectable bankers on her mother’s side, and her father, Frederick Paul Irby, was a Navy admiral. After her parents’ death, Adeline Irby went to London where she was educated in elite schools. Upon finishing school in 1859 she embarked on an exploratory journey through Eastern Europe with a school friend, Georgina Mackenzie. After her return to London she published her first book – Across the Carpathians.
Traveling throughout the Balkan Peninsula
By 1861 she embarked on a new mission by traveling throughout the Balkan Peninsula. Over three years she visited Bulgaria, Bosnia, Serbia, Kosovo, Albania, Montenegro, Greece and Macedonia. The fruit of these travels came in 1867 with the publishing of her second book – Travels in the Slavonic Provinces of Turkey-in-Europe.
During the time of the Serbo-Turkish War (1875 – 1878), Adeline Irby founded a foundation in London that took care of refugees and orphans who were coming from Bosnia to Slavonia. She built orphanages, settlements for the homeless, provided medicine for the ill and wounded civilians and soldiers. It is estimated that she helped over 40,000 people in Sarajevo, Dalmatia and Slavonia during that period of time.
She focused her aid and humanitarian work on helping the Orthodox Serbs who were living under Ottoman rule. The Christians called her “noble Miss Irby”, and she received numerous honors from Serbian and Montenegrin rulers. Although she predominantly supported the Serbian Orthodox population during her work, in her travel writings she often expressed sympathy towards the Muslim-Bosniaks, whom she considered to be the true descendants of the medieval Bosnian aristocracy.
First school for girls in Sarajevo
Miss Irby is credited with opening the first school for girls in Sarajevo in 1870, where poor girls and the first local teachers were educated.
Miss Irby died in Sarajevo at the age of 80 on September 15, 1911. On that day flags were lowered to half-mast and Orthodox Serbs in Sarajevo hung black flags and sheets from their balconies.
Even though she had asked for a modest funeral, thousands of students, teachers, citizens as well as diplomats and representatives of the local government came to pay their last respects to this humanitarian.
She left behind countless good deeds and millions of pounds had been spent on helping the poor. She left all of her possessions in Bosnia to the Sarajevo-based Serbian Cultural Society Prosvjeta and the Association of Serbian Women, so that she could help to educate Serbian orphans even after her death.
Miss Irby chose a plot in Sarajevo for her fiinal resting place and she was buried in the Protestant cemetery on Koševsko brdo (her grave was later relocated to St. Joseph’s Cemetery in Ciglane). As a sign of the gratitude Sarajevans had for her humanitarian work, one of the central city streets has born the name “Mis Irbina” for decades now.