Irish American Patricia McCormick, one of great female bullfighters, died on March 26 at a care facility in Del Rio, Texas, after several years of failing health.

McCormick was one of the first women allowed to fight bull in Mexico in the same manner as men - on foot instead of on horseback and with fully grown bulls. For more than ten years, the Missouri-born matadora performed in more than 300 fights and was gored six times. In 1963, Sports Illustrated said that McCormick "may well be the greatest woman bullfighter who ever lived."

McCormick, who began bullfighting after realizing she didn't have a career in music, exited the arena in the early 1960s, complaining that the bulls had become too small. After retiring, she spent her time painting watercolors of horses and bulls and working as an administrative assistant at Pasadena's Art Center College of Design.

Patricia Lee McCormick was born in St. Louis on Nov. 18, 1929, and moved with her parents to Big Spring, Texas, when she was 13. The only child of a petroleum engineer, she graduated from high school in 1948.

She spent some time studying music at the University of Texas, but being discouraged, she then took up painting at what was then Texas Western College in El Paso.

When she was 7, McCormick attended a bullfight with her parents in Mexico City. She later recalled "falling in love" that day with a matador who lost his shoes in the mud but continued to fight.

When she was 20 years old, the art student persuaded Alejandro de Herrera, a Juarez bullfighter, to train her. She reluctantly told her parents of her new passion after realizing that news of her upcoming appearance would be broadcast. Appalled, they rushed to El Paso for a meeting with her school's president

"Mother was all in tears: 'How could you? How could you have kept this a secret?'" she said in a 2006 interview for an oral history project in Del Rio.

But McCormick was adamant. "I had a manager, I had a sponsor, I had an impresario and a contract with nine fights," she said. "That's hard to beat."

"She was of an era that was very, very difficult for women," retired bullfighter Honey Anne Haskin, also known as Ana de Los Angeles, told The Times. "There were other women who were very, very good, but the one everyone talked about with respect and admiration was Patricia McCormick."

However, McCormick was not allowed to wear the male matador's glittering traje de luces, or suit of lights, and she was never allowed to take the alternativa — an initiation ceremony that would have signified parity with the top male bullfighters of her day.

"It would have become a vicious circle in the end," she once said. "For once I became a full-fledged matadora de toros, the recognized matadores would have refused to appear with me. I couldn't win for losing!"

Winning respect in the male-dominated discipline was next to impossible.

"She fights larger bulls than does any other woman ... and she kills well," said Carlos Arruza, a renowned torero who died in 1966. "Her only defect is that she is a woman."

McCormick wrote a book in 1954 about her time in the arena entitled "Lady Bullfighter."

She never married and had no children. She is survived by a cousin.

Here's footage of Patricia McCormick in action:

Irish American female bullfighter Patricia McCormick dies at 83Google Images