Wednesday 31 August 2016

Celebrating Ireland's first female botanist II

Ellen Hutchins Festival: Meeting point
for the lichen foray in Ballylickey
Image: C. Heardman
Following a recent post by Robin Walls, giving a glimpse into what sort of things a BSBI County Recorder actually does, here is another example from Clare Heardman, County Recorder for West Cork. 

Clare has been busy organising this weekend's Cork Recording Event but below, she offers an account of another botanical event she has been involved with recently in her day job as NPWS Conservation Ranger

Over to Clare: 

Fucus capillaris collected by
Ellen Hutchins in Bantry Bay, 1808.
Reproduced with the kind permission of
The Herbarium, Botany Department,
Trinity College Dublin.
"The second annual Ellen Hutchins Festival has just finished in West Cork. Ellen (1785 - 1815) is widely regarded as Ireland’s first female botanist and the inaugural festival took place last year to mark the 200th anniversary of her death. 

"The festival proved so popular that the organisers - me, Madeline Hutchins (Ellen Hutchins’ great great grandniece) and Angela O’Donovan (BantryHistorical Society) - decided to make the event an annual fixture.

"This year the festival started with a seaweed event on Whiddy Island, which was one of the places Ellen visited in the early 1800s, recording and collecting seaweeds. 

"Her finds included species which were first described from Bantry Bay and have thus been preserved as type specimens. 

Pelvetia canaliculata
collected by a participant in
the seaweed event 2016 Bantry Bay
Image: C. Heardman

"The event was led by Dr Susan Steele (Sea Fisheries Protection Authority), who walked us in Ellen’s footsteps, collecting and preserving samples early-1800s style by floating them on to paper. 

"Ellen pre-dated photography and posting specimens of fragile algae to botanists in the UK was a fraught task, so she turned her hand to botanical art, producing some exquisite illustrations. 

Art workshop in progress, Bantry House Stables
Image: C. Heardman
"Most of Ellen’s original artworks are held in  institutions in Britain, but last year permission was obtained from the museum at Kew Gardens to reproduce some of her seaweed drawings. 

"This year the framed prints were displayed in an art trail that stretched from Bantry to Ballylickey and Glengarriff. 

Live botanical art demonstration
with Shevaun Doherty.
Image: C. Heardman
"Also displayed in shop windows and other premises, were exhibition panels and prints of some of her specimens, reproduced with the kind permission of institutions such as Trinity College Dublin (TCD).

"Continuing the art theme, award-winning botanical artist Shevaun Doherty gave a wonderful two-day workshop in the atmospheric location of Bantry House Stables and Gardens. Like Ellen, Shevaun produces the most exquisite and accurate watercolours of plants. 

"The workshop was followed by a live art demonstration by Shevaun in Organico Café. Meanwhile budding artists aged 4-14, took part in a nature art event which including doing leaf rubbings.

"Another workshop which took place during the festival was a two-day introduction to cryptogams, the branch of botany that Ellen specialised in. 

A rubbing of a fern during one of the
children’s nature art events
Image: C. Heardman
"Dr Howard Fox, a botanist based in the herbarium at the National Botanic Gardens Glasnevin, and his partner Maria Cullen, took the participants on a journey into the world of lichens, bryophytes and algae at Ballylickey House, where Ellen was born, and Ardnagashel Estate, where she spent the last few months of her life.

"At a panel discussion later in the week, Howard, Shevaun and Madeline were joined on the stage by Sean Moffatt. Sean is a scriptwriter for television and radio who became fascinated by Ellen’s story and produced a piece for RTE last year about the discovery of some of Ellen’s specimens in TCD. 

Looking at lichens on the shore
at Ardnagashel with Dr Howard Fox
Image: C. Heardman
"The contributions of the four panellists were complemented by a pop-up exhibition of photos, letters, books, prints and other Ellen-related memorabilia which is owned by the Hutchins family. The pop-up exhibition also proved a popular attraction at Bantry House during their open garden day as part of Heritage Week.

"The festival was rounded off by a fascinating walk in Glengarriff Woods Nature Reserve led by the passionate and knowledgeable Dr Padraig Whelan of University College Cork. Padraig knows the woods very well, having been bringing students to the Reserve for at least 20 years. He has inspired a generation of students and was equally inspirational to those who attended his walk.

Group at Glengarriff Woods Nature Reserve
with Dr Padraig Whelan
Image: C. Heardman 
"Next year’s Ellen Hutchins Festival will once again take place in West Cork during Heritage Week 19th-27th August 2017. In the meantime, thanks to botanist Professor John Parnell, TCD is hosting an exhibition about Ellen opening on 9th February, which is the date Ellen was born. Put the dates in your diary!"

Many thanks to Clare for this account and fingers crossed that the weather is kind this weekend to her and all the other botanists attending the Cork Recording Event. Watch this space for updates on which plants they find, or follow the action on Twitter!

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