For a small country, Ireland has made a respectable historical contribution to the development of our understanding of the orchid family. Here we honour some of the most distinguished figures and their achievements and we take a look at what activities are taking place today.
Robert David Fitzgerald (1830 - 1892)
Born in Tralee, County Kerry in the south west of Ireland, Robert Fitzgerald migrated to Australia in 1856 and went on to become that countries first orchidologist. He frequently corresponded with Charles Darwin whom he greatly admired. His talent as an artist was used to full effect during the compilation of his magnum opus, “Australia’s Orchids”, an immense seven volume lithograph, volume one of which he dedicated to Darwin.
David Moore (1808 - 1879)
Born in Dundee, Scotland he came to Ireland in 1828 as a trained botanist to work in the Trinity College Botanic Gardens in Dublin. He was heavily involved with the listing and collection of Irish flora and was awarded the curatorship of the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin in 1838 where he remained until his death. His most noteworthy contribution to orchidology was that he was accredited as the first person to have raised flowering orchids from seed.
Sir Frederick Moore (1857 - 1949)
Born in Glasnevin, Dublin he was the son of David Moore listed here. He studied horticulture at the Vanoute Nursery in Belgium and Botanic Gardens in Leiden in Holland. He became curator of the Trinity College Botanical Gardens and went on to succeed his father with the responsibility for the National Botanical Gardens at Glasnevin. He was devoted to orchids and established Glasnevin as one of the three international centres of excellence for orchids, the others being Kew Botanical Gardens in England and Edinburgh Botanical Gardens in Scotland.
He was knighted in 1911 for his services to horticulture. The orchid genus Neomoorea was named in his honour as were several orchid species notably Coelogyne mooreana which is one of the most popular orchids grown by collectors today.
Frederick William Burbridge (1847 - 1905)
Born in Leicestershire, England he was a legendary intrepid collector of tropical orchids and pitcher-plants who worked for the Victorian orchid distributor James Veitch and Sons. He nearly lost his life on one expedition to Borneo seeking new specimens when he was reduced to eating rats and drinking from pitcher-plants in order to survive. On another occasion, having lost both his horse and his boat, he was observed riding into the Sarawak capital on a buffalo! Other stories tell of his encounters with head-hunters and another of how after an earthquake shook his tree-house down and while lying dazed on the ground he looked up to discover a new orchid species Vanda sanderiana growing on tree branch!
He also published a noteworthy manual “cool orchids and how to grow them”. In 1879 Burbridge became curator of the Trinity College Botanic Gardens, Dublin and lived in Dublin for the remainder of his life.
John Charles Lyons (1792 - 1874)
An orchid grower from Mullingar in County West Meath in the Irish midlands he is attributed with producing the first manual on orchid cultivation in 1843 “Remarks in the Management of Orchidaceous Plants”.
Arthur Francis George Kerr (1877 - 1942)
Born in Kinlough, County Leitrim, he was the Medical Officer to the King of Siam (now Thailand). He specialised in collecting orchids from south-east Asia and went on to donate his collection to the Trinity College Botanical Gardens in Dublin.
The Future of Orchids in Ireland
Glasnevin National Botanical Gardens under the stewardship of Brendan Sayers maintains the Irish National Collection of Orchids with around 2000 species. Brendan, who began working with orchids in 1993, has revitalised the collection and became the founder of the first Irish Orchid Society in the Republic of Ireland in 2001.
He has ongoing involvement with conservation projects concentrating on the orchid species of Belize and Ireland. Both he and Marie Hourigan have set up a laboratory for the propagation of native Irish species with a view to their re-establishment in areas where numbers have dwindled (Project Magairlin).
Brendan has also published a series of books on Irish orchids notably in collaboration with the artist Susan Sex (see our resources section for book details).
Did you know?
The emblem of the Irish Orchid Society is the tropical orchid Neomoorea irrorata. It was chosen because the genus was named in honour of Sir Frederick Moore who first gained for Ireland an international reputation in orchid cultivation.