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The Burren: Butterflies and Moths

Some Lepidoptera of the Burren

Although the Burren countryside has for long been rightly regarded as a botanist's paradise, it was not until comparatively recent years that anything became known about its possibilities in the field of Lepidoptera, i.e., butterflies and moths.

The Burren was never one of the original classic Irish localities. By "classic" is meant those areas which were regularly visited and worked year after year by the pioneer lepidopterists in the second half of the nineteenth century and early in the twentieth. Whilst Ireland had received very occasional visits from naturalists before about 1850, very little was known about Irish Lepidoptera until Mr. Edwin Birchall from Liverpool began to make collecting trips to Killarney, Galway and Wicklow. He published his findings and compiled a catalogue of Irish butterflies and moths in 1866.

Later on, towards the end of the nineteenth century, Mr. W. F. de V. Kane, a leisured country gentleman, made a study of Irish insects, based on his own and Birchall's earlier observations. Eventually another catalogue of Irish Lepidoptera appeared as a single volume in 1900. Although Kane's catalogue was regarded as the most useful work yet written on the subject, it was by no means infallible and a further catalogue, published by Lt. Col. Charles Donovan (Ret.) in 1936, brings our knowledge much more up to date.

Sixspotted Butterfly Moth
Sixspotted Butterfly Moth
(Photo: C. Krieger)

It is true to say that County Clare was visited for years by the occasional lepdiopterist, but a quick glance through Donovan's catalogue reveals that Clare does not figure at all prominently in the county records for the majority of the species. However, according to Mr. H. C. Huggins of Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex, who collected in Ireland intermittently since before World War I, his late friend, Mr. R. A. Phillips (of Cork), also regularly visited the Burren for over twenty years during the early part of this century.

The first positive mention of any Burren locality in connection with Lepidoptera is that of the discovery of Clossiana euphrosyne (L.), (Pearl bordered fritillary), at Clooncoose, a townland north of Corofin, in June 1922 by the afore-mentioned Mr. Phillips. Nevertheless, the Burren did not really come into its own as a lepidopterist's mecca until the dramatic discovery in 1949 by Capt. W. S. Wright of a strange green moth in the Ballyvaughan area. An expedition was mounted the following year (1950) and very soon it was established that Calamia tridens occidentalis Cockayne (a moth hitherto quite unknown from these islands but not uncommon in places on the continent) was an indigenous species in this peculiar habitat of limestone rock. The popular name "Burren Green" was bestowed on the moth. From then onwards, the Burren was definitely put "on the map" so to speak, and became much better known and visited by English lepidopterists and entomologists.

Raymond F. Haynes


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