Ussher's Legacy

Born a year after the publication of The Birds of America, Richard John Ussher (1841-1914), was such a field naturalist, archaeologist and author.

Best known for The Birds of Ireland (London, 1900), written with Robert Warren, he was also a notable figure in archaeology. His work on cave diggings at Doneraile near Tramore and articles such as The Crannog at Ardmore, Co. Waterford (Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, 1903) attest to his wide-ranging and pioneering work.

Remarkably, he was the first person to discover the remains of the Mammoth and Sabre-Toothed tiger in Ireland, and also that of the Great Auk excavated in the sand dunes at Tramore, Co. Waterford.

Richard was born at Cappagh House in West Waterford on 6th April 1841, the only surviving child of Richard Keily Ussher (1778-1854) and Isabella Grant (d.1881). He is said to have lived abroad for many years, returning to Cappagh in the early 1860s.

In 1863 he was appointed a Justice of the Peace for Co. Waterford and in 1866 he married Elizabeth, daughter of John William Finlay of Corkagh House, Co Dublin. They had four boys and a girl.

In 1875 he built a new house at Cappagh just above the old one, which still survives. He began to study rare bird species and also explored caves for fossil remains of birds, a passion which culminated in the publication of 'The Birds of Ireland' in 1900.

His significance during these productive decades is reflected in observations recorded of him by contemporaries. On one occasion he was referred to as 'no less a figure than Squire Waterton himself'.

Significantly, Charles Waterton (1782-1865) was a traveller, naturalist and conservationist who opened the first nature reserve on the grounds of his estate at Walton Hall near Wakefield, England. Over a period of thirty years he recorded 123 species of birds, sharing Ussher's passion for the natural world and laid the intellectual basis conservation based approached to the environment.

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