Great Outdoors

Local seaweed coming home to Bantry – 200 years later

July 17th, 2023 11:50 AM

By Southern Star Team

Specimen-making with Frances Gallagher at last year’s Whiddy Island seaweed event during the Hutchins festival.

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AFTER more than 200 years in Trinity College, samples of Ellen Hutchins’ seaweed specimens will be coming back home to West Cork this summer.

The annual Ellen Hutchins Festival – taking part during Heritage Week from August 12th-20th – will see the famous botanist’s work returning to Bantry after two centuries in the herbarium of the botany department at TCD. 

Bantry Bay is a very special place for botany – and seaweeds in particular and in 1805 the Ballylickey woman began collecting and carefully spreading seaweeds onto paper and drying them to make specimens to send to botanists studying these ‘sea plants’ as they were called then. 

Two pink specimens on one of the sheets on loan to the festival at Bantry Library.


She made and sent hundreds of them, many to Dr Whitley Stokes and James Townsend Mackay at Trinity College Dublin. 

The specimens have kept their colour and form incredibly well and look stunning. The care with which Ellen spread the tiny delicate fronds of some of them is amazing. Her skill is really appreciated when you try to make a specimen yourself.

At this year’s festival, particpants can see Ellen’s specimens up close – and even make their own. The Ellen Hutchins archives cabinet will contain the samples, in the reference section of Bantry library, along with some of Ellen’s letters and books. On Sunday 20th August, at the Whiddy Island seaweed and lichen event, Frances Gallagher will run a workshop making seaweed specimens. 

The technique has hardly changed since Ellen’s time, except for one magic ingredient, which will be revealed at the workshop.

Events are now open for booking, including Seaweed & Sealing Wax 3, a performance based on Ellen’s correspondence with botanist Dawson Turner; a boat trip; an early morning kayaking adventure, and botanical art and craft workshops. Booking for other activities opens on July 22nd. See for more.

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