Annie Massy

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Annie Massy
Born29 January 1868
Netley, Hampshire, UK
Died16 April 1931 (aged 63)
Howth, County Dublin, Ireland
Known forInternational expert on molluscs
Scientific career
Fieldsmarine biology ornithology
InstitutionsDepartment of Agriculture and Technical Instruction (DATI)
InfluencesRobert Lloyd Praeger, Charles William Benson, Edgar Albert Smith, Guy Coburn Robson

Annie Letitia Massy (29 January 1868 – 16 April 1931) was a self-taught marine biologist, ornithologist, and an internationally recognised expert on molluscs,[1] in particular cephalopods.[2] She was one of the founders of the Irish Society for the Protection of Birds in 1904.[3] Many of the details of her life are unknown which is attributed to the fact that she is often described as a shy and retiring person,[4] with no known photograph of her in existence.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Massy was born in Netley, Hampshire in 1868.[5] The family home was Stagdale Lodge close to the border of County Tipperary and County Limerick. She was the third child of four to parents Annie and Hugh Deane Massy, descendants of Hamon de Massey. Her father was a surgeon in the British Army and was probably working at the Royal Victoria military hospital in Netley at the time of Annie’s birth.[5] She grew up in Malahide, living close to the well known mollusc collecting location the Velvet Strand,[3] spending some time in Enniskerry, Co. Wicklow. She was probably educated at home, and appeared to develop an interest in nature from an early age.[4] She made her first contribution to Irish zoological records at age 18 in 1885 by observing the first pair of nesting redstarts in Ireland in Powerscourt Estate, Co. Wicklow.[3] From then on, she became a regular contributor to the Irish Naturalist journal.[4]


Due to her membership of the Dublin Naturalists' Field Club, and the knowledge she developed, in 1901 she was employed as a temporary Assistant Naturalist as part of the fisheries division of the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction (DATI).[6] She was employed on this basis until her death in 1931.[3] The period from 1901-1914 was particularly productive for Irish marine biology with extensive investigations of the Irish coasts.[7] This included the expeditions of HMS Helga which engaged in trawling, dredging and tow-netting.[3] Through this work she would have collaborated with Jane Stephens, Maude Delap, Edgar W.L. Holt and Rowland Southern. Her international reputation in the identification of marine species led to specimens being sent to her from all over the world.[8]

In 1913, Massy published a paper in which she examined the commonly-held belief that rings observed on oysters served to age the specimens in a similar manner to tree rings. Her examination of over 600 specimens demonstrated that there was no clear association between these rings and specimen age.[1]

She maintained her interest in ornithology in her personal life, leading to her being one of the founding members of the Irish Society for the Protection of Birds (now BirdWatch Ireland) in 1904.[4] She stepped in as honorary secretary in 1926 when the group almost disbanded, aiding in the revitalisation of the group which culminated in the Wild Birds Protection Act of 1930.[9]

Later life and recognition[edit]

Massy died 19 April 1931 at home in Howth, Co. Dublin after a short illness. She was buried at St Andrew's church, Malahide.[1] She resigned from the Irish Society for the Protection of Birds just three days before her death. She ended her resignation letter by writing "The shearwaters are great company to me at night, and the ravens by day".[3] Robert Lloyd Praeger wrote in her obituary in the Irish Naturalists' Journal that "even the ravens would miss her".[10] Her death was noted in The Irish Times and in the journal Nature.[1]

Four cephalopod species have been named in her honour: Opisthoteuthis massyae (Pfeffer, 1912), (a specimen of which can be seen in the Natural History Museum, Dublin), Pholidoteuthis massyae (Grimpe, 1920), Bolitaena massyae (Robson, 1924), and Eledone massyae Voss, 1964.[5] A genus of pteropod, Massya, was also named in her honour.[5] She herself named nine species of cephalopod.[5] Much of her large collection of marine specimens are in the collections of the Dublin Museum,[11] as well the Natural History Museum, London.[12]


  • 1907 Preliminary notice of new and remarkable cephalopods from the South-west Coast of Ireland
  • 1916 The Cephalopoda of the Indian Museum
  • 1917 The gymnosomatous Pteropoda of the coasts of Ireland
  • 1918 A note on Loligo media (L.)
  • 1928 The Cephalopoda of the Irish coast
  • 1930 Mollusca of the Irish Atlantic Slope
  • 1932 Mollusca: Gastropoda Thecosomata and Gymnosomata


  1. ^ a b c d e Mulvihill, Mary (1997). Stars, shells and bluebells: women scientists and pioneers. Dublin: Women in Technology and Science. pp. 111–119. ISBN 0953195309.
  2. ^ Haines, Catharine M.C. (2001). International Women in Science: A Biographical Dictionary to 1950. California: ABC-CLIO. p. 203. ISBN 1576070905. Retrieved 11 November 2014. Annie Massy.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Byrne, Patricia M. "Massy, Annie Letitia". Dictionary of Irish Biography. Royal Irish Academy. Retrieved 11 November 2014.
  4. ^ a b c d Tracy, Frank (2005). If Those Trees Could Speak (PDF). Dublin: South Dublin Libraries. pp. 45–46. ISBN 0954766024. Retrieved 11 November 2014.
  5. ^ a b c d e Allcock, Louise; von Boletzky, Sigurd; Bonnard-Ponticelli, Laure; Brunetti, Norma; Cazzaniga, Nestor; Hochberg, Eric; Ivanovic, Marcela; Lipinski, Marek; Marian, Jose; Nigmatullin, Chingis; Nixon, Marion; Robin, Jean-Paul; Rodhouse, Paul; Vidal, Erica (2015). "The role of cephalopod researchers: past and present". Journal of Natural History. 49 (21–24): 1235–1266. doi:10.1080/00222933.2015.1037088. S2CID 86871267.
  6. ^ Praeger, Robert Lloyd (1949). Some Irish Naturalists. Dundalk: W.Tempest. Archived from the original on 23 January 2015. Retrieved 11 November 2014.
  7. ^ Creese, Mary R.S.; Creese, Thomas M. (2004). Ladies in the Laboratory 2. Oxford: Scarecrow Press. ISBN 0810849798. Retrieved 11 November 2014.
  8. ^ Mulvihill, Mary (2002). Ingenious Ireland: A County-by-County Exploration of the Mysteries and Marvels of the Ingenious Irish. Dublin: Simon and Schuster. p. 379. ISBN 0684020947. Retrieved 11 November 2014.
  9. ^ Hutchinson, Clive (2010). Birds in Ireland. London: Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 32. ISBN 978-1408136997. Retrieved 11 November 2014.
  10. ^ Praeger, Robert Lloyd (1931). "Obituary". Irish Naturalists' Journal. 3: 215–217.
  11. ^ Sigwart, Julia D.; Leonard, Leona M. (2009). "Coming out of its shell: Molluscan collections in the National Museum of Ireland, Natural History Division". Irish Naturalists' Journal. 30 (2): 96. Retrieved 11 November 2014.
  12. ^ Nunn, Julia D.; Holmes, J.M.C. "History of the Irish & British Marine Molluscan Collections". A catalogue of the Irish and British marine Mollusca in the collections of the National Museum of Ireland. Retrieved 11 November 2014.