Lydia Shackleton

19th century Irish Botanical Artist

We are very grateful to Oonagh Phillips for this essay, which was originally written by her as part of the Distance Learning Course of the Society of Botanical Artists (SBA), and also to The Library, National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin for supplying a selection of images of Lydia Shackleton’s work held in the Library. Both the images and the text are copyrighted and may not be reproduced without written permission.

A page from one of Lydia Shackleton's notebooks: butcher's broom Ruscus aculeatus var. Kilmacurragh, painted by Lydia Shackleton

A page from one of Lydia Shackleton’s notebooks: butcher’s broom Ruscus aculeatus var. Kilmacurragh (courtesy National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin)

It is true that sometimes we don’t see what’s right there in front of us. I have long admired botanical artists from all over the world, and have been inspired by them, but I hadn’t looked closer to home, to botanical painters of yesteryear in my own native Ireland. Our island is not a country renowned for this art form in the 19th century but we have one of the most beautiful botanic gardens in Europe, founded in 1795, in Glasnevin.

I made an appointment with Library Assistant, Colette Edwards, at the National Botanic Gardens, and in the archives, she showed me the beautiful works of some accomplished artists of this period, one being Lydia Shackleton (1828–1914).

I had come across the most prolific Irish botanical artist of her time. Her paintings are rarely exhibited but I was hugely impressed by the body of work produced by her. There are what seemed like endless paintings of hellebores and orchids, peonies, carnivorous plants and Lachenalias, native plants of Ireland and some recorded by her in the United States.

Potentilla anserina Silverweed – one of the native Irish species painted by Lydia Shackleton

Potentilla anserina Silverweed – one of the native Irish species painted by Lydia Shackleton (courtesy National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin)

Lydia painted at the National Botanic Gardens from 1879 until 1922. She was a keen and industrious worker. On a visit to Glasnevin, William Robinson, a pioneer of landscape gardening in the ‘natural manner’ during Lydia’s activity there commented to Moore, “Poor thing, she is very industrious”! No wonder she painted over a thousand orchids and that was only a start!

Born at Grisemount, Ballitore, Co. Kildare in 1828, Lydia was the third in a family of thirteen children. The Shackletons were a renowned Quaker family who ran a reputable boarding school at Ballitore. The Quaker educational system encouraged the teaching of languages together with the study of plants. They took a great interest in nature.  Botanists William Henry Harvey, Isaac Carroll and Thomas Chanlee were educated at the school and it’s likely that she was influenced by their passion for plant life.

Lydia was also a poet and in her poetry she illustrates, too, that she took an interest in and had a wide knowledge of many aspects of nature from an early age. In later life she recalled in a poem that as a child of four years (1832) in Co. Wicklow

“I found upon the strand,
Mallows and horned poppies that grew among the sand’. (1)

Her early years were devoted to caring for and teaching many of her nieces and nephews, and during that period she had little time to pursue her interest in painting, horticulture and reading. She strove for perfection which indicates that her character was perfectly suited to painting plants in the botanical style. A keen eye for detail was of interest to her as a botanical artist. Her nephew and family historian, Jonathan Shackleton, sent me a copy of a drawing well rendered by her of her home at Grisemont when she was only twenty years of age. Perhaps this was not so unusual, but her drawing skills were well honed by then and impeccable drawing is required for the accuracy of botanical works.

In 1850 Lydia trained at the government school of design attached to the Royal Dublin Society, a sister institution of the National Botanic Gardens. Here she expressed her dislike of copying other artists work and refined her skills, after which she opened a school in Lucan where she taught for twenty years.

The more I researched the life and works of this woman, the more I became captivated by her accomplishments and how she lived her life. An unmarried and independent woman, Lydia made a trip to America in 1873 and stayed for three years. She painted when she was in Ohio and Pennsylvania, anywhere she went, a consummate plant enthusiast and painter. I loved the small book containing, on tinted paper, beautifully executed watercolours of North American wild flowers.

This was an exciting time for plant gatherers and explorers and for botanical artists like Lydia and it was in 1873 that Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux had completed their work in Central Park in New York. (I worked in Central Park as a volunteer for four years and it was there that I decided to study botanical art at the New York Botanical Gardens.)

Slipper orchid Cypripedium nigritum by Lydia Shackleton

Slipper orchid Cypripedium nigritum by Lydia Shackleton (courtesy National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin)

In 1883, Frederick Moore commissioned Lydia Shackleton to paint the gardens’ orchids,pitcher plants and peonies. She spent twenty three years of her life painting at Glasnevin and her work, including the thousand orchids mentioned, is an impressive reflection of the horticultural and botanical achievements of the Botanic Gardens in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Frederick Moore had a particular interest in tropical plants and devoted a lot of his time to the improvement of the collection.

“The purpose of this vast watercolour orchidarium is clear: each orchid that blossomed in the Glasnevin Orchid House was a potent symbol of the primary importance of Glasnevin in the orchid world at the time; not even The Royal Botanic Garden, Kew, could equal the Dublin collection.” (2)

The portraits are a significant record of orchid hybrids in the gardens, some of which are no longer in cultivation. Lydia painted each one in watercolour.

Cobra lily Darlingtonia californica by Lydia Shackleton

Cobra lily Darlingtonia californica by Lydia Shackleton (courtesy National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin)

Choosing to highlight one of her works wasn’t easy, there were so many that I liked very much but I have settled on the Darlingtonia californica, which shows a hooded flower head with leaves and the seedhead. The lace effect, its translucency, on the flower head is perfection and I like the effect produced by working on tinted paper.

I feel that the artist was as dedicated to her craft as one can be. She painted plants in a way that indicates to me that she enjoyed her work, and captured the essence of the plant which she was portraying. Her hellebores virtually dance a merry dance on the page. It must have given her huge satisfaction to produce these beautiful works that contributed so much to the world of horticulture, a passionate artist who cared about the greater good.

Helleborus niger Mr. Poe's variety, painted by Lydia Shackleton in 1887

Helleborus niger Mr. Poe’s variety, painted by Lydia Shackleton in 1887 (courtesy National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin)

There are also sketch books containing watercolours of Irish wild flowers and of plantsfrom Irish gardens such as Kilmacurragh and Mount Usher, Co. Wicklow These are also preserved in Glasnevin. Some of her sketches of alpine plants, such as a Cladonia lichen,suggest that she spend time in Le Sentier and Le Brasus, Switzerland in 1879.

Returning to America (1888-91), she painted flowers in Massachusetts and New Jersey. It seemed that she never stopped doing what she loved, I admire and envy her skill and her work ethic, “The Only Rule Is Work” (3) attitude.

It was recorded in October 1897 at a meeting of Dublin Naturalists Field Club, of which she was a member, that a series of beautiful watercolour drawings of flowering plants,prepared in part for the Botanical Collections Science & Art Museum, was shown by Lydia Shackleton’ (Anon 1897).

Her work was briefly described in the Capuchin Annual 1976 by M. Scannell: “the illustrations are well drawn, glowing with colour and are botanically correct. Some with large flowers and veined leaves have a sculptured quality. She showed sensitivity to the character of the flower while appreciating line and pattern . . . Miss Shackleton is probably the foremost flower portraitist in Ireland”.

In her later years, Lydia’s eyesight deteriorated, and eventually she became blind and was forced to stop painting. It is no surprise to me that she bore the cross with the great patience that she had shown throughout her life. She had the support of a large extended family (she was a cousin to Ernest Shackleton, Antarctic explorer). In a life welllived indeed, she made the best of her time and used her skills and intelligence to enhance the lives of others, it doesn’t get much better than that. I hope that one day she will get the recognition she deserves. She died in Dublin on 10th December, 1914.


(1) A poem entitled “Reminiscent of Old Age”, August, 1912.

(2) E. Charles Nelson, “A Garden of Bright Images. Art Treasure at Glasnevin”,The IrishArts

(3) Sister Corita Kent, 1960s pop artist, “The Only Rule is Work”, rule no. 7.


Booklet entitled, Lydia Shackleton (18281914) published privately and printed by W.
Tempest, Dundalk, 1947.

E.C. Nelson “Orchid Painting at Glasnevin, The Orchid Review, Vol, 89, 1981, pp 37377.

B.D. Morley, “Lydia Shackleton’s paintings in the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin”, Glasra, Col 2 1979, pp. 2536.

Botanic Art and some Irish Artists”, The Capuchin Annual 1976 pp. 100-102

Mary J.P. Scannell and Helen Lehert, Lydia Shackleton 18281914, botanist and artist”,Journal of the Co. Kildare Archaeological Society, 1983/84 Vol. XV1, No. 4.

Dictionary of Irish Biography, Cambridge University Press

Darlington californica May 1886. Watercolour on paper, 26 x 40cm (National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin)

E.C. Nelson and E.M. Mc Cracken, The Brightest Jewel, a history of the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin. Kilkenny 1987.

Archival prints

printsA  strictly limited edition of 30 prints of each Aibítir painting has been produced to the highest archival quality by Dominic Turner of Exhibit A Studios, Dublin, twenty of which are available for purchase by the public. Click here for more information.


catalogueThe Aibítir catalogue is a 96-page book, produced to the highest print standards, and features not only all 59 paintings in the exhibition, but also: articles on Irish botanical art from an historical perspective; the native Irish plant species painted by the artists; and the history of the Aibítir project itself.



Throughout the year, the ISBA organises events for members. These may include painting days and weekends, lectures, garden visits, master classes and workshops and more.


Introducing our Secretary, Colette Roberts

ISBA Secretary, Colette Roberst

ISBA Secretary, Colette Roberts

A lot of our members won’t know me at all, but my name is Colette Roberts, and since our inaugural meeting in March I have been the Secretary of our newly formed society, The Irish Society of Botanical Artists. I travel down to the committee meetings and events either by car or train – it’s a treat going to Dublin, even though there is no time for shopping.

I live in Northern Ireland, just outside Belfast on the outskirts of a lovely little town called Holywood, now known all over the world as Rory McIlroy’s home town. The Golf Club where he played, as did my husband David, is on the slopes of the Holywood hills overlooking Belfast Lough, with it’s famous shipyard and enormous yellow cranes ‘ Samson’  and ‘Goliath’. Amongst other great ships built there, was  the Titanic,  which sadly sank on her maiden voyage to America. The lough then sweeps in a curve over to the lovely coastline of Antrim on the other side.

I have always had a love of plants since my beloved grandfather Michael (from Ballyboye in County Leitrim) used to take me for daily walks (weather permitting) through the fields and small farm attached to the old Dominican Convent. He would make me daisy chains, and tickle my chin with the buttercup and I just loved those times. He was also popular with other children in the neighbourhood as he always carried a supply of dolly mixtures and dulse in his pockets, but ‘he’s my grandfather’ I used to tell them.

My love of gardening grew from these humble beginnings and much later in life I discovered painting, and it was always flowers. I just love botanical art – it’s a very challenging subject that needs concentration and observation, and I am just a learner. ‘Paint what you see’, as Susan Sex would say,’ and not what you think you see’. So I am learning, but I love my subject so that goes a long way.

The Aibítir poster stands proudly in its prominent position outside The Playhouse in Derry

The Aibítir poster stands proudly in its prominent position outside The Playhouse in Derry

Our very successful ‘Aibitir: The Irish Alphabet in Botanical Art’ exhibition has travelled  to Derry and was on show for two weeks in ‘The Playhouse’.  Just a short time before the exhibition I discovered that the day of hanging also coincided with the Apprentice Boys march, so whilst Liz and Megan measured and hammered, and the grey smoke of the previous night’s bonfire drifted over the ancient city walls, the Apprentice Boys assembled outside The Playhouse windows, banging their drums with the relentless tunes of the marching season. They were quite good fun and appreciated, as did the Police, the fact that there was a Dublin registered vehicle parked in the ‘no parking’ zone of their assembly area.

However, all involve appreciated the irony and we have a photograph to prove it.

Liz Prendergast and her daughter Megan surrounded by some of the good-humoured marchers from the Apprentice Boys' parade

Liz Prendergast and her daughter Megan surrounded by some of the good-humoured marchers from the Apprentice Boys’ parade

It took Liz and Megan  from 9.30am to 4pm to hang the exhibition, with Oonagh, Mary and myself doing the odd jobs in between, before heading into town for sustenance.       Difficult…there was a huge Police presence and all of the restaurants in Derry were closed…except one,  the Mandarin Chinese on the quays. What a night we had, enjoying our meal,  until a Chinese Elvis lookalike – yes it’s true – jumped onto the scene singing Elvis’s famous number ‘It’s Now or Never’, swaggering around in his white outfit with his scarlet lined cape…he ran and jumped from table to specific table, wishing those who were celebrating a birthday or anniversary good wishes.then it was my turn. Why????? Oonagh had indicated to him that I was celebrating ‘something’, but I wasn’t aware this was happening. He sang to me and wished me a happy birthday as did everyone in the restaurant, then he happily moved on…and no it wasn’t my birthday.  All four of us couldn’t stop laughing, it was just such fun, and we needed that at the end of a tiring but successful day. Liz’s poor daughter Megan couldn’t join us as she wasn’t feeling well having eaten a dodgy sandwich earlier in the day.

Oonagh Phillips with Derry mayor Brenda Stevenson, who opened the Aibítir exhibition in Derry.

Oonagh Phillips with Derry mayor Brenda Stevenson, who opened the Aibítir exhibition in Derry.

Our preview in Derry went without a hitch, the exhibition was well received and ‘The Playhouse’ staff were wonderful, it is the biggest Arts Centre in Ireland, and they have a theatre, art room, exhibition and conference rooms, dance rooms, rehearsal areas, it was once an old convent which had been restored and extended, keeping the original building and glassing over the back area, which still contains the statues and original windows of the convent. In fact the Mayor of Derry, Councillor  Brenda Stevenson had been to school there, and it brought  back some happy memories for her.

The exhibition is now at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast and will be on show from 2 – 25th September, when I will take it back home to the National Botanic Gardens. Mr. Daniel  Clarke, well known in the art world in Belfast will open ‘Aibitir’ on Wednesday evening 3rd September at 6pm, and we look forward to a successful evening.

At our next event at the gardens, I will wear a name badge, so please do come over and say hello, it’s a great way for me to get to know the membership, and it makes everything more personal.

Colette Roberts


Despatches from Derry

Over the weekend, members of the Aibítir team arrived in Derry~Londonderry~Doire to hang Aibítir: The Irish Alphabet in Botanical Art exhibition at The Playhouse. The preparations and the opening of the exhibition coincide with the annual Apprentice Boys’ parades in the ancient walled city. In order that we can all get a flavour of the atmosphere, Colette Roberts and Oonagh Phillips are providing us with ‘despatches from Derry’:


Colette Roberts, Mary McInerney, Megan and Liz Prendergast enjoying some sightseeing on the city walls of Derry~Londonderry~Doire


Liz Prendergast and her daughter, Megan, pose for a photo with some of the friendly Apprentice Boys

The Apprentice Boys march commenced just outside The Playhouse, as we worked inside.   The grey smoke of the dying embers of the previous night’s bonfire drifted over the ancient city walls in the direction of Artillery Street, the Lambeg drums pounding out their relentless annual message, and the boys marched past with ‘No surrender’ on their black tee shirts. The girls had never seen anything quite like it before, and we have a great photograph to prove it, all good fun. There was no trouble and although celebrations went on into the night it didn’t affect us in any way.

The exhibition looks great, I took photographs of the work in progress, and the completed display.  In the main entrance area we hung the alphabet starting with Liz Prendergast’s Aiteann gallda (gorse), and in the main room, which looks great, the other two alphabets were hung, starting with two ‘As’ one top and bottom with about two inches between each painting, name ID to the side and about 4 inches from the base. Each painting was cleaned and checked to make sure they were all at same height and spacing, and that we had the correct artist’s name on each.

The ‘five extras’ were hung, three top and two bottom on a separate wall, and also look good. All the signage was hung on the wall to the back of the sales table, with pride of place going to the huge information poster with the photo of Wendy Walsh and Raymond Piper. We are ready for the preview on Monday.  Many, many thanks to Liz Prendergast and her daughter, Megan, for the professional way in which they hung the paintings.   

Photographs will be taken again once we set up this afternoon (Monday), and Oonagh has arranged a photographer for the evening. Publicity is good  (thank you Betty Christie), and Oonagh did an interview on Radio Foyle about the ‘Aibitir’ exhibition last Friday. Much appreciation also goes to Keith at The Playhouse, who was tremendous help, and provided us with storage for all our bits and pieces. 

Everyone worked hard and it took us every minute from 10am to 4pm to set up, though we did have an hour for lunch.  The weather was glorious, the B&B good, and we had a hilarious meal later that evening. 


The Apprentice Boys’ parade near The Playhouse

Watch this space for more news about the exhibition, and if you happen to be in the Derry~Londonderry~Doire area between the 11 and 24 August, do drop by The Playhouse and view this wonderful visual celebration of Ireland’s native language and some of our indigenous plant species.

Visiting Derry and Northwest

You may be wondering what this blog has to do with botanical art, but from 11–24 August, The Playhouse in Derry will be the home of Aibítir: The Irish Alphabet in Botanical Art. We hope that lots of people from all over Ireland and beyond will take this opportunity to view the exhibition and also to enjoy the hospitality and beauty of northwest Ireland.

Thank you very much to Oonagh Phillips, who has a home in Donegal, for writing up this blog. Oonagh has also been invaluable in helping with the preparations for bringing Aibítir to Derry.

Many thanks to Aoife Thomas of VisitDerry for supplying the stunning images.

The Guildhall and the Peace Bridge, Derry

The Guildhall and the Peace Bridge, Derry


The most direct route by car from Dublin to Derry is to take the M1, take exit 14 for Derry. Follow signs for Monaghan, Omagh and Derry.

Most of the towns are bypassed except for Emyvale, Co Monaghan and Aughnacloy in Co Tyrone, just over the border.

We always stop at the Nuremore Hotel en route for coffee and scones/toast in the lobby, it’s nice and relaxing there and the gardens and golf course are lovely….a little oasis off the main road!  Make sure to take the Nuremore Hotel Conference Exit, not the main Hotel Nuremore Hotel one, it’s a lot quicker, about two minutes for the main road.

The other stop is at Supervalu in Aughnacloy where you can pick up a take away coffee, the loos are the cleanest in the country!

THE ULSTER AMERICAN FOLK PARK, about five miles north of Omagh is really worth a visit if you’ve time.  It’s closed on a Monday which I thought I should mention in case you’re coming for the opening, which is actually on a Monday (11 August).

The journey from Dublin takes about three hours.

Derry City Walls

Derry City Walls

DERRY is unique, a place apart! UNESCO has listed it as one of the World’s 1001 Historic Sites You Must See Before You Die. The 17th century walls are completely in tact and you can walk the 1.6km circumference and get a good feel for the city. There are guided tours  by a local Derry person if you like – I hear it can be quite entertaining as well as informative! The Guildhall, which is just opposite Shipquay Gate is worthwhile looking around, lovely stained glass windows here.

I have a lot of very good memories of being in Derry when I was little and during my teenage years. Being designated the City of Culture 2013 has helped a lot on bringing a vibrancy back to this ancient city.

The new Guildhall exterior, Derry

The new Guildhall exterior, Derry


  • BEECH HILL HOUSE HOTEL  A really nice country house hotel just outside the city, you’d need a car to get around.  Situated in 32acres of woodland and landscaped gardens, the food is gourmet served in a very nice dining room overlooking the garden.   They offer special deals, check it out on line.
  • CITY HOTEL is a four star hotel situated on the quays and beside the Guildhall.  It’s very convenient to the city centre so you can walk everywhere, there’s parking at the hotel.  There is also a swimming pool.
  • TOWER HOTEL is just off The Diamond and within the walls.  The Playhouse is five minutes walk form there and has an arrangement with the hotel so do check it out their special rates.
  • DA VINCIS HOTEL on Culmore Road, about a five minute drive from city centre.
  • HOUSES OF CHARACTER B and B in the centre of town would be suitable for a group of people travelling together.

The above are just a start. There are lots of places to stay but it’s always handy to be right in the middle ie unless you want to stay at the Beech Hill, in which case it’s worth the drive into town!

Craft Village

Craft Village

The spectacular MUSSENDEN TEMPLE at Castlerock is a short drive from Derry, perched on a 120ft cliff edge with views right down the lough and over to Inisowen. 

PORTSTEWART is a nice resort town where you could have a bite to eat before heading on to DUNLUCE CASTLE, CARRIC-A-REDE rope bridge (rather you than I!) and the GIANTS CAUSEWAY.

You can take a coastal tour from the city to The Giants Causeway, it will pass Dunluce and the bridge as well as a stop off at BUSHMILLS DISTILLERY.

The Peace Bridge, Derry

The Peace Bridge, Derry


My home county of DONEGAL is a beautiful place. Ok, so I’m biased….but it is!

I will suggest a few beauty spots and drives that you couldn’t but enjoy starting with INISOWEN which is only a few miles from Derry.

Drive 1.  Take the road to Buncrana and head north to BALLYLIFFIN and MALIN HEAD. There are magnificent beaches in this area, some small coves where you can picnic and swim and other beaches that go on forever where you can walk but not necessarily swim. Ballyliffin Beach is one and the other is the FIVE FINGERS STRAND outside Malin town. There is an old fort at DUNREE worth seeing if you time.

Drive 2. Drive from Burnfoot, a right just outside the town to the award winning church, St Anegus which was inspired by GRAINAN OF AILEACH, an old stone ring fort in Burt, there are beautiful views right down Lough Swilly from up the hill. We were married in this church a very long time ago!

Drive 3. Drive on to Letterkenny and take a right hand turn to Ramelton just before the town, it’s about six miles from the roundabout. Drive on through Ramelton (where we live!) and turn right over the bridge for RATHMULLAN, head for PORTSALON, make sure to take the coast road all the way, after Portsalon you should drive further out to FANHAD LIGHTHOUSE.

There are some private gardens in the area that are open to the public on certain dates but you could phone for a special visit if you’d like to see them. Check the website for DONEGAL GARDEN TRAIL for the phone numbers.

Drive 4. From Fanhad Lighthouse drive to the new bridge over Mulroy Bay and on into CARRAIGART, a lovely little town. TRAMORE (Blue Flag) at ROSAPENNA is beautiful and goes on for miles, nice for a picnic too. You can take the ATLANTIC DRIVE from here, you’ll see signs. MCNUTTS TWEEDS shop is in DOWNINGS, they make beautiful rugs and other woolen items. There’s a little tea shop next door.

Drive 4A. An alternative drive from Burt is to go from Letterkenny to THE GLEBE at Churchill, an OPW property and gallery, left to the state by artist Dereck Hill. From there you can drive through to GLENVEAGH NATIONAL PARK.There’s a bus to take you up a very long driveway to the castle but walk it if you can as the road runs right along the side of the lake and there are resting areas en route! The gardens at GLENVEAGH are spectacular and there’s a very good tea shop where you can have lunch or just tea and a bun.

You will miss some of my favourite places by taking this route but you won’t be able to do everything unless you have lots of time. But, if you take the Portsalon/Fanhad route you could go on to MARBLE HILL (Blue Flag,worth the detour) and into PORT NA BLAGH, turn right off the main road down to the pier and the lovely little beach. DUNFANAGHY is a good place to stop for a sandwich or pick up something at the Green Man and picnic on the KILAHOOEY STRAND (Blue Flag) overlooking Horn Head. Do stop at THE GALLERY if you’d like to see some nice irish art, crafts and antiques. The hotel down the hill, The Mill, is very nice for lunch or dinner or to stay. It was once owned by the family of artist, Frank Egginton. His daughter owns The Gallery.

Leaving Dunfanaghy, drive on through FALCARRAGH (Back Strand here is beautiful), GORTAHORK, and on down to BLOODY FORELAND, BUNBEG, AN GEALTACHT.

DANNY MINNY’S in Annagray is an excellent restaurant and though I haven’t been there yet, I’m definitely planning a visit this Summer.  Also a nice place to stay.

South West Donegal is less familiar to me but I can definitely recommend that you see SLIEVE LEAGUE, the highest sea cliffs in Europe, amazing.  DONEGAL TOWN is very nice, you could look into MAGEES for tweeds and drive out the road to HARVEY’S POINT and or SOLIS LOUGH ESKE for lunch, or a coffee!

Stop at Nancy’s pub if you happen to find yourself driving through ARDARA, they serve a mean fish chowder. There are very nice tweed shops here especially Eddie Doherty who hand weaves his tweeds right there, you might see him in action if you drop by. His prices are very reasonable.

The above is just a taste if Donegal, there’s more!


THE SECRET GARDENS OF SLIGO are very worthwhile visiting, check out their website.

CO FERMANAGH. There are many interesting and beautiful places to see in Co Fermanagh including a garden trail that would bring you to FLORENCE COURT and CASTLE COOLE.  Hire a boat and go to DEVINISH ISLAND where there is a 12th century round tower, I haven’t been here but there are very appealing images on the DISCOVERNORTHERNIRELAND.COM

Opening night


Some of the Alphabet team with Dr Shirley Sherwood and her husband, James Sherwood. L to R: Mary McInerney, Oonagh Phillips, Susan Sex, Mary Dillon, NBG Assistant Librarian Colette Edwards, James Sherwood, Marie Stamp, Dr Shirley Sherwood, NBG Glasshouse Foreman Brendan Sayers, Yanny Petters, NBG Librarian Alex Caccamo and Siobhan Larkin.



Canadian visitors

IMG_8478_webThe Aibítir project is international in its scope, with artists from Canada, the United States, Scotland, Wales and England taking part. L to R: Canadian visitor Ralph Best, ISBA Vice-chairperson Marie Stamp (also Canadian), former Canadian Ambassador to Ireland Michael Phillips, his wife Oonagh, and Canadian botanical artist and Aibítir participant Margaret Walsh Best.


ISBA Inaugural Exhibition

ISBA Inaugural Exhibition

Aibítir: The Irish Alphabet in Botanical Art


National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin – home of the ISBA and location of the Aibítir exhibition

After many months of planning and hard work, the big day was nearly upon us! Alphabet team volunteers gathered at the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin, Dublin, in the days before the opening of Aibítir: The Irish Alphabet in Botanical Art to add the finishing touches to the inaugural exhibition of the Irish Society of Botanical Artists.

Paintings were placed in their mounts and taken away to be framed; display panels were assembled and painted; paintings were hung in their allotted space, adjusted and re-adjusted until all were in perfect alignment; signs and posters were placed in their appropriate positions; examples of the artists’ careful preparatory work was placed in the glass boxes and the tired volunteers stood back to survey their efforts.

The helpful and supportive staff of the Botanic Gardens transported catalogues  and other materials from their storage locations; helped to mount and trim signs;  design exquisite displays of wild Irish plants on pieces of slate and generally provide any assistance they possibly could to the A-team.

Support session with Susan Sex

Aibítir participants take part in a support session with artistic mentor Susan Sex

The morning of the opening began bright and early as a team from the TV programme ‘Nationwide’ arrived to film an example of the artists’ support sessions with Susan Sex. A fortunate few enjoyed an unexpected master class on painting leaves as Susan replicated the sort of invaluable advice and encouragement that she had provided throughout the project. During the course of the day, the Nationwide team also conducted interviews with Dr Shirley Sherwood, botanical artists Deborah Lambkin and Glasnevin botanist, Colin Kelleher. The programme will go out on RTE on 20 June along with a feature on the World Association of Flower Arrangers (WAFA) World Flower Show at the RDS in Dublin.

Mary Dillon and Dr Shirley Sherwood

ISBA Chairperson Mary Dillon presents Dr Shirley Sherwood with a folio of Aibítir limited edition archival prints.

As the Glasnevin staff and A-team volunteers attended to last minute details, Dr Shirley Sherwood arrived at the Botanic Gardens, accompanied by her husband, James Sherwood.  Dr Matthew Jebb, Director of the National Botanic Gardens, along with ISBA Chairperson Mary Dillon, NBG Librarian Alex Caccamo and Glasshouse Foreman Brendan Sayers were on hand to welcome Dr Sherwood and her husband and to entertain them at a lunch hosted in the Visitor Centre gallery area, surrounded by the Aibítir exhibition that would be opened by Dr Sherwood later that evening. A tour of the gardens followed before our guests departed for a brief rest before the evening’s celebrations.

Dr Matthew Jebb welcomes Dr Shirley Sherwood, artists and guests to teh opening of the exhibition

Dr Matthew Jebb welcomes Dr Shirley Sherwood and her husband, James Sherwood, as well as the artists and guests to the opening of the Aibítir exhibition.

Invited guests began arriving early at the Visitor Centre, eager to get a first glimpse of the paintings. Catalogues were in great demand as visitors made their way around the gallery area, viewing not only the 59 paintings that passed the stringent adjudication process, but also those that just missed meeting the judges’ criteria and those which had been entered as ‘fringe’ paintings. Examples of the artists’ preparatory work was displayed in a number of glass boxes, along with snippets from the stories that many artists wrote about their Aibítir journey.

Dr Shirley Sherwood with Holly Somerville and Brendan Sayers

Dr Shirley Sherwood with Aibítir participant Holly Somerville and project mentor Brendan Sayers, Glasshouse Foreman at the National Botanic Gardens

The exhibition has remained true to its original goal of inclusivity, which allowed each participant to be justly proud of journeys that have led to increased artistic skills, a greater knowledge and appreciation of Irish wild plants and a growing sense of community with other artists of all skill levels.

Members of the A-team with Dr Shirley Sherwood and her husband, James Sherwood.

Some of the Alphabet team with Dr Shirley Sherwood and her husband, James Sherwood. L to R: Mary McInerney, Oonagh Phillips, Susan Sex, Mary Dillon, NBG Assistant Librarian Colette Edwards, James Sherwood, Marie Stamp, Dr Shirley Sherwood, NBG Glasshouse Foreman Brendan Sayers, Yanny Petters, NBG Librarian Alex Caccamo and Siobhan Larkin.

Once the guests were assembled, Dr Matthew Jebb welcomed everyone to the National Botanic Gardens and to Aibítir: The Irish Alphabet in Botanical Art. His speech was followed by a few words from ISBA Chairperson Mary Dillon, who thanked the many people who, since the project was first conceived, have assisted the participants in a myriad of different ways. She then introduced Dr Sherwood and welcomed her on behalf of the assembled guests and the Aibítir participants.

Dr Shirley Sherwood

As Dr Shirley Sherwood formally opened the Aibítir: The Irish Alphabet in Botanical Art exhibition, she urged everyone to buy a copy of the catalogue.

Dr Shirley Sherwood is the world’s foremost collector of botanical art, and her large collection is housed in the purpose-built Shirley Sherwood Gallery at Kew Gardens. Her words reflected her prodigious knowledge of botanical art, including the latest trends and developments, such as the move towards painting life-size representations of larger plants, thanks to the availability of larger paper sizes; the depiction of smaller plants at higher magnification, and the use of a wider range of media. She urged everyone present to buy a copy of the exhibition catalogue and declared the exhibition officially open.


Limited edition archival print samples

On Friday 2 May, Aibítir opened to the public, and there has been a steady stream of visitors who have voiced their appreciation and delight at this unique exhibition. Limited edition archival prints of the paintings are available to buy either mounted and unframed (€100) or mounted with a frame (€150). The print run will be strictly limited to 30 for each painting, with 20 of these being available for purchase by the public. We have been delighted with the interest in these prints and the fact that, quite without any prompting from us, visitors to the exhibition are finding creative reasons for buying paintings – a first name initial or even two initials as a birthday, anniversary or wedding present; a plant that comes from a certain part of the country (a fitting reminder of a memorable holiday in the Burren, for instance) or perhaps a plant that evokes happy childhood memories of hedgerow foraging. Others are chosen solely on artistic merit. The paintings of Aibítir speak in different ways to each one who views them, and that is part of the project’s unique charm.

Susan Sex and Tim O'Neill

Two national treasures – botanical artist Susan Sex with well-known calligrapher Tim O’Neill standing beside Susan’s painting of Athair thalún (Yarrow). Tim designed a special and very beautiful uncial alphabet for the Aibítir project.

Canadian guests

The Aibítir project is international in its scope, with artists from Canada, the United States, Scotland, Wales and England taking part. L to R: Canadian visitor Ralph Best, ISBA Vice-chairperson Marie Stamp (also Canadian), former Canadian Ambassador to Ireland Michael Phillips, his wife Oonagh, and Canadian botanical artist and Aibítir participant Margaret Walsh Best.

Irish Artists Painting Irish Plants


The Irish Alphabet in Botanical Art –

Aibítir Éireannach i Ealaíon Luibheolaíoch



National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin

The Irish Society of Botanical Artists will present their inaugural exhibition at the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin in May 2014.  The exhibition entitled The Irish Alphabet in Botanical Art marries native plant species with the capital letters of their names in Irish.

There are over 60 artists producing distinctive paintings, which will be exhibited as complete eighteen-letter Irish alphabets. Tim O’Neill, renowned calligrapher, has created a unique font for the project.  Artists from the thirty-two counties of Ireland will be taking part, along with Irish artists living in Britain, France and Austria, Newfoundland and the American state of Oregon.

This unified collection of paintings will be a celebration of the Irish language, native Irish plants and botanical art.  Each work depicts one of a wide selection of native plants chosen by the National Botanic Gardens, to illustrate the variety of plant forms and habitats on the island of Ireland.


The Irish Society of Botanical Artists is a group of botanical artists and people interested in botanical art. Our mission is

‘To facilitate interaction amongst botanical artists in Ireland,
and to foster and inspire their creative development.’

Irish botanical artists are fortunate to have an extraordinarily rich heritage of botanical art to draw upon, including artists such as, Lydia Shackleton, Lady Charlotte Wheeler Cuffe, Wendy Walsh and Raymond Piper. Botanical artists working in Ireland today are maintaining these standards of excellence and are being acknowledged internationally for their work.

The exhibition will take place, opening for public viewing on 2 May 2014
in the Visitor Centre of the National Botanic Gardens. 
For additional information please contact:

A Call to Arts: ISBA Foundation Meeting, 1 March 2014

On 1st March 2014 at 11:00am, the Foundation Meeting for the Irish Society of Botanical Artists will be held in the Visitor Centre of the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin. Anyone with an interest in becoming a member of this new Society, either as an artist or a friend, is invited to attend the Foundation Meeting.

The Society aims to facilitate interaction among those interested in botanical art in Ireland, to foster and inspire their creative development, and raise the awareness of botanical art.
Botanical art is the merging of science and art in the depiction of plant life, and is enjoying a resurgence in recent years. There is a growing number of practicing artists and aspirational beginners in Ireland, and the proposed new society has arisen from this trend.

In anticipation of its official foundation, the group has laid the groundwork for its inaugural exhibition, “The Irish Alphabet in Botanical Art”. The exhibition will first open for public viewing on 2 May 2014 at the National Botanic Gardens, and then travel to The Playhouse in Derry from 11-24 August, and on to The Waterfront in Belfast from 2-25 September. By joining the new Society, members will have the opportunity to support this and similar projects in future.

Full Membership (Fee: €50)
Entitles you to sit on committee (once resident in Ireland), vote (once in attendance at meetings), exhibit in Society exhibitions*, participate in Society events, pay less to attend events organised in conjunction with other bodies and to receive the Society’s yearly publication.
* Participation in exhibitions organised by the ISBA is a benefit of membership but may incur an additional cost to artists. These costs can include, but are not exclusive to, postage, framing, hanging, invigilation etc.

Friend Membership (Fee: €25)  
Entitles you to participation in Society events other than exhibitions and to receive the Society’s yearly publication.

As some people may not be able to attend the meeting, or if you want to arrive with paperwork completed, a Membership form in PDF format can be downloaded from the bottom of this page. All who have signed a membership form and paid the appropriate fee by close of business on March 1 2014 will be considered Founding Members of the Irish Society of Botanical Artists. This can be done on the day paying by cash or cheque, posted previous to the meeting at the address above or by using Paypal (please see instructions on membership form).

For further information, please email Jane Stark at