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Moffat Papers

The papers of the ornithologist and naturalist Charles Bethune Moffat, 1859-1945, comprise over 90 notebooks and diaries, with other items including correspondence. The collection was presented to the Academy by a family member in 1947.

The value of these papers lies mainly in the background they may provide to Charles Bethune Moffat’s publications. The diaries span 1875 to 1945 and in some cases provide useful field notes. Some of the notebooks contain summaries of field records and observations. The texts of 6 lectures are contained in 11 notebooks. Also included is the collected journalism which Moffat proposed to publish under the title ‘The wild life at our doors’ and four natural history essays.

Moffat published popular articles on bird life in the Daily Express, while numerous scholarly research articles were published in the Irish Naturalist and the Irish Naturalists’ Journal. His biography of A.G. More, fellow ornithologist and naturalist, was published in Dublin in 1898.

A detailed appreciation of Moffat, by six colleagues, was published in the Irish Naturalists’ Journal, 8(1946), 349-70. It is clear from this source that, in his day, Moffat was well respected and liked, and was regarded as having made important contributions to the study of Irish fauna and flora. He seems to have anticipated more recent thinking on territorial behaviour in birds and, indeed, to have been the first to use the term territory in this context. His detailed knowledge of the fauna and flora of his home area at Ballyhyland, Co. Wexford and his erudition equipped him in later life to acquire a somewhat patriarchal role among Irish naturalists. Perceptive as ever, R.L. Praeger commented in his appreciation (page 368) that for Moffat ‘merely to find a flower in a new station was a feat that made little appeal to him; but to study its life-history or its local increase or decrease, was to him a matter of major interest’. It is as such a meticulous observer that Moffat emerges from his published work and from the relevant parts of his manuscript papers.

Further reading:

Irish Naturalists’ Journal, viii, no. 10 (1946), 349-70

Irish Naturalists’ Journal, xxi, no. 8 (1984), 372

Bryan P. Byrne, ‘Irish entomology: the first hundred years’, Irish Naturalists’ Journal: special entomological supplement (1985), 11

Patricia M. Byrne, ‘Moffat, Charles Bethune (‘C.B.M.’), in Dictionary of Irish Biography (2009), vol. 6, 542-4

A catalogue of the papers of Charles Bethune Moffat in the Royal Irish Academy, compiled by Paul T. Harding, 1983 = RIA, Special list / Liosta speisialta: A 017 (unpublished typescript).

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