A pioneering spirit, Daphne Desiree Charlotte Pochin Mould, who has died aged 93, was a truly remarkable person. Living many lives, she was a renowned photographer, seasoned broadcaster, eminent geologist, intrepid traveller, prolific author, skilled pilot and, as Ireland’s first female flight instructor, was aptly described as a “magnificent woman in her flying machine”.
A unique figure in every sense, she was a genuine eccentric and, though born into high Anglicanism, she became an agnostic before converting to devout Catholicism.
Despite her English background, she once wrote that she was “so long out of the country, out of contact with its thought and way of life, that going back there in recent years, I found I passed readily enough for a born Irishwoman!”
Growing up in the heart of what she termed the "Englishry" of the south country, she lived in Salisbury where the ancient cathedral no doubt inspired her enduring interest in monasteries and religion.
Childhood visits to nearby Stonehenge were also to influence the course of her extraordinary life. “When I was very small, I tried out my climbing instincts on its stones – to be immediately hauled off by an irate official!” In her 80s she was still climbing.
Pochin Mould's lifelong interest in the natural sciences was nurtured by childhood rambles in the English countryside. "I used to go out in the country and identify the plants and trees, watch the birds, go quietly through the English woods so that the red squirrels came playing past me, unnoticed.
“I looked at the rocks too and found fossils in the English chalk pits. Science for me meant the discovery of truth, reality, the nature of being, finding out what things were, what life was about”.
After receiving a PhD in Geology at Edinburgh University, she embarked on the first chapter of a life devoted to travel and writing. Moving to the Hebrides, she became a crofter, drawing the plough herself or using a whetstone to hone the scythe for harvesting the hay and sparse corn of its windswept fields.
Drawn to Ireland by an interest in early Celtic saints, she settled in the village of Aherla in mid-Cork.
Best known as an aerial photographer, she flew a single engine Piper Cub and was so skilled she could stand it on a wing tip. At Cork airport, she taught many an aspiring pilot to fly.
In her time, Pochin Mould captured thousands of pictures of the Irish landscape, a photographic treasure trove that includes books such as Ireland From The Air; Discovering Cork; Valentia; Portrait of an Island; Aran Islands; Mountains of Ireland; The Monasteries of Ireland: An Introduction; Scotland of the Saints; A Book of Irish Saints and Irish Saints' names; Saint Finbar of Cork and Saint Brigid.
Sadly, she fell on hard times in latter years and endured recent winters without having much to sustain her or protect her from the cold.
Mostly out of print now, her books are collector’s items. She has donated her body to medical science.
Her unique talents, outstanding achievements and rich contribution to Irish life were perhaps best summed up in a tribute at the UCC conferring of an honorary doctorate upon her in 1993, describing her as “a scientist and a free spirit, a courageous pioneer and an outstanding woman warrior”.