Images and music mark pioneering work of Irish marine biologist Maude Delap

Kerry music festival commemorates groundbreaking work on jellyfish

A diver's eye on jewel and fireworks anemones, compass jellyfish and other marine creatures are among images celebrating the pioneering Victorian marine biologist Maude Delap at a festival on her home island of Valentia, Co Kerry, this weekend .

The photographs by Brian Stone are due to be exhibited as part of an installation with composer Seán Ó Dálaigh commemorating Delap in Valentia lighthouse on Saturday for the Valentia Chamber Music Festival.

Maude Delap, who died in 1953, was a self-taught marine biologist who received international acclaim for her work, including her studies of the life cycle of jellyfish. She has a rare anemone named after her, Edwardsia delapiae.

A paper that she published in the Irish Naturalist journal in 1901 documented her cultivation of the compass jellyfish Chrysaora isosceles after she found one in Valentia harbour in June, 1899.


Delap's father was rector of Valentia Island and Cahirciveen, and she was one of 10 children. As Stone notes, she would be known as a "citizen scientist" today, due to her keen interest in archaeology, folklore, botany and zoology.


She kept an aquarium in her home, and her study of the compass jellyfish was regarded as ground-breaking, as there was little research into or understanding of its life cycle at the time.

As Stone and Ó Dálaigh state, her contribution to marine science informed an understanding of the oceans which is crucial in tackling conservation and management of oceans at a time of global warming, pollution and destruction of marine habitats.

The commemoration to her composed by Ó Dálaigh involves a soundtrack made up of processed field recordings from on Valentia Island itself and in the surrounding waters.

Ó Dálaigh’s work, named “edg(tid)e”, is “ imagined as the liminality of tide where land and sea meet,” the composer says.

This creates a “cacophony of critters for the senses”, like the “heroic jumble of books, specimens, aquaria, with its pervasive low-tide smell” described by Delap’s nephew in response to his experience of her laboratory, he says.

Underwater images

The photographs are all underwater images taken by Stone from Irish waters and from the mid-Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean and the Caribbean.

“They include images of the compass jellyfish that Maude Delap worked on as well as many other species, large and small, from whales and dolphins to tiny seaslugs, strange fish, sponges and anemones,” Stone says.

The event takes place at Valentia lighthouse on Cromwell Point from 1pm to 5pm on Saturday. For full details see

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins is the former western and marine correspondent of The Irish Times