Geology and the real McCoy

Sir, – Further to Patrick Greene's recent article on Sir Frederick McCoy's Australian legacy ("The Irish professor involved in introducing European animals to Australia", Abroad, January 21st), McCoy's major scientific contribution in Ireland can be found in the many fossils preserved in limestones and other rocks across the island.

If one picks up a fossil in Ireland the chances are high that it was named by McCoy. He produced two significant monographs in 1844 and 1846 that described and illustrated over 500 fossil species from the collection of Sir Richard Griffith assembled by the field staff on the Rateable Valuation survey. This collection is now in the National Museum of Ireland and in the Geological Museum of Trinity College Dublin.

McCoy had a mixed career in Ireland that perhaps was related to his rather strong and fiery personality. Initially employed in 1841 as a curator with the Geological Society of Dublin he resigned having argued with the council. He then found his way into the private employment of Griffith, and subsequently was appointed to the Geological Survey of Ireland. Unfortunately his fieldwork was considered sloppy and he soon was discharged, and so moved to Cambridge where he worked with the eminent geologist Adam Sedgwick. His reputation in Ireland was somewhat restored when he was appointed the first professor of geology and mineralogy at Queen’s College Belfast in 1849 before moving to Australia.

He is remembered in the names of many animals, including the fossil echinoderm Maccoya and bivalve Maccoyella, and the Australian bristlebird Maccoyornis.


On a recent trip to Melbourne, a small piece of fossiliferous Irish limestone was placed by me on his grave as a reminder of his Irish scientific legacy. – Yours, etc,


Geology Department,

Trinity College Dublin,

Dublin 2.