The Life and Work of Annie-Honoria Byrne

Inspired by Simon J. Knell’s writings on the emergence of geology as a cultural and intellectual discipline in the 1820s and 30s, The Life and Work of Annie-Honoria Byrne was presented as part of the group exhibition There Are Little Kingdoms, curated by Emma Dwyer at Mermaid Arts Centre, Bray, Co. Wicklow in Feburary 2016.

The Life and Work of Annie-Honoria Byrne investigated the extraordinary – and sadly largely forgotten – career of Bray native and lithologist, Annie-Honoria Byrne. Born in 1887, Byrne grew up on Novara Terrace and from a young age was fascinated by the armoured shingle beach stretching along the seafront from the South Pier to Bray Head. Following a brief apprenticeship to a straw bonnet-maker and an encounter with a published volume of Charles Lyell’s Lectures on Geology, Byrne abandoned her early career and decided instead to pursue the study of local geology.

In 1908 she set about the impossible task that was to become her life’s work: the classification, documentation and cataloguing of every stone “of reasonable size” on the shoreline bounded by Bray Promenade.

Encouraged by the work of prominent Irish geologists Sir Richard Griffith and John Joly, she meticulously recorded the rock type, mineralogy, grain/clast size, colour, texture and structure of thousands of pebbles over a period of over sixty years. Each stone processed by her was assigned an object number, catalogued in a vast register and illustrated in watercolour and gouache in a series of sketchbooks which, by the time of Annie-Honoria Byrne’s death in 1975, numbered in excess of three hundred.

Alongside her epic mission to record all the pebbles on Bray Beach she presented several lectures on her findings and established the short-lived Bray and North County Wicklow Geological Society in an attempt to increase public interest and enthusiasm in local lithology.

The rare public display of Byrne’s work at Mermaid Arts Centre brought together select examples of her geological illustrations, lithological objects from her extensive collection of specimens and a series of personal artefacts designed to provide visitors to the exhibition with the opportunity to discover and reflect upon her remarkable oeuvre.

research image:
photograph of Annie-Honoria Byrne on western slope of Bray Head
photographer unknown