Beirne, Bryan Patrick (1918–98), entomologist and pest control expert, was born 22 January 1918 in Ballygeary, Co. Wexford, the elder son of Patrick Beirne, tax inspector with UK Customs and Excise and later the Irish Revenue Commissioners, and his wife Mabel, daughter of Richard J. Kelly (qv), proprietor of the Tuam Herald. He attended grammar school in Galway from age six, then the CBS in Rosslare before his parents moved to Seapoint, Co. Dublin. He prepared for university at Blackrock College where he refused to play rugby or undertake homework. Beirne, aged 13, recorded the first large thorn moth in Ireland, Ennomos autumnaria Werenberg, and wrote up his discovery for the Irish Naturalists' Journal (INJ) (1933). A precocious self-taught entomologist eagerly searching out insect activity, Beirne was active in the Dublin Naturalists' Field Club (DNFC) from his early teens and read widely and voraciously on entomology.
He entered TCD in 1936, determined to become an entomologist despite no explicit curriculum being offered. Graduating B.Sc. in natural sciences (1938), he was awarded a government overseas research scholarship (1939) facilitating research at the British Museum in London. A demonstrator in zoology (1936–9) and in pre-medical zoology in the RCSI (1938–9), he graduated Ph.D. (1940) from TCD in zoology and was made a fellow of the Royal Entomological Society (1940) and of the Linnean Society (1941). With R. N. Pierce he published The genitalia of the British Rhopolocera and the larger moths (1941). His two TCD master's degrees, M.Sc. (1941) and MA jure officii (1942), were taken to reduce his income tax exposure; he thus paid less tax as a registered student while on a Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 research scholarship. After serving as junior assistant (1942–3) to the professor of zoology and comparative anatomy, J. B. Gatenby, Beirne was appointed to a new lectureship in entomology in TCD (1943–9) in recognition of his significant contribution to the discipline; he was also assistant director of the University Museum of Comparative Anatomy (1943–9). An expert in Irish microlepidoptera, Beirne published on the composition, origins, history and ecology of Irish insect fauna, especially forest, fruit and shrub insects and parasites.
Through the 1940s he undertook a wide survey of the taxonomy of insects in Ireland, based on larval characteristics and internal insect structure. The ensuing papers were published in the INJ and the Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy; his definitive list (1941) of Irish microlepidoptera appeared in the latter. Made a member of the RIA (1943), Beirne was active in various councils and committees of the academy. Addressing the DNFC in January 1944, he noted that a pair of moths might have 200,000 offspring within two generations. Lamenting the lack of pest control activity in Ireland, Beirne had a growing interest in the economic impact of insects (and a desire to augment his salary), leading him to establish the second commercial pest control business in Ireland in 1946. The first was run by J. Bayley Butler (qv), UCD professor of zoology; their combined pre-eminent expertise saw each seeking the other's second opinion when consulted for commercial advice or in legal suits arising from insurance claims for the spoilage of foodstuffs.
Beirne noted the public health and economic benefits of DDT use, in vogue during the 1940s, but cautioned that it must not interfere with essential pollination undertaken by bees (Ir. Press, 31 October 1945). He was aware of the increasing importance of entomology to agricultural output, and addressed the scientific committee of the RDS in 1947, estimating that five per cent of stored foodstuffs in Ireland were destroyed by pests (Ir. Times, 28 January 1947). Eminent in international entomology, a fellow of the Royal Zoological Society (London) (1948), and exercised by the paucity of public and institutional support for applied entomological research in Ireland, Beirne wrote Entomology in Éire (1946), setting out a plan for national entomological research which noted the discipline's significant benefits to the agricultural economy. Seeking to include entomological research in nascent plans to avail of Marshall plan funding to establish an agricultural research institute in Ireland, Beirne and his fellow proponents (principally the journalist and entomologist Philip Graves, of Ballylickey House, Co. Cork) unsuccessfully lobbied Irish governments from 1947.
Despite being the first publicly employed entomologist in Ireland, Beirne foresaw a lack of professional academic or research prospects (Gatenby, who Beirne respected, was notoriously difficult to work with). Alongside his heavy teaching load, Beirne was dismayed at the 'politicking, machination and contention remarkable even by Irish standards' ('Irish entomology', 39) that delayed the foundation of an agricultural research institute (eventually founded in 1958), leading to his acceptance of an offer from the Department of Agriculture Science Service in Canada, received at a conference there in 1948. Beirne, having published 'The development of Irish entomology' in the INJ in 1947, remained deeply interested in Ireland and Irish entomology. In The origin and history of the British fauna (1952) he assessed the history of fauna of Britain and Ireland, drawing on biology, taxonomy and the floral and geographical past to account for present evolution and distribution of insects and their habitats.
Beirne joined the insect systematics unit of the division of entomology in the Science Service of the Canadian [Federal] Department of Agriculture in Ottawa and examined the impact of the suborder Homoptera (comprising various insects with uniformly textured wings) on North American agricultural and forest ecology. Investigating the systematics of leafhoppers and plant bugs, he identified and named over thirty previously unknown species. Appointed director (1955–67) of the Biological Investigations Unit at Belleville, Ontario, later renamed the Entomological Research Institute for Biological Control, he significantly expanded its research output and facilitated international cooperation in biological control research. He was an expert in Lepidoptera, a species-rich order comprising butterflies and moths, and researched their systematics and bionomics, surveying the ecology of pest management within the wider scientific debate concerning the 'balance of nature'. Given considerable latitude within the federal scientific research environment, he championed deploying a multi-disciplinary approach by examining climate, natural enemies and population variance as means to alter the ecology and environment a pest inhabits. By integrating a variable mixture of control methods, unnecessary harm to humans and other organisms could be minimised. His fundamental work engaged with leading international cooperative and collaborative research investigating the biology and ecology of pest management. He also greatly enjoyed satirising the behaviour of bureaucrats.
Beirne argued that the subjective use of the term 'pest' is governed by variable human custom; reducing pest abundance could be achieved by chemical spraying, deploying parasites and predators to undermine the pest, as well as selective plant breading to engender resistance. As integrated pest management approaches gained ground in the late 1950s, Canadian federal agricultural research tried to become more relevant to the needs of commercial agriculture. However, Beirne's inter-disciplinary and cooperative approach to scientific research jarred with the federal government's refusal to engage with national academic research infrastructure. Seeking to augment multi-disciplinary research by forging links with academia, Beirne was frustrated at how the institute's scientific and institutional independence was being denuded by bureaucratic meddling driven by political priorities. With seven colleagues he left the Department of Agriculture in 1967 to found the Pestology Centre within the Department of Biological Sciences at the recently founded Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia. Beirne was appointed director and professor of pestology (1967–78) in what was later renamed the Centre for Pest Management, and in 1973 led the establishment of a structured professional master's degree in pest management programme, the first such professional postgraduate programme anywhere.
In the past, Beirne's striking independence of thought had clashed with illogical bureaucratic structures, but now he thrived in the young and malleable institution of Simon Fraser. The freedom allowed in academia, which drew together his skills as a researcher (with a conspicuous publication record spanning the Atlantic), educator and manager, and his expertise in biological control and insect taxonomy, especially the behaviour of agents of biological control, were fruitfully deployed in academic research and professional training. Beirne's ongoing research addressed the bionomics of various pest species, assessing the relationship between biological control and pest management and increasingly emphasising natural methods. A fellow of the Entomological Society of Canada, he was awarded their gold medal (1979). Dean of graduate studies (1979–82), after serving as acting president of the university for a period in 1983 he retired as emeritus professor of pest management that year. The B. P. Beirne prize in pest management was established by Simon Fraser University in 1985.
A visiting lecturer and consultant in over twenty countries, he served on a range of academic, scientific, editorial, government, professional, and national and international bodies and committees. A long-time senior editor of the INJ, in which he published over the course of almost five decades, he was awarded the career achievement award of the Science Council of British Columbia (1993). Beirne published over 120 research and technical papers, numerous reports and smaller publications, alongside fifteen books and monographs; a detailed list can be found in his INJ obituary. His entomological papers are listed in Ryan et al, A bibliography of Irish entomology (1984), which he co-wrote. Beirne insisted that he was not lead author, to ensure his younger colleagues gained due credit. The genus Beirneola is named for him, comprising seven species of Central American leafhoppers, as are many species of insect, moss and fungi, all beirnei.
In retirement, Beirne, remaining interested in inter-disciplinary and applied research, was privately involved in deploying email and electronic communication software (as co-founder and chairman of Immelda Telematics Inc.) until 1991. In the mid 1990s he was involved in developing organic plant fungicides and insect traps. Retaining his interest in the history of Irish entomology and its practitioners, and drawing on his own recollections of the events and personalities of the 1930s and 1940s, he wrote 'Irish entomology: the first hundred years' (1985), an invaluable account. He also gifted his collection of Irish Lepidoptera and other insects, alongside his personal papers, to the natural history section of the NMI in the early 1980s. In 1997 he published a genealogical study, The family O'Beirne.
He married Elizabeth ('Betty') Curry on 22 April 1948 in Blackrock, Co. Dublin, daughter of J. W. and A. A. Curry of Blackrock; they had two children together, Patrick and Anne. Beirne died at home in Vancouver, British Columbia, on 28 March 1998.