Delap, Maude Jane (1866–1953), naturalist and marine biologist, was born 7 December 1866 at Templecrone rectory, Co. Donegal, seventh of ten children of the Rev. Alexander Delap and Anna Jane Delap (née Goslett). In 1874 the family moved to Co. Kerry on her father's appointment as rector of Valencia Island and Caherciveen. She remained on Valencia all her life. As it was seen to be more important for her four brothers to gain good careers, she was educated mostly at home with her sisters. Her father's keen interest in natural history influenced her lifelong passion as a naturalist and marine biologist.
With her father and sisters she collected plants and animals from the shore and, following her father's habit, began writing and sending specimens to the Natural History Museum in London. On the recommendation of Professor A. C. Haddon, Valencia, with its sheltered harbour and wide intertidal area, was chosen as a suitable site for a detailed marine survey by a group of eight English naturalists in 1895–6, led by Edward T. Browne. Maude and her sister Constance took an active part in the survey and are so acknowledged in the Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy (1899), which published the results of the work. The survey's success rested on much of the work carried out by the two sisters. After the departure of the scientists, Maude and Constance continued the survey till 1898, taking sea temperatures and collecting plankton by tow-net from an open boat, which they rowed themselves. They sent on the preserved specimens to London, as well as detailed drawings and notes. Maude continued to correspond with Edward Browne, with whom she had fallen in love, till his death in 1937. He did not return her affection and married a colleague, but every year she sent him a box of violets on his birthday.
After the Valencia survey was finished, the sisters published two further papers on the plankton of Valencia Harbour for the periods 1899–1901 and 1902–5. Pursuing her interest in pelagic organisms, she undertook the task of breeding jellyfish in bell jars. These difficult and time-consuming experiments were a major contribution to the understanding of the complex life cycles of these fragile organisms, which can occur in either of two forms, medusa or hydra. Amongst others, she successfully reared Chrysaora isosceles, Aurelia auretia, and Pelagia peria, and published several papers in the fisheries reports and the Irish Naturalist. A list of her publications is in Stars, shells and bluebells (1997).
In 1906 Alexander Delap died. Some time before this Maude was offered a post with the marine biological station in Plymouth. Her father's reaction was ‘No daughter of mine will leave home except as a married woman’ (Byrne, 1997). She herself, at the age of 40, may have thought it too late to leave. She remained on the island and moved with her mother and two sisters to Reenellen, an old house, where she set up her laboratory, ‘the department’, in one of the rooms. It was ‘a heroic jumble of books, specimens and aquaria, with its pervasive smell of low tide’, according to her nephew (ibid.).
Her last published paper (1924) refers to plankton collected between 1906 and 1910. Tow-netting was largely discontinued after this, although she still pursued studies in all things marine, identifying beached whales and birds, collecting and analysing specimens, and corresponding with museums in Dublin and London. In 1928 her scientific work was acknowledged when a rare sea anemone, Edwardsia delapiae, which she had discovered burrowing in eel grass on the shores of Valencia, was named after her. It was only recorded there again during the 1990s. The Linnean Society honoured her with an associate membership in 1936.
As well as her marine studies, she was a prodigious gardener, supplying vegetables for the family as well as augmenting their meagre income by growing and selling gladioli and lilies. She took an eager interest in the flora, fauna, and local history of the whole area, contributing to Reginald Scully's The flora of County Kerry (1916) and publishing some papers in the Kerry Archaeological Magazine. With her sisters she was very much part of life on the island, helping to run the local cottage hospital and fisherman's hall. They were highly regarded and remembered for their charity and generosity. They kept an open house for visitors, especially welcoming their nieces and nephews.
Constance Delap (1868–1935), was born 29 November 1868 at Templecrone rectory, Co. Donegal, the sixth and youngest daughter, and died 4 June 1935 at home on Valencia. Although she had taken an active part in marine sampling and co-authored some papers on plankton and jellyfish rearing with Maude, it appears that her commitment to marine science was not as great as her sister's.
Maude died on 23 July 1953, the last survivor of the household, and was buried beside her sisters near Knightstown. Her large collection of specimens, mostly jellyfish, was left to her great-nephew John Barlee. Unfortunately the preservative had not been renewed, and all that was left were jars of sludge. However, other specimens she collected are on display in the Natural History Museum in Dublin, including those presented by Edward T. Browne from the Valencia survey. A plaque was erected (1998) to her memory in Knightstown, Valencia Island.