Massy, Annie Letitia (c.1867–1931), marine biologist and ornithologist, was born probably in Limerick, third among two sons and two daughters of Hugh Deane Massy of Stagdale, Co. Limerick, and his wife Annie. The Massy family claimed descent from Hamo de Massy, who fought alongside William the Conqueror. Gen. Hugh Deane Massy settled in Ireland (1641) in Duntryleague, Co. Limerick, and supposedly acquired more land in Co. Limerick than any other Cromwellian settler. His descendants came to occupy several large houses in the Galbally area: Massy Lodge, Riversdale, and Stagdale, the last now in ruins.
Annie was probably educated at home. She spent some of her early years in Malahide, Co. Dublin, where her interest in marine life may have been influenced by the proximity of Velvet strand, a popular hunting ground for shell collectors. She acquired a sound knowledge of marine molluscs and became a keen member of the Dublin Naturalists' Field Club. Her skill and accuracy of observation is indicated by her discovery of the first pair of nesting redstarts in Ireland in Powerscourt, Co. Wicklow, when she was 18 years old. In 1899 she published the first of several notes in the Irish Naturalist, on land snails she collected near her family home in Galbally. However, she was thorough enough to use professional expertise to double-check her observations.
Two years later (1901) she began working in a temporary capacity for the fisheries division of the new Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction. She never achieved a permanent position but remained with the fisheries division until her death. The next fourteen years (1901–14) was a scientific heyday for fisheries investigations in Ireland; many cruises were undertaken by the Helga in Irish coastal waters, carrying out extensive trawling, dredging and tow-netting. Among the large team of biologists involved were Maude Jane (qv) and Constance Delap (qv), Edgar W. L. Holt (qv), Stanley W. Kemp, Colin M. Selbie (1890–1916), Rowland Southern (qv), Jane Stephens (qv), and Walter M. Tattersall.
Thus began her career as an expert on marine molluscs, as she worked her way through the varied collections from around the coast of Ireland. She had a special interest in two types of molluscs, the pteropod (floating marine snail) and the cephalopod (including squid, octopus, and cuttlefish). In 1907, aged 40, she published her first scientific paper on cephalopods from deep water off the west coast, three species of which were new to science: Polypus profundicola, Polypus normani, and Heliocranchia pfefferi. Over the next seven years she produced substantial publications on many marine groups, the result of years of painstaking taxonomic work. Her international reputation grew and she worked on material from the Indian Museum (published 1916) and on collections made from several ships: the British Antarctic expedition on the Terra Nova (1910), the South African trawler SS Pieter Faure (1923) and the Discovery expedition to Antarctica (1931). Stanley W. Kemp, who had previously worked with the fisheries division, was now director of the Discovery voyages. She never took part in any of these expeditions and all the collections were shipped to Dublin. She kept in touch with experts in Germany and the UK, and with Albert Russell Nichols (1859–1933) in the Natural History Museum. Dublin. A list of her publications is found in Byrne (1997).
Outside her official work she continued her interest in birds. In 1904 she was one of the founders of the Irish Society for the Protection of Birds (subsequently Irish Wildbird Conservancy, later Birdwatch Ireland). She often told young enthusiasts that they would find that ornithology ‘more than doubled the pleasure of life’ (Byrne, 1997). In 1926, when the society was on the verge of dissolution, she took over as honorary secretary and helped revive the organisation. This culminated in the wild birds protection act of 1930.
A quiet and retiring woman, she was assiduous and professional in her official duties, but a valued friend to those who knew her. She loved nature and kept poultry and a garden full of birds and wildlife. During her life she lived in several places, moving from Coolakeigh, Enniskerry, Co. Wicklow, to Tredagh, Malahide, Co. Dublin, and finally to Galteemore, Carrickbrack Rd, Baily, Howth, Co. Dublin. She died 19 April 1931 at home after a short illness, and was buried at St Andrew's church, Malahide. Three days before her death she resigned from the Irish Society for the Protection of Birds, ending her letter with the words ‘The shearwaters are great company to me at night, and the ravens by day’ (Byrne, 1997). In her will she left a sum of just under £2,000 between her remaining family, her maid, and a close friend. A cephalopod new to science, which she had discovered in 1907, was named Cirroteuthis (Cirroteuthopsis) massyae in her honour and can be seen in the Irish Natural History Museum.