Shackleton, Lydia (1828–1914), botanical artist, teacher, and poet, was born 22 November 1828, at Griesemount, Ballitore, Co. Kildare, the third eldest of thirteen children of George Shackleton, a miller, and Hannah Shackleton (née Fisher). Her forebear Abraham Shackleton (qv), of Yorkshire, England, settled in Ballitore in 1726, and founded a quaker school there, in which Edmund Burke (qv) received his education. Lydia educated and cared for the younger members of her family, leaving her with little time to paint in her early years. In 1850 she was a student in Dublin at the government school of design attached to the RDS, where she expressed her dislike of copying other artists’ work. Thereafter she was housekeeper for her brother, who ran the family flour mill in Straffan, Co. Kildare. She stayed with relatives in Huddersfield, Yorkshire, in 1852, and educated children of relatives at Malvern, Worcestershire, in 1854. She then opened a school in Lucan, Co. Kildare, where she resided on The Mall; known as ‘Aunt Lyd’, she taught there for twenty years. While some of her verse, written while she was teaching at Lucan, provides a record of the school, most of it is concerned with her family, and gives an insight into nursery teaching in the nineteenth century. Travelling in America (1873–6), she painted watercolours of plants, such as stargrass and red mulberry, at Yellow Springs, Ohio, and also executed drawings in Pennsylvania; interesting paintings of wasps and the Colorado potato bug survive in her sketchbooks. Some of her sketches of alpine flowers, such as Cladonia, suggest that she spent time in Le Sentier and Le Brassus, towns in the Vallée de Joux, Switzerland, in 1879.
In 1884 Frederick Moore (qv), keeper of the royal botanic gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin, privately commissioned her to paint the gardens’ orchids, pitcher plants, and peonies. As each plant flowered, Shackleton executed watercolour portraits, over 1,500 in total, the great majority being of orchids, but also comprising Paeonia, Sarracenia, Lachenalia, and Helleborus species and hybrids. All of them, along with her American sketchbooks, are held in the National Botanic Gardens. Painted in a flamboyant style on tinted paper, although of slight scientific benefit – her technique better suited depicting the detail of larger flowers than that of smaller species – the portraits are a significant record of orchid hybrids in the gardens, some of which are no longer in cultivation.
Returning to America (1888–9), she painted flowers in Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Ohio; her notebook sketches are valuable historical records of North American wild plants in the nineteenth century. A series of her watercolour drawings, prepared for the botanical collection at the Science and Art Museum, Dublin, were shown at a Dublin Naturalists’ Field Club exhibition in the RIA in 1897; her painting of a Spanish chestnut in fruit was shown at the 1898 annual exhibition. She contributed watercolours of plants to the club's ‘conversaziones’ from 1899 to 1908. Owing to her failing eyesight, resulting in eventual blindness, she ceased to paint for the botanic gardens in 1907. Her last residence was in Dublin at 11 Garville Rd, Rathgar, where she died unmarried on 10 December 1914; she was buried at Temple Hill, Blackrock, Co. Dublin. A copy of her journal of 1851–5, held in the National Botanic Gardens, is an interesting contemporary record of quaker life, and the restrictions imposed on Shackleton by her strict upbringing. A booklet, Lydia Shackleton (1828–1914), containing sixteen of her poems expressing her devotion to nature, was privately published in 1947; a poem of particular botanical interest, ‘Reminiscent of old age’, records one of the earliest reports of mallow and yellow horned poppies on the Murrow in Co. Wicklow.