King, Kathleen (1893–1978), botanist and bryologist, was born Anastasia Lelia Catherine 5 July 1893 in Dublin, daughter of Lawrence Murphy , of a farming family from Ballycarnew, Co. Wexford, and Bridget Murphy (née Monaghan) from Co. Longford. The family lived in Upper Merrion St. and her father had a drapery business in Lower Baggot St. nearby. She attended school at the Loreto Convent, St Stephen's Green, where she took an interest in music and drama, followed by a period at a Berlin finishing school, where she learned German. She returned to Dublin and acted with the Abbey Theatre for a short time.
She married (1918) Edward Thomas King, a dispensary doctor at Kilmacud, south Dublin, but due to his early death (1933) she became fully occupied in rearing her four sons. Her botanical interests began in the garden, where she grew her own fruit and vegetables. Living in a newly established housing estate, she joined the Irish Roadside Trees Association and learned about siting of trees and pavement planting. She contributed to Maurice Fitzpatrick's Roadside trees in town and country (1947), and went on to join the Society of Irish Foresters and the Dublin Naturalists Field Club, where she widened her interest in nature and botanical studies in particular. Her interest in the cryptogams or non-flowering plants, particularly the Bryophyta (mosses and liverworts), encouraged her to buy a microscope and join the British Bryological Society in 1949. She went on to become one of Ireland's leading field bryologists. Her first publication, ‘Brachythecium caespitosum in Co. Cavan’, was published in the Irish Naturalists Journal in 1950 when she was 57.
Her main interest was in the distribution of mosses, and over a twenty-year period she travelled the country, searching areas for new species records. These studies added greatly to the knowledge of moss and liverwort distribution in Ireland and she published her findings in the Irish Naturalists Journal and the Transactions of the British Bryological Society. One of her most interesting findings was Meesia tristicha, a sub-arctic zone moss, found in Bellacorick, Co. Mayo, in 1957, previously only known as a subfossil in the UK. Her final paper, ‘Recent additions to Irish bryophyte census lists’, was published in 1970 and added thirty-nine new-to-Ireland taxa. Her knowledge of flowering plants was also excellent and she was one of five botanists who helped compile the Supplement to Colgan's Flora of the County Dublin (1961).
Over the years she amassed a herbarium collection of 4,000 specimens, largely from Ireland, but also including specimens from Britain and Europe. Her knowledge of bryophytes meant she was in demand by research workers in the universities to identify moss material, and by Bord na Mona to determine ecological composition of bog sites. She was active in many societies: the RDS, An Taisce (honorary secretary 1958–64), the Dublin Naturalists Field Club (president 1955–6, vice-president 1957–8), and the Geographic Society of Ireland.
A determined person, always well organised, she was noted for her scientific curiosity. She had great reserves of mental energy until the end of her life and it was only when her sight began to fail in 1977 that she donated her herbarium to the national herbarium at the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin. It was seen as the most important bryophyte addition since the early 1900s. She died in her home in Mount Merrion, Co. Dublin, on 28 March 1978.