Major Robert Francis Ruttledge, Ballinrobe, Co. Mayo

Robert Francis Ruttledge (‘Robin’, ‘Jim’) (1899–2002), ornithologist, was born on the 11th of September 1899 and moved to Ballinrobe at the age of three, on the death of his grandfather when his family inherited Bloomfield House outside the town.

He was the elder of two sons of Thomas Henry Ruttledge of Ballinrobe, high-sheriff for Mayo 1904, and his wife Mary Caroline, daughter of William Browne-Clayton of Browneshill, Co. Carlow. He had five half-sisters from his father’s earlier marriage to Florence Rose Trant of Co. Tipperary. He later moved to Cloonee House on the shores of Lough Carra in Ballinrobe.

He was educated at Marlborough College and Quetta Military Academy, India, and served in the Indian army in the 34th (1918–21). He was awarded a Military Cross in 1919 for action against the Wazirs near Jetta Fort in Waziristan and later served in the 17th Poona Horse (1921–34). In 1928 he married his childhood friend Mabel Rose, daughter of William Creaghe Burke of Ballinrobe; they had two daughters.

Major Ruttledge was commandant of the bodyguard of the governor of Madras (1933–6), and retired from the army in 1939. He was later recalled to the Poona Horse however, was invalided out of the army before going on active service.

He had written his first paper The birds of Lough Carra when only 17 years and went on to write over 200 papers on Ireland’s bird-lore, and became the authoritative source on bird behaviour.

In 1950 he founded the Saltee bird observatory in Co. Wexford, where he served as a director (1950–63) and went on to develop the Irish Bird Report in 1953, which he edited until 1971. During 1961 he was awarded the Bernard Tucker medal of the British Trust for Ornithology. He was later awarded an honorary doctorate of science by Trinity College, Dublin in 1981 in recognition for his work.

In 1964 he founded the Irish Wildfowl Committee, together with John Cabot the progenitor of the Irish Wildbird Conservancy, founded in 1967. Ruttledge served as the conservancy’s first president, and when it acquired its own headquarters in the 1970s, moving from the care of the RIA, its headquarters was named after him.

He died in 2002 having been predeceased by his wife Rose and survived by his daughters, Lady Hemphill and Lady Edward FitzRoy.



Dictionary of Irish Biography, contribution by Joseph McNabb

Staunton Averil A Visual History of St. Mary’s Church of Ireland, Ballinrobe, Co. Mayo 2013

Burke, LGI (1912); Irish Times, 9 Feb. 1991

David Cabot (ed.), Irish Wildfowl Conservancy, news bulletin no. 1 (Dec. 1967); Ir.

Irish Times, 19 January, 2002

Daily Telegraph, 8 March, 2002







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