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Famous Five Go Wild at IMMA

While the IMMA site is closed we will continue to explore the biodiversity of the IMMA site in this series of articles by Sandra Murphy from our Visitor Engagement Team. This time Sandra looks at the butterflies she has spotted in the grounds of the Royal Hospital Kilmainham (RHK). Next up she will explore the birds and the biodiversity of the IMMA site.


Famous Five Go Wild at IMMA

Now that we all have a little more time to slow down and become aware of our environment within our 5km zone, let’s look at five species of butterflies that have been spotted in the Formal Gardens and hedgerows at IMMA – The Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, Red Admiral, Orange Tip and Speckled Wood. These butterflies can also be seen in suburban gardens and parks, when suitable plants and shrubs have been allowed to flourish for biodiversity.

Some of the most important plants for butterflies and their eggs are – Holly, Ivy, Bramble, Valerian, Nettle, Thistle and Buddleia (commonly known as The Butterfly Bush). Often considered by some gardeners as pests or weeds, when they do, in fact, provide safe shelter and food for a host of wildlife. These wild wanderers can be seen in the hedgerow in and around the car park and on some of the old surrounding walls at IMMA.

So, if you are planning or already have a garden, try to keep a sunny corner for these important plants to flourish and attract colourful butterflies into your life. Potted flowering herbs and lavender for balconies can also be a great attraction for bees, etc.

Location, location …

The Formal Gardens originally served as a physic garden, containing medicinal plants and may have been laid out in 17th century French style. The restoration carried out by the OPW continued this theme and incorporated sculpture and garden furniture similar to those in vogue at the time when the Royal Hospital was built. Works from the IMMA Collection are exhibited throughout the gardens and include sculpture by Edward Delaney, Brian O Doherty and Iran do Espírito Santo. The late Janet Mullarney has also exhibited sculpture on the terrace in the recent past.

The terrace overlooks the gardens and has, in the recent past, hosted the IMMA Summer Party, weddings, civil ceremonies and art-related events such as Art Al Fresco and Summer Rising. Growing among the colourful flowers in the herbaceous borders in the Formal Gardens, the choice of planting for biodiversity includes Verbena, Sedum and Nepeta Cat Mint, which is a medium height, minty, herby-scented purple plant and beloved by butterflies and cats, as any cat owner will know! Sedum is also an important flower for honeybees and bumblebees late in the Summer season.

The Famous Five

Small Tortoiseshell

The Small Tortoiseshell emerges from hibernation from March onwards (if temperatures are warm enough) and is very dependent on the flowers and buds of Ivy. Eggs are laid on the underside of Stinging Nettles.

Growing wild at IMMA (Butterflies)
1. Small Tortoiseshell sipping nectar on Verbena.
2. Small Tortoiseshell on Cuckoo Flower (flower not seen at IMMA).


Verbena is never alone on a sunny day, always there providing nectar for insects and the beautiful Peacock, a large butterfly which can be seen from March to October. Larvae feed on Common Nettle.

Peacock on Verbena
Peacock on Verbena
Growing wild at IMMA (Butterflies)
1. Peacock on Thistle.
2. Peacock on Buddleia.

Red Admiral

The Red Admiral is a large, velvety black and orange butterfly – a regular visitor to the Buddleia bush and the Ivy. This butterfly can generally be seen from April to November. Larvae feed on Common Nettle.

Growing wild at IMMA
Red Admiral on Ivy flowers
Growing wild at IMMA
1. Underside of Red Admiral on Verbena 2. Red Admiral on Laurel leaf.

Orange Tip

In Ireland, we have seven species of Whites (pale coloured butterflies). The Orange Tip is an early Spring species and the male differs in colour with the striking orange tip on the forewing, whereas the female is almost all white, but note the beautiful green marbling on the underwing of both sexes. Flying from late March to July.

Growing wild at IMMA (Butterflies)
1. Orange Tip (Male).
2. Orange Tip marbled underwing (Female).
Growing wild at IMMA (Butterflies)
Orange Tip marbled underwing (Male).

Speckled Wood

The Speckled Wood butterfly, although not as colourful as some other butterflies, is a little more difficult to spot, as it can merge into darker foliage. Flight period is from April to October. One of their favourite basking spots is on bramble leaves in the hedgerows. In Ireland we have 10 species of Brown Butterflies!

Growing wild at IMMA (Butterflies)
Speckled Wood resting on bramble leaf.
Growing wild at IMMA (Butterflies)
1. Speckled Wood (Note: black eye ring on forewing).
2. Speckled Wood (wings closed).

Finally, this is one butterfly I have not yet seen at IMMA …

Growing wild at IMMA (Butterflies)
Common Blue (Male)
ID swatches available from
ID swatches available from

ID swatches available from

Other useful websites: (Dublin Naturalist Field club)

The Grounds and Formal Gardens at the RHK are managed and maintained by the Office of Public Works (OPW). Many thanks as always to Mary Condon and her team from the OPW.


Further Reading

Gallery Voices

Growing Wild at IMMA

We are delighted to present a new series exploring the biodiversity of the IMMA site. Although the grounds of IMMA are currently closed Sandra Murphy, from our Visitor Engagement Team, would like to share wi...

by Sandra Murphy / Fri Apr 24th, 2020

IMMA Collection. Ulla von Brandenburg Tarot Cards

Ulla von Brandenburg's 79 piece tarot set was created, together with designer Clemens Hanicht, on the occasion of her solo exhibition, 'Whose beginning is not, nor end cannot be', in IMMA in 2008. This week,...

by Chris Jones / Tue May 5th, 2020
Collection / Curator's Voice

IMMA Collection and Our Place in Space

This week our daily #IMMACollection social media posts explored the theme ‘Our Place in Space’. Our Head of Collections, Christina Kennedy, selected 7 works, one a day, that connect with this theme.

by Christina Kennedy / Fri Apr 24th, 2020
Gallery Voices

Exploring Bharti Kher’s Virus Series

The exhibition A Consummate Joy by Bharti Kher was due to open to the public at IMMA on Friday 13th March 2020. This was the day public buildings were closed due to concerns about the spread of COVID-19. Thi...

by Annie Lynnott / Thu Apr 9th, 2020

Up Next

Drawing from a lost well

Sat May 16th, 2020
National Drawing Day takes place today Saturday 16 May and although we cannot draw in the galleries this year IMMA is looking to explore our local and more immediate environment. Looking in detail at the world within the limits of the 2-5 kilometres where we are allowed to exercise and move freely. Drawing is a way to slow down and take stock of what is around us, to focus an the detail and the beauty of the small and intimate. It has a meditative quality as we become so focused on our task but it also demands that we look and study our subject very closely, helping us gain a better understanding and perhaps even discovering a new aspect to something we thought old hat and very familiar. In this article Barry Kehoe, artist and member of our Visitor Engagement Team, explores his local environment through drawing, making maps and graphic comics to illustrate and investigate the strange layers of time and mystery to be found in a limited area around his home. Perhaps on your next walk, take a pencil or pen and some paper and do a quick drawing of something you find that is interesting or warrants further investigation. It could be of a place you used to go and look forward to going to again when it reopens. You could even share your drawings with us by posting on social me...