The first butterfly to feature on the melancholy month of Irish extinctions is the Large Copper
The Large Copper L.dispar dispar became extinct in England around 1864 due to the great reduction and drainage of it’s marshy fen habitat. This was a result of the expanding human population at that time. In 1909 an attempt was made to introduce a subspecies L.dispar rutilus which was commonly found in Europe but this was only a partial success and required constant management of the fen to ensure that the larval foodplant of Giant Water Dock was available in sufficient quantities and growing in the right places.
About 1912 Mr.W.B. Purefoy lent lands including a snipe bog in Greenfields, Co.Tipperary so that an attempt could be made to introduce the Large Copper to Ireland. Preliminary work commenced by way of clearing the land and planting the roots of Giant Water Dock which were imported from England. Capt. E.B. Purefoy oversaw the project and in May 1913 ten dozen larvae of L.dispar rutilus were imported from Herr H. Ragnow of Berlin but these produced only eight butterflies. In May 1914 Capt. Purefoy travelled to Germany and collected nearly 700 larvae in the marshes north of Berlin but when he returned to Ireland it was found that most of these larvae were parasitised and as a result only about 300 butterflies actually emerged. However a spell of good weather helped and these butterflies quickly set about laying eggs on the Giant Water Dock and for the first time a breeding colony had been established in Ireland.
With careful management the colony survived until 1928 but that was it’s last year in existence and sadly it died out. A further re-introduction attempt was made and these butterflies survived until about 1938. A last attempt was made in 1943 and this colony survived until about 1953.
They were the last of the Irish Large Coppers and no further re-introduction attempts have been made.