A Hawk Walk in Ireland

From the blog of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine:

The art of falconry involves the use of trained “birds of prey” to hunt or pursue game for people. Falconry has been practiced in Ireland for centuries (dating back to 3000 BC, according to some accounts) and has a long social and historic background. It became known as the “Sport of Kings” in medieval times, and dozens of English phrases come from falconry, including hoodwinked and fed-up.

This week, we enjoyed a “halk walk” with Jason Deasey, the owner of the Falconry at Mount Falcon, and his Hungarian Vizsla named Chili in Co. Mayo in West Ireland. The bird of prey and Chili work together; the dog flushes out the game, and the bird swoops down and grabs it . During our two hour walk in the woods, we learned the history of falconry; examined the birds of prey up close —including Harris Hawks, Peregrine Falcons, a Barn Owl and a Great Gray Owl named “Gandalf”; watched the hawks and falcons fly through the air and return on command; and saw one of the birds capture a rabbit.

In a first-hand experience, we saw a hawk glide through the woods at upwards of 35 miles per hour and land on our gloved fist. It was a close encounter to remember.

Our tour began in front of the Mount Falcon manor house, located on a 100-acre estate on the banks of the River Moy with magnificent mowed lawns, abundant wildlife and grazing sheep. Our falconer Jason was waiting for us, dressed in green tweeds, with a pouch (that we learned later was filled with dead rodents).

We watched as Jason raised his arm and loosed his bird, which soared more than 100 feet into the air. Then Jason arched a bit of rope in a ‘figure 8’ pattern, meat attached to the end, and the bird gracefully swooped down in pursuit.

We visited the mew, which the birds called home, and a stone tower where they sleep. Then we went for a walk in the woods to watch the birds in action. The birds weaved their way between branches and narrow gaps before landing on a gloved hand. Our teenage son was thrilled.

Jason’s learned his trade at The Irish School of Falconry in Ashford Castle, Ireland’s oldest school of falconry. He began as an apprentice, as all licensed falconers do. The work require a high level of commitment seven days a week. In a high-tech twist, Jason has used drones to train his birds (details are here). Jason also rehabilitates injured birds.

Nowadays, we learned, birds of prey are used to deter pest birds away from airports, landfill sites, vineyards and other places, including Wimbledon. As it turns out, falconry has a California connection. West Coast Falconry in Marysville is the first in the state to offer an apprentice seminar to help students prepare to become licensed falconers. The California Hawking Club is the largest state falconry organization in the Unites States.

Author: jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website SierraCulture.com. Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for years, was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News, and was Editor of The Union, a 145-year-old newspaper in Grass Valley. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing and trout fishing.

5 thoughts on “A Hawk Walk in Ireland”

  1. As a kid I was fascinated with falconry. In the early 70s you could actually buy a hawk or owl from sellers advertising in the back pages of Outdoor Life magazine.
    Falconers and falconry organizations played a big role in helping endangered falcon species, such as the Peregrine, recover from the brink of extinction due to the devastating effects of DDT on the birds reproduction.
    For all the criticism the Endangered Species Act gets, from the right wing Republican types, it can work and needs to be strengthened. The bald eagle, osprey, peregrine falcon could very well be extinct, at least in the lower 48, with out the protection the ESA provided. I am so glad Congressman Richard Pombo lost his reelection years ago and is longer in office.

  2. As the Irish poet — and I suspect you know who — once said (possibly inadvertently revealing the connection between falconry and modern politics):

    “Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.”

    🙂

    1. Ha! Yeates. We visited the National Library of Ireland and saw the “Book of Kells” at Trinity University in Dublin. Planned to go to the Frank McCourt museum in Limerick, but we were too jet lagged at the start of our trip. Next time.

      1. Yes, we did the Book of Kells tour when we were in Dublin too. Absolutely fascinating.

        Beyond a doubt, the most fun we had in Dublin — so much fun that we’d go back to Dublin again if only for that one thing — was the “Literary Pub Crawl.” What a hoot. An early evening stroll, led by two actors (who re-enacted scenes from the works of Oscar Wilde, Brendan Behan, Beckett, et al). Plenty of opportunities to down a coupla pints while being fantastically entertained for 2-3 hours.

        http://www.dublinpubcrawl.com/other_tours.htm

  3. By the way, speaking of the pub crawl, here’s a hilarious re-enactment of a scene from “James Plunkett’s ‘The Risen People’ and the novel ‘Strumpet City.'” We saw this very scene performed by the very same male actor in as in this YouTube video (which I just found). The two characters depicted are “touchers” looking for handouts from passersby on the streets of Dublin, and they discuss how to tailor their pitch according to whether they perceive their potential marks to be Catholic or Protestant.

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