Eurasian Cranes sighted 300 years after becoming extinct in Ireland


THREE CENTURIES after they became extinct in Ireland, a flock of 15 Eurasian Cranes has been sighted flying over the southwest at the weekend.

“A good omen” is how Lorcan O’Toole of the Golden Eagle Trust has described the sighting over Castletownroche, north Cork, which he describes as being of “spiritual and scientific” interest.

The 15 birds were flying north. On the same day, one crane flying with lapwings was photographed over Rogerstown estuary, Dublin. While there have been occasional sightings, cranes have not bred here since the early 18th century and were under severe pressure for several centuries before. The majestic bird breeds across northern Europe, Russia and the Ukraine.

Cranes were once so prevalent here that their Irish name “corr” is recorded in hundreds of place names – such as “Curragh” or “crane meadow” in Co Kildare.

“Few native birds can rival the widespread cultural footprint and the connections with Fionn Mac Cumhaill, the druids, St Colmcille and the Book of Kells,” said Mr O’Toole.

Druids believed in transmigration of the soul and the cranes were said to carry the spirits of the dead. They are best known for their migratory trumpeting and their predilection for display.

“Research by Prof Fergus Kelly suggests that the ‘peata corr’ was the third commonest pet after dogs and cats during the Brehon Law period,” said Mr O’Toole. “The crane bag was a well known magical container in our ancient folklore, which had associations with Manannán Mac Lir, the great sea god, Lúgh and Fionn Mac Cumhaill.”

Its familiar bald red patch on its crown is depicted in the Book of Kells, and St Colmcille was known as the “crane cleric”, he added.

Colonisers from Viking and Anglo-Norman times who had no qualms about eating the bird may have contributed to its demise, along with an increase in the fox population, said Mr O’Toole.

Loss of wetlands was also a factor. And Mr O’Toole believes restoration of a breeding population could take place on restored peatland and wet meadows in areas like the north midlands.