One fell swoop – Fionnuala Ward on seagulls

An Irishwoman’s Diary

A dinosaur landed on my roof the other day. It moved slowly and deliberately on the flat surface, head moving from side to side. I could see it through the window of the spare room although, of course, it had that whole my-focus-is-entirely-elsewhere-and-you-are-not-in-my-line-of-vision thing going. Wasn’t fooled though. Kind of knew she had me sussed.

The window was slightly open and I sat there, half-expecting her to stick her head in and manipulate the handle to force a full release, something like her cousins do in that kitchen scene with the kids in Jurassic Park.

But clearly she had other priorities. Mind you, if she had forced her way in I'd have handed over my wallet on the spot. Keys, bank account details, the lot.

Seagulls are terrifying creatures, all told. Big. Bold. Fearless.


There’s another one or the same one or an estranged sibling who every now and then lands on the garden wall between myself and my neighbour. It looks around or doesn’t look around – it’s always so hard to tell – and occasionally takes to strutting up and down the wall. That’s the point at which I’ll slide back from the laptop and watch and wait, anticipating a backward flip or at the very least a bit of a balance on one leg.

Seagulls with all their cocky self-assurance do occasionally find contemporary urban living to have its frustrations

Email half-finished, I’ll stare out through the glass, thinking “That’s it? Really? That’s all you’re going to do?” Although, it should be noted that the sliding door to the garden is generally closed at these times.

And locked.

In the before-times, my colleague and I took to watching the seagulls on the Liffey from our vantage point at work. They had this trick whereby they would position their tail in the direction of the current and eyes firmly ahead allow their bodies to be pulled gently backwards until, paddle, paddle, paddle, they’d scramble back to their original position and start all over again.

It was a kind of gull fairground ride. Glide, glide back, scoot, scoot forward. Repeat as required.

I began to notice them everywhere then. On the river wall, on Daniel O’Connell’s head, on the chimneys of houses. And always with that fixed, alert expression. Watching, watching, always watching.

It was the one I spotted on the river wall that fairly gave me the heebie-jeebies. I turned right down the quays, mulling on the banal business of the day, and suddenly there it was, big as a well-fed cat, motionless, fearless and entirely indifferent to my presence and pretty much all and everything in its immediate vicinity. For an instance, I couldn’t help thinking that maybe it was in charge and quietly and surreptitiously running the whole show.

Thing is, though, seagulls with all their cocky self-assurance do occasionally find contemporary urban living to have its frustrations.

A friend tells the story of being accosted on his way to work by the sound of a gull squawking at full volume. The noise reverberated around the street and genuinely unnerved he cast a wary eye about. As it turned out, the gull’s chick had fallen into a narrow gap between two houses, rendering the screeching parent powerless.

It's as though they're incredulous that their meal-ticket has disappeared and come back again and again just to be sure

Having assessed the situation, my buddy sensibly exited the scene, leaving the distraught bird alone to its remonstrations against the world.

My neighbour thinks they’re all confused at the moment. Seagulls, as a general group, that is. Pauline is far more observant than I and has spotted a gang indulging in regular bouts of swooping and sweeping over the playground of the local school, positioned just beyond our houses.

But they do so in vain.

There are no scraps to be had. No lunches. No breaks. No noise. No bustle.

It’s as though they’re incredulous that their meal-ticket has disappeared and come back again and again just to be sure.

Meanwhile, back in town, I assume they have the city centre and certainly the river pretty much to themselves. They must be living it up with all that gliding back and scooting forward.

Either that or the well-fed squatter on the river wall, has already marshalled the troops and organised an insurrection against us inert, flightless creatures. Only thing is, would it really be worth the effort?

Life isn’t at all bad when we’re around. Properly around.

Maybe they’ve decided to ride this out – in every sense of the word. And while doing so, loiter around neighbourhoods all over the city.

On the walls.

On the roofs.

Never looking you in the eye but taking it all in nonetheless.