The Wildlife of Ireland
Nature Bulletin No. 671-A March 18, 1978
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
George W. Dunne, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation
THE WILDLIFE OF IRELAND
Each year, with the approach of St. Patrick's Day, newspaper items
remind us that there are no snakes in Ireland. This roused our curiosity
to find out something about the other kinds of animal life that do or do
not live there.
We learned there are not only no snakes, but no native turtles. There are
frogs, one salamander, called a newt, and one lizard that bears its young
It seems that practically all forms of life were wiped out during the Ice
Age. Since Ireland is an island surrounded by salt water, no great
variety of land animals nor freshwater fishes have colonized it since it
was uncovered by the melting of the glaciers. For example, Ireland has
only about a third as many species of wild mammals as Illinois and
scarcely a tenth as many kinds of strictly freshwater fishes. A few others
migrate up its rivers from the sea. Its bird life, only an hour's flight
away from Britain, is not much different from other north European
Ireland is a little more than half as large as Illinois but its very irregular,
island-studded coast line is over 2000 miles long. A great central plain
that reaches inland from the east coast is bounded on the north, west
and south by mountains and highlands. Its rural landscapes, moors and
boglands; broad rivers; rushing streams and almost a thousand lakes --
both large and small -- are making the Emerald Isle increasingly
popular for tourists, vacationers and sportsmen.
The Atlantic salmon and the sea trout are the fish aristocrats that make
Ireland's inland waters famous. Both come up from the ocean into the
rivers and lakes to lay their eggs and are strong fighters. Many salmon
weigh from 10 to 20 pounds but a prize fish may go 40 pounds or more.
The sea trout are smaller, seldom reaching five pounds in weight.
In the midland lakes, the rank and file of fishermen catch pike and
perch much like our American northern pike and yellow perch; also
bream and rudd, related to carp, At certain seasons the river estuaries
and mouths of tributaries yield mullets and the plaice, a kind of flatfish.
On the sea beaches people dig cockles and clams, or wade the shallow
water to spear turbot, another kind of flatfish.
Among the waterfowl, the common mallard and a teal nest and stay the
year round. The pochard is a diving duck like our scaup. A gallinule
called a water hen, the woodcock and snipe are found on the wetlands.
In autumn, flocks of pink-footed geese and grey lag geese migrate in
from Iceland and Arctic regions to spend the winter feeding on the river
marshes and harvested oat fields.
In recent times most of the restrictions on fishing and hunting have been
removed or relaxed and many of the former great estates have been
opened to these forms of recreation.
In Ireland the word "hunting" means following a pack of dogs, either on
horseback or afoot -- fox-hounds for foxes, and harriers or beagles for
hares. There are also badger hounds and otter hounds. The plentiful
hares and rabbits are the common game for boys and the average man.
The extinct Irish elk, which was hunted by prehistoric Irishmen, was as
big as a horse and boasted antlers that spread up to eleven feet, tip to
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Update: June 2012