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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

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 alive.

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 countries.

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 tip.

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