by Paul Cormacain
SUNNY Italy was nice, very nice. Sunny here is nice, very nice.
We saw golden eagles in Italia, and now we come home to news about the golden eagle in Ireland. Life is exciting, and good.
One of Scotland's most imposing birds, the golden eagle is a huge bird which soars high and effortlessly over Scottish peaks. And Italian peaks also, and now that I think about it, I have seen them soaring high and effortlessly in the Rockies.
Only a small bird would have a wingspan of less than two metres, for most birds it would be two and a quarter metres. So if you were to see them high above, no other bird would look near so large. The only change of seeing one would be if a golden eagle strayed over the sea, and flew over head.
That is the current state of the eagle in Ireland, with one possible sighting in Donegal ten years ago, and some possible sightings along the north coast. Over a hundred years ago the bird was reasonably common here, taking into account its large territory. In the right place it could have been seen.
Then the bold gamekeepers and sheep farmers decided that they did not like the bird, went on the warpath. It was massacred to extinction over a century ago. No more golden eagles. You would have had to go to Italia, Scotland or the Rockies to see one. These self-righteous folk decided they knew best, decided the bird was evil, and decided it had to go.
The diet of the golden eagle would be grouse, hare and ptarmigan. It will also eat carrion, cleaning the mountains, so to speak. This was a habit which did it no good, for the eagle killers would leave out poisoned carrion, with fatal effects.
The hatred of the eagle was caused by the fact that it ate lambs. After a lamb was born, it was the norm for carrion and hooded crows, foxes, eagles, to eat the after birth. No big deal, but it was easy for local prejudices to blame these creatures for eating lamb, and if they ate lamb, they must have killed lamb.
There was always a certain amount of lamb mortality, and again the scavengers would clean up, and again would get blamed for killing lamb. If a lamb was very sickly, it would probably die anyway, far from help and hope. That is the time that an eagle would strike, or other raptors or scavengers would move in. But far from misbehaving, these creatures were doing a service that would remain undone by gamekeepers and sheep farmers.
The golden eagle is an asset, not a monster, and did not deserve its fate. In general terms it has been extinct in Ireland for a century. Then fifty years ago, a pair moved in, probably from Scotland, and had the good sense to settle at beautiful Fair Head. Good sense was not enough, it needed good luck, and a local gentleman decided that they would not have good luck. He massacred them.
The past is history, today is important. An international group was set up, decided that we could re-import the bird into Ireland, picked Gleanveagh National Park in Donegall as the site.
International co-operation led to the recent import of six young Scottish golden eagles, which have already been released into the wild. For those who know Glenveigh, it is a large, wild, beautiful, open. area, with mountains and lakes and not many people. Local folk have been involved, and it seems unlikely that the birds will be harmed.
Employees on the park would have the interests of, the birds at heart, most visitors would think the birds were great, so if any one came along with dishonourable designs they would be nearly sure to be spotted, and deterred.
So it seems to me that there is a good chance that these birds will survive and thrive. The natural progress would then be that golden eagles would spread. How long before we could hope to see them in the Sperrins, the Mournes, or the Antrim Plateau? Or will we be able to welcome them to the Black Mountain, to Colin or to the Cave Hill?