How Ireland went from a land of wolves to a land plagued by seagulls... in fact Ireland was so well-known for it's packs that it was nicknamed "Wolf Land".
Last summer in Ireland there was a sort of social hysteria regarding Seagulls and their aggressive behavior. It even prompted some to call for a cull of these birds with bad attitude. Members of Seanad Eireann even spent time debating about Seagulls and of course it led to a knee jerk reaction to tackling the problem: cull these birds who encroach human boundaries! It brings to mind another species which thrived in Ireland until it was eventually wiped out due to the extensive culling of it - the Wolf.
Wolves roamed freely around Ireland for many centuries but today the only Wolves to be seen here are the ones that are safely confined in the likes of Fota Wildlife Park or Dublin Zoo.
The Wolf population was a vibrant one in Ireland up until the early 17th century and the country even gained a nickname: 'Wolf Land'! Prior to the 17th century the human population of Ireland was low which meant that the lack of human interference with the Wolf resulted in its high population.
Back then the country was vastly covered in forest which provided the Wolf with protection and an ambundance of food in the form of deer, boar and rabbits. Wolves were also known to feast on the leftovers of a bloody battlefield, of which there were many across the land in those days!
The earliest known location of an Irish Wolf is in North Cork where, during an archaeological excavation in Castlewood cave near Mallow the remains of a Wolf dating to 34,000 BC were found.
The earliest known record of Wolves in Ireland can be found in the Annals of Tigernach from 1137 which reports on the death of a blind man called Giolla Muire who was mauled by a pack of Wolves in the Midlands.
The old Irish word for Wolf is 'Mac Tire' which translates to 'Son of the Countryside' but, as Ireland gradually fell under the bondage of foreign settlers these sons of the countryside fell under threat.
The last known Wolf in England was killed in the 1300s while in Scotland the Wolf population was wiped out by the 1680s. When the British arrived in Ireland they encountered a swelled population of Wolves and they set about eradicating them like they had done so across Britain.
The British settlers introduced legislation to cull the Wolf population but the native Irish were not as interested in culling the Mac Tire as the British were.
Wolf hunters were brought into Ireland from Britain , enticed by the large bounties placed on Wolves. A £6 bounty was placed on a female Wolf, £5 for a male and £2 for cubs. Records from those times report ovr 300 Wolf skins were exported from Ireland annually and as the centuries rolled on the number of Wolves roaming Ireland decreased.
The popular belief is that the last Wolf left in Ireland was killed in Carlow in 1786. The Watson family were the landlords at Ballydarton and founded the Tullow Hunt. John Watson, master of the Tullow Hunt, was enraged by the killing of his sheep by a lone Wolf who resided on Mount Leinster so he set about tracking the animal down. With a pack of Wolfhounds, Watson and his hunt tracked the last known Wolf in Ireland to a den on Mount Leinster and thus ended the tale of Wolves freely roaming the Irish countryside.
Today the Wolf still roams in places such as north America and Russia but the thought of this small island of ours hosting packs of Wolves again seems too far fetched. If a cull of Seagulls is ever introduced in Ireland then there would be no way the Wolf could find their place to roam the country without facing the same fate!
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