What is Ireland’s Native Fauna?

By Alexiane Bacle / December 18, 2020

People often say that the grass is greener in Ireland. It might be a bad pun, but it might also be true. Ireland is a unique place that continues to fascinate and intrigue. It has amazing landscapes, beer, legends, music, and some very interesting fauna. What is Ireland’s native fauna? It is time to find out. 

While most of Ireland’s animals can also be found around Britain and Europe, some species are endemic to the Emerald Isle. In this article, I wished to highlight some of the speciesnative to Ireland. There are many more to observe, whether in the sky, on land, or in the sea, while some are sadly extinct, like the Irish Elk. 

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Birds of Ireland

The red Grouse, also called Moorcock or Moorfowl, is a bird that can be found across Ireland. It eats heather, seeds, berries, insects, and can be seen all year round. 

Ireland's Native Fauna

The red grouse is a plump bird, short, with a black tail and red feathers around the eyes. It lives in heathland and moorland, and breeds in April and May. It is not considered an endangered species, but is hunted in large numbers every year, and numbers are going down. 

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The Hooded Crow,caróg liath” in Irish, is a bird that can be found around Europe. With his black feathers and black beak, it is often associated with the carrion crow. It is a subspecies of the carrion crow; both species are closely related and can interbreed. 

The hooded crow’s natural habitat can be woodlands, as well as wetlands, and even urban environments. The crow is opportunistic and learns to take advantage of what is available, from plants to animals. It can be considered a pest by farmers, and a threat to livestock. While the species is legally protected, it can be shot or trapped, and have its nests destroyed, due to its bad reputation.

Hooded Crow

Did you know that crows are one of the smartest animals? These birds can learn to make tools, for example using sticks to get insects, and can solve puzzles similar to 5 to 7 years old children. Another important thing to know about crows is that they can recognize a face; they hold grudges but can also feel a bond with a person. When in doubt, always help a crow, if you don’t want him to come back for you. 

The Irish Jay, or Eurasian Jay, can be found in every county in Ireland, in some other parts of Europe, and has been spotted as far as Asia. Close to crows and magpies, the Irish Jay differs from them with its bright feathers. Indeed, with blue, white, black and brown feathers, it is easy to spot all year round, even in winter. 

In summer, the bird usually hides in the trees. It feeds from tree seeds and insects, but can also attack other birds and eggs. It is easier to hear than to see a jay, because it can imitate the sounds of the bird it is attacking. 

Irish Jay

Jays are very useful for the preservation of woods. During the autumn it buries its food for winter, thereby planting seeds. Because some birds die, or forget where they left the seeds, the tree grows thanks to the bird. 

To know more about birds in Ireland, you can refer to the book of Conor O’Brien Ireland through Birds

Dogs of Ireland 

The Irish Setter is a dog bred for hunting. They are very athletic, medium to large in size, and can be recognized by their floppy ears and long necks. 

Irish Setter

Irish setters are said to be intelligent dogs with a real knack for mischief. They descend from English setters, and the red color was chosen over white to be easily spotted by hunters. The breed became famous in the United States to have inspired the Big Red books as well as the Walt Disney movie. 

The Irish Terrier is one of the oldest breeds native to Ireland, originating from Cork. The Terriers were used as watchdogs and pest control. Also known as Red Devil, the breed was used during World War I as a messenger and sentinels. 

Irish terrier

The Irish Water Spaniel has an unknown origin, but specialists believe it descend from Persian dogs mixed with a spanish breed. The first appearance of the breed dates from 1600. 

It is the tallest spaniel of the breed and can be easily recognized by his curly coat and rat tail. The Irish spaniels were used as sporting dogs for retrieving games, as well as hunting dogs in the lakes. Commonly, the breed is used to catch waterfowl and other water birds because of his waterproof coat. 

These dogs are said to descend from the Dobhar-chú, which means “water hound”. The Dobhar-chú is a mythical creature that resembles a dog and an otter but is as big as a crocodile, and aggressive towards humans and animals alike. The legend comes from a poem telling the story of a man who found his wife dead and the Dobhar-chú above the corpse at the lake Glenade. 

The Irish Wolfhound has an ancient history. It was first recorded in 391 AD; a Roman statesman received Irish hounds as a gift and the city looked at the breed in wonder. There is also the story of Ailbé, the dog of the king of Leinster, that was as powerful as an army. Two kings wanted to buy him, but when the king of Leinster refused, a war started between the two other kings. Ailbé attacked one of the kings, beheaded him, and even when the dog died, it is said that he would not let go of the head. 

Irish Wolfhound

Whether there is some truth in the stories or not, it proves that the breed, or some ancestor of the breed, has been around for a long time. Nowadays, the wolfhound is used as guardians of properties and livestock. They hunted deer, elk, boar, and wolves. They are also famous around the world for their size, attest this page where people share pictures of their wolfhounds. 

The Kerry Beagle is the most ancient breed of Irish dogs next to the Irish Wolfhound. As his name implies, it originates from Kerry. The name beagle is said to be derived from the Irish beag, which means small. Indeed, beagles are small dogs that hunt small games, such as hares. However, the Kerry beagle is the biggest of the beagles and is used to hunt stag. 

Kerry Beagle

For some, the Kerry beagle was introduced in Ireland during the Middle Ages, with the arrivals of the Celts, and was mixed with other breeds to create the beagle we now know. The legend around the breed says that when Noah’s Ark rested in Tipperary, two black and tan hounds disappeared in pursuit of a fox, and that these two dogs are the origin of the breed. 

Wild Life of Ireland

The Red Deer is the largest land mammal and the only species of deer native toIreland.  Even though they can be found in every county, specialists believe that the only herd native to Ireland is the one in Killarney. A small part of the herd has been translocated to an island off the coast of Kerry to preserve the genetic pureness. Deer live in the forest, however, because of deforestation, the deer have to adapt to new environments and are more subject to hunt or starvation. 

Red Deer

The Connemara Pony, or Capaillín Chonamara in Irish, are known for their versatility and good disposition. Originated from Connemara, County Galway, the breed creates strong individuals that can adapt to harsh environments. It is the only Irish horse breed, and the biggest breed of ponies. The breed is said to descend from Scandinavian horses brought by the Vikings that came to Ireland. One surprising ability of the sturdy ponies is their goat-like jump, which makes them the perfect breed for jumping shows and cross countries races. 

Connemara Pony

Every August, in Clifden, is held a Connemara Pony Show Festival that brings hundreds of Connemara ponies together to show their abilities. 

The Viviparous Lizard is an Eurasian lizard. It can be found everywhere in Europe and in some part of Asia, all the way to the north of Japan. It is native to Ireland and protected in the United Kingdom. 

Legend has it that Saint Patrick chased all reptiles of Ireland into the sea after they started to attack him. Even though it is most unlikely that the story is true, Ireland is one of the only countries in the world without snakes. Indeed, the viviparous lizard is the only reptile you will find on the island. Why? Because snakes are cold-blooded animals that cannot live on frozen ground, which can happen in Ireland. 

Viviparous Lizard

If most of these species are not endangered, it is primordial to preserve their ecosystems. Ireland has Natural Park to observe the animals from a distance. It is important for them to remain wild and stay away from human habitations and cultures. Did you know you could even watch wildlife live on Twitch?

There are many ways to get involved, preserve nature and reverse climate change. It starts with small gestures at home like recycling, turning off the lights, setting the heat lower and taking shorter showers. You can also donate to the Irish Wildlife Trust or other charities of your choice to help them protect wildlife and the environment. 

To know more about Irish fauna, visit the Natural History Museum in Dublin. 

About the author

Alexiane Bacle

Alexiane is a French teacher turned writer. Life enthousiastic, book lover, musician at heart. Happiness is in the little things.

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