The final species I have selected for this month of Irish extinctions is the crane. The crane only went extinct in late medieval times, and features much in Irish poetry and song before this. This 2011 Irish Times piece by Lorna Siggins deals with a sighting of a flock in Castletownroche, Co Cork (home of labyrinths, dinosaurs and spies):
While there have been occasional sightings, cranes have not bred here since the early 18th century and were under severe pressure for several centuries before. The majestic bird breeds across northern Europe, Russia and the Ukraine.
Cranes were once so prevalent here that their Irish name “corr” is recorded in hundreds of place names – such as “Curragh” or “crane meadow” in Co Kildare.
“Few native birds can rival the widespread cultural footprint and the connections with Fionn Mac Cumhaill, the druids, St Colmcille and the Book of Kells,” said Mr O’Toole.
Druids believed in transmigration of the soul and the cranes were said to carry the spirits of the dead. They are best known for their migratory trumpeting and their predilection for display.
“Research by Prof Fergus Kelly suggests that the ‘peata corr’ was the third commonest pet after dogs and cats during the Brehon Law period,” said Mr O’Toole. “The crane bag was a well known magical container in our ancient folklore, which had associations with Manannán Mac Lir, the great sea god, Lúgh and Fionn Mac Cumhaill.”
Its familiar bald red patch on its crown is depicted in the Book of Kells, and St Colmcille was known as the “crane cleric”, he added.
Colonisers from Viking and Anglo-Norman times who had no qualms about eating the bird may have contributed to its demise, along with an increase in the fox population, said Mr O’Toole.
There was great excitement among local bird watchers last week when a flock nine Cranes were seen near the M1 at the turn off for Ardee just west of Dunleer. There has only been one verified sighting of a Crane previously in Louth on March 19 2012 in Drogheda.
This most recent sighting was by Billy Clarke and has led to speculation that the birds may be relocating somewhere in Louth.
Cranes are long distance migrants from southern Europe to north eastern Europe. They have also been reintroduced in the UK. in Somerset where there is a flock of around 50 birds with colour rings on legs so as to record their movements.
Cranes are a common sight in much of Europe and are famous for their spectacular dancing display.
It’s believed that these majestic birds have been extinct in Ireland for over 300 years. Sightings at various parts of Ireland in recent years has led to speculation that the European Crane might return to Ireland to breed thanks to a warming climate, just as little egret has done.
I have posted before about some ambivalence at the spread of Little Egret. It is on one level still a little exotic and a bit thrilling, on another it is a sign that the climate is changing, with all that implies. The fact that flocks of cranes are being sighted, albeit sporadically, in Ireland is perhaps another mixed blessing.
On that possibly uplifting, possibly not note, this is the last Extinct in Ireland post. It has been a rather saddening, albeit educational process. Sadly there was no shortage of species to choose from, and in the end it was more a question of what to leave out (for instance out of the three raptors which the Golden Eagle Trust have reintroduced, only focusing on the Golden Eagle)
I hope readers have taken something from this – for Irish readers particularly, I hope any complacency about Ireland being a wonderful place for wildlife is dissipated.