Thursday 18 October 2018

We love the reliant robin, but will high-flying wren rule roost?

Eamon Dillon debates which one of Ireland's beautiful feathered friends should be our national bird

Small bird, but a big heart: Will the wren win the title of Ireland's national bird?
Small bird, but a big heart: Will the wren win the title of Ireland's national bird?

Eamon Dillon

Birds have played a strong part in the lore and mythology of ancient Ireland from Children of Lir, who were turned into swans, to the raven perched on the shoulder of a dead Cu Chulainn.

Yet despite such a rich cultural influence Ireland, unlike many nations, doesn't have a national bird.

Last week BirdWatch Ireland's Niall Hatch posed the question as to which of our native bird species should lead our national flock and listed his own personal favourites. These included the curlew, peregrine falcon, barn owl and waxwing, but the letters and emails we received this week show that his first choice, the diminutive robin, famed for its bravery, is also the preferred choice of many. John Gilmore wrote to make the link between birdsong and classical music in his choice of the robin as the leading contender for national bird.

Gilmore said: "It's the robin - no question, they are friendly towards humans. It is my constant companion in the garden and makes cutting the grass a treat, not a chore, when it appears.

''What other bird would inspire a piano piece as wonderful as 'The Robin's Return'? Especially the ragtime version, played by Dickie Neville."

Bernadette Groarke is another fan of the robin and makes her point succinctly. She said: "I think our national bird should be the robin as it's the only bird that sticks in my mind growing up in Ireland. Every time I see one, it brings fond memories of my youth and gives you a warm feeling. Its colouring suits the landscape and the colours of our land and a lot of Irish people relate to the robin in some way or another."

But the robin isn't getting a free ride to the top spot with another feisty flyer, the wren, getting a fair share of mentions.

JD O'Callaghan writes to make his feelings clear. He said: "The little bird with a big heart more numerous than any other, the wren."

Seamus Bourke also shows his true colours as a monarchist when it comes to birds.

He said: "I would like to suggest the little wren. We celebrate this little fellow with the title king of all birds on St Stephen's Day each year. Is he not already Ireland's National Bird. Let's hear it for the king."

Another correspondent Walter Skelton alludes to the part played by the Wren in Irish culture. "I would like to see the Wren chosen. It features strongly in folklore,'' he said.

Jo Monahan goes for the less obvious choice. She said: "I think the beautiful roseate tern should be our national bird because, like the tern, we populate many countries from this small island as our bright young people take flight in ever increasing numbers."

Claudia Sumner emphasises the importance of selecting a song bird and for that reason, she suggests: "The siskin, greenish if not green, definitely a singing bird with a pleasant nature, peaceful, not a bird of prey, quite common, and to be found internationally, like the Irish worldwide, and last not least rather small, like most of us, even in comparison with our European neighbours."

There is always the chance that selecting a national bird may prove to be contentious, even Niall Hatch's personal list providing the motivation to list species left out.

One writer wrote: "I was born in rural west Cork and lived there most of my life, apart from eight years in London.

Below are some of the common birds I grew up with - robin, blackbird, sparrow, lady wagtail, yellow hammer, swallow, wren, wood pigeon, finch, hawk, magpie, jackdaw, pheasant, woodcock, crow, raven, mallard.

These would be much more common than most of those listed and a few of which I haven't even heard of.

Sunday Independent

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