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Salty greens for our seaside hares

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There are two species of hares here, the native one, Lepus timidus hibernicus, a sub-species of the Arctic hare, and the introduced bigger brown animal, L europaeus, which is twice the size of a rabbit

There are two species of hares here, the native one, Lepus timidus hibernicus, a sub-species of the Arctic hare, and the introduced bigger brown animal, L europaeus, which is twice the size of a rabbit

There are two species of hares here, the native one, Lepus timidus hibernicus, a sub-species of the Arctic hare, and the introduced bigger brown animal, L europaeus, which is twice the size of a rabbit

The 19th-century American nature writer Henry David Thoreau had a hare living underneath his shack at Walden Pond. In the mornings, he could hear it bumping its way out under the floorboards. "She startled me by her hasty departure, thump, thump, thump, striking her head in her hurry," he wrote.

Hares used to come at dusk to nibble potato parings he had thrown out. When he opened the door the animals would bounce away, except one which sat two paces from him trembling with fear, yet unwilling to move. It was a "poor thing, lean and bony, with ragged ears and scant tail and looked as if nature no longer contained the breed of nobler bloods, but stood on her last toes".

I never shared space with hares in, or under, a house. But occasionally they passed close by. Once, one jumped over the legs of a poet sitting outside for sunny inspiration. Others surreptitiously plundered from a garden, usually leverets finding their tentative paths into the world.

This frustrated the gardeners who plotted various deterrents - but caring for both animals and plants allowed for the dictates of patience. The long-eared lagomorphs also fancy seaweed.

There are two species of hares here, the native one, Lepus timidus hibernicus, a sub-species of the Arctic hare, and the introduced bigger brown animal, L europaeus, which is twice the size of a rabbit.

Both are well equipped to munch: behind the front two upper incisors there is another pair, called pig-teeth. Hares also dispose of their own droppings.

I learned of seaweed fanciers in Mayo. The animals ventured out to the tideline, when grasses were scanty, to nibble sea-lettuce, ulva lactuta, succulent green laver. This is good for humans also, and is collected like dulse by and for enthusiasts, along with samphires, sea grass, sugar kelp and carrageen. Goat cheese and mermaid's hair, anyone? Or, a tasty Scot from South Uist: monkfish and laver in sugar kelp papillote?

However, the distinguished zoologist, Prof James Fairley, of NUI Galway, did not find any traces of seaweed in analyses of hare stomach contents he found 50 years ago. His Co Antrim animals showed 44pc of upland greens, 28pc heather, 5pc bog cotton and the remainder of other sedges. These hares ate well in St Patrick's footsteps.

Never as bold as Brian Vesey Fitzgerald, legendary editor of Country Life magazine, who was reputed to have tasted most wild creatures, I did eat hare on a couple of occasions, if unexpectedly. Once, I had hit one with a car and another was served up in Alentejo, Portugal. The roadkill was prepared in a pub kitchen as 'jugged' with port in the stew; the Portuguese fare was in a casserole with many feathery bones which I learned half way through were leverets. I pleaded lost-in-translation and salved my conscience with clams, cresses and bread and the local vinho tinto.

Years earlier, in hunting days, I heard a wounded hare let out an almost human cry. Afterwards, I walked fields with a spaniel, pointing a walking stick when game birds broke cover and the only sounds were the whirring of wing-beats.

Sunday Independent