Did I get your attention with that title? Other contenders included “Falconry in County Mayo” and “My Favorite Activity During Ireland Travel,” but both lack the heart-thumping drama necessary. The simple truth is that one of the top things I’d recommend you do on a visit to Ireland is have a terrifying bird of prey land on your hand to eat dead mice. Yum!
The spot we chose for this madness was Ireland’s School of Falconry, the oldest established training site in Ireland for hunting with birds of prey. You’ll find the school in the town of Cong, County Mayo, nestled within lush green woods. It was conveniently close to the gorgeous hotel where we stayed during our Ireland road trip, the Lodge at Ashford Castle (click to check availability and rates), and right by the famed castle-turned-hotel, Ashford Castle (check availability and rates here), so five minutes after eating breakfast, we were knocking at the door.
At Ireland’s School of Falconry, a friendly guide will greet you, brimming with passion for meat-eating birds. Ours was clad in an outfit straight out of Robin Hood, and I sputtered to her, “I’m glad you love hawks so much, but I’m not touching one!” The guide kindly informed me that there was no way I would leave without having a giant bird land on my hand. I clutched our traveling baby to my chest and scoffed, “HAH!” The guide replied, “We’ll see.”
Sure enough, not an hour had passed before I was donning a thick leather glove and clutching a piece of mouse meat. The hawk hurtled towards me, and let’s see what happened:
I didn’t perish! It was exhilarating. Baby Devi seemed cool with the whole experience, too, which was surprising, but mighty convenient for his gleefully falconing parents.
What I loved was that our guide led us to various different environments to practice falconry. This meant we got to see our hawk zip straight ahead in an open field, and then careen between trees in the forest nearby. ‘Twas a beautiful sight.
Meanwhile, I discovered that my husband Colin is a bird whisperer or something. He connected with those winged beasts on such a deep level, I became concerned he would purchase one and train it to dart around our condo fetching Doritos for him at midnight. (This was a valid fear, given that he almost bought an alpaca in Martha’s Vineyard on the grounds that it would be an efficient way to trim our lawn.)
Once the hawk had been returned to her perch, out came the owl. I successfully avoided touching that beast after learning that they can be surprisingly aggressive, but Colin couldn’t get enough of holding it and watching it fly around, flexing its sprawling wingspan. Look at those orange eyes! We could barely tear ourselves away to head out to Limerick, but the road called.
In summary, when visiting Ireland, the Cliffs of Moher, the Burren, and Bunratty Castle are essential to see — that goes without saying. However, don’t overlook the lesser-known attractions like falconry and the Connemara Heritage Centre that are near and dear to the history of Ireland. These earthy experiences really resonate, and create incredible memories! Now if only I’d agreed to let Colin buy a hawk so she could bring me some ice cream right now…
So what do you think? Would you try falconry, or have you done it already? Do share! Want more giant bird photos? Click for my article on a birds of prey show in Quebec, Canada. Want to read more about our Ireland trip? Find all the Ireland travel articles here!
Check out the hotels we stayed in and loved in Ireland:
- Barna, Co. Galway: The Twelve Hotel (click for availability and rates)
- Clifden, Connemara, Co. Galway: Abbeyglen Castle Hotel (click for info)
- Westport, Co. Mayo: Knockranny House Hotel (click for info)
- Cong, Co. Mayo: Lodge at Ashford Castle (click for info)
- Limerick: No. 1 Pery Square (click for info)
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