• Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size
Sunday, 13 November 2011 22:52

Return of an Irish Legend

Cranes 1 Cranes 1 (c) Lorcan O Toole

Stop Press "14 Cranes were seen today in Ballincollig (to the west of Cork City) flying near Maglin Valley at 13.25 hrs and 19 Cranes were simultaneously seen near Midleton Dual Carriageway (east of Cork City) before 12.00 noon and stayed there all day. So it appears that there are two flocks of Cranes, comprising 14 and 19 Birds, on either side of Cork City."

15 Eurasian Cranes (Cranes) were seen flying north, high over Castletownroche, North Cork last Saturday (12/11/2011) by Mike Hirst. On the same day another Crane was photographed flying over Rogerstown Estuary, Dublin on Saturday. The awareness of the rich lost heritage of Cranes in Ireland is slowly emerging from the distant past. Few native birds can rival its widespread cultural footprint and connections with Fionn Mac Cumhaill, the Druids, St Colmcille and the Book of Kells. The Irish word for Crane was 'Corr' and the long lost significance of Old Irish phrases and place names, originally associated with Cranes, may yield hitherto overlooked associations. The possibility of restoring our native Cranes on wetlands and wet meadows in the North Midlands, and their proven tourism value, is now being investigated.

The sight of migratory trumpeting Cranes is a well known wildlife spectacle worldwide. The Cranes are predominantly grey and long legged birds. They have a unique bald wattle on their crown - where the absence of any feathering reveals their red wattled skin. Prior to the breeding season their excitable Crane dance and displays have always caught the human imagination. They gather in flocks during the winter and have a melodic trumpeting call as they fly high in 'V' formations across the skies. Those memorable encounters have been long lost from Irish society, as Cranes became extinct in Ireland sometime in the late 18th Century. But on Saturday, Mike Hirst had the enviable privilege of witnessing such a tantalising glimpse into Ireland's cultural and natural heritage. On the same day an even closer encounter with a single Crane by Mark Carmody and Shay Connolly on the east coast at Rogerstown - emphasis that Cranes are slowly retracing their ancient footprints across the Irish landscape.

Rather appropriately, TG4 aired a wildlife programme, Ag Dul in Éag, exploring the extinct breeding Cranes in Ireland last Tuesday (8/11/2011). Articles in the Archaeology Ireland magazine and the Irish Eagle News have also focussed on Cranes over the last twelve months. Gordon D'Arcy book, Lost Irish Birds, published in 1999 was the first major breakthrough in our understanding of our natural riches lost over the centuries. The Golden Eagle Trust attended the European Crane Working Group Conference in 2010 and invited experts from the Swedish Crane Working Group to visit Ireland in July 2011. Their expert opinion suggests that the wetlands and wet meadows in Longford, Roscommon, Leitrim and many other places are still suitable for cranes, providing a rich source of earthworms, wetland vegetation and other dietary items such as berries and snails.

In ancient Ireland, Cranes were almost uniquely protected from hunting by a well established taboo amongst the Gaels. Research by Professor Fergus Kelly suggests that the Peata Corr, was the third commonest pet (after dogs and cats) during the Brehon Law period. Whilst there may be debate over whether these pets were Cranes or Herons, evidence from numerous other ancient societies, including Egypt, North America, Pakistan, convincingly point at the domestication of Cranes. The Crane Bag was a well known magical container in our ancient folklore. It had associations with Manannán Mac Lir (the great Sea God), Lúgh and Fionn Mac Cumhaill. The Early Irish Christian Church followed on with this Crane respect. The famous High Cross at Ahenny, Tipperary has a Crane leading a funeral procession at its base, the bald red patch on the crown of a crane is illustrated in the Book of Kells and St Colmcille was known as the Crane Cleric.

The Golden Eagle Trust has been examining the possible hidden remnants of Corr (Crane) words in Irish and Irish place names. The Irish word itself is probably onomatopoeic, as several bird field guide describe 'Korrh' among its several calls. There is no 'k' in Irish. Experts in the ancient Indo-European language (which preceded Celtic, Latin and Germanic languages amongst others) suggest Crane were called 'Kor' ? several thousand years ago. There are scores of words beginning with 'cor' in Irish, some with tantalising similarities with other known crane words in other languages. Crane associated place names are one of the commonest bird related names in Britain. In Ireland, our ancient town land names (Logainmneacha) contain several hundred names beginning with 'Cor'. Research in the 19th and 20th century often interpreted these ancient names, suggesting 'Cor' meant odd, mound, hollow, swamp etc. The Cranes were long extinct at that time. But it is conceivable that the English version of old Irish place names, as varied as Cork, the Curragh, Tubercurry, Corofin and Corbally may have evolved over the Millennia from Crane and Crane haunts originally.

Ancient cultures across the world, from China, to Africa, Europe and America, believed that Cranes held knowledge. Their association with rich feeding wetlands, ancient grasslands and bog lands may have been keenly observed by early nomadic migratory family groups, seeking sustenance in unexplored landscapes. Our Gaelic and other ancestors believed Cranes deserved special respect. On Friday, Michael D Higgins, our new President, said "Now it is the time to turn to an older wisdom". The Golden Eagle Trust believes that a wide range of rural sectors could benefit from turning back toward some aspects of our ancient cultural heritage, our Seanachas.

The return of the Crane could give a fresh impetus to the tourism sector in Longford, Roscommon and south Leitrim. The abandonment of hundreds of small marginal farms in wetland margins or upland areas has to be challenged and resolved - probably through new agreed Agri-Environment measures under the emerging High Nature Value farming concept and proposals. The increasing risk of flooding and water supply needs a new imaginative approach - as expensive concrete barriers will only be focussed on urban centres. The acceptance and understanding of the importance of wetland areas, that control the slow release of erratic flood event waters and underpins large scale tourism attractions in marginal communities has to be explored. The return of the Crane, or Corr, can highlight the real economic, cultural and natural importance of wetlands. On the back of a good weekend for Ireland, can the sight of a flock of 15 Cranes in Ireland be seen as a catalyst by an imaginative society that respects its rich heritage!

Lorcán O Toole
Golden Eagle Trust,
tel. 087 1310177
or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Last modified on Friday, 09 March 2012 17:33