Talk: Wolves in Ireland

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One animal that never fails to capture the imagination is the iconic Wolf. As part of the Cork Science Festival in November 2019, Dr Kieran Hickey from University College Cork, preeminent expert on Wolves in Ireland, gave a talk for Cork Nature Network on this fascinating subject.

What Dr Hickey doesn’t know about Irish wolves is not worth knowing – he literally wrote the book on them in 2011 – “Wolves in Ireland; A Natural and Cultural History”.

In Ireland the shared history between human and wolf was long and often mutually beneficial. The last known Wolf in England was killed as early as the 14th century while in Scotland wolves survived until the 1680s, but on the island of Ireland they thrived for a much longer period – the last survivor was killed here in 1786.

During Dr Hickey’s talk we learned about archaeological evidence for these apex predators in Ireland, the historical records (often reports of attacks on livestock) and the story of wolves preserved in our local place names and even in our family and first names. Did you know that the surname O’Faoláin, anglicised to Phelan /Whelan means ‘of the wolf’? There are plenty more examples in personal names too with Conaire, Conall and Conor all tracing back to the wolf or the MacTire as gaeilge.

Dr Hickey provided fascinating anecdotes and stories from folklore to keep us all enthralled and showed interesting evidence to support his theory that the Irish Wolf was a unique sub species, maybe significantly larger than its European cousins.

During a lively Q&A afterwards, there was much curiosity and opinions voiced on the feasibility of reintroducing the wolf to Ireland – quite the controversial topic If you missed this event do check out Dr Hickeys book “Wolves in Ireland” available in all good bookstores and libraries.

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Photos : David J Sullivan, Isobel Abbott, unless specified otherwise