2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, thought to be the most important law surrounding bird protection that’s ever been passed. To celebrate, National Geographic have launched the ‘Year of the Bird’ initiative at each of their lodges, including Ashford Castle. The aim of the initiative is to help people discover the magic of birds and educate themselves regarding their protection. As home to Ireland’s oldest school of Falconry, Ashford Castle has a long-standing connection to birds.
Set in the majestic grounds of the castle, Ireland’s School of Falconry welcomes visitors to discover an activity that’s been in existence for over 4,000 years. Falconry is thought to have originated in the Far East, with hawks used to hunt food for their owners, and it’s believed to have arrived in Britain around 860 AD. The activity quickly became a favoured pastime for the country’s noblemen, but the popularity of falconry decreased once gunpowder was invented as this provided a more efficient way to procure food. However, by the 20th century falconry enjoyed a revival as a field sport, and it’s still practiced today.
Ireland’s School of Falconry provides an opportunity to fly a Harris hawk during a private Hawk Walk lasting one hour. The Harris Hawk is one of the most popular hawk breeds for falconry and was introduced to the UK in the 1960s. They’re widely used for falconry due to their intelligence, aptitude for training and social nature. Size wise, the Harris Hawk fits in between the peregrine falcon and red-tailed hawk and, interestingly, the female of the species is usually considerably larger than the male and tends to be the more dominant bird.
The Hawk Walk experience at Ashford Castle begins with an introduction to your hawk before you head out into the ancient woodlands of Ashford Castle for a flying session. Each hawk at Ashford Castle is named, including Beckett, Joyce and Swift, who are all named after famous Irish writers. Guests will witness first-hand the hawks’ incredible eyesight, quick speed and impressive agility as your instructor explains the process involved in training the hawks. Suitable for both adults and children, it’s a truly memorable experience for all as the hawks follow you through the woodland before swooping down to land on your gloved hand. Anyone keen to spend more time learning about the lives of the hawks and the ancient art of falconry can opt for an extended Hawk Walk, which lasts for 90 minutes and guarantees plenty of one-on-one time with these magnificent birds.
Alongside its Hawk Walks, Ashford Castle also offers guests a wide range of field sports including archery and clay pigeon shooting.
Image Credits: All images courtesy of Red Carnation Hotels.