Amidst the woodland and tranquil waterways of the sweeping Ashford Estate is the oldest falconry school in all of Ireland. It’s here that guests can experience one of the world’s most interesting ancient sports, the culturally rich art of falconry, which from its Chinese origins has a history spanning thousands of years. By taking the unique chance to experience falconry at Ashford Castle or The Lodge at Ashford Castle, guests can uncover the fascinating story behind this tradition, while being enthralled by the resident birds of prey.
Despite the fact that falconry began in the Far East, Ireland has a long history of the tradition too, with evidence dating back to the 7th century when hawks were used by the King of Tara for hunting. The idea of falconry being a sport was introduced later, in the 12th century, when the Anglo Normans arrived. In those days it was of course a pastime of the nobility, but this has long since changed as the ancient field sport has been upheld and enjoyed to this day.
One-hour guided Hawk Walks lead guests through the woodland of Ashford Estate, while flying one of the Harris hawks with an instructor. As guests stroll between the trees, the hawk follows their path, swooping down to land on the glove whenever they’re called. The guide meanwhile gives participants more of an insight into this tradition, and a full appreciation of the hawks and their exceptional hunting skills.
The School of Falconry’s resident birds of prey each have pride of place on the estate. Sonora, Beckett and Lima arrived as chicks in 2013; Lima, and a male called Andes are both the sub-species, Peruvian Harris hawks. These youngsters are then joined by the bigger Harris hawks: Joyce, Swift, Stoker, and Wilde who is one of the fastest flyer in the pack (or ‘cast’, as it’s formally named). All of these hawks hatched in 2011, and found their home at the School of Falconry two weeks later.
Killary is a little older, having hatched back in 2005, so perhaps it’s these extra years that have enabled him to master the art of flying low, skimming his talons across Ashford Estate’s lake. Milly hatched in 2007 and was the first hawk to have been bred at the School of Falconry; Milly is the boss of the cast.
Not all of the birds of prey at the School of Falconry are hawks, though. Ashford Estate is also home to Dingle, a magnificent European Eagle Owl, who arrived in 1999. Naturally, any visit to the School of Falconry includes the chance to meet each of these characters.
After a walk through the woods with a Harris hawk for company, continue exploring the castle’s sweeping grounds. Try fishing for salmon and trout in Lough Corrib, or set out along woodland trails by bicycle. Finally, after a day in the great outdoors, settle into the elegant George V Dining Room for a hearty meal that exhibits the best of local Irish fare.
Image credits: All photos of The School of Falconry at Ashford Castle © Red Carnation Hotels