Ireland School of Falconry – Two Weeks in Ireland

| January 25, 2013
harris hawk ireland school of falconry

Wexford at the Ireland School of Falconry

A Stop at the Ireland School of Falconry

During our two week adventure in beautiful Ireland, we had an incredible experience at the Ireland School of Falconry. The school, which is the oldest established falconry school in Ireland, offers unique opportunities to fly a hawk around the gorgeous grounds of Ashford Castle – with a guide, of course.

The Ireland School of Falconry is located about 45-minutes by car northwest of Galway near the west coast of Ireland. We stopped at the falconry school on our way from Galway up to Bushmills, in Northern Ireland. Since we had a 10 am appointment at the school for our walk, we left Galway after breakfast at about 8:30am. Once you arrive at the Castle, there is an approximate ten minute walk through the castle grounds to the school.

ashford castle location

Ashford Castle proximity to Galway

Upon our arrival, the first thing we saw was the beautiful Ashford Castle. The medieval castle, built in 1228 by the House of Burke, was purchased in 1852 by Sir Benjamin Guinness, the founder of the Dublin’s famous beer company. Guinness expanded the castle dramatically by adding 26,000 acres, thousands of trees and two Victorian style extensions. The castle is now a five star luxury hotel. I tried to get a room here but the hotel was completely booked. That was probably a good thing because it would have set us back $450 to $1000 a night to stay here. In the end, we were able to enjoy the property for a couple of hours during our hawk walk at the school.

ashford castle ireland

Ashford Castle, Ireland

There are small signs that point you to the school. Just follow the path to the right, past the entrance of the castle. We asked the valet at the entrance where to go and he got us moving in the right direction. Since we had a half hour to spare, we slowly walked past the lake behind the castle and down the wide tree-lined walking path toward the school. It was a nice but mostly overcast day with mild temperatures.

ashford castle walk

Walking the grounds of Ashford Castle

Our walk was very peaceful and the grounds of the castle are quite beautiful. After following the signs for a few minutes, we saw the school and the entrance you see below. We were greeted by a friendly instructor and were immediately given a tour of the school. The school has both 60- and 90-minute walks available. Donna and I opted for the extended 90-minute private walk for a total of 180 Euros. The extended walk allowed us to go for a longer walk in the woods giving us more flying time and a greater insight into the hawks’ world. It’s the perfect option for those who know they are going to love it.

ireland school of falconry

The Ireland School of Falconry

Our instructor first showed us where the birds are kept. You would think that birds in captivity would not live as long. Actually the opposite is true. These birds are very well taken care of and without the perils of living in the wild, they live longer than average. Another interesting fact that was shared with us is that these birds really only fly to hunt. Otherwise, they are quite content sitting on a perch in the large cages. Our instructor told us that flying is not “fun” but a necessary activity to hunt for food. If the bird does not need food, it is not inclined to fly.

bird flying weights

Bird Flying Weights

In fact, during our tour, we were shown the chalkboard you see above. It documents the flying weights of all of the hawks. As you can see, Wexford, which was our hawk for the morning, needs to weigh no more than 1.7 pounds to fly. If he is over, good luck getting him to fly for your 180 Euros!

Pperegrine falcon ireland school of falconry

Peregrine Falcon at the Ireland School of Falconry

Before heading out with Wexford, we saw some of the peregrine falcons at the school. Peregrine falcons have a top speed of over 200MPH during their hunting stoop. The trademark dark markings under their eyes are common among all breeds and are designed to reduce glare in the eyes. Football players have the same idea. DDT almost led to their extinction before efforts to protect them. Also, during wartime, their populations were taxed when they were used to hunt messenger pigeons that the Nazis were using to communicate. The Nazis did not like that and worked to kill them off. I asked our guide how he felt about the military use and he said, although he loves and works to protect birds today, back then it was either protect the birds or learn to speak German.

ireland school of falconry harris hawk

Donna and Wexford the Harris Hawk

After the tour of the school, our instructor got Wexford and we made our way to the castle grounds for our walk. Wexford is a Harris Hawk. He flies 0-60MPH in about 3 seconds but can only keep that pace for 300-500 yards. That bump in his chest in the photo at the very top is where he stored the meat he was rewarded with during our walk. He will push it down after he is done “hunting.” He has no known predators but humans and he can take down a 17 pound rabbit with ease!

harris hawk landing

Wexford coming in for a landing on Donna’s arm

The instructor told us to gently move our gloved arm forward to get Wexford to fly. Wexford would then fly to a tree of his choosing and wait for his reward. If Wexford did not fly far enough away, he would not get a reward. Wexford knew this. We would then put raw meat on our hand and he would fly right to us! The hawks are never fed on the ground because they will end up walking behind you waiting for food. Pretty smart I would say!

harris hawk in flight

Wexford at the Ireland School of Falconry

In addition to walking in the open, we also walked through the woods. This provided an opportunity for Wexford to show us how he can navigate obstacles while flying. It was pretty remarkable. While intensely focused on his hunting target, he was able to pull one or the other wing in to avoid foliage and branches. He never skipped a beat!

harris hawk in flight

Wexford the Harris Hawk in Flight

At the end of our walk, our instructor brought out Dingle the Eagle Owl. To hold the owl, Donna had to put on an extra heavy leather glove to protect her from Dingle’s grasp. The bird is huge, as you can see, and sports a wing span of up to 73 inches. Those gorgeous eyes take up 65% of his skull cavity and he can detect a mouse’s heartbeat from 30 feet away.

eagle owl ireland school of falconry

Donna and Dingle the Eagle Owl

What an awesome experience we had on our hawk walk! I hope you have enjoyed this post on our trip to the falconry school. If you are ever in Ireland and can visit the Ireland School of Falconry, I highly recommend it.

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Category: Ireland, Photography, Travel

Comments (2)

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  1. ABarlow says:

    Man, what an awesome scene. Really hope one day I’ll get to go to that place. It’s tops on my list!

  2. Lee says:

    Thanks Aaron. It is an awesome place with 360 degrees of beauty!