Giant bird of prey on my hand!

Giant bird of prey on my hand! Baby is unimpressed.

Did I get your attention with that title? Other contenders included “Falconry in County Mayo” and “My Favorite Activity During Ireland Travel,” but both lack the heart-thumping drama necessary. The simple truth is that one of the top things I’d recommend you do on a visit to Ireland is have a terrifying bird of prey land on your hand to eat dead mice. Yum!

Look at that owl's wingspan!

Look at that owl’s wingspan!

The spot we chose for this madness was Ireland’s School of Falconry, the oldest established training site in Ireland for hunting with birds of prey. You’ll find the school in the town of Cong, County Mayo, nestled within lush green woods. It was conveniently close to the fancy hotel near Ashford Castle where we stopped during our Ireland road trip, so five minutes after eating breakfast, we were knocking at the door.

Colin was a pro at falconry!

Colin was a pro at falconry!

At Ireland’s School of Falconry, a friendly guide will greet you, brimming with passion for meat-eating birds. Ours was clad in an outfit straight out of Robin Hood, and I sputtered to her, “I’m glad you love hawks so much, but I’m not touching one!” The guide kindly informed me that there was no way I would leave without having a giant bird land on my hand. I clutched our traveling baby to my chest and scoffed, “HAH!” The guide replied, “We’ll see.”

Our fearless falconry guide with a gorgeous owl.

Our fearless falconry guide with a gorgeous owl.

Sure enough, not an hour had passed before I was donning a thick leather glove and clutching a piece of mouse meat. The hawk hurtled towards me, and let’s see what happened:

Oh my gosh! It's hurtling towards me!

Oh my gosh — the bird is speeding towards me! Remain calm…

Yargh! It's on my hand!

Yargh! It’s on my hand!

Hi there, birdie!

Hi there, birdie!

I didn’t perish! It was exhilarating. Baby Devi seemed cool with the whole experience, too, which was surprising, but mighty convenient for his gleefully falconing parents.

A photo album of the birds as babies, and on hunting trips.

A photo album of the birds as babies, and on hunting trips. So fluffy!

What I loved was that our guide led us to various different environments to practice falconry. This meant we got to see our hawk zip straight ahead in an open field, and then careen between trees in the forest nearby. T’was a beautiful sight.

Doing falconry in the woods was magical.

Doing falconry in the woods was magical.

Meanwhile, I discovered that my husband Colin is a bird whisperer or something. He connected with those winged beasts on such a deep level, I became concerned he would purchase one and train it to dart around our condo fetching Doritos for him at midnight. (This was a valid fear, given that he almost bought an alpaca in Martha’s Vineyard on the grounds that it would be an efficient way to trim our lawn.)

Colin has a special rapport with the birds...

Colin has a special rapport with birds…

Once the hawk had been returned to her perch, out came the owl. I successfully avoided touching that beast after learning that they can be surprisingly aggressive, but Colin couldn’t get enough of holding it and watching it fly around, flexing its sprawling wingspan. Look at those orange eyes! We could barely tear ourselves away to head out to Limerick, but the road called.

Colin was obsessed with the owl, and rightly so.

Colin was obsessed with the owl, and rightly so.

In summary, when visiting Ireland, the Cliffs of Moher, the Burren, and Bunratty Castle are essential to see — that goes without saying. However, don’t overlook the lesser-known attractions like falconry and the Connemara Heritage Centre that are near and dear to the history of Ireland. These earthy experiences really resonate, and create incredible memories! Now if only I’d agreed to let Colin buy a hawk so she could bring me some ice cream right now…

Thanks for the great visit!

Thanks for the great visit, hawks!

So what do you think? Would you try falconry, or have you done it already? Do share! Want more giant bird photos? Click for my article on a birds of prey show in Quebec, Canada.


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