Falcon on Yellow Steeple, Trim. Courtesy of John Andrews

The peregrine falcon is undoubtedly one of Ireland’s most impressive birds of prey. The peregrine falcon feeds almost exclusively on medium-sized birds such as pigeons and doves.  The peregrine is thought to reach speeds of over 320 km/h (200 mph) as it plummets earthward, before striking its prey with outstretched talons.

A pair of peregrine falcons nested in Trim this year (2021) and were seen and heard in the skies above the town. The pair of peregrine falcons successfully bred there this year. Two juvenile peregrine falcons fledged on 20th June, and the Meath Branch of BirdWatch Ireland have watched them take to the skies above the town and join their parents on hunting trips. They also fly regularly between the Yellow Steeple and St Patrick’s Church; the two highest points in the town, and both are perfect look outs for peregrine falcons. The parents continued to feed the young mainly with locally caught jackdaws and pigeons at the Yellow Steeple, and they can be best seen, and heard, from the High Street side.

It is likely that the young falcons will disperse, true to their name “peregrine”, which means “traveller”, rather than establishing elsewhere in the town. Interestingly Trim’s motto is Semper Peregrinus Benini, which means always welcome the traveller.

The peregrine falcon can be found on all continents except Antartica. Many populations have decreased at an alarming rate sometimes close to extinction. This devastating declines in the 1960s was linked to DDT, a pesticide, which caused thin eggshells and breeding failure. In Ireland the numbers of peregrine falcons had dropped to only 25 -30 breeding pairs in 1970, but due to educating the farmers in pest control their numbers are on the increase again. A recent survey of peregrines saw over 400 breeding pairs recorded across the country.

The earliest reference to hawking in Ireland is in the “Life of St. Colman Maic Luachain”. This text from the seventh century mentions the exchange of land and commodities between Domnall, the High King of Tara and Colman, “Then Domnall gave Dun Leime ind Eich to Colman and the seventeen steadings which had served Domnall and every king before him, and two hunting hawks that he had”. This is probably the first reference to falconry in Ireland, however there is a lot of evidence pointing to a relationship between man and birds of prey prior to this. Remains of goshawks found at Newgrange were believed to have been buried there circa 2000 BC.

Hunting and falconry were the favourite pastimes of the nobility. In 1188 Giraldus Cambensis noted that “Ireland has none but the best breeds of falcons.” In the taxes introduced for the construction of Trim’s town walls in 1393 one penny was to be paid on every hawk or falcon and one halfpenny on every tercel (the male of the hawk, especially a peregrine or goshawk).Good partridge hawking was to be found at the Blackbull, Rathreagan.

An eagle was once captured in County Meath, by a gamekeeper, who surprising the bird sleeping, after a surfeit of a dead sheep in the neighbourhood, conceived the idea of taking him alive and for that purpose approached noiselessly and clasped the bird in his arms. The eagle recovering, and unable to use its wings, clutched with his talons, one of which entered the man’s chest, the hind claw meeting the others underneath the flesh. The man, unable to disengage the talons strangled the bird, but the claws were too firmly clutched to get open. Talking out his knife, he severed the leg from the body, and walked with the penetrating talon to the village dispensary to have it removed.”

The Pratt family have a falcon as their coat of arms. The Dillon family of Moymet, Newtown, Trim and Lismullen had a falcon as a crest.

We get many common everyday phrases from falconry including “under your thumb,” “wrapped around my little finger,” “hoodwinked’,” “booze,” and “fed up.”

It is important for everyone to note that all wild birds are protected. It is in addition illegal under the Wildlife Act and EU law to disturb wild birds during the period of breeding and rearing of chicks. Birdwatch Ireland say that this bird is heavily persecuted and are aware of the shooting of such a bird in the Bective area during the summer. Birdwatch Ireland says they know of three other locations in the Meath area where this bird is nesting and hope to keep those locations secret. Falcons always welcome in Trim!