Ireland: Outdoor recreation offers the best
in falconry, golf, hiking, and much more
By Kathy Chin Leong

Let’s get this straight. I’m not a bird lover, never will be. In kindergarten I froze when we filed into Room 9 to see hatched chicks. Kids took turns holding the peeps in their unpredictable palms. Nope, not me. I didn’t want little chick feet gouging my pure, unadulturated hands or the nasty thing flapping its wings, getting bird flotsom all over me.

Hence, I consider it a badge of courage that I can tell my friends I participated in falconry in Ireland. After all, honorable and regal pursuits such as horseback riding and falconry are what makes Ireland so different.
However, growing up on a steady diet of Alfred Hitchcock classics such as The Birds, my greatest fear was that my falcon would smell my fear and gouge out my eyes.

But thanks for our handler at the Ireland’s School of Falconry at Ashford Castle, the experience of casting off my own personal bird of prey and having it land back on my gloved hand was quite empowering. I was even able to hold the gentle creature about a foot away from my face, and he had no interest whatsoever in eye pecking. For those interested, falconry can also be learned at Falconry & Bird of Prey Centre Woodenbridge, in County Wicklow.

HORSIES, GOLFING

If I were even braver, I would have tried to bolster my poor equestrian skills, but you can only be so brave on one trip. After all, the country also known as the Land of the Horse would be the place. Ireland is home to the famous Connemara pony, a breed known for its agility and mild temperment. In Ireland, at least 40 horse riding centers and facilities are available throughout the country, offering camps and classes for both children and adults. Routes such as the scenic Connemara region, Donegal/Sligo and Galwayy-Clare-Burren Trails are great for riding, according to the locals.


The Horse Holiday Farm, near Donegal, will give lessons and also the option to rent a house with a horse. The Killarney Riding Stables offers guided rides through Killarney National Park. The Aille Cross Esquestrian Centre rents horses and offers lessons for all ages in the Galway region.

Even though I don’t golf, I know many who do. On the plane, I met a Los Angeles lawyer who says she’s come to meet friends in Ireland several times for golfing vacations rain or shine. Ireland plays host to some 400 golf courses throughout the country, many set in stunning coastal settings with holes so challenging they test the mental strength and mettle of the most skilled players. The most famous fairway is the K Club in Kildare, where it hosted this year’s prestigious Ryder Cup.

Okay, I’m not good at horseback riding or golfing, but one thing I do well is walk. If you are lucky enough to hire Michael Gibbons, an archeologist and college lecturer, ask him to take you on a guided tour. His company, Michael Gibbons’ Walking Ireland, based in Clifden, takes walkers of all skill levels through the history and archeology of different regions.

Gibbons led us through the western section of Inishbofin Island. This grassy acreage has no name, no real entrance, no marked trails. Getting lost or getting killed is not out of the question. You must have a guide.
For starters, the area is made of bogs-a black swampy material made of dirt, grass, and peat which soaks up water, lots of water.

People not careful are known to have drowned in a bog in a quicksand-like fashion. And because sinking is so dangerous, the locals are warned not to rescue someone drowning in a bog. Gibbons taught us all we needed to know about bog cutting, the farmer’s art of slicing the mud into bricks for fuel and whatnot. Gibbons was so informative about bogs, in my mind I named him the Bog Meister.

And as we walked gingerly on the bogs, and Paul Ross, one of our colleagues, jumped across to avoid a dribbling stream of water. His foot sank in, ruining his new hemp shoe.“Never jump on a bog,” warned Gibbons. A pouting Paul asked Gibbons for advice on how to clean his shoe.

“I’m an archeologist, not a dry cleaner,” he smirked. “Let’s keep walking.” As we moved forward, the jig-saw terrain appeared other worldly.It was so quiet we heard our own steps. Chattering from stragglers several hundred feet away was loud and distinct. Rare lapwing birds dominated the conversation with their cries as they encircled overhead.

Enchanted by all we did in the outdoors, I was now braver than before. I beat the bog and I flew a falcon, and I wasn’t afraid of lapwings flying overhead. Perhaps now I could go back to Room 9 and even hold a chickadee in my hand.


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