Wolves were in Ireland long before humans arrived, perhaps as long ago as 30,000 years back when they would have moved across Ice sheets from continental Europe into a land that was, at that stage, like today’s Siberian tundra.
(Picture Credit: Four Courts Press)
The archaeological evidence suggests that they lived here in plentiful numbers, that is until a systematic process of extermination resulted in the last wolf being killed, most likely in 1786.
In fact, Wolves were plentiful in Ireland long after they had been hunted to extinction in England and Wales, and to a lesser extent Scotland. This was why Ireland was referred by some outsiders as ‘Wolf Land’.
Wild wolves roamed the land, and the native humans, at least to English sensibilities, were not that much tamer.
‘Wolves in Ireland, A Natural and Cultural History’ by NUI Galway geographer Dr Kieran Hickey is an interesting, and well researched book, on many levels.
The author covers the archaeological evidence, the origin of Irish place names linked with wolves, the mythology, folklore and superstition around wolves, the relationship between man and wolf in pre and post Anglo-Norman times, the causes for the decline and extermination of the wolf, and a consideration of whether wolves should be re-introduced.
It is interesting to note, for example, that wolves probably hunted with early humans in Ireland, before the emergence of wolf-dog hybrids. In these times, the wolf was considered a partner in survival and was not synonymous with evil.
There is plenty here to interest anyone interested in Irish history, zoology, brehon laws, or the Anglo-Norman conquest.
Listen: Interview with the author, Kieran Hickey
Price: €29.95 in hardback
Publisher: Four Courts Press
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