Ireland's largest public falconry centre has been opened at one of the country's leading tourist sites.
Burren Birds of Prey Centre - located at Aillwee Cave in County Clare - features the largest display of Falcons, Harris Hawks, Owls, American Kestrels and White-Tailed Sea Eagles in the country.
Falconry is reputed to be the oldest sport in the world, originating in the Far East around 2000 BC, as a means of catching food.
The art of falconry spread westwards, reaching the shores of Europe long before the end of the first Millennium. "The Burren Birds Of Prey Centre houses birds that cannot be seen anywhere else in the country and the aim is to provide a first-class stock of birds" - explained Barbara Faulkner, Marketing Manager of Aillwee Cave.
She indicated that the new facility would endeavour to affiliate with bird release programmes on a national level - including the white-tailed sea eagle release programme in Kerry and the reintroduction of Red Kites to central Ireland.
One important aspect of the new Centre is the development of flying displays of Eagles and Falcons from Aillwee Mountain to a designated area within the centre.
Visitors will have the opportunity to see the birds in free flight, be able to handle and photograph rare birds of prey in a purpose-built flying arena.
During the breeding season visitors will be able to see young birds of prey being hand-reared, learn about falconry as an ancient sport and be made more aware of indigenous species and the environmental issues involved in their protection and conservation.
The new project is being managed by Darren Reddington and Ben Johnson - both experienced handlers of birds of prey. Darren Reddington is a professional falconer and is already contracted by several county councils and state bodies using birds of prey to clear landfill sites, airfields, recycling plants and food and chemical companies, of other birds and rodents which cause potential harm, directly or indirectly. He has considerable experience in the training and handling of birds of prey for display purposes.
Ben Johnson of Aillwee Cave has been involved with handling and keeping birds of prey for the past twenty years and has, in the past, kept birds of prey on display to the public on a small scale.
In addition to hosting Ireland's premier show cave, the Aillwee Cave currently offers visitors a well-serviced 24-acre site - including cheese making at the Farmshop, Coppice Woodland and Mountain Walks and attracts over 150,000 visitors a year.
Aillwee Cave is one of the many thousands of ancient caves beneath the Burren with over 1km of passages.
Its features include an underground river and waterfall as well as stalactites and stalagmites.
The remains of bears can be seen inside the caves. Unlike many other caves, there is no evidence that cave has been used by humans.
Local man Jacko McGann - who discovered the cave while searching for his dog and explored much of the cave by candlelight - was, perhaps, the first human who set foot in it. The cave, which is privately owned by two local families, first opened to the public in 1976.
For further information on the Burren Birds of Prey Centre, contact -
Tel: 065 7077036