As a tour guide with Trafalgar Tours ( see Trafalgar Homepage ) and Insight Vacations it was my pleasure and privelidge to bring a group to Kingdom Faconry near Dingle town in Kerry, Ireland. This particular tour was with insight Vacations. It was a wonderful experience for everyone and i was delighted to take full part in the experience. The experience was led by Eric Witkowski who is originally Polish but has lived in Ireland for over 18 years.
He has a clear and strong passion for the birds and the art of falconry and he led the experience with impressive and pleasantly understated skill and ease. You can hear a lovely interview with Eric here curtesy of Radio Kerry https://www.radiokerry.ie/podcasts/travels-through-a-kingdom/eric-witkowski-travels-through-a-kingdom-327249
The experience was held at Miltown house on the outskirts of Dingle which was a very pleasant setting on the banks of the ocean at Dingle Bay. We were shown a wonderful array of birds including owls, hawks and falcons. We had the oppertunity to be up close and personal with many of the birds and the demonstrations were very impressive.
The highlight for me was having the birds on my arm and having that sort of encounter with a bird of prey was wonderfully unnerving, arresting and refreshing. It was a real break from the mundane confines of our typical lives and the experience really stuck with me.
It was interesting to hear that the falcons have eyesight nine times better than humans and that owls have exceptional hearing. It was also very special to see the relationship between Eric and the birds.
History of Falconry
Falconry’s historical roots extend into antiquity, with evidence of its practice dating back thousands of years. Its origins can be traced to different regions around the world, each contributing to the development and diversification of this ancient art.
1. Origins in Asia: Falconry is believed to have originated in Central Asia and the Middle East. In ancient Mesopotamia, there are cuneiform tablets that depict scenes of falconry dating back to around 2000 BC. The practice soon spread to China, where it was highly regarded, and emperors and nobility actively participated in falconry.
2. Medieval Europe: Falconry gained immense popularity in medieval Europe, particularly during the 9th to 17th centuries. It was not only a sport but a symbol of prestige and nobility. Kings and knights often engaged in falconry, and a complex system of ranks and titles for falconers emerged.
3. Influence of Islam: The Islamic world played a significant role in the development of falconry. The Arabic treatise, “The Book of the Falcon,” written by the Persian philosopher Ibn Hayyan in the 9th century, is one of the earliest comprehensive works on falconry. It was later translated into Latin and contributed to the spread of falconry in Europe.
4. Medieval Treatises: Several treatises and manuals on falconry were written during the Middle Ages, contributing to the preservation and spread of knowledge about the art. One of the most famous is “The Book of Saint Albans” by Juliana Berners, which was published in 1486 and addressed the rules and etiquette of falconry.
5. Far Eastern Influence: In Japan, the art of falconry was known as “takagari” and was practiced by the samurai class. In Mongolia, falconry remains an integral part of nomadic culture, particularly among the Kazakh people, who continue to hunt with golden eagles.
6. Decline and Revival: With the advent of firearms and changing social structures, falconry declined in popularity during the 17th century. However, it saw a resurgence in the 19th and 20th centuries as enthusiasts sought to preserve this ancient tradition. Organizations and clubs dedicated to falconry were established worldwide to promote its practice and ensure the welfare of raptors.
7. UNESCO Recognition: In 2010, UNESCO recognized falconry as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, acknowledging its cultural significance and the need to safeguard this tradition for future generations.
Falconry’s history is a fascinating journey through time, highlighting its role as a symbol of prestige, its influence on art and literature, and its adaptation to changing societal norms. Today, falconry continues to captivate people with its deep-rooted traditions and the enduring partnership between humans and raptors, connecting the past with the present.