Cormac MacConnell: Worthy candidates to be our national bird

If any of you meet Fergus O’Leary of Passage West this morning, tell him that Cormac above in Clare is very grateful to him for triggering this week’s column, and will be delighted to stand him a pint or two whenever they meet, hopefully before Christmas.

All of this springs from Fergus’s splendidly apt proposal earlier this week on the letters page that we Irish should adopt the rook as our national bird.

I have not heard a better suggestion in a long time.

Fair play to the man from Passage West.

Fergus made the point in his splendid letter that our millions of rooks, that we constantly demean by calling them crows, exactly match all the requirements for a national bird, because of their wild hardiness, spirit, and resilience, in the face of all difficulties, and their ability to cope with style and a bit of craic, with anything that the world throws at them.

I could not agree more.

I live in a town with a huge population of rooks, and admire them hugely.

I’ve been told there were so many huge rookeries around Killaloe a decade or so ago that it was felt necessary by officials of the county council to humanely trap thousands of them and quietly transport them over to the Midlands.

There, no doubt, they have further increased and multiplied, and are now fully-fledged BIFFO squadrons and battalions over Co Offaly and thereabouts.

One reality about our magnificent wild rooks which was clearly missed by the council officials, and maybe wasn’t strongly enough defined by Fergus, is the magnificent free scavenging service they provide for any community fortunate enough to possess a thriving rookery.

The black warriors are always hungry, always on the lookout for anything at all edible, and the sort of throwaway scraps that school kids might discard during lunch breaks hardly have touched the earth before they are at the centre of a good, full-blooded squabble for even the last crumb.

It is surely a fact that there are towns and villages which have won tidiness awards down the years which owe as much to their local rooks as they do to their squads of volunteers.

Surely again the pure truth.

There is much more.

There are many social similarities between us here on the ground and our rooks in their rookeries above our heads.

Both of us, in all truth, are wild and loud and raucous a lot of the time, and not at all dapper and muted like, say, our English neighbours.

Look at your nearest rook, and he has untidy wings and plumage, and his big strong beak looks as if it has not been cleaned for years.

His nest is unkempt and untidy in the extreme and, beyond any doubt, there are always even louder domestic squabbles going on above in the rookeries than down here below.

More than that, I rather suspect that there are a lot of wandering Cassanovas amongst the males, and this leads to a great deal of aerial warfare.

Fergus pointed out what I did not know at all.

He said there is a rigid hierarchy in the rookeries.

Those in command occupy the top perches, and fiercely protect them against all comers.

Those who are lower down the pecking order — literally — live on the lower branches, and have to contend with anything which might drop down from above during the night.

One could extend that position into our own world very easily too... but we won’t go there today.

In synopsis, rooks are hardy rogues and rascals, like many of ourselves, and I enthusiastically support Fergus’s brilliant proposal.

And so should all of you, too.


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