BOOKS— Wolves in Ireland: A Natural and Cultural History
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 2013: (Actually published on November 20, 2013.)
Wolves in Ireland: A Natural and Cultural History by Kieran Hickey Four Courts Press (7 Malpas Street, Dublin 8, Ireland); in U.S. c/o ISBS, 920 NE 58th Ave., Suite 300, Portland, OR 97213), 2011. 155 pages, hardcover. $45.00.
National University of Ireland geography lecturer Kieran Hickey in Wolves in Ireland assembles apparently every extant scrap of information available in ancient manuscripts and public records to make a case that wolves had a formative role in shaping Irish culture. Written documentation is surprisingly slim, in view that Ireland has had a literate culture for more than 1,600 years: Hickey records just 129 references to wolves between circa 500 and 1786, when the last Irish wolf was killed. Wolves are remembered, however, in traditional place names in 18 of the 32 Irish counties. Only a bare dozen Irish historical references to wolves predate the reassertion of British rule that began in 1494, 325 years after the Norman conquest of Ireland and several generations after the Norman links to Britain were weakened by the Black Death. From then to the final extirpation of wolves, however, British rulers––especially Oliver Cromwell––viewed killing wolves as part and parcel of subjugating Ireland itself. The Normans bred Irish wolfhounds to hunt wolves, but later British landlords more aggressively used them, and hunted wolves’ prey such as red deer and hares to scarcity too. Still, wolves might have persisted if their forest refuges had. Most of Ireland in 1490 remained shrouded in dense oak, pine, and birch. By 1786 little dense forest remained. Irish wolves made their last stand scavenging human and livestock dead during the famine years of 1739-1741. Rebuilding depleted herds of sheep and cattle, the human survivors afterward made short work of any wolves they could find. With only about 12% of Ireland reforested, and most of the rest of the countryside used for grazing or cultivation, Hickey doubts that wolves could be reintroduced successfully. Circa 250 individuals would be needed to ensure a self-sustaining population. Even at peak, Hickey calculates, the Irish wolf population probably never topped 1,500, and usually ranged between 500 and 1,000, in just a few hundred packs.