From ANIMAL PEOPLE, Jan/Feb 1997:

DUBLIN––Legend has it that the
only animals ever feared and hated in Ireland
were snakes and wolves. St. Patrick so thoroughly
rousted the snakes, between 440 and
450 A.D., that not even fossils remain to
show they were ever there. Wolves were
extirpated––officially––in the 19th century,
but occasional sightings, probably of escaped
wolf hybrids, are still reported.
Legend also has it, though ANIMAL
PEOPLE hasn’t found confirmation,
that an ancient Gaelic law ordained that farmers
must feed their beasts or release them,
perhaps the earliest humane law, if it really
existed, in any part of Europe.

John Sayles’ film The Secret of
Roan Inish recounts how, when sealing was
at its global peak, some Irish fisher folk kept
the belief that, “No worse luck could befall a
man than to harm a seal,” and some families––Sayles’
own name may mean “seals”––
included seals among their reputed ancestors.
Among the great Irish authors,
Jonathan Swift opined that horses are morally
superior to humans; Oscar Wilde called fox
hunting “the unspeakable in pursuit of the
inedible”; and George Bernard Shaw was an
outspoken vegetarian antivivisectionist.
Adopted in 1876, the first Irish
humane law of modern times has yet to be
substantially revised, and if Ireland has no
effusive tradition of pet-loving comparable to
that of the British, nor anywhere near as
strong an animal rights movement, perhaps it
is because the Irish have never particularly
discriminated in their attitudes between one
kind of animal and another. Livestock still
often exercise the medieval right to wander,
and even to investigate the interiors of cottages
left with their doors open, sometimes to
the shock of foreign visitors. When 19th century
U.S. railway workers tried to annoy Irish
immigrants by singing, “They kept the pig in
the parlor––and that was Irish, too,” the
retort was often, “Sure, and what of it?”

The gist of the humane struggle in
Ireland is that general tolerance and even feelings
of kinship with animals have not always
translated into kind behavior. The original
rescuer of “retired” racing greyhounds from
unceremonious killing was apparently Ann
Shannon of Dublin, still active after 30 years,
whose work reflects the status of Ireland as
center of the European greyhound industry.
Observed Louise Coleman of the Boston-area
group Greyhound Friends, on a recent visit,
“The worst conditions for greyhounds in
Europe are in Ireland and Spain.”
This reflects another paradox.
Known for a way with horses and dogs, Irish
gamekeepers became as much a British tradition
as fox hunting and captive bird shooting,
despite Wilde’s sarcasm, during the years of
British occupation. Though doing a disproportionate
share of the behind-the-scenes dirty
work associated with British-style wildlife
slaughter, the Irish themselves are not big on
hunting. When the North Tipperary SPCA
refused last May to endorse an Irish SPCA
policy opposing blood sports, former NTSPCA
vice chair Linda Hehir credibly suggested
that the chapter had been taken over by the
British Field Sports Society. Soon afterward,
the Royal SPCA, of England, rebuffed a similar
takeover attempt.
Cockfighting, big in the Border
Counties adjacent to British-occupied
Northern Ireland, is likewise blamed on
British influence. When the Irish Nationalists
won independence, they severely restricted
the powers of the Gardai, the national police,
but made stamping out cockfighting a priority.
The New York Times recently hinted that the
July 7 assassination of popular Dublin crimefighting
journalist Veronica Guerin occurred
in part because the Gardai were preoccupied
with trying to discover the site of the August
31 National Cockfighting Derby, instead of
with stopping the drug traffic.
Ireland is, however, cracking down
more aggressively than any other nation on
use of the synthetic steroid clenbuterol to
accelerate veal calf growth. Of 99 Irish suspects
charged, 40 have been convicted with
more than 50 cases still pending. The U.S.
and Belgium, also cracking down, haven’t
charged as many people combined, even
though more Americans and Belgians are
believed to have used clenbuterol.
The first veterinarian convicted,
Maurice Regan, 55, of Kilcloon, Dunboye,
Ireland, on December 10 drew six months in
prison for illegally supplying nearly 9,000
doses of clenbuterol. Judge John Brophy
called him “a man I would compare to drug
barons who would supply heroin, crack
cocaine, cannabis or whatever to humans.”
Ireland is also moving to update animal
control policies. Public housing residents
in Dublin have long allowed as many as 3,000
horses to roam the surrounding commons.
Arguing that many of the horses are abused,
neglected, and starving, the Dublin SPCA
recently won legislation enabling it to confiscate
unowned horses found on public land.
The Gardai have also just gained the authority
to fine dog owners severely for allowing their
animals to defecate on others’ property or
public property, a response to the recent
blindings by fecal parasites of several small
boys in the North.
Relatively new ISPCA affiliates are
meanwhile extending humane services to previously
unserved rural areas. One such affiliate
is Limerick Animal Welfare, founded in
1985 by Marion Fitzgibbon and American
immigrant Beverly Wolf.
“They rescue and home all types of
animals,” reported Wolf’s daughter, Briggie
Brandner, of Little Silver, New Jersey. “The
majority are abandoned and neglected dogs.
Most of the women involved use their own
cars to transport animals, their own money to
feed and vet the animals, and so forth.”
One LAW case, the February 1995
rescue of an abandoned Siberian tiger family,
drew significant U.S. attention, after the
tigers were accepted by Wildlife Waystation,
in southern California.
“Currently they are trying to find a
home for a circus bear,” Brandner said. At
last word, the 10-year-old bear, obtained
from Germany, was expected to follow the
tigers to Wildlife Waystation.

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