Ireland’s oldest established school of falconry resides on the perfectly manicured grounds of Ashford Castle. No experience is needed to participate in a private one hour or 90 minute Hawk Walk, where you will have the opportunity to walk with and fly a Harris hawk. Read on to hear about my favorite experience in Ireland to date!
If you are not staying at Ashford Castle, it is important to make a reservation in advance, as there are only a certain number of spaces available each day that are for non-resident guests. Particularly in the summer months, spots fill up quickly! CJ and I had a noon reservation, and as soon as we got there, we immediately met the many birds of prey that the school has raised and trained. We had two hawks and a falconry instructor all to ourselves, so the experience was intimate and tailored to us and the specific hawks that we were flying. The Falconry School does not group different people together who do not know one another, so if you are a couple, you each get a bird to yourself!
We were each given a leather glove to wear on our left hand, so the birds’ talons do not touch clothes or skin. The instructor taught us how to hold our arm, with our fist as the highest point so that the birds can perch. I was given the most beautiful hawk named Joyce. She was hatched in 2011 and has been with the School of Falconry since she was two weeks old. She has three siblings (Swift, Stoker, and Wilde), and CJ was given her brother, Bram Stoker! We were advised not to touch our birds, but you can lock eyes. I know some people might be freaked out to have a bird on their arm, but I felt completely at ease. Our focused, friendly, and communicative instructor, as well as my extremely trained bird, made me feel safe.
Once we met our hawks, we began to walk into the woodlands on the castle grounds. Branches found their way twisted around each other, moss covered the trees, and ivy littered the forest floor. When we ambled into the Lord of the Rings-like woods, it seemed as though we stepped back in time into an enchanted forest. As far as the eye could see, we were the only ones in the area, which added to the private experience. Our instructor taught us to stick out our arm, our hawks would fly off, we’d walk a little further into the saturated lush greenery, and then we’d stick out our arm again and our birds would fly back to us. Our teacher even showed us a trick where she threw a treat and one of our hawks flew out of a tree and caught the food in midair!
After walking for an hour, our hawks were full and ready to go back to their perches to rest (food coma). Once fed, they get a little antsy because they just want to chill and Bram was even getting hot (he stuck out his wings to cool off!) I was sad to return Joyce back to the school, for it was really wonderful to connect with nature, both through the birds and the quiet majesty of the woods.
Our trainer told us that in captivity, the hawks actually live much longer than they would if they were in the wild, for the promise of food is guaranteed. They get plenty of exercise, and many like Joyce grow up with siblings at the school. When CJ and I were on the castle grounds, we were able to see that the school is building more living quarters for the hawks, falcons, and even owls that have become a part of the family.
The Hawk Walk was fun, informative, and extremely personal. An hour Hawk Walk is 75 euros each for two participants. Please check out their website for more rates. CJ and I are still talking about the complete awe we felt when we were in the presence of the birds and the magic of the forest.