Traditionally practiced by kings and titled society, falconry is a sport with uncommon pedigree and history. It isn’t for everyone (the first time I went on a falcon hunt, in the Scottish moors, the falcon perched on my hair), but for those who love the outdoors and find excitement in the hunt, this is an experience like no other.
Where hunting with weapons arguably gives an unfair advantage to humans, falconry requires a different kind of skill—namely, manipulating the bird of prey to do your bidding. It’s not an easy skill to pick up, let alone excel at, so it’s good to learn from a master. In Ireland, the place to learn and experience falconry is the sixteenth-century Dromoland Castle, in Newmarket-on-Fergus in County Clare. Falconer Dave Atkinson teaches castle guests the basics through The Dromoland School of Falconry. He offers a variety of programs, ranging from nature walks with Harris hawks to a full-on, three-day course. Part of the experience is being in nature with the falcon (or other bird of prey) perched on a heavy leather gauntlet you wear, removing the bird’s hood when it is time to hunt, and rewarding the bird after the flight (whether it yields prey or not).
Dave Atkinson, expert falconer
Apparently, birds of prey are pretty versatile creatures. Dave Atkinson once arranged for a falcon to deliver a couple’s wedding rings to the altar on the big day … If that’s not romantic, I don’t know what is!
And when the backdrop is as beautiful as the Irish countryside and the historic Dromoland Castle, the falconry is almost a bonus.
Historic Dromoland Castle was originally built in the sixteenth century. It’s such a storybook setting that you half expect to see a Jane Austen character walking the grounds.
Dromoland, the hawk’s-eye view
Flight of the falcon