The whole country of Ireland has fewer people than the number of people in New York City. The whole country of Ireland can fit into the state of Maine. “There are 11 million chickens in Ireland, more pigs than people living in Dublin, and more cows and sheep than people in the whole country” explained our bird watching tour guide, John. These statistics clearly explain the habitat of Ireland. Animals are a major aspect of Ireland’s habitat and make up a large part of the country’s GDP which people rely heavily on in rural Ireland.
While driving through the west coast of Ireland, as far as the eye could see, the land is all shades of green. On this land live sheep, cows, horses, other animals and people. In Ireland, animals are given acres of land to roam and live on. These animals provide their owner’s income. Agriculture makes up €666 million of Ireland’s overall GDP. Ireland is the 6th largest exporter of meat in the world. It makes sense why there are animals everywhere you turn in rural Ireland, many people rely on these animals as their main source of income.
The importance of animals was evident when we went to visit the sheep farm and the mussel farm. Farmer Tom has 200 sheep that roam over hundreds of acres of land. He relies on these sheep to give birth to lambs once a year. Tom relies on the sheep farming to support him and his family. Likewise, aquatic animals are relied on for income. For example, the mussel farmer harvests many mussels every year. These mussels are used to feed his own family, sell at the farm, and sell to local restaurants. In Ireland, farmers are reliant on both land animals and sea animals to make a living. These are just two examples that show the importance of animals to Ireland’s habitat.
When looking at Ireland one of the first things I questioned while driving across the countryside was the amount of unused land and the habitat of the farm animals that inhabited them and why farmers allowed this. In the countryside it could be seen that people owned a lot of land, as homes were generally not close to each other at all. The animals on these properties have room to roam and be free to feed wherever they please on the property. This is something that is much different in the United States as farm animals tend to not have the same amount of freedom and are locked in small pens so they can have as many as possible ready for sale.
While visiting the Killary Sheep Farm, we were able to see how the farmers tend to their land and the animals on them. Tom Nee, the farmer who owned the land demonstrated how his sheep are free to roam around these fields and how he keeps track of them. He has 3 Border Collies that he uses to herd the sheep into pens so he can take care of them. Watching Tom and his dog Sylvie, I saw how he cared for the sheep as he trained his dogs not to bite and to only to direct the sheep to where he wants them to go. When asked about the dogs being happy Tom told us that, “Sylvie is only happy when she’s working and gets upset when she’s not with me.” This was something that made me realize their more than just work animals; they love to be with him.
Sheep are something you will see everywhere in Ireland and which initially made me believe wool must be a major export for these farmers. I always thought the reasons farmers sheared the sheep was to sell the wool to create clothing, which I later found out was not the case. Tom said, “this wool is worthless, you can only get $.25 for this one sheep’s wool, I shear them because they would die if I didn’t.” This explanation is something I was not expecting to hear because I didn’t understand why the farmer cared that much for all the animals he has on his property if these sheep in particular were all meat exports.
One example we saw from Tom that showed us how his animals are treated and have the ability to live a good lives was when he showed up an injured lamb he found in the fields he walks every morning. Tom and his brother were nursing him and two other injured lambs back to health instead of just letting them die. This is not traditionally the same reaction in the United States as the government has more relaxed farming laws allowing animals to not get treated the same way. From what I have seen so far in Ireland, It’s easy to conclude that animals are treated much better than we currently see in the United States.
“None of them are ready yet” are the words Tom said as he attempts to grab one of the scared sheep who run with nowhere to run to. Tom then grabs one successfully by the horns as it’s legs wiggle all around. This is part of Tom’s job and what he does for a living, he gets a sheep that is ready or almost ready to be sheared then shears off their wool and sells it. Tom is one of many farmers in Ireland who shear sheep for a living, shearing each one yearly. This was news to me, I had never thought on the logistics of how wool clothing was made until that very moment. As Tom asked for volunteers to shear the wool off the sheep, I clenched. “It does not hurt them”, “they are supposed to be cut” “it is like a haircut” is what individuals in the RWU study abroad group and Tom were saying, but I could not bear to see the sheep squirrel around like if they are in agonising pain. After seeing a sheep’s wool being shorn the only thought in my head was how could they kill a sheep or even a cow. I believe that it is not okay to raise animals just so humans can consume them; however, that is easier said than done. I am not a vegetarian but have tried to be before, and failed. I simply do not like the idea of taking care of these animals for some time just to eat them. As soon as Tom finished shearing the wool of the sheep, it ran away to where the other sheep were. To me the shearing processes seemed like a painful haircut as tom had grabbed and turned the sheep by its horns.
I was surrounded by cool damp air and as I glanced around all I saw was black, the definition of pure darkness. I waved my hand in front of my eyes and I still could not see it. I turned my head to the right and then to the left, still I saw nothing, how could I not see something right in front of me? Aillwee Cave, is one of the oldest caves in Ireland and it consists of an underground river, a waterfall and stalactites.This cave which is located in County Clare, in is home to a wide range of different species such as horseshoe bats, bears (now extinct), moss and algae. The horseshoe bat is one of the smallest mammals in Ireland and gets its name from a horseshoe shaped flap of skin by its nostrils. The bat makes a very distinctive echolocation call that helps them navigate. I searched and searched to find these bats however, they were nowhere in sight, where were they? I kept walking down the dark and narrow path, still no bats. I was told by our tour guide that the horseshoe bats live deeper in the cave and typically only reside in the cave during the winter climate. I continued exploring the gloomy and tight cave and realized that the cold, damp limestone cave is also home to moss and algae; which grows in the twilight zones of the cave. Moss and algae grow in cool, moist environments and prefer the constant mild temperature of the cave. The moss and algae were both bright slime colored green and looked like felt. I noticed that the moss and algae form in the crevices around the cave near the lamps which are used during tours. It is actually amazing that plants are even able to grow in the deep depths of the cave. As I continued walking down the lengthy, dark, narrow path I looked around, I saw these beautiful ginger colored icicle shape formations coming down from the cave. These can’t actually be icicles can they? The majestic icicle shapes are known as stalactite, a formation that hangs from the ceilings of caves. Stalactites are formed by groundwater trickling through cracks in the top of the cave with deposits of calcite. Stalagmites are very similar to stalactite except for the fact that stalagmites grow on the ground. When stalactites and stalagmites grow long enough, they connect together to form a pillar. On average stalactites and stalagmites grow .13 mm each year. While looking around in the cave I was amazed by how beautiful it was, the bright artificial light hitting the limestone. It reminded me of a blazing candle. It was relaxing and soothing but as I took a step out and exited the cave I was blinded by the brightness of the incandescent lights and loud noises from the gift shop.