The King of the Skies visits the Kingdom

By Barry O’Donoghue


One of my first memories of wildlife was standing toe-to-toe with a Bald Eagle. He was nearly the height of myself! In my almost six years on the planet to that point in November 1987, I had never met the likes of this guy anywhere in my extensive travels around the Kingdom of Kerry. 

 In fact, I think this guy was the first American I had ever met! His impressive two-metre wingspan had carried him all the way across the North Atlantic, which led to a whole succession of events that I will recount for you here. 

Bald Eagle

It was the evening of 15 November and I was sitting at the kitchen table. My father, Tim, a Wildlife Ranger, received a phone call that there was some person reporting an eagle. That evening, he travelled to the Ballyegan area of Castleisland. As he arrived at the reported location, he saw a large eagle perched on a pillar at a farm entrance.  

Tim met the farmer who said that the bird had been around for the previous few days. That evening, Tim called his colleagues in the National Parks & Wildlife Service to inform them of the situation and that they should look to capture the bird the following day. 

The following morning, Tim and his NPWS colleagues went to the farm to remove the bird and rehabilitate it. After a few attempts, they succeeded in capturing the bird and brought it to Pat’s house in Killarney as planned. The bird was then fed well on venison, woodpigeon and crow and visibly regained strength and spirit.  

The Bald Eagle

It was identified as a juvenile Bald Eagle and plans were made to repatriate it to America. Contact was made with the US Fish and Wildlife Service. There was huge publicity and Tim agreed to let Pat O’Connell do the media work which also gave a platform to the important fund-raising that Pat was doing for cancer research through marathon running  

On 22 December 1987, the bird was flown to America from Shannon Airport.  Taoiseach Charlie Haughey, who had a deep interest in the natural world, was among the many dignitaries to bid the eagle farewell.  

The bird was brought to America by Pat and others and it also made big news there on TV and in some well-known newspapers like the New York Times, the Washington Post and LA Times. The bird was named Iolar, the Irish word for eagle.  

Iolar made us think and ask ourselves why don’t we have our own magnificent native eagles in Ireland? Within a decade, serious plans were put into action for the release of Golden Eagles in Donegal and, later, White-tailed Eagles in Killarney. 

 The visiting eagle sparked a great interest in wildlife for me. I now work professionally in wildlife conservation. My father has since retired from the Wildlife Service but still actively works on wildlife issues. 

In January 2006, Pat sadly passed away after a long battle with cancer. Charlie Haughey also died. As did the Eagle. We will never know what became of the eagle. But one thing is for sure – it is a story that will go down in the annals of Kerry, hopefully to be recounted many years from now. 

One comment

  1. There are constantly extraordinary things happening in nature. Barry O’Donohgue’s story of the bald eagle arriving in Kerry got huge publicity because of the size of the bird that is the emblem of the US, and on the tarmac at Shannon before the start of his return journey Iolar’s excited wing nearly decapitated Taoiseach Charlie Haughey.
    When we get to know the story of our nature (landscape, flora and fauna) we are amazed at the what is happening all of the time.

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