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Judge orders Conamara bird enthusiast to give up his rare golden eagle

A District Court judge has granted an application for the forfeiture of an unlicensed rare golden eagle from its Conamara owner who had been exhibiting it in public to children.

Judge Mary Fahy granted the order to the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage after a hearing at Derrynea District Court.

The large bird of prey – now aged 13 and named Lorcan – was seized by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) on July 11, 2022.

NPWS conservation ranger Aonghus Ó Domhnaill told the court he seized the bird because its owner, Eoin Griffin of Leitir Móir, did not have a licence for the bird which was bred in captivity in Sligo.

Mr Ó Domhnaill also outlined his concerns about the size of the aviary the bird was kept at Mr Griffin’s home, and about his level of experience in handling that type of rare bird.

Barrister Michael Clancy, instructed by State Solicitor Rachel Joyce, said the State was not bringing a no-licence prosecution, it was simply applying for forfeiture of the bird.

Mr Griffin opposed the application, which was brought under Section 76 of the Wildlife Act, 1976.

Mr Ó Domhnaill said the bird was living with a falconry on the east side of the country since it was seized. The bird would continue to reside there if the forfeiture was granted, he said.

Mr Ó Domhnaill said he was alerted to the issue when a member of the public sent him a link to a Facebook post by Wildhunter Galway, a field sport and fishing shop in the city.

He presented photos to the court which showed Mr Griffin exhibiting the bird at the shop on July 3, 2022 – including the bird resting on children’s shoulders and close to people’s faces.

Mr Ó Domhnaill’s NPWS colleague recognised Mr Griffin. They checked the system and discovered the respondent did not have a licence for the golden eagle.

A week later, they visited Leitir Móir and seized the bird. Mr Ó Domhnaill said its owner had confirmed to him the bird was ‘difficult’. And he had concerns there was potential for it to use its beak or claws if agitated.

He said he had concerns about a feather sticking out, but Mr Ó Domhnaill, under cross examination by barrister for the respondent, Garry McDonald, conceded that it was checked by a vet in Castlebar, who found no welfare issues.

The court heard Mr Griffin had a licence for a Harris hawk, but not a golden eagle; the former was about a third of the size of the latter.

Mr Griffin said his father used to breed pheasants and he has been involved with birds from a young age.

He said he had worked for years with birds of prey at exhibitions including in a top hotel in Galway and in Offaly. He was 18, he said, when he obtained a licence for a Harris hawk.

Mr Griffin said he had applied for a licence for a golden eagle but conceded he had not yet been granted it. He had obtained Lorcan from Sligo, at a falconry he volunteered at.

He insisted it was safe to exhibit the eagle in public and said he had the necessary experience and equipment.

Mr Griffin insisted Lorcan was not difficult with him, because he had spent so much time training it. He said he wanted the bird returned to him, or to Sligo.

Judge Fahy granted the State’s forfeiture application – and refused a request by Mr McDonald to put a stay on the order.

Pictured: Bird enthusiast Eoin Griffin from Leitir Móir, pictured in 2022 with Lorcan, the golden eagle which is now in the possession of the State.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune:

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