A group of students lured swans close to shore with chunks of bread – before attacking them with stones in the Claddagh.
Their cruelty was witnessed by a number of shocked passers-by – including Robert O’Neill, his brother Gerard and sister Josephine, who were walking his dog when the incident occurred at 10am last Tuesday morning.
A gang of eight people, believed to be students aged around seventeen and eighteen, first started firing stones at smaller birds in the area.
Using the bread as bait, the students attracted the attention of nearby swans who began to swim across the basin to the opposite side where the incident took place.
One student was feeding white bread to the birds while the others threw stones at the swans as they came into range.
“We were walking past and heard the screeching of the birds so we looked over,” said Robert.
“At first we thought it was probably the fish they were screeching about and it’s still mackerel season here, but when we looked over we saw the teenagers throwing stones.
“One of them was feeding the birds while the others were pegging stones at them as they were in the air,” he explained.
One of the men pulled up his hood when Robert and his siblings began shouting at them. “From the sounds of their voices, they sounded like they were Spanish,” he said.
“We started shouting at them telling them to stop so they started throwing more bread to make it look like they were just feeding them.
“But you’re not supposed to feed the birds white bread either. There’s a sign saying it.”
There is a sign in front of the popular Claddagh basin clearly warning people not to feed white or moulded bread to birds, as it can cause Pink Feather Flamingo Syndrome which was a major problem for the Claddagh swans several years ago.
The disease causes the swans to lose their waterproof coating and, without this insulation, the swans become hypothermic which can result in death.
“There were a couple of joggers on their morning runs who stopped and looked over as well,” said Josephine. “When we told them what was going on, they were upset that such a thing was happening.”
Gerard told of other problems facing the swans. “There is a problem with tourists and some people who mightn’t be from the area releasing their dogs, usually pit bulls, on the swans and letting them attack them,” he said.
Dogs are supposed to be kept on a leash as indicated by another sign which seems to go ignored, along with the bread sign.
The students left the scene before anything could be done.
Almost a fortnight ago, a gannet arrived in the basin for a day before flying elsewhere, causing much entertainment for Claddagh locals.
Gannets, with a wingspan of up to two metres with a white and yellow colouring, usually don’t come into shore.