The Easter hare on the Blaskets
The Easter hare (or the more colloquial Easter bunny) and the Easter egg are both emblematic of this spring festival, and the Great Blasket Island is a great place to see the real deal, the Irish hare (Lepus timidus Hibernicus).
About ten years ago hares were introduced to the island. While it is very questionable to introduce a new species to a protected habitat, they look as if they're here to stay and so far do not seem to have had any adverse effects on the ecology of the island. With a dwindling sheep population the hares may even help to keep the grass short which in turn suits birds such the chough (a rare member of the crow family) who prefer short-cropped pastures when digging for grubs.
No count so far appears to have been done on the hare population but our guess is that there about 30-40 presently on the island. The hare has always been closely associated with Easter and one explanation may be that the hare was the favourite animal and attendant spirit of Eastre, the Anglo-Saxon goddess after whom the spring festival is named. The name Eastre and all its variant spellings have their origin in the Sanskrit term for dawn and denote the renewal of the earth in spring.
Whereas the egg and its association with fertility seems an obvious symbol for Easter and the earth's springing back to life, the traditional belief that the hare brings the eggs may well have its origin in early nature observation. Hares do not dig and give birth to their young in burrows as rabbits do but use little shallows in the ground called forms. Some ground-breeding birds such as the plover and the skylark lay their eggs in close proximity to the hares' forms and some even use abandoned forms, hence watching a hare spring from its form and finding a nest of eggs nearby may have led to the assumption that it was in fact the hare that laid the eggs there.
So this Easter, why not take our all-day trip, combining a visit to the island with the marine tour and see if you can find a hare - the south side of the island is the best place to spot them. You could even bring some delicious reproductions of the real thing along for your island picnic.
UPDATE: 25.03.2014 This article was written almost exactly two years ago and it is astonishing how much the Blasket Island population of hares has increased since then especially in light of the view that we originally thought that the restricted initial gene pool of the introduced hares wold lead to interbreeding and resultant birth defects and abnormalities. But the opposite has been the effect with the only abnormality being the size of the hares, their obvious fecundity, their beautiful red colouration with white ear lobes and legs, swiftness of foot and general "joie de vivre". Without exaggeration [ which Captain Whales Galore has quite naturally been accused of] on our last visit to the Great Blasket island a couple of weeks ago we saw upwards of 40 mad March hares galloping and cavorting around the deserted village on the Great Blasket Island. The Great Blasket island has become a last place of refuge for the persecuted indigenous Irish hare who was among the few species to survive the last great Ice Age by surviving on the tops of the great mountains peaking above the all enveloping ice sheets.
If you book an All Day Tour on www.marinetours.ie you will have 3 hrs. on the island to get beautiful shots of Lepus timidus Hibernicus either around the old deserted village or on the lovely island "road to nowhere" on the south side of the island below the circuitous upper road. Ask the skipper of M.V. "Blasket Princess" where is the best place to see hares and he will tell you, but please keep it "hush, hush" in case the authorities find out where the last and the greatest of the old Irish mountain hares are hanging out and defying the laws of genetics! Go back to the home page and press the "Book Tour" button now to check out the veracity of our serendipitous and meticulously researched observations of our native hare, who became an Easter Bunny!