Ecology: The Irish hare and the 'flat mountain'

Much attention has been focused on the Irish hare recently and it is even the subject of an official survey. Is it an Arctic or a Varying hare? Enquiring minds want to know. It is certainly a unique endemic animal. Everywhere else that such hares are found, they turn white in winter, hence the name “Varying”. In Britain, they are called Blue hares, with “blue” meaning a type of white.


The Irish form of this hare, however, has been shown to have a greater genetic variation than would be expected. This has perhaps got something to do with the way these hares dealt with the last Ice Age. They are found, as the cliché says, “from the mountains to the sea”, making them the only Arctic hares in a temperate country to have such a widespread distribution – usually they are mountain animals. This suggests that our hare is adapted to both lowlands and mountains. Or indeed that the Irish environment is that of a “flat mountain” – the constantly changing, overcast and misty weather resembling that of mountains.

There is a little bird here called the Irish Dipper. In this country, Dippers are found everywhere, but abroad – for example in Britain – they are found only in upland areas. Similarly the Mountain Ash, or Rowan tree, is found in both Irish mountains and lowlands. And of course the potato, another mountain species introduced from South America, does very well here. There are also many mountain plant species that are found beside the sea in, for example, the Burren in Co Clare.

Paddy Sleeman

∏More For further details of the meeting on Post-Glacial Colonisation of Ireland held at UCC in September 2006, see The next part will be available in 2007