Oryctolagus Cuniculus, the common European rabbit found in Ireland.

Rabbits In Ireland

Wildlife and Fauna

Rabbits are not native to Ireland, unlike mountain hares. Their bones have never been found in archaeological sites and, while there are illustrations of hares in the Book of Kells, there are none of rabbits. They are native to the Iberian Peninsula and a small part of North Africa. But for at least 2000 years humans have been moving rabbits around the world and introducing them to new territories. This is because their meat has always been very popular and their fur has been an important bye-product. Some later introductions were also prompted by their popularity as a quarry in various forms of sport hunting.

The first record of rabbits in Ireland is from Lambay Island in the year 1191. They were introduced by the Normans as domestic animals. They were particularly valuable to invading armies because they provided a portable and rapidly reproducing source of fresh meat. They were kept in enclosures, with predators excluded and extra food included, which were called warrens or conygarths. Many Irish place names record the location of these (Warrenpoint, Conyburrow, Coniker, etc). In the Middle Ages the word 'cony' meant an adult animal and 'rabbit' a young one. But, because it was mainly the young ones that were used for food, rabbit gradually took over as the name for all ages of the animal. Cony, however, provided the Irish language name for the new species, coinin. Warrens were often on islands or peninsulas in the sea or a lake. This is because rabbits are extremely difficult to contain, particularly in the days before galvanised wire netting. They are expert tunnellers and their sharp incisor teeth rapidly chisel through most organic barricades --- however, they don't like swimming, so an island or peninsula increased the chances for a warrener to hang on to his rabbits. But, of course, some warreners failed and some rabbits escaped. Rabbits are now such a long established alien species that they have adapted to the ecology of our countryside and have become important by sustaining some populations of larger predators.


Rabbits in Episode Three

In episode three of the series, Dick tells us a history of these Norman animals - and how they may have been responsible for his surname!

Read more about episode three »