The programme to re-introduce white-tailed eagles into Ireland after an absence of over 100 years has been given a huge boost with the birth of its first eaglets.

Project Manager Dr Allan Mee has confirmed that three babies have been born in the past week.

Two were born in Mountshannon on Lough Derg in Co Clare, and the other in Killarney National Park, where the project began six years ago.

The re-introduction programme began in the summer of 2007 when 15 to 20 young eagles from Norway were released into Killarney National Park.

So far, 100 birds have been released.

The programme has not been without controversy. Dozens of sheep farmers protested when the birds first arrived at Kerry Airport.

At least 27 birds have been found dead. One was shot dead in Northern Ireland and 12 were confirmed poisoned.

Altogether, there are 12 nesting pairs in Ireland, living mainly along the southwest coast from Kerry to Clare.

The enormous birds of prey mate for life and are ready to breed from the age of five.

Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Jimmy Deenihan described the birth of the eagles as momentous.

"The principal aim of this project is to re-establish a viable breeding population of white-tailed eagles and today's events are the big step towards achieving that goal," he said.

Dr Mee thanked the local communities in Mountshannon and Whitegate, Co Clare, and in the Killarney area in Kerry for their goodwill and continued support.

"The eagles have benefited from widespread support from communities and landowners, and their presence enhances rural economic values, especially wildlife tourism," he said.