A caring animal lover has opened Ireland's first dedicated bat hospital in her back garden in Co Limerick.

Susan Kerwin founded Bat Rehabilitation Ireland due to the increase in the numbers of bats needing help.

Bats injured in cat attacks and orphaned bat pups are rehabilitated at the hospital and then released back into the wild.

Ms Kerwin said: "Out of the 128 bats that I have taken in this year, I have successfully managed to rehabilitate and release 75 of those."

Susan Kerwin of Bat Rehabilitation Ireland

Equipment at the hospital includes brooders for bat pups and also an outdoor netted flight area where injured bats can build up their wing strength before they return to the wild.

Ms Kerwin said: "46 bats that came in this year were under a week-old so we had bat puppies and bat pups are extremely difficult.

"They are so delicate. Some of them that came in, they were just over a gram. In the wild, their mothers are feeding them milk for the first six weeks.

"They have to be fed a special milk formula and this has to be done ever two and half hours, 24 hours a day for the first few weeks which was one of the most challenging things I've ever done."

The newly-opened bat hospital in County Limerick

Susan's love of bats began during a dark time in her life when the mother-of-two was diagnosed with cervical cancer at 27. She underwent a hysterectomy and radiation treatment.

She explained: "With my treatment for cervical cancer, I started to suffer with insomnia. So I would spend a lot of time sitting outside at night with a cup of tea just watching the bats. And I went and bought myself a bat detector.

"A bat detector is something that we use to eavesdrop on bats. Because of the frequency that they echolocate at, our ears can’t pick it up.

"This allowed me to find which species were around my house and this all helped me to escape from the problems that I was having.

"I started to learn more about them and I became more fascinated. So this all then started me on the road of trying to help them because I felt they had helped me so much."

The Brown Long-Eared bat is one of nine native species of bat in Ireland

Bats are an often misunderstood mammal but to Susan they are "gentle" and "social creatures".

With Bat Rehabilitation Ireland she wants to highlight the crucial role bats play as pest controllers of the environment around them.

"There are nine species of the mammal in Ireland and all our bats are insectivorous, meaning they feed on insects, including midges," she said.

"They want nothing more but just to go about their lives and do what they do best and that is to control the insect population here in Ireland," she explained.

Bats are a protected species in Ireland. Both the animals themselves and their roosts are protected and it is an offence to disturb or interfere with them without a licence.