herald

Saturday 3 December 2016

The British have claimed the robin as their national bird, so what's ours then?

Remember Rockall?

You probably don't unless you're a sad Wolfe Tones fan who gives their 1975 hit Rock On Rockall an occasional spin on the Dansette.

Rockall is a granite rock, covered in gannet pooh, situated a few hundred miles off Donegal. The British officially claimed the rock in 1957. It's just a rock and people will be disappointed to learn that it's not much of a holiday destination. But, if gas or oil is ever discovered near it, Her Majesty's government will be quids in.

Rockall sprang to mind when I heard the British public had, for the first time, chosen a national bird. The feathery creature the British public will ask their government to endorse as the UK's national bird is an spideog, no less.

Is nothing sacred? The little robin, his chest stained red by the blood that dripped from the wounds of Jesus on the cross (at least, that's what the nuns told me in kindergarden as they eyed up selling orphans to childless couples in Texas) is being hijacked by the people who brought us the Penal Laws.

And, for balance, it should be noted Carnaby Street, Kate Moss (inset) and Dr Who.

You might have thought the old Empire, who can still rock the world of fashion, would have selected a big stern-looking eagle or even a flamboyant peacock. Unfortunately, despite Germany having a golden eagle of its coat of arms, America bagged the bald eagle in 1782.

Despite the creations of designers from Laura Ashley to John Galliano and Vivienne Westwood, Britain can't claim the peacock. That's the national bird of India.

So humble robin it is. Despite the fact that there are an estimated four million breeding robins living in Ireland.

Somehow I can't imagine England football fans at a crucial qualifying match giving it large with a few verses of, "When the red red robin goes bob-bob-bobbin' along…", even if the plucky little bird might remind you of Nobby Stiles.

You're no one if you haven't a national bird. But, like the way dog owners can resemble their pooch, you have to be careful. New Zealanders are called kiwis. Nuff said. Colombia adopted the condor, a scavenger that flies high most of the time.

Around the time of the French Revolution, the locals reinstated the cock-a-doodle as the national emblem. Greece is represented by the little owl and Cape Verde has the grey-headed kingfisher.

What have we got? Nothing. There are lots we could choose from, any one of which I'm sure will keep Derek Mooney and Eanna Ni Lamhna happy. It can't be an eagle of any sort. Simply because the Irish, through stupidity or native bloodlust, insist on killing any eagle or kite that's introduced to the country.

The wren might have a shout. But the ritual of "killing the wran" on St Stephen's Day, when men in Dingle and Sandymount dress as women and go around banging on doors looking for drink, mightn't be the best association. Sorry Panti.

The cuckoo, who kicks its neighbours out of their homes, is a possible frontrunner. The swallow spends most of the time abroad and comes back every year, not just to vote. But I'm thinking, maybe, the magpie.

Sometimes called "the thieving magpie", it's said to be attracted to a bit of bling, sings better than most on The Voice of Ireland and is generally regarded as the cute hoor of the avian world.

In keeping with the national obsession of bringing a bit of money to the area, we could have ourselves a National Magpie Festival.

We already have a goat festival in Killorglin. A pumpkin festival in Cavan. A hay-making festival in Trim. And, in Connemara, a Bog Festival.

In Cork there's even an inaugural Rory Gallagher Weekend underway, no doubt featuring a flash mob of men in double denim performing Kama Sutra-like contortions while playing imaginary guitars.

Surely it's time for the magpie.

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