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February 25, 2021

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Pub turned into Ireland’s first wildlife hospital

A pub that closed its doors during lockdown is now serving a menagerie of very different clientele after transforming into Ireland’s first wildlife hospital.

The bar of the Tara Na Ri pub in County Meath to the northwest of Dublin is now deserted, the blinds pulled down, the Guinness taps dry and the till empty. But the pub’s outbuildings are a hive of activity.

Three swans nest on straw in former stables, a skittish fox settles in a new enclosure and a wide-eyed buzzard is being nursed back to health.

“We were very much accustomed to just one singular way of living,” said James McCarthy, whose family have owned the pub for more than a decade.

“When that’s taken away you’re just left with a void. It takes some time before it starts getting replaced with other things that you never would have thought were possible.”

McCarthy has turned the outbuildings over to the government-backed agency Wildlife Rehabilitation Ireland and instead of pulling pints, now serves customers with takeaway coffees. The WRI facility, which opened recently, is the first animal hospital in Ireland capable of caring for animals of any species, size or medical needs.

“We’re bracing ourselves for ‘orphan season’ which is our busiest time of year,” said animal manager Dan Donoher, calming a flustered pigeon. “We’ll get lots of baby birds, baby foxes and they’ll keep us busy for the next six months.”

Pubs play a vital role in Irish society and the closure of the Tara Na Ri in March 2020 was a heavy blow for the community. The inn stands near a hill called the Tara with ancient burial mounds. Its name means Tara of the Kings. But WRI education officer Aoife McPartlin said the pub’s regulars had pitched in with enthusiasm.

“We embraced them, they embraced us,” she said of the volunteers who helped renovate the outbuildings.

“And as a result we can now open,” McPartlin said.

Ireland is currently in its third coronavirus lockdown, and more than 4,000 people have died from the infection.

The Republic navigated two previous waves of the virus with relatively low numbers of cases and deaths, but the situation turned dire after curbs were relaxed before Christmas.

In early January Ireland had the highest rate of infection per capita in the world and 45 percent of total mortalities from the pandemic have occurred since the start of 2021. Prime minister Micheal Martin described it as a “tsunami of infection.”

Since the start of the new year schools, non-essential shops, pubs, restaurants, gyms and cinemas have all been closed. Citizens have been told to stay at home apart from daily exercise in a limited area.

But McPartlin said there has been an unexpected upside — since people have been spending far more time walking in the countryside, there has been a huge increase in the number of injured and abandoned animals found and given help.

“I think nature has saved a lot of people through the pandemic,” she said. “They’re just generally more aware of wildlife and they know they exist — and we co-exist.”


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