Happy ‘Battle of the Starling’ Week to those who celebrate.
Cork City Library today reminded us all of an important moment in Cork history – the so-called Battle of the Starlings – in which two tribes of tiny birds went to war with one another in the skies above our city.
The source for this strange story is a 1622 pamphlet titled ‘The Wonderfvll,’ and the tale goes like this:
“From October 7th they were observed mustering ominously overhead by the city’s citizens over a period of four to five days. Their numbers ever-increasing with new arrivals coming in daily. Finally, the birds divided into two distinct encampments, one to the eastern side and one to the western side of the city.
“Their vast number and the strange loud noises they made had never been witnessed by anyone in Cork or the surrounding countryside before. Those observing proceedings closest claimed that small delegations of some twenty birds would, from time to time, fly over to the opposite side and hover overhead making strange tunes as if fulfilling the role of a peace embassy. They would then return to their own side.
“All this activity continued until October 12th. That was a Saturday and a fine and sunny day when, at about nine in the morning, a new cry went up from both encampments. At that, the birds rose as one and mounting up into the sky, clashed with a terrible shock. The battle continued to evening and took place primarily over woods some bit off the city.
“On Monday the 14th, another clear and sunny day, they engaged in the fight once again. This time the onslaught was directly above the city and the ferocity caused little feathered bodies to rain onto the houses and into the river.” The casualties also included a raven, a kite and a crow, all of whom must have got mixed up in the turf war through some kind of unfortunate case of mistaken identity.
History does not record which side won.
While the story does, of course, sound completely crazy – or like something from a Hitchcock movie – starlings are an infamously aggressive bird. Around this time of year, the birds do tend to roost in certain parts of Cork, such as Timoleague, so we can only hope there is no repeat of the violence on its fourth centenary.