IRELAND'S WILD WEST; IT'S St Patrick's Day so MARION McMULLEN Reports on her trip to Ireland where she met some high-flyers and a Celtic criminal mastermind who will do anything for a snack.
GRIZZLY the racoon expertly picked my pocket in a micro-second.
He had sniffed out there was a tempting titbit hidden in my coat and helped himself before I even had a chance to shout "Stop, thief."
The pick pocketing mastermind is so speedy you almost need a slow motion camera to catch him in action.
He might look all cute and cuddly but Grizzly is a one creature crime wave. If there's food about, he'll find it.
The furry fiend is one of the more unusual inmates, sorry, residents at Eagles Flying at the Irish Raptor Research Centre, near Sligo.
It is home to birds of prey, owls and about 350 birds and 75 different species of animals and is one of the most surprising places you are likely to ever come across.
The centre was originally set up for pure research by Germanborn Lothar Muschketat and his wife, but his Irish neighbours quickly became curious about the critters they could see moving in.
Lothar laughs: "The neighbours started dropping by and then they would tell their friends and they would call as well. Soon we were getting people coming up every day so we decided to do it properly and have proper opening times for the public."
The centre is unlike any zoo, bird life sanctuary or birds of prey site around. Eagles, vultures, hawks and other birds of prey have the run of the place and never stray away from home.
They don't even bother the rabbits and the other wildlife animals that find their way to the centre.
"They are well fed. They don't need to bother the rabbits and the other birds," points out Lothar.
My encounter with Grizzly was a revelation, but nothing compared to coming face to beak with majestic eagle Linda.
Lothar is so knowledgeable and comfortable with the birds of prey that he happily handles them without the normal heavy leather gloves for protection.
They trust him so much that they even allow lowly mortals like myself to approach them and even stroke their feathers and they've been known to land on the heads of unsuspecting visitors.
"The last eagle was seen in Ireland in the 1940s," says Lothar, "but we are bringing them back. It's hard to believe people kill these birds. They do not do any harm. Sometimes they will eat a dead lamb, but they don't kill. We hope people can see the eagle has landed and is back." The centre (www.eaglesflying.
com) alone is a great reason to hop on a plane from Birmingham Airport and head to Ireland.
Sligo offers the whole package to visitors. There's The Glasshouse Hotel (www.theglasshouse.
ie) right in the heart of Sligo town that leaves you within walking distance of lots of great pubs, such as Hargadon's, Fiddler's Creek Bar and Garavogue Bar, and the mouthwatering food on offer at the Coach Lane Restaurant.
If you want to try your hand at cooking yourself, Source Sligo Restaurant and Cookery School (www.sourcesligo.ie) uses the best local produce for classic and contemporary Irish food and there's everything from fresh seafood, beef and even seaweed on offer.
There's a chance to enjoy Irish culture and art at the Model Art Gallery or you can follow the WB Yeats trail and visit the writer's grave at Drumcliff Cemetery that also boasts a Round Tower and High Cross dating back to the 7th century.
Turn the clock back even further and the Carrowmore Cairn is the second largest cemetery of megalithic tombs in Europe and is among Ireland's oldest.
Archaelogists have found more than 65 tombs, stone circles, passage graves and standing stones and the site is thought to be more than 700 years older than Newgrange which was built in 3,200BC.
If it's Irish myths and legends that intrigue you then one of the best storytellers around is woodcarver Michael Quirke.
He works from his old butcher's shop in Sligo town and will happily relate stories of the old Celtic heroes and villains as he works. His carvings are sent all over the world and are inspired by Irish folklore.
There's lots to see and do and the locals will even point out the homes of Sligo pop stars Westlife and happily tell you that Louis Walsh has a home not a million miles away from the airport.
But if you really want to spoil yourself, head to the coast and indulge yourself at the Voya Seaweed Baths (www.voyaseaweedbaths.
com). The family business has expanded into an award-winning enterprise and sells its seaweed products all over the world.
There are lots of treatments on offer, but the seaweed bath is a good place to start. After all the drinking, eating, cooking and sightseeing, it will leave you feeling on top of the morning and ready for some St Patrick's Day Celebrations.
TRAVEL FACTFILE Marion flew to Ireland as the guest of bmibaby and Tourism Ireland. Leading low-cost airline bmibaby flies direct from Birmingham to Ireland West Knock up to four times a week.
Fares start from pounds 14.99 one way including taxes.
bmibaby offers customers many benefits including allocated seating, online check in and the opportunity to join bmi Diamond Club - the UK's most generous frequent flyer programme.
bmibaby has recently launched bmibaby holidays giving customers the chance to secure an ATOL-protected holiday package including flights, accommodation and transfers for a deposit of pounds 100pp.
bmibaby's Fly, FlyPlus and FamilyFly bundles provide customers with a wide range of added extras, benefits and savings for one set price.
For lowest fares and to book a flight, visit www.bmibaby.com and for further information on visiting Ireland see www.discoverireland. com.
DRAMATIC: The Sligo coast, Carrowmore Cairn and Drumcliff Cemetery's high cross THE EAGLE HAS LANDED: Marion McMullen at the Irish Raptor Research Centre
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|Publication:||Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)|
|Date:||Mar 17, 2012|
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