Locked-down pub becomes Ireland’s first wildlife hospital

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The Tara Na Ri pub outside the town of Navan in County Meath was shuttered due to the pandemic and now houses Wildlife Rehabilitation Ireland’s animal hospital. AFP

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.

In one, a staff member bottle-feeds Liam, a two-week-old wild Irish goat who was found on a mountainside.

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 kind of left with a void. It takes some time before it starts getting replaced with other things that you never would have thought were possible before.”

McCarthy has turned the outbuildings over to the government-backed agency Wildlife Rehabilitation Ireland (WRI) and instead of pulling pints, now serves drive-through customers with takeaway coffees at the front of the pub.

Locals muck in

The WRI facility, which opened on February 19, 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 on an examination table.

“We’ll get lots of baby birds, baby foxes, et cetera, and they’ll keep us busy for the next six months.”

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A wild fox is cared for at Wildlife Rehabilitation Ireland’s new premises located behind the Tara Na Ri pub. AFP

Pubs play a vital role in Irish society, especially in remote rural areas, 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 locals, who volunteered their time to renovate the outbuildings.

The project saw “everybody mucking in” through long days and dreadful weather, she said.

“And as a result we can now open.”

Nature to the rescue

Ireland is currently in its third coronavirus lockdown, and more than 4,000 deaths have been attributed to 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 this year.

Prime minister Micheal Martin described it as a “tsunami of infections”.

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.”