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Exhibition of Paintings & Monoprints
by Padraic Reaney
Sep 22nd - Oct 20th 2000

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Opening Speech

Exhibition Notes - Michael D. Higgins

Exhibition Notes - Desmond MacAvock

Exhibition Notes by Barbara McKeown

Artist Padraic Reaney's love of falcons led him to set up a sanctuary for injured birds of prey beside his studio in Peregrine House in County Galway. One of the country's most renowned painters, at the time of this interview, Reaney was busy in his studio preparing for a forthcoming exhibition. Oil paintings in various stages of completion lay strewn about against walls or on easels, but it was not to review his paintings that I was disturbing the artist but to see his other great work, that of rescuing injured birds of prey and nursing them back to health to return to the wild.

A peregrine with a badly infected foot was Padraic's most recent patient. It had been found injured by a farmer who alerted the wildlife service. They brought it to Padraic who has built cages and enclosures at the back of his house in a picturesque area of County Galway, especially to care for wounded birds. "He's on antibiotics to get the infection down. He can't be released until he has learned to hunt for himself. He's only a young bird, and I'll have to train him to catch prey for himself. For the moment he is hand fed raw chicken. He is suspicious of me because he is wild, but he knows too that I am his only source of food," Padraic added as the peregrine fixed a glassy accusing stare on me, the intruder. Falcons, hawks, eagles, peregrines, kestrels, and so on have no predators, but nature itself is cruel. Up to 80% of young birds die in the first year if they haven't learned to fend for themselves or there is not enough prey for them to survive. "Barbed wire does a lot of damage to birds' wings. Sparrowhawks fly into windows chasing other birds, and kestrels fall into barrels of water. People find them and they end up here". Said Padraic. "It can take six to twelve months to make sure a bird is fully recovered and when they have built up their strength you have to be certain they can take care of themselves in the wild or else you are sending them out to starve".

Padraic's fascination with birds began as a boy in Carraroe when a local schoolteacher got a Merlin from the famous falconer Ronald Stephens. Back before the 1973 Wildlife Act came into being there were no laws against taking birds from the wild. Since then, there are licensing regulations, strictly enforced. Padraic got his first bird from the wild and trained it with the help of Ronald Stephens. It was a hobby that became an obsession, he admits. Suprisingly, he rarely paints them. His exhibition, which opens in the Kenny Gallery, Galway on September 22, fritters the metamorphic life of butterflies, wasps and dragonflies.

"For ten years I lived in Galway City while at the RTC and couldn't keep a bird. But I drew, sketched and painted them all the time. I had an exhibition and every piece was sold. Then I moved out into the country and began having birds again. I just didn't seem to have the time to paint them. I'm as busy looking after them." For falconry does take up much of one's time. "Its not like fishing or shooting where you put your guns and rods away at the end of a season", he explains, the birds are with you every day needing to be fed, exercised, checked, trained, weighed. "It's not a hobby, it's a way of life."

Watching Padraic examine the injured peregrine's foot (no pet name; he is not to become used to humans) it was amazing to see how the bird allowed himself to be handled. He knows Padraic was helping him. If I came too close he became agitated. How different to the Harris hawk I'd been handling a few days previously at Ashford Castle who flew off and returned to me on command. But it was obvious that though these birds can be trained, they are never controlled. Hand-reared or wild, they retain their independence and their dignity. One couldn't help but respect them.

Padraic Reaney has a Harris hawk that he hunts with. He reiterated what Deborah Knight in Ashford had said: "The thrill is not the kill, it's the flight, the beauty of the bird in the air. And they are very useful at keeping down the over-population of crows, magpies and gulls." In the enclosure next door was a pair of kestrels, neither of which can fly because of injuries so cannot be released. They produced five eggs recently, none of which hatched. Keeping these birds is an act of love. At one time in Ireland there were only sixteen pairs of peregrines in all Ireland. The Wildlife Act has helped the survival of birds of prey by protecting them, and many species have multiplied radically. Thanks, too, to the dedication of individuals such as Padraic Reaney these beautiful birds can be seen soaring our wild skies.

The Irish Independent Weekend Magazine - Saturday Aug 19, 2000

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