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The Rabbit Industry in Ireland
20th Century Snapshots

Author : Michael J. Conry
Description : This book outlines the history of the rabbit industry in Ireland, especially in the first half of the 20th century (and later) and the impact it made on the lives of the people involved in the industry.

Over the last 2,000 years, the wild European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) spread from its ancestral home in Spain to most northern European countries and to every continent except Antarctica. Its distribution has been strongly influenced by man. Domesticated rabbits of European origin were carried regularly on ships by explorers and released on new continents and remote islands in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. They spread rapidly because the rabbit is a prolific breeder and has the ability to convert almost any kind of green vegetation into wholesome meat. The rabbit is not so much a successful coloniser as an environmentally tolerant species that had the ability to survive wherever they were placed. The success of the rabbit is reflected in the fact that they occur on at least 800 islands stretching from Alaska to the Beagle Channel in South America.

In Ireland, the rabbit was an important source of meat for hundreds of thousands of Irish families throughout the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries. Catching rabbits supplemented the meagre incomes of urban workers, farm labourers and small farmers alike. It provided a livelihood for the unemployed and thousands of professional trappers, snarers and ferreting men, when jobs were scarce or non-existent. At the same time, they were an unmitigated pest of immense proportions on the farming community, decimating grassland, arable crops and forestry plantations all over the country.

The rabbit was unique among small mammals as they formed the basis of an important industry in the 20th century. Millions of rabbits were exported to Britain each year, especially during the two great wars (WW1 and WW2) when Britain was on the verge of starvation and needed all the un-rationed meat (and food) Ireland could supply. The export of millions of rabbit skins to Britain and elsewhere for the felt hat industry was an important spin-off of the industry.

The book is divided into two parts:

Part 1: General Introduction – describes the history and spread of the European rabbit, reasons for catching them in Ireland, the extent of damage caused to grassland, arable crops and forestry plantations, the various methods used to catch the rabbits, the role of the rabbit on the Irish menu, the export of rabbits and rabbit skins to Britain and elsewhere and the impact that the introduction of myxomatosis had on the industry in Ireland.

Part 2: The Rabbit Industry in the Provinces - describes, in some detail, the recollections of the people - men, women and children – involved in catching them, the extent of the industry in the four provinces (county by county), on some large Estates and on the Islands around Ireland’s coastline together with the effect of the introduction of the myxomatosis disease on the industry.

Information : Hardback, 528 pages, with 300 black and white (old) and colour photographs, maps and diagrams, published in 2016, in full colour, ISBN O 9535876 7 3.

Price : €30 (plus P+P) in book shops and from author 059 9131535, 086 4416969 or 086 1591455.

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Books availble in local bookshops or direct from Michael J. Conry, Avila, Chapelstown, Carlow, Ireland. Phone: 059 9131535 ( 00353-59-9131535 ), 086 1591455 ( 00353-86-1591455 ).