My journey with the Irish Hare…
Growing up in Ireland, my first interaction with a Hare was on the threepenny coin, a fortune for a young girl going to the local shop. I remember taking a rubbing of the coin with a crayon and some paper so that I could have a picture to keep, as the money itself would never stay long in my pocket! As a child, I loved the roundness and cuteness of the image. I remember saying to my dad how I liked the rabbit on the coin and him telling me that it was a hare and not a rabbit, “Hares’ legs are longer than a rabbits’.” That was my first introduction to the Irish Hare and I’ve since learned that there are more differences between them and rabbits.
Irish Hares and Rabbits are different species. From birth, young hares are more independent: Born with their sight and fur in above-ground shallow depressions called Forms, hares can move about shortly after being born while rabbits are born blind and hairless in underground burrows. When mature, both respond to danger differently – rabbits will run and hide underground and hares will use their strong legs to run away, often changing direction rapidly to escape a predator (Dingerkus, 2021).
The Irish Hare is an indigenous Irish mammal since before the last ice age (rabbits were introduced to Ireland in the 12th Century) and the hare is a protected species in Ireland since 1930 (The Irish Times, 2005). ‘Like other Hares, the Irish Hare is solitary, but it shows a tendency to gregariousness at times. It has been seen in the north of Ireland moving in droves of two or three hundred’ (Stokoe, 1958). I have only ever seen a solitary hare and haven’t been lucky enough to catch them ‘boxing’. Some of my own hare sightings have been from inside a plane at Dublin or Shannon Airport: As their habitats came under pressure, hares found the grasslands between the landing strips to be suitable.
Carbon dating of fossils shows that the Hare was present in Ireland over 28,000 years ago; and while some farmers consider it a nuisance, and some people hunt it with hounds (coursing), there are those of us who have a fascination and love for this beautiful creature. The Hare has a special significance in Irish Folklore. There are many stories in Irish mythology associating the hare with women who can shapeshift into the form of a hare. One story in particular tells of Oisín the great Irish warrior who was hunting a Hare. He wounded it in the leg and the hare kept running. Oisín followed the hare into a fairy fort and down underground. On entering the chamber, he discovered a woman tending to her wounded leg. Because the hare was considered an otherworldly creature, it was taboo to eat them in parts of Ireland – for fear that the hare might be a shapeshifting female relative! This beautiful video by Georgia Lily Stevenson is an homage to the Irish Hare.
From my early encounter with the hare as a child to reigniting my relationship with the hare as an adult, I’ve come to realise that she represents to me a symbol of the feminine. She is an enigma – she is both protected and hunted, she is both despised and celebrated. There’s a polarising quality to how she is regarded. Throw ‘misunderstood’ into the mix and I feel we are getting closer to what it can sometimes feel like to be a woman in the world.
As I explored the qualities and behaviours of the Irish Hare, I was drawn to the ‘boxing’ that can be witnessed at times between hares. I understood that it was associated with mating season, and I assumed it was similar to other species where the males fight each other for the right to mate. However, I was mistaken: “The boxing usually occurs when a male is being too persistent with a female, chasing her across fields in an attempt to mate. When she’s had enough, she’ll turn around and try to fend him off in a fierce boxing match!” (Hedley, 2021). Not one to promote violence, I do admire the hare’s ability to stand her ground and fight for herself.
I admire the independence and strength of the Hare – her speed and agility, her resilience and flexibility. While some may confuse her with a fluffy bunny, to me the hare is a goddess, an empress with power and potency.
Associated with the moon and the darkness of night, I embrace the shapeshifting qualities attributed to the hare. In my work as a shamanic practitioner, she can be a powerful guide and helper to me, so I journey to the hare to see what messages she has for me. I may share some of them with you here, in the future.
Dingerkus, K. D., 2021. Species Profiles | Irish Hare. [Online]
Available at: https://www.vincentwildlife.ie/species/irish-hare
[Accessed 28th March 2021].
Hedley, R., 2021. Why do hares box? And other hare facts. [Online]
Available at: https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/blog/2019/03/why-do-hares-box/
[Accessed 28 March 2021].
Stokoe, W., 1958. The Observer’s Book of Wild Animals of the British Isles. 2nd ed. London: Frederick Warne & Co Ltd.
The Irish Times, 2005. Hare there and everywhere, Dublin: The Irish Times.