From rags to riches in the poultry world


PLUCKY CLUCKERSJoshua Hawkshaw holding one of his ‘warrior’ Rhode Island Reds, with his brother Evan looking on.

Sonia Kelly

Once upon a time in the 19th century chickens were such lowly fowl that no farmer would dream of including them in his asset list, however many he might have. Then almost overnight the whole situation changed, and if you wanted to purchase a pair to stock up you needed to go to the market with the equivalent of, in today’s money, €2,500.
This was due to Queen Victoria. She had a zoo as a hobby and loved unusual birds and other animals, so she was very excited when someone gave her a present of Cochin China Hens. She reportedly spent hours in the zoo admiring them, and they certainly were different looking to the scruffy native version with their slender legs and auburn back feathers, which terminated in a green/black tail and a majestic head.
After they had completed a breeding season the royal families of Europe received a present of a pair each and were as delighted as she herself had been with the gifts.
In a comparatively short time, new breeds were popping up all over the country as the newspapers got wind of the invasion. And America was not slow to follow. The Boston Poultry Show of 1849 featured several new breeds and other parts of the country fairly soon followed suit.
In a couple of years someone reported there were over 500 breeds world-wide. Ireland was included and now seven of those breeds are obtainable here. They are Ancona, Araucana, Andalusian, Minerva, Wyandotte and Rhode Island Reds.
The Rhode Island Reds seem to be the most popular locally, and one neighbouring family calls them the warrior birds. This was because one morning when they got up two black flock members were missing and red feathers were scattered everywhere, indicating that they had given battle with a fox and emerged victorious.
Evan Hawkshaw has just fed his warriors, and we certainly wish them bon appetit!

Author, poet, entrepreneur and regular Mayo News contributor Sonia Kelly, who is now in her late 90s, founded Cloona Health Centre in Westport in l973.