On my first day in Iceland I went to visit an exhibition in the Nordic House in the Rekjavik University. Situated on the outskirts of the city it sits upon the edge of the wetlands and is a natural nesting place for ducks and geese. Sitting in their tea rooms, overlooking this new city, I remarked on the relatively alien site of a skein of geese flying in formation just outside the window. Little did I know that a month later I’d be sitting in a kitchen in Sligo with another cup of tea, discovering the incredibly strong connections between Sligo and Iceland through the migration patterns of our geese and our swans.
Martin Enright, a keen birdwatcher, Yeats enthusiast, Archeologist, Music historian and local history expert – and one of our guides for Pilgrimage in Sligo – was showing me pictures from his own trip to Iceland last year to help tag the thousands of geese and swans that migrate every year from Greenland and Iceland to Ireland and back. The birds are tracked by a huge community of volunteers, some even with satellite so their flight patterns can be better understood.
Sligo has a huge population of geeese, many of them at Lisadell “Goose Fields” and Inishmurray Island (which is now a bird sanctuary) but although plentiful in the area I’d never seen a flock so closely as I did in Rekjavik, where they seem to be as common as swans in Sligo. Enright went on to tell me that the entire Irish population of Whooper Swans, our predominant species, nests in Iceland and has done for centuries, so it seems as though the Children of Lir have taken the pilgrimage before us.