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  King of the Birds in Ireland

On the south coast of Ireland is a secret green wooded valley which faces the blue sea. Among the animals of Ireland it was known as Glen-na-hEan – the valley of the birds – because that is where the birds of Ireland meet from time to time to discuss and organise their affairs and sort out any problems they might have.

Now the most important time they ever met was when they came together to choose their king. On this occasion all the trees in the valley were lined with birds of all kinds. There were little birds like the redbreasted robin and the tiny wren, medium-sized birds such as the wood pigeon and the white dove, the crow and the black and white magpie and of course the bigger birds such as the cormorant, the seagull and the golden eagle with his fierce eyes and razor sharp claws.

The birds discussed the matter all day and late into the night.

But they could not agree as to who should be king. Finally, they asked the wise owl to devise a competition which would help them decide. He selected two mute swans to help him devise and referee the competition. It was also their job to devise the rules of the competition and to make sure that everyone kept them.

It was already sunrise by the time Wise Owl and the two swans were to tell all the birds what was going to happen in the competition.

”Now, the rules are simple,” he hooted. ”Whoever flies the highest in the sky will be king of all the birds in Ireland. Anyone found cheating will be immediately disqualified,” he added sternly. “Now, are there any questions?”

At that moment the golden eagle ruffled his honey-coloured feathers and spread his wings to their fullest extent. “Where will I be crowned king when I win?” he asked rudely. “What do you mean,” squawked the magpie. “We haven’t had the competition yet. How do you know you'll win?”

“Of course I shall win, it is obvious,” replied the golden eagle, “for I am the biggest, the strongest, the swiftest and the most handsome of all the birds in Ireland.”

“Just a moment,” said the magpie, “to be a good ruler it is not enough to be handsome and big and strong. A good king is also wise, kind and sensitive to others.”

“Wait and see,” insisted the golden eagle, “I will win, I will win,” he repeated bad-temperedly.

Then the owl turned towards all the birds gathered before him and said, “Remember this is not a race. It is a competition to see who can fly the highest. Is that clear?” At this the starlings squawked “Let’s be off – let’s be off!”

The owl took no notice of them but calmly asked, “Is everybody ready?” and then, “Ready ... steady ... go!”

The flock of birds took off in a cloud of feathers with the sound like a thousand pairs of gloved hands clapping together.

The owl and the two swans watched them as they rose higher and higher in the sky. Each thought that they knew already who would be the winner – but they said nothing.

The golden eagle beat his powerful wings and quickly rose higher and higher in the sky. After a little while he looked back and saw all the other birds way, way below him. And he thought to himself proudly, “This is easy. I’m going to win. They’ll never catch me now!” And Golden Eagle, very pleased with himself, continued to soar ever higher in the sky. 

When Eagle next looked down he noticed that only the grey backed seagull was still bravely trying to catch up with him. So Eagle beat his wings even faster and more powerfully and soon the seagull lost heart. He too felt that he could not beat Eagle and he began to return to the ground.

When Eagle noticed this he thought, “I’ve won – I’ve really won. I’m going to be crowned the king of all the birds in Ireland.” And he began to glide down…

But just then he felt something moving in the feathers on his back, and then a tiny voice said, “Thank you,” and he looked over his shoulder to see a tiny wren flying above him.

The golden eagle was both amazed and then angry because he realised that the wren had hitched a ride on his back. He furiously tried to beat his wings again but he was very tired and could only flap them weakly.

“Come back,” he shouted up at the wren, “come back. That's not fair. I've won.” But the wren flew higher and higher until he was only a dot in the sky.

The eagle sped towards the ground. As he landed with outstretched wings he slid to a halt, his long talons digging into the earth. Then he snapped his wings together and screeched. “That's not fair!” Then he turned and  shouted at the wise owl and the two swans. “Tell him that's not allowed.”

The wise owl smiled and looked from the furious eagle up to the tiny spot that was the wren far above their heads. He looked back to the two swans and they whispered together for a few moments. “Well?” Eagle demanded.

“Being a king means not only being big and strong and powerful, it also means being clever and thinking ahead and planning. The wren did that. We will crown him King of the Birds.”

And that is how the tiny wren outwitted the huge eagle and became King of the Birds. And the wren has been King of the Birds in Ireland ever since.

Footnote
To this day there is a Wren boys parade in Kerry on St. Stephen’s Day (Boxing Day) in Ireland.

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