Have you heard the legend of the moon-gazing hare? So many myths and legends surround this elusive creature. Years ago I often used to see hares around the fields on Paudy Lane but haven't spotted any for quite a while. It would be interesting to know if they still live up there...
I call hares elusive because they are generally a nocturnal animal, hiding by day in their 'forms', no more than a scrape in the earth hidden in the long grass. When the young (called leverets) are born they're covered in fur and are quite active soon after. This is unlike rabbits, which live in burrows, and their young are born naked.
Rabbits are smaller than hares too with shorter ears and shorter, less powerful back legs. They live in groups in their burrows underground whilst hares are solitary animals and only come together to mate.
We talk of being ‘as mad as a March hare’ because in spring they can be seen leaping about and boxing and dashing madly about. It’s usually not the males fighting but a male and female...and the female is probably not sure about him and boxes his ears!
The hare is a much maligned creature and its numbers are in decline, losing more than 80% of its population in the last 100 years. In some parts of the country it’s practically extinct. Changing farming methods are one possible reason; hares live above ground in all weathers and need a constant food supply to survive and do best on arable land with a good variety of different plants and grasses to eat. The winter months can be hard for them as their food source becomes scarce.
Another way that man has contributed to the hares’ downfall is by illegal harecoursing and lamping where sight-hounds (greyhounds, lurchers) chase and kill the poor creatures caught in the lamp’s beam. Now to the legend of the moon-gazing hare...it reflects very ancient beliefs.
Pagans believed seeing a moon-gazing hare would bring growth and rebirth, good fortune, new beginnings and abundance too. Hares were so quick to reproduce they were often associated with fertility. The hare was sacred to the goddess Ostara (or Eostre) who brought the dawn, radiant light, joy and abundance and she was always worshipped in spring. During these festivals to the goddess coloured eggs and chicks featured in the ceremonies as did spring flowers; it was quite similar to our Easter Festival to celebrate the resurrection of Christ.
So this year when eating a chocolate egg or looking out for the Easter bunny just think that we are following in the footsteps of our ancestors of long ago…