400 years ago a booklet held our ancestors in thrall as they devoured the gory details of the ‘Wonderfull Battell of the Starelings fought at the Citie of Cork’. But, wonders PAT POLAND, did Cork’s avian battle inspire Alfred Hitchcock’s famous horror movie of 1963?


It was like a scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 horror-thriller, The Birds. In the movie, the people of the small fishing community of Bodega Bay, California, are subjected, over the course of a number of days, to a series of unprovoked and unexplained violent attacks by thousands of malevolent birds which leave several inhabitants dead and many more with serious injuries.

Only the setting was not California, but Cork, and the year was 1621. And the birds did not launch vicious attacks on our distant ancestors, but on themselves, leaving countless dead after a series of ferocious battles.
Hitchcock drew his inspiration for ‘The Birds’ from an 1952 short story of the same name by the English novelist Daphne du Maurier. In turn, du Maurier, who was, on occasion, influenced by tales of a Celtic/Irish genre, may well have come across the ‘Cork bird story’ while researching her book, Hungry Hill, in the archives.

The latter novel, set in the rugged Beara Peninsula of West Cork, is loosely based on the story of the Allihies copper mining industry, established by the Puxley family in the early 1800s. It appears Daphne was having an affair with one of the Puxleys while her husband, General Frederick ‘Boy’ Browning (immortalised by Dirk Bogarde in the film A Bridge Too Far), was away fighting the Nazis in World War Two.

In 2009, Irish playwright Conor McPherson adapted du Maurier’s story ‘The Birds’ for the stage at Dublin’s Gate Theatre.

In October 1621 the newly elected Mayor of Cork, John Coppinger, was receiving reports about the strange goings-on involving thousands of birds in the eastern and western ‘suburbs’ of town, approximating to the Grand Parade and the ‘Marsh’ areas of modern Cork.

Beginning on 7 October, countless starlings began to arrive in two distinct groups – one from the east and the other from the west – perching anywhere they could, glaring malevolently at the townspeople and all the while each faction growing increasingly antagonistic towards each other.

For several days, ‘emissaries’ from both sides were seen to fly back and forth until, on Saturday, 12 October, with negotiations having obviously broken down, all hell broke loose.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own