By Allen Foster

On 12th and 14th October, 1621, the airspace over Cork city was the battleground for a civil war amongst thousands of starlings. For days before the battle commenced the city’s inhabitants watched two enormous flocks of starlings assemble, one to the west and the other to the east of the city.

The birds behaved unusually and made strange calls and cries that people had never heard before. It seemed to onlookers that parties of negotiators, about twenty or thirty in each group, regularly flew between each army.

These avian diplomats would hover over the opposing force and emit strange calls and cries before returning to their own side. At nine o’clock on the sunny morning of 12th October, the battle commenced.

“Upon a strange sound and noise made as well on the one side as on the other, they forthwith at one instant took wing, and so mounting up into the skies encountered one another, with such a terrible shock.”

Many dead or badly wounded starlings fell from the sky over Cork. The battle raged all day and well into the night, then something unexpected happened: the starlings disappeared. Next day there was none to be seen in or around the city. Where had all the birds got to?

Continue reading in this week’s Autumn Special